N3II: Ninety-Nine Nights
Much in the vein of the vastly superior Dynasty Warriors franchise, Ninety-Nine Nights II tells a story of a nation at war against an invading enemy force
- Stylish if unoriginal artwork and graphics, online multiplayer via Xbox Live momentarily breathes some much-needed life into the game
- Combat could have used a lot more polish and variety, boss battles suffer from extremely poor design, overall gameplay becomes tedious very quickly
Although it looks like a promising hack-and-slash sequel on the surface, Ninety-Nine Nights II is an overwhelmingly mediocre experience that offers very little beneath its stylish artwork and mildly interesting gameplay. While it may have been impressive to mow through hundreds among hundreds of enemies on-screen at once back in 2006, this title looks and feels years behind the times. Even if you're a fan of the first game, tedious grinds through lifeless levels may not hold your interest past the first few missions.
For all the genius that's been achieved in the hack-and-slash genre with games like Bayonetta, No More Heroes, and Devil May Cry, I'm always baffled to see games like Ninety-Nine Nights II. While other titles in this increasingly crowded category manage to innovate with unique artwork, memorable characters, or a catchy gameplay gimmick, Ninety-Nine Nights II (or N3II) fails to accomplish the first two, and flops disappointingly on the third. Overall, the result is a mindless game that, to quote The Onion's Chris Dahlen, feels less like extreme combat and more "like mowing the lawn."
Much in the vein of the vastly superior Dynasty Warriors franchise, Ninety-Nine Nights II tells a story of a nation at war against an invading enemy force. While Dynasty Warriors does this within the context of Ancient China, N3II tries a "God of War meets Lord of the Rings" approach, as a kingdom of elves battles for survival against an ominous evil force that looks and sounds just like the Army of Sauron. Main character Galen, your dashing, muscular protagonist, shows up in the midst of the war to defeat the Lord of the Night, carrying a pair of blades that would send Kratos running for a lawsuit. Along the way, Galen runs across a handful of archetypal companions that aid him in the war, including a beefy tank, a demure princess, and a prerequisite busty warrior babe.
Despite the fact that N3II gives you a few characters with varying missions to accomplish, the reality is that each warrior plays exactly the same, with slightly varying animations and attack ranges. As you cut and hack your way through each character's missions, you'll be able to upgrade your stats and weaponry, in addition to uncovering a few abilities that can be shared amongst your crew. None of this is really necessary, however, since you can pretty much use the "X" button to resolve every conflict.
Special attacks are very situational, and in most cases, serve no actual purpose in combat. For example, Galen's stab attack is only useful for destroying specially labelled towers to create jumping platforms -- and that's about it. Every other character's special move is a glorified "throw the switch" ability that advances you across the map in each level, which makes most missions a game of "find the brightly coloured thing to continue." Throw in a few thousand cookie-cutter enemies to battle, and you've essentially got a game with hours and hours of repetitive combat.
Now, this is usually the part of the review where I'd tell you what titles Ninety-Nine Nights II borrowed gameplay elements from, but it's almost offensive to mention them in the context of this review, as if the titles are related in any way beyond genre affiliation. N3II tries to style its combat after God of War, but does so without any flair. Eliminating enemies boils down to using the same single combo over and over, and defensive manoeuvres are all but non-existent. In most cases, you can't even block until your attack animation is over, which leaves you wide open to back attacks in every scenario.
More than anything, the boss battles suffer most from this poorly designed combat. An inability to block at will coupled with a pathetic rolling dodge makes you a prime target for soaking up damage in every conflict, and nothing that you do will interrupt a boss's attack pattern. Every time I got in one of these fights, I could do little else than run up and mash buttons, praying that my level was high enough to prevent me from getting killed.
Of course, there are huge maps to traverse in every level, but unlike Dynasty Warriors, you're just clearing a way to the finish line instead of trying to control parts of the conflict. It's especially aggravating when you're playing solo, and have no respite from the action. While Dynasty Warriors gives you lots of allied forces and sets certain victory conditions for each battle, N3II simply turns into a long-running gamble of "how long can I survive until my health meter runs out?" It's further exacerbated by the fact that power-ups and life boosts are ridiculously difficult to find, as the overly detailed (yet sparse) landscapes effectively camouflage every single thing that isn't trying to kill you.
Koei and Omega Force have done smart things with Dynasty Warriors by continually adding new elements to their games, and when that didn't work anymore, attaching the Gundam franchise to their product for all the otaku dollars it would attract. Q Entertainment, on the other hand, seems to have learned nothing from their last foray into the hack-and-slash genre, and Ninety-Nine Nights II greatly suffers for it. Changing development partners did nothing to evolve the experience here, and the battle fatigue you'll have after the game is over is definitely not worth the price of admission.
If you're looking for a mindless way to rack up Achievement Points, go ahead and rent Ninety-Nine Nights II, but be warned -- it's like watching the first 10 minutes of the Battle of Helm's Deep on repeat for 30 hours. After a while, you won't even care who's winning the fights, and only periodic bathroom breaks will break up the monotony.
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