IGN Review of N3: Ninety-Nine Nights
If you haven't grown tired of the hack-and-slash gameplay in Dynasty Warriors games, Ninety-Nine Nights might be the title that does it. The gameplay is shallow, the story is generic, and there isn't anything present to make you feel like you're going to miss out if you just turn the game off and walk away. Although we are months into a new generation of hardware, N3 shows that not all games have made the jump.
Ninety-Nine Nights follows the tale of a war between goblins and humans. In order to learn the full background and reason for the war, you'll have to play as each of seven heroes. Depending upon which character you play as, you'll receive a different bit of the story, though the outcome of the war will be different due to that hero's actions. It's fun having different perspectives, but having different outcomes serves to fracture any sort of cohesion there may have been. Not that it matters too much. The story is paper thin and feels like a cheap Lord of the Rings clone. The game doesn't spend much time enveloping you in a story or in the characters' motivations, making it feel like the story was slapped on as an afterthought. Even for fantasy fans, there isn't much to get excited about here.
The gameplay in Ninety-Nine Nights can be described fairly succinctly. It's a button-masher. You learn new moves as your character gains experience and levels up, but there isn't any incentive to actually use them rather than just slam on the X and Y buttons. You can block by using the left trigger or you can beat the entire game without using it. The choice is yours! Each enemy that you kill drops an orb. Collect enough of these and you do a charged attack. Your charged attack will cause the enemies you kill to drop blue orbs. Grab enough of these suckers and you get an even bigger attack. This serves a welcome rest from the mashing on the X button that you were doing to get to that point because you get to push the B button for once. It's mindless and fun for a short while, but doesn't evolve at all as the game progresses.
Most of the characters you play as are generic as they come and you can pretty much predict the outcome of each of their storylines from the first intro movie. You have the token knight who is unsure of whether the war is worth it, the goblin out for revenge, and even the burly mercenary. The last few characters that you unlock are more interesting, but your time with them is short. Although the characters have their own unique move sets and animations, the same lack of strategy applies to all of them. Just keep pressing that attack button and aim your character towards the next group of enemies. The only difference is the sorceress, Tyurru. She has a ranged water attack and some spells that at least break up the monotony a little. She would be fun to play with if strange camera angles didn't constantly make it difficult to aim her shots.
The first three heroes that you play as are commanders. These characters can choose two guard units to back them up during the fight from a list of infantry, heavy infantry, archers, and pikemen. Which ones you choose doesn't make a bit of difference since these guards are largely useless. They spend most of their time standing in one place looking confused while you do all of the work. To take away every ounce of strategy, you're given almost no control over these guards aside from telling them to follow you or stand in one place. At best, these ally units are a distraction and they probably should have been left completely out of the game. The remaining four heroes don't suffer this annoyance. With them, you only have to worry about yourself. The allies are still on the battlefield, but you can largely ignore them which is what you probably had been doing the whole time.
Or rather, you could ignore the guard allies if they didn't constantly get in your way. You see, the guards will attempt to attack the enemy heroes on the battlefield, but they can't hurt them. They'll swarm them, unleash clouds of arrows, and chase those suckers from here to next Tuesday, but they won't do a speck of damage. That's fine. We wouldn't want the A.I. controlled characters to do all of the work and not give us a chance to have fun. But if they're not going to do any damage, why do they still register hits? Every time they get an attack in, the enemy hero reels back in pain. You can't get a hit in if he or she is already going through the animation of receiving an attack. This means that if you have a large number of ally guards (remember, you can't control most of them), you'll find it hard to even get your own strikes in without first trying to isolate the enemy. Succeeding in your mission and protecting your allies actually turns into a hindrance rather than a bonus.
Although you're in the midst of a war with hundreds of enemies on the battlefield, the rival heroes are the only opponents that attack you with any frequency or effectiveness. Their A.I. is poor by any standard and once you knock them down, you're set. Your foes are vulnerable as they get up, so simply getting behind them and slamming on the X button while you wait for them to get back on their feet will result in endless combos that they can't defend against. Their only real hope is that your allies get in your way. You'd think some sort of system would have been worked out to make the big fights more engaging, but sadly that is not the case.
Through the game, your character gets stronger by leveling up and finding items on the battlefield. The items are either found in chests or on the bodies of fallen enemies. This creates one of the most frustrating parts of the game. N3 has a tendency to skip straight to a cutscene once you complete an objective, even if you just killed a rather large enemy that dropped something you might want. Too bad for you. If you didn't scoop it up in the half of a second you had after defeating the enemy then you're out of luck. Not to mention that these items can easily fall off into an area where you can't get them at all.
As a form of a carrot, the game keeps track of how many attacks you've chained together and gives you a rating at the end of each mission, but then breaks the system by interjecting cutscenes without warning. Each time a cutscene plays, your charged attacks are ended and any chains you've strung together are wiped clean. It serves to ruin any momentum you may have been gaining toward enjoying yourself.
The only items that you can store are those that can be equipped. If you've got a full health bar and find a HP restore potion, it will be wasted since they disappear a short while after being exposed. This, combined with the fact that you can't save midway through a mission, means you'll often wind up coming to the final boss without much in the HP gauge. The only solution is to go off in search of chests you may not have broken open yet in hopes of finding something to restore your health. It's slow and tedious, but you'll wind up doing it so that you don't die and lose all of the experience you've gained.
If there is any fun to be had from Ninety-Nine Nights, it doesn't last long. There are seven playable heroes, each with between two and six missions to play. The longest missions take about a half of an hour, though most can be beaten in ten to fifteen minutes. All told, you'll have the main game completed in about twenty hours. There isn't much to see once you've button mashed your way through it. You can go back and replay missions to gain achievements or improve your characters, but why would you want to subject yourself to replaying the same scenarios and more button mashing? The characters cap out at level 9 and you'll reach level 6 or 7 just by playing through the missions. If you do want to go back and max out your squad, each character will only take you an additional hour and a half or so.
The extras available aren't much to get excited over either. All you get is a difficult special mission that becomes available when each story has been completed and unlockable character art and bios. Each mission you complete provides a few points that you can put towards the art and character profiles, but playing through the game once will give you nearly enough points to unlock everything. The review copy we were sent offered no online leaderboard options. Nor are there any co-operative or versus modes of any sort. It's fitting that the shallow gameplay would be accompanied by shallow options.
Ninety-Nine Nights succeeds in putting an insane number of units on the battlefield at one time. This doesn't come without a cost. Just when you find yourself in the midst of an intense battle against seemingly impossible odds, slowdown strikes. It happens most often when you try to use your special attacks, but even comes during your run of the mill action. When the entire point of the game is to flood the screen with enemies, not being able to keep a solid frame rate is a big letdown. The attack animations are fluid, but since there is no variety in the enemy's appearance, even the nice looking things grow tired after just a short while. Making the graphics seem even blander is the repetitive use of environments. Playing through the war seven times means you're going to be fighting in the same places. The game's visuals are in dire need of some variety.
That's not to say that everything in Ninety-Nine Nights is bad. The controls are tight and if it weren't for unwanted cutscenes popping in and slowdown, you'd be able to create some sweet battle sequences. Stringing together a chain of attacks and capping it off by unleashing your orb powers can be quite fun when everything goes well. The majority of the characters may be generic, but playing as the lumbering VigkVagk is a sweet reward for going through the rest of the game. It's too bad you only get to play two missions as him.
The best part about Ninety-Nine Nights is probably the soundtrack. It's all orchestral and, although the selection isn't vast, it doesn't get repetitive or annoying like most soundtracks. It's really quite nice. Just leave the game on the menu screen for some good background music. The voice acting is forgettable most of the time, grating at others, and completely absent at times that it should exist. How come I can wipe out entire armies and never hear them voice any sort of pain? Your voice is generally the only one heard prominently and it can become repetitive as the same voice snippets get played over and over in battle. Thankfully, the missions are short enough that you won't get annoyed with them before the game ends.
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