When Ninety-Nine Nights became the showpiece for Microsoft Game Studios' paltry title count this year, one begins to wonder what stupefying drug Korean-based developer Phantagram got a hold of and who they are sharing it with over at Microsoft. Taking a nod from the Dynasty Warriors hack-and-slash style of gameplay, Ninety-Nine Nights throws players into the middle of hordes of on-screen enemies that you must slice and dice to death, level after carpal-tunnel-inducing level. Nothing has been done here to advance the genre any further than it was in the last generation, and, although pretty to look at, the experience becomes one of horrible tedium fairly quickly. Round out the package with laughable voice acting and stilted animation that makes your character pop out of the scenery like it was part of an original “colorforms” set, and what you have is the best excuse to wait for the 100th Night to buy “Gears of War” instead.
In terms of sheer visuals, Ninety-Nine Nights is pretty. The graphics are enough to be called next-gen, and pack quite a punch with the way hundreds of characters appear on-screen at once. This does bring about a few flaws, however, as the entire horde of enemies all look alike and with the intense melee going on it can become hard to tell who is dead and who is not. The player's character is the real sore spot, as the way he or she interacts with the environment is very stiff and lifeless, almost like a stick puppet, and the fact that the integration between character and environment looks almost half-done... it's the old “three feet above the ground” issues seen in a lot of previous-gen titles. Some of the boss designs attempt at breaking up the on-screen monotony, with various degrees of success, and the blur effect on far away characters will have you checking your eyeglass prescription often.
The game is told from the perspective of seven different characters. After completing the campaigns from one character's perspective you then begin with another. Although each character's particular situation is different, players can expect to see many of the same scenarios over and over again. What really adds insult to injury is that none of the stories being told are particularly fascinating, so you get a real limited replay value for a title in which the basic gameplay design is supposed to encourage repeated visits. Players have two attacks, as well as the ability to block and dash quickly across the screen.
The four hit move set you figure out how to pull off in the first four minutes of gameplay is the same four hit move set you will be using in the last four minutes of gameplay. Oh sure, as players level up their characters they get introduced to new flourishing combos that look really pretty, but they generally end up being less effective than you had hoped and you will find yourself back at the ol' one-two-three-four more often than not. The dash move proves to be particularly worthless, even though it may get you about six inches across the screen in one quick slide. The problem is that after one executes this really implausible maneuver it takes almost two seconds to recover from the animation, leaving you wide open to enemy attack. Players are also in charge of two groups of fighters which follow alongside you, and “respond” to basic-level commands. This whole area of the gameplay seems to have suffered the most, as the AI of these fellow combatants will pretty much do what it wants anyway. Even when the enemy is hopelessly defeated and its last three warriors are backed into a corner, your soldiers will stand around and wait for you to come by to finish the enemies off rather than do it themselves. The whole feature acts like extra window dressing in a title that could have used less cosmetics and more substance underneath. Even the system of finding equipment and weapon upgrades in the field seems clunky, and even after equipping a lot of the “upgrades,” very little changes and any feeling of “leveling up” is pretty much lost.
After a while, the repetitive nature of this game reveals it to be what it truly is, and that is a simple “hack and slash” with very little depth and limited eye candy. It gets to the point that a player with only a small amount of skill can stand like a positive charge in a sea of negatively charged enemies, swatting them away with minimal effort as if you were radioactive. That is, it could get to that point if you bother to stay around that long. A safe bet says that most players will not.
Microsoft choosing to release this next-gen title at a last-gen price should be the first clue at the quality in store for purchasers. If you are a hardcore genre fan that was waiting out in the cold to pick up Dynasty Warriors 2 for your brand-new PS2 back in 2000, you might be able to eek out some kind of enjoyment from this title. Most players will become annoyed and tired of the insulting gameplay and half-hearted design and put the game down for good after the first night of playing it. Those very same players are also likely to spend the other ninety-eight nights asking themselves why they bothered in the first place.