Game Review: N3II: Ninety-Nine Nights
Release: June 29th, 2010
Available Platforms: Xbox 360
Players: 1-2 (via Xbox LIVE)
ESRB Rating: M (Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity,Violence)
N3II: Ninety-Nine Nights has arrived, and if you were confused about the complexities of good and evil, and how difficult it is to tell one from another, you can breathe a sigh of relief. This story features the Army of Light as they protect their Orb of Light from the Army of the Night, whom have already captured the Orb of Darkness. See? A nice, cut and dry saga that will have you battling for not only the kingdom’s existence, but the existence of the entire world.
The story itself focuses on the actions of 5 unlikely heroes who band together, put aside their differences, and do battle against the Lord of the Night (you knew there would be a Lord of the Night, right?). What the story lacks in originality, it makes up for in a tightly woven tale that, when played across all 5 characters gives you a complete understanding of exactly what sacrifices each character makes in order to put an end to the Army of the Night. While I won’t go so far as to call it deep, it is engaging, and the character stories are well done (if not a little quirky, but that’s part of the charm of this series).
You initially take control of Galen, a self-described ultimate warrior, and are placed in a battlefield surrounded by enemies. It doesn’t take you long to figure out that this game is all about hack and slash. You will face HUNDREDS of enemies on the screen, and your ability to quickly dispatch large quantities of enemies at once will be tested often. Majority of the game takes place on open battlefields against large numbers of varying enemies. Most can be taken out with basic combos that are linked to the X and Y buttons (for light and heavy swings). Some larger enemies may need more finesse, and your ability to dodge, block, air attack, orb attack, and magic attack will be put to use. The battles can be relentless, and you will always be outnumbered. You do encounter friendly NPCs at times, but they will often be used as a distraction for batches of enemies rather than actively engaging them, allowing you to take out multiple groups of minions without being the sole focus of your enemy.
There are also a variety of mini-boss battles, and a few epic boss battles as well (facing one of the final bosses is particularly impressive and, in what is likely a nod to God Of War, is the only time quick-time-events are utilized). The combos you can string together are impressive, and between battles you can equip new weapons and items you find on the battlefield to improve your abilities. You can activate 4 skills on the battlefield that recharge over time, and these skills can provide a variety of benefits from healing and orb regeneration, to summoning attack orbs, gravitational voids that suck in enemies, fireballs, chain lightning, plasma rays, and much more.
While you will initially follow Galen’s storyline, you will unlock characters (4 in all, for a total of 5 playable characters) that each have their own stories (which sometimes intersect the main storyline). While each character has their own weapons, all characters share the same items that have been found, so you can utilize the same skills and abilities across all characters. Each character also has their own special ability, though with the exception of one character, these abilities are reduced to accessing certain areas of a stage, with little practical battle use. The characters run the gambit from bad-ass warrior to pure but determined princess to simpleminded but direct ogre, and the game plays out all the traditional stereotypes well, if not predictably. The story is delivered through cut-scenes at the beginning and end of missions, as well as in-mission jabbering from time to time.
There is the option to play online in a series of co-op missions that are loosely based on the events in the game, and you bring over your single player characters and skills to use online. Any experience you get in multi-player carries over to the single player game, and there are certain unlockable items and weapons only found online, which provides a nice incentive to play through the missions at least once. This is an excellent way to work on leveling up your character and their stats without having to play the same single-player mission over and over like the first game, and is an excellent and well executed addition to the game. I hope future DLC will expand on the mission selection (which is ample, but still ultimately limited).
If you like a game that doesn’t want you taking your time, you have found it. The only time I ever used block was when I was working on the achievement. I felt the game didn’t really want me to block, as when I would try to use it in a battle application the enemy would either not attack at all, or use an unblockable attack. I had much greater success dodging with the roll move, which I used often. I mentioned liking the story, and will go on to say that I really like how it handled cut-scenes involving narrative with the enemy. Rather than having your villains saying typically evil things, like wanting to take over the world or kill off all that is good, the Lord of the Night is a well spoken henchman with feelings and common sense, and it is a refreshing change to see character development of the people you know you will ultimately be defeating down the road (an important step to take if future DLC allows you to play as evil characters, which wouldn’t be a bad idea).
I will give the disclaimer now that I really liked the first Ninety-Nine Nights (so much so that I bothered with it enough to get 1000 gamerscore points out of it) – while the battles were repetitive and predictable, I enjoyed the opportunity to turn my brain off a bit, roll around masses of enemies, and unleash hell on hundreds of hapless creatures. And in this vein, N3II doesn’t disappoint. The battles are larger, and the enemies are a little more persistent, but each character’s basic attacks are sufficient to dispatch 95% of the enemies. Everyone will play with different combos until they find one that they like (for me it was a rolling evade into a heavy attack wide area move), and that’s the point. I enjoyed the story, and the graphics, particularly on the main characters, are well done. Missions initially offer basic “Get to here” or “Kill all these people” objectives before opening up to more creative options later, some of which were quite imaginative. Mission length is also generally about 25 minutes, with a checkpoint midway through that is resumable from if you need to bail before you finish.
The comparisons to the first game do extend to some steps back for the second game – the massive orb attacks are nice in N3II, but they pale in comparison to the epic feel of some of the attacks in the first game. The character stories are good, but I felt the storytelling was better in the first game, and character variety was MUCH better in the first game. All 5 characters in N3II are dual-wielding and share combo styles – gone are the individualities of certain characters like Tyurru’s magic attacking style or Vigk Vagk’s lumbering ball and chain attacks. The ability to use items provides customization, but you will likely fall in love with certain abilities and use them across all characters. The music and sounds are appropriate, but not remarkable (and often repetitive). The game can be frustrating at times with a lack of ample save points; you are teased with huge areas to explore, but become reluctant to do so due to knowing there are ambushes down all those alleys, and have to deal with a lack of health restoration items to get you to the one checkpoint the map does have. You can always replay a level later to pick up items you miss the first time, but I felt the game punished exploration on the first playthrough.
The game was clearly geared towards the first character you play – Galen. He has the most interesting missions, his special move is used in a variety of different and imaginative ways, and he has the longest series of missions (and boss battles) of all the characters. I would also strongly recommend playing Galen’s mission set first, as other character’s storylines make almost no sense without having first played through Galen’s. While I understand that the other characters are secondary players to the story that Galen provides, they shouldn’t be treated like second-class citizens with their storylines.
At one point in the game, one of the main story characters says of the enemy, “What the hell’s the point of killing all of them,” and I felt that was the best way to sum up my experience with the game: I was an epic swordsman for the first few hours, plowing through nearly endless waves of minions as I trudged through the missions. Over time, however, I found that rolling past the enemies and getting to the next mission checkpoint was more important than unleashing hell. I wanted to get to the next cut-scene, the next mission, the next storyline. I was interested in seeing how the stories connected, although a little disappointed with the ultimate execution, and there’s no getting around the obvious with this game: it’s a repetitive slasher with more items and bigger battles at the expense of less individuality and a poorer story than its predecessor. The game still accomplishes what I wanted out of it: a mental gaming break with twitch controls, epic battles, and massive combos. Online play adds some needed replayability, but as a recommendation to the masses, I’d have to suggest renting it first; it just doesn’t do enough to pull in anyone that doesn’t already enjoy these kind of games.
Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to go back to developing my future carpal tunnel.