Ninety-Nine Nights Reader Review
N3 - Ninety Nine Nights is the product of a collaboration between Kingdom Under Fire developer Phantagram, and Tetsuya Mizuguchi. The game's Phantagram roots are far more evident than any input that Mizuguchi may have had, and feels very similar in look, and feel to the Kingdom Under Fire games (A blend of 3rd person hack and slash, and real time strategy). Slightly disappointingly (for me at least), it feels at first like Kingdom Under Fire with the strategy removed. Extended play reveals this to be the case, however this shift in focus has benefited the 3rd person fighting considerably. N3 is far more responsive, vastly more destructive, and generally more fun than the similar hacking and slashing in KUF. Wading into hordes of enemies and carving a swathe through them is a sight to behold. Later levels require you to find the best comboís for the job. Finding optimum moves for certain enemy types, adds depth to what could have become repetitive.
The game takes you through 7 playable character's journeys during a great war between humans and goblins. Mizuguchi has mentioned his intention to make this a very cinematic journey with the, and highlights the ability to see the war from both sides. Itís mostly acted out in engine cut scenes, showing of the engine at itís best, and unfortunately the games level of polish at itís worst. These cut scenes will routinely interrupt super moves youíve been saving for the ďrightĒ moment. After the cut scene has finished it will find yourself back in the fight, the rest of your special move forgotten, and often in the process of being smacked about. The character models look great in these scenes but some horrendous clipping can really spoil any cinematic feel, with beards and hair falling though shoulders and clothes, and the odd limb twitching out uncontrollably.
The characters are unlocked as you go, and their stories do not interlink, as you would perhaps expect. Playing as a different character will re-write the same story, and direction of the war, in a similar way to the film Rashomon that Mizuguchi says influenced him. Though the characters stories are pretty different the levels they play through are very similar, and in some occasions identical. Unfortunately the first two characters have nearly all the same levels, and very similar play styles. So much so in fact I think the game would have benefited from cutting one, as the later characters offer a lot more variety, and some of the real highlights of the game. Later characters offer you the chance to be a Hulk like monster or shoot magic projectiles.
The game as not been completely stripped of the strategy of itís stable mates. Minimal strategy is available though the D-pad; you can order your two companion units to attack a specific enemy unit in your field of vision, or return to your position. In practice this is barely necessary, though occasionally useful for distracting pesky archers so you can carry on with your chopping. Your companion units seem fairly useless, and can take forever to finish of one last survivor. They generally stand around doing nothing, which is a real shame, and will have you hunting around for the last goblin hidden in their ranks so you can move on. Enemies and comrades can look often too similar, making this task a bit tricky. Attacking enemies are highlighted with a flash just before they strike, but this too can be difficult to spot, youíll often get hit when you thought the last goblin had been dealt with.
Characters gradually level up, and levels can be replayed for higher ranks, and more experience. High-level characters are far more fun to use than their initial versions, with longer reach and gradually longer lists of combos. The game does unfortunately force you to level up the opening character to the maximum level so you have a chance of beating the extremely tough last boss. The finale brings about an enormous spike in difficulty that the game could do without. The game can be frustrating as no checkpoints are offered during levels, meaning death leads to a restart. As levels can take 30 minutes or more to clear, failing on a levels boss can be crushing.
It's when your characters reach the higher levels that the game starts to shine, survival becomes less of a concern, and trying to maximize your carnage (gaining you higher ranks) becomes your goal. Latter levels will have you clearing the screen with sweeps of your weapon. Watching the enemies fly is great fun, and unleashing the orb attacks (gained by collecting red orbs from fallen enemies) is satisfyingly devastating.
Items discovered on the battlefield can also be equipped to boost your characters attributes. So there is some control over your characters evolution.
The design of the characters populating N3 is great, and generally put the levels to shame. I rarely found myself stopping to admiring the landscape, but the hordes of enemies on screen are extremely impressive. A few levels had twitchy shadows that can look pretty ugly. Generally the levels are solidly designed, there are occasions however, where back tracking, and "where now" searches disappoint.
Standard definition non-widescreen TVs are treated to compulsory letterboxing, which makes the enemy spotting difficulties more acute. On a high definition TV the game looks good, spotting enemies is easier, and everything looks much crisper. Audio is a mixed bag. Highlights are some dramatic orchestral pieces that fit extremely well with the action. Other "tribal" dance music starts to grate very quickly.
At a basic level the game succeeds in providing a fun and often epic experience of fantasy battling. But its attempts to go beyond this are dragged down by lack of polish and quality control. Less repetition and more of the variety offered later in the game would have left me with a more favorable opinion. There is still time for improvement before it comes to the UK and US so perhaps some of the problems I found with the games can be sorted. If not, my hope is that all the positives of the combat scheme make it into the next Kingdom Under Fire, and are married to the excellent strategy that that series offers.
7 / 10