The original Ninety Nine Nights was a perfect example of the classic hack and slash gameplay a lot of us grew up with. It was also Microsoft’s first attempt to start bringing more Japanese-developed games to their western console. The characters had personality, there were massive amounts of enemies onscreen and the difficulty was just hard enough to keep you on your toes. Fast forward four years and the sequel has finally landed with a new developer, and a new publisher at the helm. This new version takes some of the things that were wrong with the original and corrects them, but it also removes a lot of what made it special. This is a sequel that takes and almost sideways step in its evolution.
One of the biggest bullet points for the original game was the amount of enemies onscreen. The sequel ups that count making for some truly epic encounters. Now I love feeling in the middle of massive conflicts, but when the enemies are as dumb as a box of rocks it makes for some tedious gameplay. For instance the original game featured some really persistent enemies. They would take you down if you didn’t block and attempt to parry their moves. In N3II (seriously one of the most confusing names ever) the enemies literally stare at you before attacking much like classic kung-fu movies where only one enemy attacks at a time.
This leads to some serious tedium during the levels. It also doesn’t help that the levels are extremely long and the checkpoint system is absolutely frustrating. I was digging around one level for over an hour, exploring and what not, only to fall to my death 1300 kills into the level. When I loaded the last checkpoint my kill count dropped below 500. Now I don’t know about you, but mowing down over 900 enemies only to have that progress lost, is enough to force me not to want to continue.
This highlights one of the many problems with N3II. The difficulty in the game has some serious balance issues. You can literally mow through some levels with no effort at all. Then when you reach the boss of that level he makes quick work of you, especially after you became comfortable tearing through the minions of that level. There is also very little in the way of direction to help you learn the ins and outs of the game itself. The combat is quite simplistic but there are also lots of ways to increase your characters abilities. As you progress you will pick up on a lot of these, but a standard tutorial would have gone a long way to enhance your enjoyment.
The combat as I mentioned is truly disappointing. The first game did a nice job of forcing you to learn when to block, when to attack and of course when to use your special abilities, but the sequel breaks it down to the basics. You have two attacks, quick and strong, and as you can imagine the combos can all be performed by experimenting with button combinations. There is very little reason to block against most enemies, and I seriously didn’t know there was an evade button until two hours in; once again stressing the need for a proper tutorial. This method leads to quick deaths when you reach a boss that requires you to utilize the skills you may, or may not have learned, and again adding to the frustration and unbalanced difficulty.
Once you get a grip on what the game has to offer it can be enjoyable for anyone who loves these kinds of games. Personally I love mindless action as long as there is something to keep me coming back. N3II does a good job of this by adding in multiple characters and costumes to unlock along the way. Just be warned that trudging through the levels trying to find all this stuff will definitely test your patience. Another huge addition to the game this time around is online. It does kind of stink that to earn some of the more prestigious weapons on the game it is required to hop online, but when you find a good partner the game really does shine.
The bad part though is that you cannot play through the campaign, instead you are offered a bevy of co-op and competitive modes that you can check out. Being that there is only two players the lag and performance were near flawless in my time online, although finding someone within the US to play a game with was no easy task.
I hate to continue referencing the first game, but it really is the best base of comparison. Visually I really liked the original game. The characters were truly engaging and unique, but with the sequel things feel a bit uninspired. There are a lot of generic clichés to be found, even though each of the five playable character do feel different when actually playing the game. I like the return of overly dramatic CGI cut scenes and the music and voice acting get the job done, but the limited colors and drab environments sometimes take their toll.
N3II: Ninety Nine Nights is definitely for a very niche audience. Fans of the original will find some nice improvements, but also some sad omissions. If you could literally combine the two games and take the best from both worlds, you would have a truly great hack and slash for the next generation. As it stands we will have to suffice with N3II, and to be honest I don’t necessarily find that to be a bad thing.
Review copy provided by publisher.