Game Review: Ninety-Nine Nights II

Written by MARTZ

INTRODUCTION
The original game was one of the Xbox 360’s original gems, delivering a hack-and-slash experience akin to the Dynasty Warriors series, but with a flow and scale that the previous console generation could only dream of. It had its share of mixed reviews and the game itself did have some noteworthy flaws, but it was a solid game that tried to bring some new ideas to an otherwise sterile genre.

Five years later and a sequel has arrived with the attention of bringing a much darker and bloodier feel to the series as well as a more focused attention on objective-based progression. Add to that an online co-op mode, more character customization and a more in-depth skill system, Ninety Nine Nights II looks like an improvement to its predecessor, but can it stand up on its own?

STORY
N3II (As it’s also known as), is set in a completely different setting then the previous game, so newcomers to the series won’t be lost here. Saying that however, the games story is so thin it almost doesn’t exist. It’s just another story in which a kingdom is on the verge of being overthrown by a dark overlord, and five heroes are chosen by fate to take the menace down. Heard of it before? Well, now you’ve heard it once more, because the story in this game doesn’t try to do anything original, and the execution does nothing to save it from the clutches of pure mediocrity.

Characters are also typical hero archetypes, with the main hero Galen being portrayed as another experienced warrior haunted by his past, seeking his missing daughter and saving the world to finally right his troubled life; not exactly original stuff. As for the other characters – whilst tolerable – they’re simply forgettable. By the time you’ve finished just one of the characters campaigns, you’ll be skipping every cut-scene just to move everything along. Trust me, you won’t be missing anything.

GRAPHICS
Back in 2005, Ninety Nine Nights was a decent looking game, but nothing fantastic, with the game’s biggest strength being its ability to display literally hundreds of detailed units on-screen at any one time…and that was about it. Its sequel some five years later is better in every way, but compared to some of the 360’s best-looking titles, it’s not quite in the same league.

For starters, the game’s art direction is almost entirely generic, with only a couple of boss battles and character weapons showing even a speck of innovation. The game also tends to have a few graphical bugs, including some crazy cloth physics during cinematics, and some occasional clippings issues. Many of the games levels also lack some detail, with some areas looking either barren or lacking in any sort of visual flair.

On the positive side however, the games character models are technically attractive, with each character displaying some pretty neat-looking textures and facial details. The frame-rate is also pretty consistent, running at a solid 30 frames per second for most of the time, even with hundreds of enemies cluttering the screen. The game also lacks any obvious aliasing, and some attacks do look pretty neat, especially when netting combos of over a thousand hits. In short, it’s a serviceable-looking game and it’s technically sound, but don’t expect to see that “wow” factor too often.

SOUND
For a game consisting of levels of such scale, it warrants an epic soundtrack in order to keep the player engrossed. Thankfully, the game delivers, but like the graphics, there’s not a lot that stands out. Just think about any other orchestrated battle music you’ve ever heard of, whether it is from a movie, another game or whatever, and more than likely the score to N3II is going to get lost amongst them. It’s by no means bad (in fact, it’s quite decent), but don’t expect to be humming anything afterwards or rushing to own the soundtrack.

As for the voice acting, I was told the English voice acting was atrocious. Turns out it’s not…but it’s nothing to really talk about either. Galen sounds like a tough guy, supporting characters feature British accents and the script they’re reading from is typical for the genre. Some characters like the goblin-character Levv, sounds like Dragonball Z’s Vegeta after breathing-in a whole week’s worth of cigarette smoke, and many of the support unit lines are a bit overkill on the shouting. Oh, and if you’re not a fan of the English track, the game also features the Japanese voice acting. Just don’t expect it to make the story any more interesting.

GAMEPLAY
Before you say anything; yes, this is one of “those” games. You know…the kind that requires the use of the same two buttons and the dexterity of a dead slug? Well, if you’re not a fan, this won’t convert you. For those who don’t mind the occasional session of pure button-bashing, this game does feature a few extra options to keep things a little bit interesting.

First, your characters movement speed is actually rather quick, allowing you to rush between hordes in very little time. The levels are also more compact and linear, so backtracking should only be a concern for those who wish to find every unlockable power and accessory in the game.

And speaking of which, said powers now add a few new additions to your ever-improving arsenal. With the simple use of the LB button and one of the face buttons, you can unleash one of four custom skills designed to make your enemies that little bit deader quicker. Some may include powerful knockback skills such as “quake”, combo-builders such as “lightning bolt” or self-help ones such as “heal”. Each skill has their own cool down timer, and some are certainly better than others. Accessories also grant passive abilities like “virtue” for extra health, and can sometimes make a huge difference, especially on the games harder difficulty settings.

The original games experience system returns and works like you’d expect. You gain orbs from killing foes and then you get to spend said orbs on upgrading your character, your weapon and your skills. Improvements are noticeable, with some abilities proving almost TOO effective at their maximum level.

But don’t expect the game to be a complete joke, because it isn’t. Some battles can be over-powering at times due to the lack of proper recovery moves (run yourself into a corner and expect a kill-cycle that might drive you insane), jump controls are sometimes unresponsive during light platforming segments, and of course, repetition. Yes, despite some bells and whistles, they’re just that. Character combos are also fairly limited and enemy AI is too predictable at the best of times (at worse enemies are completely brain-dead).

The five character campaigns may also test your patience at times, but they’re helped somewhat with the inclusion of checkpoints and a quick load function, so you can always leave a level and come back to it later. The ability to change equipment after dying helps too.

Alongside the campaign mode is the games Co-operative online mode where you and another player must complete stages based on certain scenarios that include a race mode, survival mode, escorting and vice versa. The co-op mode is a fun diversion for a while and some of the levels are genuinely challenging, but they still don’t do much to hide the shallow gameplay. The games online community is also pretty weak. Even on the games release day, games were tough to find, but with enough patience and a little luck, you may find someone competent enough to fight alongside with.

VERDICT
Ninety Nine Nights II is a mixed-bag in every aspect of its design, and your own personal take of the game may boil down to your tolerance for the hack-and-slash genre. In the end, this game succeeds in nothing, but isn’t a failure. Some people will like it, others won’t. It’s either one or the other. Its final score says it all.

FINAL SCORE: 5/10

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