From dusk til yawn.
Why actually review Ninety-Nine Nights
when I can recreate the experience for you right now
? Just put your thumb on any key of the keyboard. Got it? Comfy? Now, using that thumb, press the key. Done? Did it feel all right?
Cool. Repeat it 3000 times. Feel free to continue to read as you play.
Okay, so that’s not entirely fair. In order to really feel the experience of playing Ninety-Nine Nights, you would also need periodic doses of wild frustration and soul-draining aggravation. What number are you at right now? 200? 1000? Start over. You heard me. And when you get to 2,999, start over again.
While you are pounding away, let me explain to you what noble cause you’re sacrificing your thumb for. The world of Ninety-Nine Nights
is a faux-medieval, Dungeons and Dragons, Led Zeppelin
kind of place. It is plunged into a war when a magic stone is split in half, pitting goblin hordes against human armies. It’s your basic inter-species kill-a-thon, peopled with the familiar orcs and trolls of Middle-Earth, probably without licensing rights.
Over the course of the game, you play through the same six or seven epic battles using characters from both sides of the conflict. You begin with an annoying warrior princess, but unlock other characters, like the rough-and-tumble mercenary or the nimble goblin hero, when you complete each character’s campaign. Sometimes you’re a human killing goblins, sometimes you’re a goblin killing humans. But whichever, the operative verb is killing.
And killing is done by happily churning away at the two attack buttons. In classic Dynasty Warriors fashion, your hero plows through regiments and legions of weak enemy troops like a Brazilian farmer in the rain forest. Occasionally, you encounter heroes from the other side, presenting real danger but forcing no real change in the button-mashing strategy.
The science of button-mashing here is reduced to two buttons and elementary pattern combinations. It’s like firing up a lawn mower - once you get one of the characters into a combo, you can just keep laying on that button until the yard is trimmed. Successive hits raises a combo tally, and because there are thousands of bad guys in Ninety-Nine Nights, you can build ridiculous two-thousand hit combinations easily. However, the combo tally doesn’t affect much more than your final ranking. There’s a lot of grass to mow and no reward for doing it with style.
With little functional differentiation between characters, the game tries to make things more interesting by including equippable items and a super-combo move powered by red orbs from downed enemies. The items can make the game a little easier by upping various attributes, but the equipped pieces of clothing cannot be seen on your avatar. I equipped a new helmet, yet I’m still staring at unadorned anime hair? How 1997 of you, Ninety-Nine Nights.
It’s clear that the designers intended to include a strategy element akin to the Kingdom Under Fire series. Near the beginning of the game, you are able to choose two battalions of troops to accompany you into battle. These are basically useless, as you can only tell them to follow or wait. Eventually the game gives up on its weak strategic effort and the guard option disappears completely.
The battalions do add some bodies to the epic battles, though, and that’s probably what Ninety-Nine Nights
does best. Thousands of soldiers, both enemy and friendly, march around in troops and engage each other all over the gigantic maps. Your thumb will start to itch when you spot a dense congregation of enemies, anticipating the satisfaction of throwing waves of bad guys into the air from your juggernaut combos.
But the strength is also a weakness. Just when you unleash a special move or an ultra-destructive combination on a thick crop of baddies, the framerate hits mud. For a game whose primary appeal is the number of enemies it puts on the screen, it is unforgivable that the screen occasionally suffers for it.
Don’t expect the rest of the game to make up for it, as Ninety-Nine Nights is exceptionally unfair and unfriendly. Chief among the game’s multiple aggravations is the inability to save except after finishing a mission. Some missions are over thirty minutes long, and none of them are challenging until the final boss fight at the end. Do the math and that means you could mow for a half-hour, get hit once by the super strong boss and have to go back to mowing for another thirty minutes just to get another crack at him. Talk about child labor.
Other, smaller unpleasantries include randomly triggered cut-scenes that interrupt and erase long combinations, a problem made worse by the fact that the cut-scenes are poorly-designed and disastrously voiced. At once point I watched a dying character recline inside a giant block of stone, parts of him sticking out at all angles, his mouth apparently unhindered by the granite jutting out of his throat.
Ah, if only all the characters’ mouths could be stuffed with mortar. Ninety-Nine Nights’ voice-acting might be the worst of all time. It’s as if the translators took a random selection of waiters and waitresses from Planet Hollywood, gave them scripts and a microphone and let the magic happen.
Take, for instance, the line “Landslide!” Should the tone be surprised and terrified, screamed as if one is about to be buried under a landslide (which is what actually occurs in the game)? Or maybe it should be triumphant, as if casting a powerful ‘Landslide’ spell? Without direction, our poor waiter went with the third option – neutral, as if simply pointing out a common geological occurrence. Oh look, a landslide. And so it goes, the English voice-talent showing over and over again that Los Angeles waiters and waitresses are stuck in the service industry for a reason.
Even worse is the inability to switch the game back to its native Japanese, which makes little sense for a game so clearly designed overseas. At least the music is decent, having ripped off some overly-familiar classical songs that are now public domain.
Despite the bad acting and crunchy framerate, Ninety-Nine Nights shows brief moments of visual beauty. The environments, from the frozen mountains to the castle grounds, are huge and pretty. The characters themselves look good, if one can get past their screeching voices. Still, special effects like lighting, shadow, or water movement are largely absent, probably because they would have marred the framerate even further.
For an M-rated game, the violence is surprisingly bloodless and weightless. Bodies react to attacks, but without any unique motion physics. Blades pass through larger enemies as if they were illusions. Occasionally, even enemy troops become holograms. The game might look next-gen on the surface, but it is actually kiddie-pool shallow.
It is never made clear what the title “Ninety-Nine Nights” means. My guess is that it’s the suggested waiting period before purchasing this dangerous, infuriating, broken game. If, after ninety-nine nights, you still want to subject yourself to obsessive-compulsive gameplay repetition with a smattering of glitches, go for it. But your thumb will hate you in the morning.