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Ninety-Nine Nights Xbox 360

Published by Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by Phantagram/Q Entertainment
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £49.99

Ninety-Nine Nights, an introduction.

In the build  up to the launch of the Xbox 360 one of the pieces of game footage that really impressed me was that section in Kameo where you literally fight your way through hoards of trolls. This sequence was impressive not for the graphical detail (which was actually very good) but for the sheer amount of trolls that were displayed on screen at any one time without any impact on the frame rate. Ninety-Nine Nights (which we'll call N3 from now on) has many moments like this where you're seemingly doing battle with hundreds of creatures at any one time. Technologically, there can be no doubting that N3 is very impressive. Finally we get to see if there's a quality gaming experience to match this technically impressive mass combat action game.

What's the game about?

N3 is a mass combat action game that's set in a universe where the armies of Light and Dark are locked in battle. In N3 you'll play as seven different characters (one of whom is kept ). There's Inphyy the 17-year old female member of the Temple Knights, her stepbrother Aspharr, Myifee who is a 32-year old mercenary who wields a Fire Orb Spark and Tyurru, a 12-year old sorceress of the Divine City Academy of Wizardry as well as a few others. The game has 20+ missions altogether and you'll control each character for a certain amount of missions. Essentially each character has their own mini-campaign. There are some RPG elements here and your characters will level up and be able to equip some of the various items they'll acquire on the battlefield. Each character has their own combo attacks, which you'll acquire as your characters level-up, Orb Attacks and Orb Sparks (which are more powerful than standard Orb Attacks).

What's good about the game?

If you're a fan of such games as Dynasty Warriors it's a fair bet that you're going to enjoy what N3 has to offer as the game is pretty much in the same vein. Of course if you like mass combat action games but simply aren't interested with the Chinese theme of the Dynasty Warriors series then there's also a strong chance you'll appreciate what N3 has to offer. As well as controlling your hero  (and it has to be said that each of the heroes feel very different from each other, which is always pleasing), you can also control two guard groups. Prior to a mission you can select what kind of guards you prefer. The choices on offer are Infantry, Heavy Infantry, Pikemen and Archers. The type of guards you can choose will depend on which hero you are controlling. You'll face various enemies in the game ranging from Goblins to Orcs and Dark Elves. You'll have mêlée, ranged and magic attacks to contend with. You'll occasionally encounter bosses too (usually at the climax of a mission) and these pose more of a threat than your normal enemies. Occasionally you'll get to use the environment to help you. Early in the game you can hack away at some supports to allow several boulders to roll down the hill and crush quite a few of your enemies. 

The control scheme is probably about as simple as it can be in a game of this type. Attacks are performed with the X and Y buttons. The A button is used for jumping and the B button for activating Orb Attacks  and Orb Sparks. Essentially when you kill enemies  with normal attacks red orbs will appear and collecting these fills your Orb Attack meter. Once the meter is full the Orb Attacks can be activated (by pressing the B button) and during this temporary state the X and Y buttons perform special attacks. When you kill enemies with Orb Attacks a blue orb will appear. Collecting these fills your Orb Spark meter and once this meter is full you can perform an Orb Spark (again by pressing the B button) to unleash massive damage on your enemies. Orb Sparks are so powerful that you'll want to keep them for sticky situations as they can take out hundreds of enemies in one go. On the battlefield you'll be able to collect various items such as orbs, armoury, weapons and health items etc. Some of these weapons can be equipped (pressing the back button allows you to access your inventory screen) to give you additional (if minor) bonuses. The camera controls are pretty much what you would expect with the right analogue stick manipulating the camera angle and the left trigger resetting the camera to behind your hero character.

What's not so good about the game?

I have to say I think the strategy layer that Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires added to the mass combat action game really added some much needed depth to the experience and if anything, N3 feels like a shallower experience for not having anything to compare with this. In fact N3 doesn't even have anywhere near the depth of Phantagram's  Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes on the Xbox, which is surprising. I would have liked greater control over the guards you have at your disposal. Essentially you can tell them to stay or attack which is far from satisfactory. You ought to have been able to tell them to flank the enemy and  have your archers fire at specific targets etc. The AI of these guards seems pretty poor. If you take a moment to watch them battle they don't actually seem to get rid of many enemies, which is disappointing. At times it seems like they are simply a buffer between you and your enemies. The game's story isn't all that interesting to be honest. Some characters you'll only have for a few missions and you don't get much of an opportunity to appreciate them. It would have also been better had there been more characters and you had the ability to choose which character you wanted to play as. Whilst the characters obtain some pretty fancy combo attacks as they level-up you'll never really have much need for them as the lower-level attacks seem to get the job done quite nicely. This makes learning the more elaborate combos non-essential, which is a shame.

How does it look?

One of the complaints with Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires was that the game didn't really look like an Xbox 360 game. Many expected the characters models to be much more detailed and likewise for the environmental textures and lighting. In fact, many would probably have expected the game to look like N3, which really does look like a next generation mass combat action game. The character models are impressive and easily surpass anything we've seen in this genre before. The various environments you'll battle in look good, although they aren't  as impressive as the character models. The frame rate is generally fine although you will experience some slowdown with some of the more elaborate Orb Sparks, although it's nothing that harms the game in any way.

How deaf gamer friendly is the game?

N3 won't give deaf gamers any serious problems. The game is subtitled and you'll be able to follow the story. The game's tutorial is also fully subtitled so you'll be able to learn how to play the game without too much fuss (although in truth the game is far from being complicated). Mission briefings and guard selection screen details are given exclusively in text so there are no problems there. Cutscene dialogue is subtitled but there are no character portraits or names placed alongside the dialogue. Mission objectives are shown in text and can be recalled at any time. You can also recall a list of combo attacks for your character at any time, which is rather useful. Most comments your characters give out in battle are not subtitled (important ones are and include character portraits and names being placed alongside the comments) but this doesn't cause too much of a problem. However, it would have been nice to have had the orders your character gives out shown in text to make it apparent to deaf gamers exactly what was going on. You're notified in text when your character has levelled up and when new attacks have been gained.

Final thoughts.

Ninety-Nine Nights is one of those games that's either going to please or disappoint, depending on what you're expecting from the game. Taking it purely as a mass combat action game, it's actually an enjoyable experience. Does it have a lot of depth to it? The answer has to be no and it's probably this which is going to have some gamers taking a dislike to it. It's also quite repetitive but in fairness that's how mass combat action games are. Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires managed to insert some much needed depth to the Dynasty Warriors series with its strategy layer and N3 could have done with something similar. That said though, sometimes you just don't want plenty of depth in your games and  if you're just  want a great looking, button bashing mass combat action game then N3 certainly has plenty to offer.

Overall Game Rating: 7.3/10

Deaf Gamers Classification:

(Click the letter or here for details)

Ninety-Nine Nights could have done with more depth and more characters to play as. Whilst it's fair to say that the game is a shallow experience it also must be mentioned that it's a lot of fun to play.