In the 2000s, the Dynasty Warriors series (and most of its subseries) was not well received in western grounds, often maligned by people that never even gave the formula a real chance but eager to play them for 5 minutes, stop and write some half-baked “review”, because it was cool to bash musou games, and they’re a niche interest anyway, who cares.
But that didn’t stop various other company from having a go at the formula, often proclaiming that them alone knew how to “fix” musou games… and then churning out shit that only demonstrated how people genuinely misunderstood the formula and the appeal of these games, often thinking that they just needed to beef up the enemy IA… leading to crap like Spartan Total Warrior.
One of the “musou pretenders” from that era was definitely Ninety Nine Nights, or N3 because we’re cool like that, dawg. Drop the beets for the l33t.
A X-Box 360 exclusive launch title, developed by Q Entertaiment and Phantagram, Ninety Nine Nights also had a fairly rushed development cycle, which you can really tell from the story perspective. It’s the usual “Light VS Darkness” bullshit set in a medieval-ish looking world with all expected high fantasy races and tropes: goblin, trolls, orcs, dragons and all dat shit.
Actually, you can tell it was co-developed by a sud korean studio, as it has that “anime but not really because we’re kinda ashamed to admit it’s anime inspired” aesthetic and that “kitchen sink” aesthetic, so we get the high fantasy clichès of armored human knights, devious orcs, rabid goblins, dumbass trolls… and also characters with designs that really don’t quite fit, be it the little witch girl and the Dragon Quest-looking frog king with the furred cape and shit.
All named in a way that sound like a joke or a sequence of typos (like how the character Anna in Onechanbara 360 title was constantly referred to as “Annna”, with stuff like Inphyy, Aspharr, Dwykfarrio. Just plain laughable names that feel fashioned from random hands of Scrabble.
The story it’s not complicated per sé, it’s quite cliched, with mostly a vengeance tale that spins into a “darkness vs light” affair involving a prophecy, and of course it’s the usual bullshit of humans against any other fantasy race, because they’re evil, kill them all.
The main character, Inphyy (yes, it’s her actual name) it’s the biggest offender, yes, she has a vendetta against goblins because the goblin king killed their father, but she’s a bit too happy to go full Hitler on anything that isn’t human, so she’s just detestable and the other characters aren’t much better, aside lacking the goblin genocide boner, and the writing it’s really… not good either, with plenty of throw away expositions lines thrown on the quick because they forgot to proper explain some motivations, not that it stops the characters talking with or about other people they know but you have no context or knowledge of yet. Or makes you care to.
All of this is NOT helped by the multi-mini campaigns format. While they do serve on shedding light on some of the story events (as the often show other sides of the conflicts and so on) and give you some better understanding of what’s happening, there’s barely any continuity between them, as they often have contradicting endings. So it’s another case of a game that hides it’s actual ending as the “true secret ending”, forcing you to go through all the “sidecheese” for some kind of closure.
And the actual ending is like the rest of the plot and narration: limp, disjointed and unsatisfying.
I would talk about the dialogues, but i really feel the line “Not even frogs can defeat me!” really sums up nicely the kind of stuff we’re dealing with. Voice acting is available in english, and oddly it’s kinda of crappy-but-not-totally voice acting that i guess games like these are bound to get.
Gameplay gets the basics rights, in terms of controls and systems, but it’s also one of those musou-likes that tried to marry the formula with the flow and level design of a normal beat em up/hack n slash… to very questionable results, not surprising given the plethora of very questionable design decisions made in the first place.
Keep in mind the game doesn’t have stages designed as the huge campal battles seen in Dynasty Warriors, but mostly as linear affairs that are often way too big for their sake, as the map is not fully utilized even for the small ones, but especially due to some being noticeably bigger, you’d wish your character moved at a faster pace, had a dash manouver or you had mounts of any kind, because you move way too slow… until you discover that’s it’s faster to keep spamming the short evasive dash than to simply keep walking/running. The “Metroidvania syndrome” thingie.
While some of the bigger stages are set up more like a proper battlefield and have musou-style objective to achieve, you can’t move around the battlefield freely and are still tied to clearing the current objective, like a normal linear beat ‘em up, which is both annoying in itself, confusing and made frustrating by how the poor walking/running pace of your character makes the levels seem longer or bigger than they are.
The other problem is that the developers must have thunk people like musou games only because you rack up a kill count in the thousands easily, and yes, the power fantasy element it’s crucial, but this shows a design misunderstanding, as the game often just has you fight hordes of enemies in an area, blocks you from moving forward until you clear them all out. It’s amazing how pedantic the game can be in requiring to slaughter every last peon, especially since this game really wanted to outdo Dynasty Warriors in terms of characters on screen, and while they look slightly better than usual for the time and budget… maybe there’s a reason the peons in Warriors game aren’t too detailed or good looking, after witnessing some huge framerate slowdowns in this game.
Also, while the combat system itself it’s decent, takes some nice liberties (like a more free form set of combo strings) while using a more Samurai Warriors-style (as in, the older ones) “Rage mode” where you can slice and dice fast in area to collect energy for the ultra special attack… the game also can be a mess to look at. Enemies honestly blend into the folds of your own group of soldiers, especially when there are hordes on screen they basically hide in plain sight, and you’re glad at least they didn’t activate friendly damage, otherwise i would have decimated my own men quicker than the enemy archers or infantry. Guess nobody questioned why Omega Force made the playable characters stand out from the peons or why they color-coded the factions.
To make things worse, Ninety Nine Nights it’s also another game that figured you could fix the difficulty problems of the musou formula by just making the enemies more aggressive and deal more damage… even the peons. And given the aforementioned visual mess that combat is, you’ll get more frustrated than anything else by hordes of small fodder goblins that will relentessly sneak way too much damage as they “hide” between your allies or within themselves, and having to redo the entire stage (yeah, no checkpoint) because a boss enemy wounded you badly and you were sniped by a small peon hidden between thousands of its mates… isn’t fun nor “challenging”.
Adding to the wonky difficulty “balance” there’s a deliberate scarcity of power-up items, especially healing potions in arenas nearby a boss, and i general when you need them the most. Anything to drawn out the levels and inflate longevity will do, this is the game’s motto, and the controls feeling a bit stiffer than they should isn’t a deal breaker… but it doesn’t help either.
This combination of design decisions also leads to a musou-like that subtracts something from the formula… but doesn’t add anything to it, and honestly just exacerbates the repetitive nature of the gameplay. The only thing they added is the ability to enlist/equip some auxiliary units (infantry, lancers, archers, heavy infantry) that will follow you and you can command… meaning you can order them to stay on the defensive or attack, but it’s not like they’re more useful or powerful than the player character, and you can’t even order them around the maps.
Not that the allied regular soldiers that often follow you are much help either, as you can 5 or 10 of them struggling to take down a single peon, like a basic ass goblin peon. I’m assuming these soldiers are the holdovers from Kingdom Under Fire, at least i think, i haven’t played that series.
In terms of characters, you have a very small roster of 7, just one short of the bare minimum, but at least the characters themselves are decent enough to play as, and expecially the “Astra” clearing moves can be damn satisfying, that much is true.
Not much to say in terms of progression and RPG elements, levelling up unlocks more combos, more slots for the various accessories you can equip (after founding them in chests, of course), gives you more health bars and the likes, but it’s kinda telling from the fact the level cap is at 9 that this wasn’t exactly designed with the idea of people playing the post-game a lot, or at all.
In what i feel it’s basically a trend among many musou-likes, the game pulls that “mini-campaigns for each character” waltz, so you basically have to finish Inphyy’s story first to unlock Asphar, and so on, but as you unlock them you notice how the already not lenghty campaigns keep getting shorter and shorter, with some either taking places on the same locations for story reasons, or being so short you’d wonder why even bother. When they don’t feel overlong, that is.
Not that is anything else to the game in terms of content, there’s no extra modes, not even a Free Mode, no DLCs, it’s single player game only and once you see the “true ending” you’re done… unless you wanna replay the stages (by loading the characters’ respective saves) to grind points that in turn let you unlock illustrations, concept art, and nothing else of actual note or worth.
Unless you consider the ability to use custom soundtracks. Yay? Yay.
On top of being starved of content, this is also a very buggy game.
I’m not nitpicking about the questionable proofreading, some cutscenes lacking voice acting, but of stuff like objectives descriptions being incorrect, for example one asks you to “defeat a guard”… but it doesn’t mean you should search for a guardian-like medium tier officer and kill it, it means you should kill every single enemy that comprises the dot highlighted on the map.
Clipping it’s wild, lypsynching it’s constantly off, sometimes invisible walls glitch you temporarely out of areas you can actually access (while not affecting enemies), sometimes a healing item you desperately need decides to spawn INSIDE the dead body of the enemy that left it, hence making it impossible to get the item all together.
And worse, your saves can get corrupted and you can finish some campaigns, expecting the others to unlock as they should… to no avail, so you’re gonna have to do it all from scratch. And i did.
If nothing else, it made easier to notice how the game doesn’t really get much better after the starting levels (for example the one featured in the demo, which plays the old shareware trick of putting the best level in order to lure people into buying the full game), arguably it gets worse all around, and there is a shameless amount of recycling going on of the very little content on offer, often with worst stuff tacked on as the game reaches the final campaigns.
Did i already say this was programmed in 6 months? I did, but boy it shows, and i’m not referring to the graphics being not that impressive, but it was a launch title as well and a musou game to try and compete with , the problems are not in its not great production values or cheap, bad-but-not-quite-funny english dub, nor the bad lyp synching or obvious budget approach to cutscenes and dialogues.
It just feels rushed in terms of overall design, with the understanding that people enjoy killing thousands of peons in musou games… with no regards to anything else, otherwise they probably would have realized dumping this style of hack n slash action in linear levels isn’t improving on the formula, it’s often making it worse if you don’t do anything else to adjust the level design and give it some variety, like the first Ken’s Rage tried and – mostly – did right.
This isn’t the first time someone tried to decline the musou feel or formula in the framework of a more typical linear beat ‘em up, but it’s arguably one of the worse i’ve seen, as it figures just having lots of enemies on screen and making you kill thousands of those will be enough. It isn’t.
Especially when there are also plenty other problems, in terms of designs, story, and pretty much everything, with the odd exception of the combat itself being fairly satisfying… shame the excessive repetition (even for a musou game), kinda stiff controls and the aforementioned plethora of bad design choices that undermine having characters that are fun to play as.
Then again, i’m sure the developers were happy to just finish it, given it was a rushjob launch title meant more to display the power of the then new X-Box 360, and since then it haunted used bins and was impossible not to stumble upon it in game stores, so overabundant the physical supply of copies was… and arguably still is, even today it’s pretty cheap and easy to find used online.
Though i don’t really recommend it since it’s mostly a bad attempt at a musou, just pretty crap all around, but i guess it serves some purpose for the curiose hack n slash entusiasths and collectors.
Still a pile of ass, but you know, being constructive and all.
Eventually, a in-name only sequel arrived as another X-Box 360 exclusive, simply called Ninety Nine Nights II (and of course abbreviated as N3-II), announced during that legendary Konami E3 conference. But that for another year of #musoumay