Ninety-Nine Nights was supposed to be Microsoft’s saving grace for the Xbox 360 in Japan. No wonder the console is still floundering over there. Having recently made its way to North America, Ninety-Nine Nights fails on almost every level, from boring gameplay and non-existent level design to awful audio and a repetitive structure. We’ve all heard for years that Japanese gamers’ tastes differ from North American gamers’ tastes, but when a game flounders on so many fronts, it’s hard to see how any gamer would like something like this.
Ninety-Nine Nights tries in several ways to present an epic story, but it just falls flat. If you’ve seen the Jet Li movie “Hero,” you’re familiar with both with the film’s epic scope and with its clever storytelling in which multiple points of view are told by presenting viewers with various “replays” of the same sequences. Tetsuya Mizuguchi tries a similar approach with Ninety-Nine Nights, with six playable characters each presenting a slightly different take on an overarching story of light versus dark.
The problem with that is twofold. First, the hack-and-slash gameplay in Ninety-Nine Nights isn’t compelling enough to warrant playing through the exact same levels more than once. For that matter, the lack of mid-mission checkpoints doesn’t exactly help the monotony either, as one mistake at the end of a 45-minute level can mean you’ll have to go right back to the beginning of the level.
Second, moving from one playable character to the next doesn’t really switch the gameplay mechanics, it just gives you slightly different attacks and super-move eye candy. Sure, the combo moves themselves differ, but you can only smash on the X and Y buttons so many times before it all starts to feel the same. And again, if the levels themselves are essentially the same, smashing the same buttons doesn’t exactly compel you to do anything but turn the game off and wonder why such a non-diverse game took so long to create.
If the gameplay doesn’t exactly inspire praise, don’t bother looking to the production values for salvation. The audio is horrid, plain and simple. Characters say the same thing over and over in the heat of battle, the music sounds like a low-budget MIDI file, and the cutscene voiceovers seem performed by eight-year-olds (in talent and tone). Graphically, things take a slight step up, with very detailed character models and only an occasional framerate hiccup, but the models themselves look so similar from enemy to ally that it’s hard to tell the difference in the middle of a hack-and-slash fest. As a result, most of the time you’ll find yourself slashing into a group of characters just on the off chance that there’s a bad guy in there.
Of course, you’d have to do that anyway, because the intelligence of your allies delves into negative IQ territory. I’m all for being a hero and having superhuman strength, but when the two squads whom gamers can command to defend and attack can barely take out a single grunt by themselves, you’ve got to wonder why Mizuguchi-san even bothered including squads as a gameplay element. If you want to know why the in-game screenshots show players with so many combos and kills, it’s simply because they had to kill that many enemies, since the friendly AI is just so bad.
With its producer’s pedigree and undoubtedly high development budget, Ninety-Nine Nights should have been fantastic. Instead, it feels like a last-gen button masher with NES-era audio. Microsoft wanted desperately for this game to inspire Japanese gamers to buy its next-gen console, but the company had better keep looking for its savior, because all Ninety-Nine Nights inspires is thoughts about the 99 different ways to slash ones wrists.
- Gameplay: 6
- Not only have you done all this dozens of times before, you’ve done it dozens of times before in this very game.
- Graphics: 8
- Good marks for detail, smoothness and special effects, but the units look a bit too similar.
- Sound: 5
- The audio in the CG sequences is good. The rest is poorly performed and repetitive.
- Replay: 4
- You can earn better “grades” for each level, but you won’t ever want to replay them AGAIN, so it’s basically a moot point.
- Overall: 5
- Easily the worst game we’ve played on Xbox 360, and worse even than most last-gen consoles’ button mashers.
— Jonas Allen