Ninety-Nine Nights, 80 Bajillion Enemies
The playable demo of Ninety-Nine Nights, a collaborative effort between Q Entertainment and Phantagram, recently went live for download via Xbox Live. Having been wowed by the various movies released over the past year or so, it was something I was eager to get my hands on. As soon as the demo finished downloading here on the office's Xbox 360, I plugged in, closed the door, and prepared to watch numbers on the screen scroll up to ludicrous levels. I was not disappointed.
Ninety-Nine Nights, or N3, has a premise similar to that of the Dynasty Warriors series and the Kingdom Under Fire games (developed by Phantagram, incidentally). Namely: lone warrior at the front of an army with hundreds upon hundreds of baddies in front of you. Go to town, have fun. They're fun games, if somewhat repetitive and prone to suffering from button-masher-syndrome.
After watching a laughably voice-acted cutscene featuring a conversation between who appeared to be Princess Amidala from the Star Wars prequels and FF7's Cloud Strife, we were dropped into an ongoing battle with legions of goblins. If N3 has a tactical or limited tactical mode like the games it borrows from, it wasn't included in the demo.
The controls are fairly intuitive, especially if you're familiar with games in the genre. Your character's movement is controlled via the left thumbstick, while the right thumbstick controls the free-roam camera. The left trigger makes your character block attacks, while the right trigger utilizes a sort of quick dash ability that could be used to perform certain combos. The four face buttons were: Light Attack (X), Heavy Attack (Y), Jump (A), and Orb Attack/Burst (B). The two shoulder buttons and the D-Pad could supposedly be used to give orders to your army on the fly, but it wasn't exactly clear what their specific functions were, and they didn't appear to be as useful as one would hope. There didn't appear to be an option to change the controls or the way the camera works (Inverted/Normal,) but that may be in the full version.
By using various timed combinations of the Light and Heavy Attack buttons, the character onscreen would perform specific combo attacks (some of the more advanced inputs also used the R-Dash and Jump as well). It was pretty fun to just play around and see what nifty combos you could find as your character mowed through legions and legions of the enemy. The current character (the Cloud Strife look-alike mentioned above) was wielding a spear/polearm type of weapon, and had a good number of sweeping circular strikes that hit almost every enemy in range-while conveniently leaving your own forces untouched, of course.
After defeating an enemy, your character absorbs a small red orb, each of which fills up a red bar near the bottom of your screen. Once that bar is full, pressing B will supercharge you, making your character's attacks especially powerful. During this state it will gradually drain until empty, and your character will then revert to normal. While in this state, defeating enemies will grant you blue orbs, which fill up a second bar below the first. Upon filling that bar, pressing B will unleash an enormous attack to decimate any forces unlucky enough to be caught in the blast. Random monsters will also drop items, which run the gamut from gear that can be equipped to temporary stat (movement speed, attack, etc) boosts to items that simply recover one's health.
The procedures are fairly standard fare for the genre, and the gameplay doesn't bring anything earthshatteringly new to the table. However, one of the impressive things about N3 was the sheer number of enemies to fight. Press releases claim that there are over 5,000 enemies onscreen at once, though that number appears to be greatly exaggerated. Having fully eradicated all traces of my enemy from the demo stage, I clocked in at just around 3,500 kills, and there certainly weren't that many all at once. Whatever the true numbers are, though, they're very impressive. Other games in the genre rarely throw enemies at you in packs greater than 10 or 15, whereas the bare minimum in the N3 demo appeared to hover around 20 to 30. There were several moments when my jaw literally dropped as I witnessed a staggering amount of enemies charging my way in a scene that could have been pulled directly from the Lord of the Rings films.
Thankfully for me, however, they were dumb. The AI in this game was unspeakably stupid, which I suppose is acceptable given the number of creatures it's having to control. This mental difficulty affected both my troops and the forces of the enemy, and I'd often see a bodyguard swinging his sword at thin air, or a lone goblin in the middle of my army (none of whom were attacking him at all). I could theoretically give orders to my troops via the shoulder buttons and D-Pad, but it wasn't clear what, if anything, these orders did. Apparently it wasn't very important, as I lost my entire army around halfway in and still did fine.
Graphically, I really can't complain. The pre-rendered cutscenes were of course gorgeous, and the in-game scenes looked sharp as well, though not mind-blowing. The demo level had a very short clipping plane, but it's possible that the area was designed to be a foggy canyon. The animations for various attacks and combos worked well, and though nearly all of the minor NPCs (both enemy and ally forces) had identical models, that's hardly rare in the genre, especially considering how many enemies had to be designed.
All in all, my experience with the N3 demo was positive, though the game feels somewhat unpolished at points. I wish that there had been slightly more information given about the in-game display, as there were moments where I simply couldn't figure out what the game was telling me (I didn't quite understand what the yellow arrows were for until well towards the end of the level). Hopefully, though, this will be corrected in the final copy, if only in the manual. If you enjoy the games in the Dynasty Warriors or Kingdom Under Fire series, it's definitely worth a try-and if you've not played them, N3 might well get you hooked.
Ninety-Nine Nights is scheduled to hit our shores in October of this year.