Ninety-Nine Nights, or N3 if you’re “in the know” was a launch title for the X-Box 360. Boasting battlefields littered with armies of hundreds of enemies, memorable characters, amazing orchestrated music, and a beautiful color palette, it was exactly what the console needed to strut it’s stuff. That isn’t to say that the game doesn’t have it’s faults, however.
Much like the games in the Dynasty Warriors series and it’s spinoffs, N3 is a Musou styled hack and slash. You pick from seven playable characters, put an army together, and go to war with the enemy, leaving no survivors in your wake. Each character has their own motives and story that tie into a bigger picture, and at the end of it all you can see as the outside observer that things aren’t as clean cut as good versus evil. Sounds great on paper, I know, but there are some kinks in the practice.
My largest concern is that while the game has a very rich story, playing the plot of certain characters will contradict others. Let’s take our main protagonist, a busty young swordswoman named Imphyy, for example. At the end of her game she not only gets revenge on the the Goblin King Dwfarkyo for killing her father, but also succeeds in destroying The King of Nights (the true foe of the game). Yet playing as Dwingvatt, a young Goblin warrior seeking revenge for the death of his older brother at Imphyy’s sword, will see him get just that, as he kills her.
Usually a game like Street Fighter will have contradictory endings where everyone gets what they want, even at the expense of the other characters. This is okay in Street Fighter because in a fighting game plot takes a back seat to competitive play. In a story driven title, this is just annoying.
Having a complete story, where playing as each character tells you a bit more about your world is a rewarding experience for the player, and makes them want to continue playing, to dig deeper into an interesting plot. With some simple rewrites, Ninety-Nine Nights could have done this wonderfully.
There are also many interesting characters in this game that you either don’t see enough of or don’t learn enough about. Why go through the effort of creating a legendary Half-Elf prince to fight alongside you if you are only going to encounter him for five minutes during the last level of the campaign?
If this game had come out a little later, once downloadable content had become more acceptable, it would have been a real treat to be able to purchase these characters to play as, complete with their own story mode stages. I believe that they would sell without a problem, because not only would you be offering additional content to the player, but you would be fleshing out some interesting characters from both sides of the war, and also expanding upon the entire mythos of the game world.
Imagine playing as not only the NPC characters from the story mode, but also the bosses. The player would learn their motivation and he able to look at the big antagonists such as Dwyfarkyo or even the King of Nights himself in a different light. Suddenly for 400 Microsoft points, the evil man you’ve been fighting to destroy becomes a tragic champion, committing unthinkable atrocities against his conscience for the good of his people. You could even go so far as to release additional levels for the already playable characters, perhaps going more in depth on their backstories or epilogues. As long as you make it compelling and entertaining to play, people will buy it.
Speaking of entertainment factor, some more variety in the levels would have been nice. Your character has a host of skills and equipment at their disposal, but all of the missions that you will be utilizing them for boil down to “kill everything”. Some small deviations would go a long way. How about capturing and holding territories, escorting wounded heroes, or even defending a castle or town from being breached?
This goes hand in hand with my next point: your army. At their best they are Next to useless, and at their worst they are a liability. I would definitely work on the A.I. There are too many times where I would witness half a dozen soldiers pacing around a single Goblin opponent, or standing still while a hail of enemy arrows comes raining down upon them.
You have slight control over what your army does, of course, but it pretty much boils down to “attack recklessly”, “pretend to defend yourselves”, or “forget it, I’ll play the level without backup”. It’s a serious shame, because having a small army at your command really lends itself to the atmosphere of the battles.
Perhaps a few more commands and better control over it would help. As it stands, you pick two groups of soldiers at the beginning of the level. Pressing up on the D-pad orders everyone to attack, pressing down orders everyone to defend, and pressing both shoulder buttons simultaneously orders them to hold their ground.
I’d say assign a squad to each of the shoulder buttons, and holding the button and tapping a direction would give commands, while tapping the button would release or acquire command of that group. Put one command on each of the cardinal directions, such as “attack the enemy”, “follow me”, “defend this area”, and “use your own discretion”. Put more armies on the map, and give a greater emphasis on using them wisely. You could even take it a step further and have your NPC “commanders” able to take control of groups, offering specific boosts or stat bonuses to troops under their command.
Give the player scenarios such as this: you order a group of archers to stand their ground on a hill, leaving them to harass enemies in the distance, and order pikemen to patrol the area, defending them. You recruit a fresh group of infantry and have them back you up while you circle around and try to flank the enemy.
Things like this would he especially delicious with missions such as defending a fortress or town, where resource management is key. Think about it: You would he running back and forth along the perimeter, ordering troops and going where you are needed to fight back enemy advances.
These enhancements to the gameplay also open up a window of opportunity for multiplayer. Imagine the above scenarios, but with six players who all have their own armies and commanders to manage. Imagine playing the big battles from the main campaign cooperatively over X-Box Live! The possibilities are nearly endless.
In closing, N3 was exactly what it needed to be for it’s time, and it was highly successful for this very reason, but with some more attention to detail it could have truly been a title that stands out in it’s genre. It could have been to Musou games what Xenogears was to RPGs.
There is a sequel out now called N3II that takes the series in some interesting directions. Stupid naming conventions aside, it’s great to see that the brand hasn’t been forgotten, but it doesn’t feel the same, and it’s certainly nothing like what things could have been. I still recommend checking it out, but do so with an open mind. I only wish the original N3 would have come out a little later in the console’s lifespan, so that it may have been able to take better advantage of what X-Box Live could have offered it.