The Musou genre (or Crowd-Brawler as some prefer to call it) came out as a surprise to many of us back in the 2000s with Dynasty Warriors 2. Mixing hack & slash elements with a myriad of enemies fitting in front of the player’s eyes was a clever idea by Omega Force that no other developer attempted so far. Koei Tecmo’s seminal title went ahead and spawned several sequels and spin-offs that would push other developers to put their own spin on the idea. An example of such an attempt was done by Capcom’s Sengoku Basara. From the start, it seemed like the franchise was made to rival Dynasty Warriors. Needless to say, Sengoku Basara was selling like hotcakes in Japan with the franchise, as a whole, selling over 4 million units. (Sales numbers taken from VGChartz.com.)
However, the franchise couldn’t compete with Koei Tecmo’s juggernaut IP for long. The franchise started declining over the years, especially after what happened with Sengoku Basara 4. While there were alternative efforts from other titles such as Mystic Heroes, Demon Chaos, Onechanbara series, and Spartan: Total Warrior to take on Dynasty Warriors, these games felt more like they were emulating Dynasty Warriors’ gameplay style rather than being a true competitor.
Despite all of that, Microsoft Game Studios would release a new game called Ninety-Nine Nights exclusively for the Xbox 360 back in 2006. This game blew away Musou fans and made them repeat the same question ”Is this the Dynasty Warriors killer?”. Today I’ll be talking about one of those ambitious games by a small developer that flopped badly despite its promising gameplay, hack & slash elements, story, and the stunning graphics for its time. We will focus on Ninety-Nine Nights (or N3) and its sequel.
-The beginning with Ninety-Nine Nights-
Ninety-Nine Nights began development in September 2005 and would be released in April 2006 first in Japan, and August of the same year in America and Europe exclusively on Xbox 360. What people are not aware of is that Sang Youn-Lee, the developer and producer behind Kingdom Under Fire series, was actually involved in the making of this game, and what’s more surprising is how the game was in development only for six months. Seeing how a small developer such as Phantagram managed to pull off a game like this in a short period of time is worthy of praise. In addition, Q Entertainment, a Japanese video game developer founded by Sega former Tetsuya Mizuguchi who is known for his game Rez, co-developed the game with Phantagram.
In terms of story, the game follows the tale of a bloody war between goblins and humans. Unfortunately, in order to learn the full plot, players will have to play as each of the seven playable characters. Each character’s story differs but they connect to the plot as a whole. It’s pretty similar to Dynasty Warriors or Warrior Orochi series. In contrast to Koei’s title, player’s actions actually have a part in changing the outcome of the war.
The gameplay and the graphics are the main features that hooked fans of the Musou genre. The gameplay can be described fairly succinctly. It’s a button-masher similar to the likes of Samurai Warriors. The goal of N3 is simple, mow every horde of enemies that stands in your way. You can conduct a series of combos, block your foes’ attacks, and as you progress in the game, you learn new combo attacks and level up your stats such as health and magic. Unlike Koei’s titles, N3 has difficulty spikes, as some enemies are stronger than others. It is obvious that the game was made to challenge players the more they progressed rather than giving them the freedom to blast enemies effortlessly. What’s more interesting is that while Ninety-Nine Nights played like any Musou game in existence, it combined both hack and slash elements with crowd-brawling gameplay to give the player the feeling of experiencing two genres at the same time.
Inphyy the protagonist in the game
On the other hand, the graphics look infatuating for a 2006 game. Just like any Japanese game, there is a set of waifus to look at, and maybe do something naughty afterwards? What makes this game more interesting is how it had double the amount of enemies in Koei titles, and managed to pull off a game with no consistent slowdowns all the time. Ninety-Nine Nights managed to execute what Koei couldn’t do at the time. In my opinion, this was a revolutionary game that didn’t get the credit it deserves.
-Video game journalists butchered the game-
Upon its release, video game journalists, went from actual reviewers to butcherers, because that’s what they did to this game, they butchered it. IGN gave it a 5.6 while labeling it as a mediocre game, and had the audacity to call it ” A Dynasty Warriors rip-off”. GamesRadar+ gave it a score of 2.5 while saying it’s ” a disappointment, and the list goes on.
Ninety-Nine Nights, despite its enjoyable features, sold terribly. All hope for a sequel was lost, until 2010 where a sequel was announced, but this time, another publisher stepped in and took Microsoft’s place.
-A second chance with Ninety-Nine Nights 2-
When all hope was lost for a Ninety-Nine Nights sequel, the game was unveiled at Microsoft Game Studios TGS 2008 press conference exclusively once again for the Xbox 360 albeit a lot of things had changed by the time. Konami had the publishing rights while Feelplus alongside Q Entertainment had taken the developmental reigns from Phantagram. Unfortunately, neither of Sang-Youn-Lee or Tetsuya Mizuguchi were involved this time either. After a couple of years, N3 2 was released in 2010.
The story is pretty identical to the prequel, but both are not connected according to Tak Fujii, the producer of the game. Similar to its predecessor, humanity is once again threatened by an evil force of demons that seek to destroy the world. The evil lord of the night has mysteriously awakened, and his vicious army is menacing the safety of the kingdom of Orphea. when humanity seems helpless against such force, and every bit of hope is lost, five heroes appear to thwart the evil from the kingdom of Orphea and rescue it from serious destruction. One thing to note is that you need to play with all the five heroes in order to get a better understanding of the plot.
According to Tak Fujii, the developer had to start from scratch in order to improve what didn’t appeal to the players in the previous game. Feelplus this time took a different direction with the game by making it darker and bloodier, although they had to lower the difficulty a little bit. This, in particular, made the game fairly easy. Regular enemies didn’t pose any threat as they were just gathered there waiting to be slain by the player. Despite that, other improvements were brought to the game such as the double amount of enemies compared to the original, but it wasn’t near ” 1 million troops ”. In addition to this, the sequel was more open with linear environments and other characters that play a significant role. For instance, a character may push away obstacles that block certain paths, while other characters can access other locations that other playable characters cannot reach. Personally, the gameplay feels more like a previous Konami game called Swords of Etheria since the levels in N3 2 are pretty similar to that game. Nevertheless, with all these changes, Feelplus managed to retain what made Ninety-Nine Nights an enjoyable game with its hack and slash elements, the graphics, and the insane amount of on-screen enemies. Despite all these features that I have personally enjoyed, many labelled this game as a repetitive experience and a button masher. In defense of the game, the repetitiveness has drastically lowered compared to the prequel, but I guess the player got sucked after spamming the same buttons.
Galen the protagonist in the game
Unfortunately, many factors did not allow N3 2 to shine with its intended competitor. Nobody can deny that 2010 was packed with a bunch of awesome games such as God of War 3, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Just Cause 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Mass Effect and the list goes on to no end. This was one of those factors that did not give a chance to N3 to shine among all these juggernauts. It seems like all that effort from the developers went into nothing, and what’s more shocking is that the game sold way terribly, and was harshly butchered compared to its predecessor. Other factors caused to the death of the franchise as a whole which I will be talking about below.
While the first game was fairly marketed like any game should be treated, it seemed like Konami forgot the fact that they own the publishing rights for this game. No print ads nor any commercials, not even enough interesting trailers were made to make people interested in the game. The only thing that Konami marketed was the demo and that’s it.
Journalists butchered this game way more harshly than the original game. This, in my opinion, seemed hypocritical of their part. The game played like any Koei title, yet, it got labeled as a repetitive and tedious experience. It’s a shame when journalists want a game to be like another one, but they will still ask for it to be better.
The Verdict: should I play it, or Ignore it?
Personally, if you like mindless hack & slash games like Dynasty Warriors, Sengoku Basara, Mystic Heroes, you should get this one. If you are looking for something mind-blowing with an amazing plot, or something similar to the likes of Lord of the Rings games on the PS2, then save your money and your time. This game was meant to be mindless with tons of troops to kill through the course of the game, and that’s okay, sometimes you just have to go on a full rampage and enjoy the killing. If you are a hardcore fan of hack & slash games, this game will certainly please you.