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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Ninety-Nine Nights  (Microsoft for Xbox 360)

      By Michael Palisano

Taking players into a mystical realm of fantasy and battle, Microsoft's Ninety-Nine Nights (N3) is an action title fused with some role-playing elements set firmly in a Lord of the Rings mold. As a single, supernaturally powered soldier, your mission objective is to slice through hundreds of enemies as you look to rid your land of dark, demonic forces. The visuals are quite impressive with dozens of onscreen enemies and little slowdown, and the main characters have plenty of cool moves. This is a graphically impressive title, but is there enough gameplay underneath to justify this as more than a demo of the 360's processing power? Read our review of this action-RPG and find out.

Set in a mystical world full of swords, sorcery and adventure, Ninety-Nine Nights is one of the most impressive action titles on the Xbox 360 to date. Set against a backdrop where your world has been plunged into darkness by evil forces. Ninety-Nine Nights follows the adventures of multiple heroes as the fight untold number of armies and foes in massively scaled battles that seem to jump right of the screen. N3 sets the player as a central character where the action is frequently surrounding you, keeping you right in the center of the action. You'll face literally hundreds of opponents throughout your many missions, and can dispatch them using your magical sword, which allows you to slice through multiple foes with a single swing. Ninety-Nine Nights' battle system is quite intuitive and fun to use, most moves are relatively simple and allow you to perform some pretty impressive attacks with ease. The controls are intuitive, smooth and responsive, allowing you to perform attacks and moves easily and effectively without getting lost in the action. More advanced moves are relatively simple to perform thanks to the game's intuitive combo system. As you defeat enemies, they'll release red orbs, collecting these will fill your special attack meter, allowing you to perform some devastating moves that can wipe out entire sections of foes with a single move. Each character brings a unique set of moves to the game and N3's combo system is quite impressive in its ease of use. This versatility allows for plenty of variety in moves, and giving you a unique style to your attacks that makes it feel almost like dancing. The game's flow and pacing are excellent, and there's an excellent balance between action and strategy. The game is a bit linear in parts, but the epic scale and evocative storyline more than makes up for this.

The scale of battles in N3 is quite impressive, and the technical presentation is impressive. N3 sets a new standard of sheer intensity that overwhelms you in terms of sheer numbers. There can be literally hundreds of characters on screen at the same type, each one distinctly independent of the others. While most of the time you're facing off almost identical types, mixing in your own forces and the occasional boss creatures makes for some quite intense battles. This also serves to make the scope of the game a constant reminder. This is particularly true when you look over the edge of an area and see the enemy forces massed against you. It's a pretty awesome, epic sight and one of the game's biggest appeals. While locating your character in the midst of these melees isn't always easy, you can generally find yourself in the center of the screen. While the fixed camera is effective, players can also move the camera around and zoom in on the action using the right analog stick in real time to get a better view of the action. You aren't alone in your battle, and you are accompanied both by a single main second character who is nearly as powerful as you are, and large numbers of your own forces as well. They can help you win the battles when you face off against dozens of enemies simultaneously. During each battle, you can command your forces to attack, stand back or follow you into battle. The levels are huge, massive affairs where you need to explore and find the enemy forces scattered about.

On the surface, Ninety-Nine Nights seems to be all about action, and you can be forgiven for thinking that the game is merely a mindless hack and slash adventure. However, once you dig deeper, some strategic elements appear. While its possible to get through each level just by slashing through enemies, a little exploration reveals hidden treasures and items, such as swords, powers and amulets that you can use to increase your fighting strength. As you defeat more enemies, you will also level up your character, with upgrades available once you reach the 1000 and 2000 kills mark. The number of enemies defeated appears on screen at all times, and is also a good indicator of how far you've progressed in each level. Ninety-Nine Nights allows you to select which types of forces will accompany you before each mission, with infantry, soldiers and more available. Which type of army you select plays a big role in how quickly and easily you'll advance. For example, you probably want to use archers when going against the stronger enemies later on, since they reduce your exposure to their more dangerous attacks. While the early levels pose little challenge, they serve mainly to acclimate players to the basic controls, once you get past the first level or so, things quickly become more difficult. The enemies swarm more aggressive and instead of standing in place, they'll attack you when you try to get away. Their attacks are also more difficult to defend against, making them much more challenging. Throughout each mission, you need to keep an eye on your health meter, which can be depleted surprisingly quickly, so don't be lulled into a false sense of security by the ease of which the first few areas unfold.

Ninety-Nine Nights definitely brings a cool look to the genre, adding elements of fantasy and magic to create a beautiful looking and playing game. In addition to the sheer number of enemies, players are also likely to be impressed by the level of detail and variety of the environments. There are some absolutely breathtaking areas filled with a rich level of realism that sets the game apart from the pack and truly shows off the Xbox 360's processing power. While the story isn't anything you haven't seen a thousand times before, N3's cut scenes are nicely done and effectively bring the story and characters to life. The action is complimented by an epic score that fits the mood and atmosphere of this adventure perfectly. While these production values are impressive, the gameplay itself lives up to the graphics for the most part. There's plenty of action here, but a surprising amount of RPG-like depth here as well. This creates a good balance between both modes of play. The action does tend to become a bit monotonous after awhile, and the somewhat linear design is hurts its longevity. Despite these problems, Ninety-Nine Nights offers plenty of options, moves and unlockables to keep you busy throughout your quest. While it's not a flawless or perfect game, Ninety-Nine Nights is an engaging title that shows off the Xbox 360's graphical power and offers some solidly entertaining gameplay throughout.

Grade: B+

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