N3II: Ninety-Nine Nights

Co-developed by feelplus and Q Entertainment
Published by Konami
Released in 2010 for the Xbox 360

N3II: Ninety-Nine Nights drops its series’ pretense and affiliation with the Kingdom Under Fire series, and instead uses the scope and grandeur of its inspiration to pursue the role of a more conventional 3D brawler.  Though I suppose “conventional” is disingenuous to a game that combines the sprawling armies of Dynasty Warriors with the grit and brutality of a God of War, ending up with something that Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom, Untold Legends, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, and countless other “dungeon brawlers” have desperately wanted to be.

Make absolutely no mistake: N3II absolutely pushes the Xbox 360 so its technical limits, offering one of the fastest, busiest experiences the platform will ever witness, and the combination of satisfying combat and visual feedback is certainly towards the top of the genre.  And yes, that’s some high praise in the genre of Ninja Gaiden II, Bayonetta, and God of War III.  Games in the Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden lineage have shown that chopping through half-a-dozen bad guys can always have its moments, but it’s another to mow through hundreds of enemies and do it with the same spectacle found in the so-called spectacle brawlers.

Not that the N3II approach to gutting men is complex, maintaining Ninety-Nine Nights‘ dial-a-combo approach while replacing the orb system with the four-skill loadout common to dungeon brawlers.  But even in its less challenging moments—of which there are plenty of—the action is always moving and there’s always an interesting decision to make as you gore through wall after wall of disposable flesh.  And while the playable characters share similar movesets, the worst to be said is that every character is lightning-fast, and you will get the full experience no matter who you choose to be.

The disappointment is that I should be running out of the room to recommend N3II, and I absolutely expected to do this after an opening boss fight confirmed the promise and potential of the game’s moving parts, where you ward off an endless supply of soldiers and whittle down a hulking brute.  Unfortunately, it took many more hours to confirm that the battle was the most complete, satisfying, and challenging design that N3II would have to offer.  Where many of today’s games confine their most satisfying moments to a short endgame, N3II immediately sets the bar and then forgets where the bar was.

N3II proceeds to double down on every infuriating Musou trope that you got sick of over a decade ago, as you slice your way through forgettable levels featuring forgettable enemies, and you’re left with the lack of variety that one entirely expects from the formula.  And it’s not even worth dwelling on the boss fights, which seemingly exist to justify the level-up mechanics.  (That is to say, if you don’t level up, you will be mashing those buttons for a very, very long time.)  It can only remind you that for all of its speed and brutality, N3II has an origin story that most men dare not speak of.

The regret is that this game could most certainly be that long-awaited brawler which uses “kill billions of dudes” as more than a cheap gimmick, and in many cases, it could be done by merely rearranging the game’s existing parts.  It’s just a shame that after over a decade of watching developers recycle the idea and make little progress with it, that such an aesthetically graceful game can come along, demonstrate the power fantasy that makes the Musou concepts so appealing, and only get it half right.

★★★

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