Let's separate my own personal prejudices from my harsh opinion of Ninety-Nine Nights 2 (N3 II). I used to be quite the fan of games like Dynasty Warriors and Kingdom Under Fire. Even Trevor Chan's Joan of Arc was not without its redeeming qualities. Unfortunately, N3 II is just going through the motions, recycling familiar concepts we've seen before without adding anything strikingly innovative or appealing in the process. Even the individual components that comprise the core of this type of game aren't particularly compelling.
We've seen the whole "land besieged by evil saved by troubled loner" thing a million times already, so its appearance in N3 II isn't all that unexpected. You can pretty much tell where this one is going right from the first awkwardly scripted cutscene. You'll fight against the forces of evil, not because it's the right thing to do, but because of your tragic personal connection. You'll be joined by an unlikely group of allies including a good humored brute, a skulking a-hole, and a busty elf maiden. Except in this case, you'll get an extra busty elf maiden just in case you don't like the first one's hair color.
It's a pretty run of the mill apocalypse and the only real mystery is how the useless soldiers you're fighting beside managed to hold it together long enough for your great personal tragedy to spur you into action. Maybe I shouldn't pick on the story too much. After all, a game like this really only needs enough of a story to put the fighting in a comprehensible framework. Still, the level of emotional investment here is relatively low.
Combat is the real star of the show here and, at the beginning at least, things seem to go fairly well. The manual is painfully thin and the tutorial isn't much help, but you'll soon figure out which button is the heavy attack and which is the light. The combat animations are solid and the power attacks really make you feel that you're unleashing a terrible force on the poor saps who were put in the front of the battle. The problem is that the one real challenge in defeating the rank and file are how many of them there are and how soon you need to get to bed. I like beating up the bad guys, sure, but at a certain point it started to feel like I was just abusing hordes of enemies who weren't particularly threatening. I was a little excited to get my first 100-hit combo, then very excited to get it up to 1000-hits, and then bored by the endless succession of multi-thousand-hit combos. Even switching up fighters did little to add variety.
It's almost as if the forces of evil decided to settle the quality-vs-quantity debate once and for all by taking the amount of money it would have taken to hire a handful of really competent henchmen and instead spending it to hire armies of grad students and homeless people for a nickel apiece to stand around holding shields and waiting to have their guts sliced open. The only way that the enemies in the game could really do any damage is if you stop moving and let yourself get surrounded. Even then, you'll have to have nodded off or been distracted by a grease fire in order to get in real danger. You can almost tell that the designers may have been aware that combat isn't all that challenging because there are almost no health potions to be found and you're almost always able to run right by the enemies to hit the all important level triggers.
If you manage to make it all the way to the end of the level, you'll have the chance to square off against a demonic boss who is packed with hit points and has a couple of cheap knockdown attacks that can quickly snatch a victory right from your grasp. After a few failures, you can usually get the rhythm and timing down to beat them, but woe betide the would-be adventurer who decides he or she is not quite up to the task and needs to come back after a little leveling up elsewhere in the game.
There are two basic problems with leaving a boss unfinished and planning to come back later. First, the game's Colosseum area, which seems designed to help you test out new moves and characters doesn't give you experience points, even though the interface shows you accumulating them. That means replaying another half-hour level and enduring the lack of nearby checkpoints. Checkpoints in this game are few and far between, which means you'll have to replay long sequences that weren't particularly compelling to begin with. And if you leave a boss fight to grind a few more levels for your character, your weapon, or your abilities, you'll have to replay the entire level just to get back to the boss. It makes a tedious game even more tedious.
The game also comes with multiplayer, but finding opponents is problematic. I almost wish the game had a local multiplayer option, because at least you would have someone sitting next to you to suggest that maybe you should play something else.
Bottom Line: Ninety-Nine Nights II has the fast combat, loads of enemies and fantasy setting that you expect from this genre, but it just misses the mark in terms of fun. The fighting is tedious and the enemies are either unchallenging peons or hulking monsters who can crush you the instant you make a mistake. The checkpoint system and poor story just make matters worse.
Recommendation: I do not recommend this game. If someone throws you a copy, swat it to the ground.
Game: Ninety-Nine Nights II
Developer: Q Entertainment
Release Date: June 29, 2010
Platform(s): Xbox 360
Available from: Amazon
Steve Butts needs to cleanse his palette.