Dear lord, I think I just played the hardest game of my life.
The good folks at Konami and the folks at Feel Plus / Q Entertainment released the sequel to the hack and slash Ninety-Nine Nights called N3II: Ninety-Nine Nights. The sequel had a lot going for it as it wanted to sport better visuals, deeper gameplay and a intriguing cast of characters with their own storyline; also, a co-op mode online.
They have achieved everything they set out to do, but regretfully fell short in other areas that the game simply could not fall short in.
Starting off, the characters are a sweet sight. Having a variety of different characters to choose from and upgrade is always a good thing. That's what makes role-playing games so darn popular; that's what Feel Plus / Q Entertainment were shooting for. They did provide the variety of faces for the gamers pleasure and it was certainly welcomed. Jumping from character to character makes a gamer feel like a chess player and empowered to move their pawn or bishop, when appropriate. The devs certainly hit a home run when it came to new warriors to send out to battle.
While the characters might be different enough to say that's Galen and that's so in so, the actual power-ups and techniques associated with each character is not dramatically different from one another. You basically get the same type of moves, swings, slashes and power-ups (in terms of power) that are hidden behind clever animations and different types of visuals. In other words, you're doing the same type of damage, but with different moves. That's not terribly surprising, but at the same time that's not terribly impressive. The point of having different characters in a game isn't to simply have different moves that equal out to the same essential damage, it's to have characters that fit in some missions and don't in others. That offers the game strategy, which is something that N3II: Ninety-Nine Nights desperately needed in the worst way.
Speaking of power-ups, the most frustrating part of N3II: Ninety-Nine Nights is the uneven gameplay in general. You might have pretty power-ups to play with and use to watch the darkness warriors fly through the air or suddenly become beheaded, but the power-ups start to become repetitive to the point where you just really prefer to run then to fight. For example, in the first part of the game you are thrown into battle immediately against hordes and hordes of enemies. You'll quickly learn to button mash your way through the first and second waves until you get use to what your buttons do in combination with one another. You can do a roll and a giant swipe with the 'Y' button to take out a wave of bad guys. You can press the 'LB' (plus an appropriate button) and use a magic skill to cause a half-moon explosion through your enemies or a full circle. Visually the power-ups and skill attacks are gorgeous, but that is honestly as far as their usefulness takes them.
What's bad is that you don't realize how incredibly ineffective the power-ups are until you get to that first big boss in the game. I fought the first boss for nearly two hours (that's including dying and replaying). Your power-ups and skills actually do little damage to the big horned demon. What's even worse is that his skills do incredible damage to your character. Granted Feel Plus / Q Entertainment did what they thought was best by placing different replenishing vials (for both magic and life) in this level, but they're so sparsely on the level that it wouldn't really matter anyway. What's even more frustrating about the lack of power is that during this first fight you're reduced to 'hit and run' with the boss. You hit him and then you run like hell away from him. The first boss/demon has four types of attacks (which are somewhat predictable, but still painful to work through). He has basic fist swipes at your character (left and right) that you can easily dodge. After those basics the swings become a single strong punch that requires you to roll at the right time and angle. Then he follows it up with a large ground pound, which requires you to get about 5-10 feet away from him before he initiates it. Regardless of what he does, if he catches you one you basically lose nearly one-fourth of your life.
It's a pretty painful process to through over and over, and it's tough to accept.
Now, the leveling in the game is set-up just fine. You can level your characters, their weapons and skills and basically any attributes that the character possesses. There is a flaw though as obtaining red orbs to perform leveling is like pulling teeth from a rambunctious six-year old (just did this with my middle daughter, she covered more ground then anyone in the World Cup, but I digress). For every enemy you defeat you get red orbs. The red orbs have to be counted in singles as going through an entire level garnishes around 2000 orbs (at least in the early stages). Sitting at level 3 with Galen and still getting the same results with the boss/demon on the first level is disheartening. Leveling him up again requires going through a repetitive process of defeating basically the same enemies over and over again. There's so much you have to do for such little payoff at the end.
Is there anything redeeming about the game? The online mode is pretty good, which is a huge plus for the title.
Also, the visuals and the environments, while certainly dark and similar in some areas, is very detailed and expansive to the eye. The first time I played N3II I told a good friend of mine that Dynasty Warriors really needed this type of detail. The character models are rich with detailed movements, smooth expressions and badass looks. For example, Galen's costume is pretty darn nifty. It's got wavy cloth on the back and very shiny, yet a little worn, looking armor. He's tough looking and he gets you in the mood to wipe out the darkness of the land. Added to this is very sharp shading and very 'alive' environments. You truly believe that you're deep in a war, which helps you get into the game pretty easily.
The skills graphics are over-the-top and stylish. Pushing back enemies with a gigantic circle explosion is like watching Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring when the elven soldiers are pushed back by the death of Sauron during the backstory scene (yes, that was a run-on sentence). Having played this game for hours and hours I enjoyed watching that still.
The game is really pretty and well done visually. I give Konami and the devs props for making this look nothing like Dynasty Warriors.