Playing Ninety-Nine Nights is a rather sad experience. It's the kind of game that next-gen consoles promised to breathe new life into, with huge battles - the kind Dynasty Warriors only dreamt of - becoming a reality. While the power of the Xbox 360 has resulted in a sense of scale that is often exhilarating, the game as a whole is so seriously flawed that it becomes a chore to play. Microsoft's fist major offering from Japan showed great promise, but fails to live up to the company's Western offerings.
There's a war going on between humans and a whole horde of nasty creatures, such as goblins and frogmen, with each race sporting a range of soldiers within its ranks. You start the game as Inphyy, who sets out to avenge her father's death. The story isn't all that enthralling, with plot development reserved to a few short scenes before and after each level, and an occasional interlude mid-level. Other characters are met along the way, each with their own story to play through, but one that overlaps quite heavily with the main Inphyy campaign.
Combat is about as simple as it can get, and although a fairly large number of combos can be performed, it's often not necessary to use more than the most basic available to you. The more powerful combos often leave you open to attack, and seeing as you're regularly in the middle of a few hundred enemies, being off-guard isn't recommended. Each defeated enemy releases a red orb, and these orbs fill a super-attack meter, which allows you to perform a fairly devastating power move once it's full. Enemies defeated during special-attacks release blue orbs, which fill another meter. As you might have guessed, when full this lets you perform a super screen-clearing attack, but these take a long time to gain.
A certain amount of character upgrades can be earned, either through reaching a certain level of XP or by equipping items. Earning a level upgrade actually comes as a huge bonus, as it increases your power, but also replenishes your health, which can often be in rather short supply. Chests placed around each level can be opened to reveal a health pick up, orb meter pick-up, and various items that can be equipped from the character menu. If later levels prove a little difficult or your character isn't a high enough level to use a certain weapon, you can always replay previous levels, but this can be almost as soul-destroying as the game's biggest problem.
I don't mind a hard game, but no matter how hard something is, unless it's fair, high difficulty can soon become cheapness. Sadly for Ninety-Nine Nights, someone thought it was a good idea to give the player no mid-level checkpoints and no mid-level saves. Given that some of the levels can take a pretty long time to get through, and more often than not see you go up against at least one very tricky boss character, you can work out how frustrating things can become. Some people might take pleasure in finally completing a fifty-minute level on their sixth attempt, after falling at the boss on each previous effort, but not me. If the developers wanted to break the game, they succeeded.
If you can put up with the annoyance of replaying the same level over and over again, you can do almost the same thing with the other characters that are unlocked. While every level isn't the same, each new campaign isn't strictly entirely new, and will only be of any real interest to players who simply can't get enough of the action. Most campaigns come in at about six missions, but a few are significantly shorter, but that's no bad thing. With achievement points handed out by completing each campaign, and by maxing out each character's level, you're going to have to be rather dedicated to get all 1000 points. Multiplayer is completely missing from the game, so the single-player campaigns are your lot, but after you've played through as a few characters the rest feels a lot like filler.
Even the staunchest Xbox 360 hater will struggle to hide a grin at the sight of hundreds of enemies storming down a hill and clashing with your own army (which you have pretty basic control over). It's often a magnificent thing to behold, and the depth of field effect can make things look even better - although it can look a little odd at times. Things do slow down when special attacks are in full force and enemies are flying all over the place, but it rarely affects gameplay. Music is suitably epic, but the English voice acting for the main characters is terrible, and verges on laughable at certain points. The voice of Inphyy is particularly frail and seems totally out of place - she's only 17 years old, but you'd think a hardened warrior would sound a little, well, harder.
Ninety-Nine Nights is a game crippled by its archaic save system. No matter how much fun the game is while you're battling hundreds of on-screen enemies, nothing can balance out the sheer frustration experienced when you die for the fifth time at the hands of the end of level boss. The epic nature of the battles can't be found in any other console game, but unless you really hate yourself (or you think you'll make it through without dying) Ninety-Nine Nights just isn't worth the hassle.