January 03, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

Evan Narcisse does battle with ”N3: Ninety-Nine Nights”

(Microsoft, Mature, Xbox 360)
First, some backstory: Japan is the center of all videogame zeitgeist. So it must have been a rude shock to Microsoft when Japanese gamers — driven by either nationalistic pride or a rigid sense of brand loyalty — all but rejected the original Xbox back in 2002. Which is why, last fall, when the Xbox 360 hype machine was in full swing, Microsoft decided to tackle the ”Japan problem” head-on. To gain a measure of cultural legitimacy, the Redwood brain trust courted some local game designers to produce titles for the 360. Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the man responsible for quirky hits like Space Channel 5, Rez, and Lumines, and Korean developer Phantagram, best known for the Kingdom Under Fire franchise, answered Microsoft’s call. Which brings us to N3: Ninety-Nine Nights.

N3 falls squarely in line with a certain kind of game that specializes in unleashing players on a battlefield as lone warriors capable of changing the tide of battles using only their two hands and some cold steel. (See also: the entire freakin’ Dynasty Warriors franchise.) This genre makes players the focal point of what can only be described as a combat orgy — a sword-slashing bloodletting of sometimes laughably fantastic proportions.

However, there are several major chinks in N3‘s shiny, hi-def armor show: a confusing navigational scheme, poor camera placement that loses sight of the player-controlled character, and mind-numbing button-mashing gameplay. Entire levels can be beaten by repeatedly jamming your thumb down on the ‘A’ button without using any battlefield strategy or defense. The round-robin narrative structure forces players to use each of the game’s seven main characters if they want to experience the entire ”story” (some Tolkienesque nonsense involving a war between humans and goblins).

The only thing N3 has going for it is the fleeting sense of total bad-assery you get by chaining 1,000-hit combos into hundreds of kills. But, being an engine of destruction means nothing when you’re not engaged in the experience. For all of its bloody ambition, Ninety-Nine Nights is perhaps ninety-eight nights too many. D+

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