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Ninety-Nine Nights II almost won me over. Even though I lost all faith in it with time, I'm glad for the brief love story we shared.
When I was a kid I didn't talk much about games with my friends. It was all football and girls - oblique, I know. My second wind with gaming has been far more sociable. I now have a community of friends who each bring a unique background, taste, and opinion to the dialogue.
People react differently to certain games. I would dispute the idea that anyone could hate Super Mario Galaxy but for the six people I know who despise it. Conversely, I'm equally stunned when a seemingly terrible game unearths a contingent of total diehards. They are stubborn, almost devout about the games they love.
People often talk about the good they see in a game, like it's some kind of heavenly light that shines through all the misdemeanours. Trying to discover what they've discovered is like looking for the face of Jesus in burnt toast. I salute their devotion, there's a kind of faith and love to it almost like they're signing a binding contract with the game.
Three hours into Ninety-Nine Nights II's campaign and it feels like I'm mulling over a proposal myself. The game is down on one cheaply-suited knee, a dirty-looking atom of a ring sat in its sweaty palm. The room hushes as the game stares up in hope, looking into my eyes for an answer.
It has already been a strained relationship. Ninety-Nine Nights II is not the kind of game I would usually go for. It's a hack-and-slash, but instead of a few enemies on screen there's a whole army. My kill count at the end of a level will border on four figures. It makes your average mass murdering video game look positively tame. Violent games irk me at the best of times so Ninety-Nine Nights II is already in my bad books.
Even if a game doesn't look technically great visuals it can still have artistic quality.
Then there's the production values, or the lack of them. Maybe it isn't fashionable to say it, but I expect the modern game to deliver fidelity. Even if a game doesn't have technically great visuals it can still have artistic quality. Ninety-Nine Nights II has neither. It's just a colourless mess of enemies.
It's repetitive too. In three hours I have decimated oceans of the same three or four enemies. There was the boring soldier one, the flying gargoyle thing, the sorcerer dudes, and that's about it. These rows of clones line up in featureless corridors, all to the same melodramatic tune which even the orchestra sounds bored of playing. Oh, and each level takes an hour to complete.
Yet as I stare into the grey abyss - a small army of familiars approaching from the horizon and the level's end nowhere in sight - I realize that I'm actually enjoying this travesty. For all its faults, its very many faults, my heart is left a tiny bit aflutter by its attentions.
It's like trying to beat four drums in time.
The monotony of the level design combined with the crushing scale of the combat somehow gives Ninety-Nine Nights II a sense of rhythm. The four special attacks recharge at different rates, so there's a skill to activating them as soon as they return. It's like trying to beat four drums in time. True, four very dull, very grey drums, but the dry sound they create only serves to focus me on the rhythm. And it's always fun to beat a drum.
An hour later, I sit back excited. Maybe I've discovered the sparkling gem hidden deep inside this mess of a game. This can be my game, the game that I get but others don't. There's a special connection between Ninety-Nine Nights II and me and I cannot wait to play it again tomorrow.
One long work day later, I'm back to play some more. But it soon becomes clear: love can be blind us from the truth. And the truth is that Ninety-Nine Nights II is still very poor. Even the staccato beat of the different attacks won't cover that up.
Nonetheless, I'm happy for what I shared with Ninety-Nine Nights II. That little spark of irrational love was worth it. When a friend tells me how he adores the oddly rhythmic fun of Ninety-Nine Nights II's gratuitous violence - and inevitably one will - I can sit back, wistfully sigh, and tell him that I understand. Unfortunately, not every love story has a happy ending, and Ninety-Nine Nights II and I will not be staying in touch.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: