- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

N3: Ninety-Nine Nights, from Microsoft for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $59.99. An age-old tale of good versus evil has been transformed into an action-packed button-masher that should thrill “Lord of the Rings” fans.

High graphics production values punctuated by a sweeping orchestral score plunge a single player into an unprecedented world of three-dimensional open-field combat.

A story of epic proportions leads the way as a brother and sister from the Templar Knights are tasked with restoring order to a world where a broken crystal has shattered the peace between man and goblin. The player eventually can select from seven characters and slaughter his way through legions of creatures or humans (depending on which side he’s on) using the X and Y buttons.

Along the way, he absorbs red orbs from his fallen opponents to fill up a meter that will unleash a secondary group of attacks. Secondary attacks on foes release blue orbs to fill another meter, which, when filled, delivers a devastating, battlefield-clearing attack.

As an added nuance, the player also can command a couple of legions of mildly helpful soldiers, pikemen or archers.

And that’s about all she wrote, folks.

The game’s depth or options won’t win any awards, but its look will overwhelm at an almost high-definition level — especially on big screens when hundreds of characters are in the midst of war.

I was astounded by the care developers took with the gorgeous computer-generated character designs, cut scenes and battlegrounds. Be it the female warrior Inphyy and her golden, winged armor and Final Fantasy-size sword or Aspharr with his massive magical lance, used to unleash wild machine-gun attacks of energy bolts, it was a mesmerizing experience to control these powerhouses.

However, some of the simplest options eluded the developers. Skill upgrades and a lame weapon inventory system appear to have little impact on the heroes’ might, while friendly soldiers distract rather than turn the tide of a battle, even when they clearly outnumber an enemy.

Also, the inability to save the game within a mission, except after completing all of it, left me with sore thumbs and a few choice words for the troll population. Just a couple of mistakes during a boss battle could cause a player to lose an hour’s worth of advancement.

Ultimately, Ninety-Nine Nights will be remembered for its visual brawn, but the developers left its brains splattered on the battlefield.

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, from Square Enix for PSP, rated T for teen, $49.99. A classic PlayStation game debuts on Sony’s hand-held multimedia machine to bring an epic struggle between Nordic deities to a 4-inch-wide screen.

The player controls the goddess Lenneth Valkyrie, who must return to Midgard and, in a set amount of time, train souls of fallen warriors to take part in an Asgardian Sacred War, with Ragnarok hanging in the balance.

Beautiful character illustrations, anime-inspired action and new computer-animated cut scenes work together within side-scrolling action and plenty of typical role-playing game options. Those elements include inventory and team management, skill upgrades, character conversations and a mix of turn-based and real-time battles.

Overall, the player will need plenty of time (more than 40 minutes just to get an introduction) to appreciate all of the title’s visuals and understand its dense strategies.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected] washingtontimes.com).

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