A clarifying point, to start: I didn’t actually roll 99 Spirits. I rolled Tsukumogami, the original Japanese version of 99 Spirits. As the two games are very similar if not identical – other than language – I decided to play a game in which I could understand the story and instructions. And a good thing too!
Because wouldn’t you know it, one of the main mechanics of 99 Spirits is guessing words and had I been playing in the original Japanese, I would have done quite poorly indeed. What an odd creature 99 Spirits is. If you were to ask me who should play 99 Spirits, I’d be flummoxed. Let’s see if I can arrive at a good answer before I call it a night.
I’m not sure I cared enough about the plot of 99 Spirits to be able to really spell out the details, but here’s the gist: you play as a young girl. As the game begins, there’s a big festival going on in town. Somehow, during this festival, evil spirits inside of common everyday objects (tsukumogami) infiltrate the town and kill the girl’s mother. The girl then gets chosen by a sword which has the power to defeat these spirits. There’s a fox-god.
The rest of game, aside from the few times when you wander around town buying/selling goods from the local merchant or talking to random townspeople (all of whom are represented as floating inverted pyramids on a white grid), is spent battling spirits or being snarked at by the fox-god.
Battling spirits is a combination of turn-based actions (attack or defend?) combined with twitch-based reflexes that allow you to defend and counter an enemy attack. Do enough attacks and you build up to a special move that allows you to reveal a bit about the nature of the tsukumogami. Do enough defends and you build up a move that allows you to reveal the tsukumogami.
Where does the word-guessing come into it, I hear you ask. That’s just it – figuring out the nature of the tsukumogami is actually up to you, the player. Do the attack special move and some text will fly off the blue nebulous area in the center of the screen, either giving a clue (“clothing”) or a letter or two of the real object (“T”).
Reveal enough clues and you get to use the other special move to actually guess what the tsukumogami is. It’s a jacket! Type in “jacket” or – at later stages, once you’ve bought tsukumogami guide pages from town – pick from a list of objects.
Guess right and the tsukumogami is revealed, and you beat down on it a bit more in order to finish it off and take your hard earned gold and XP from it. Progress more on the overworld map (that same white grid that represents every place in this Japanese world), find another tsukumogami, repeat.
It all gets fairly repetitive, and the random nature of the hints about the object can get a bit frustrating. I’ve had battles where I’ve activated 4 hints which ended up being the same two hints repeated. The sword clearly has more “gems” that are not yet active, but I never got around to seeing what those were.
Which is to say: I’m certain 99 Spirits gets more complex and interesting as the game goes on – heck, the trailer shows that you can capture tsukumogami and train them and mix and match sword gem powers – but man is it going to be a grind to get there. The first few hours of the game are defeating the same jackets, sickles, and raincoats over and over again and unless the combat pattern of Attack-Attack-Clue-Attack-Clue-Defend-Defend-Solve-Attack-Attack-Attack fits in your brain, it’s hard to recommend.
If that doesn’t turn you off, though, the story is wacky, the characters are anime, the fox-god’s dialogue is adequately annoying, and you do get to sometimes ponder: is “protection” really the best clue for a hat?