6.8

Knights in the Nightmare review
Could Have Been a Sweet Dream

The good:

The theme was actually quite dark and moody throughout. Every chapter in the story was usually accompanied by many grim tales and masses of thick fog.

It’s something new. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but at least Sting were brave enough to implement their Wisp system.

The bad:

The story. I always felt out of the loop, and didn’t know which characters to follow or not. With 200 or so characters in total, it’s hard to get attached to anyone, especially if those characters do not even have proper names…

The Wisp is flawed and unreceptive. I felt that combat was literally more of a struggle than a fun alternative to normal JRPGs, whilst dodgin on-screen projectiles, you would have to navigate troops whilst trying not to get hit or choose the wrong ally.

Summary:

I usually refrain from playing RPGs on the Nintendo DS system, especially after The Dark Spire, but I heard from fellow critics that Knights in the Nightmare was something very different and fresh, so I gave it chance, and managed to slot it into my weekend gaming rota. I wasn’t surprised to see it was a Japanese port (well, duh) and wasn’t surprised to see that Atlus was at the helm of the NA version’s publishing, something they have managed to pull off on roughly 40% of the DS titles I have been browsing through as of late.

Knights in the Nightmare is what it says on the tin in terms of plot guidance; it tells the tale of many knights, living in a nightmare, most of them dead. The plot itself is extremely loose and you will find yourself unavoidably confused within minutes of play, as each chapter in the game keeps going backward in time, introducing characters who are presented as if you have been playing the game as them for several hours. I pressed on through the first few chapters until I was totally confused; from an old man talking to his granddaughter in one scene to a werewolf being slain in the other, the story doesn’t mesh together at all apart from the odd occasion which will feature the Wisp, and a mysterious Iron-clad maiden.

If I can piece the story together correctly, the king’s soul is stolen from a vast castle by the maiden, she then takes it to a dilapidated church where it is activated and roams the lands as knights from the castle pursue it, trying to capture it for the kingdom’s cardinal (the old man mentioned earlier). I can see how the story alone is very off-putting; I have never got this from Final Fantasy IV or even Dark Spire, so I don’t see how Sting thought it would appeal to RPG fans. I know I may be comparing other well known RPGs with Knights, but gamer’s accustomed to the industry will know that they are rightfully billed under the same genre.

The game is played through a number of pre-set stages; no travelling and random encounters unlike conventional RPGs… After a brief exchanging of dialogue between NPCs battles just establish themselves in random locations which -just like the plot itself- bears no real relevance and should be elaborated on. On every stage there will be roughly three enemies and two to three allies on square grid with segments missing. My first thoughts were that this game was going to be like Disgaea, but I was so wrong.
Firstly, the learning curve for the game is extreme; you will have to blister your way through at least 30 minutes of tutorials before even thinking of playing the game which is very annoying; why couldn’t they have just implemented a tutorial into the actual game itself? Anyway, here are the logistics; you and your allies are static figures on a grid, whereas your enemies are free to move wherever the grid will physically allow them. You command your allies on the field only using the touch screen, using a “Wisp” to command them.

The Wisp will follow your stylus on the touch-screen. Hovering over an ally will trigger an attack which will become a charged attack if you hover for longer. Your objective is to wipe out all of the enemies on the field to fill a “Kill bar” however; your regular attacks do next to nothing in damage and don’t possess the ability to actually kill a creature. No, for that you need to equip items. On the screen you will notice a panel on the right which harbours a maximum of 4 items and the Phase Change control. Drawing a small anti-clockwise arc will change the state of play from Lawful to Chaos and vice versa, the only differences being that your character’s attack ranges will mutate and also some items can only be used in a certain phase. Dragging an item from the bar and onto the knight will trigger a special attack which will reduce MP, which can be recharged by simply drawing around a wounded monster to collect gems which convert tot MP.

Your allies are never actually attacked or keep a reserve of HP. No, the only form of life points is the timer running down to indicate the end of the turn. When enemies attack, they launch glyphic projectiles across the touch screen which you must avoid with your Wisp, or else seconds will be shaved off of your remaining time. At the end of each of every round you are presented with a result table and also some new items if you are lucky.

The game may sound as if it offers a new and fresh feel to the average turn based RPG scope, but the system is so damn flawed and requires such a learning curve, especially for those just wanting to dive in and play, that the finished result is just something barbarically confusing and almost pointless. My main gripe is that when an enemy is out of range from my attack, I want to move and strike them down, but the system doesn’t allow me to do so and guarantees me that changing “Phase” will allow me to reach, the whole reason that system was implemented, but I still cannot reach. Also the Wisp is also a bloody poor idea; you will notice that the battlefields are always as compact, so zipping from one ally to the next can trigger a load of unwanted attacks, so when you finally reach the ally you wanted to select, the enemy has already sprinted out of range.

In terms of presentational quality, the game is just an average top down 2.5D screening, with pop up character portraits to navigate the plot of the story. Each character portrait is different in design which is good to see amongst so many other RPGs that slate that feature, but the naming of each of the knights is ridiculous. The main characters such as Aquinna and the cardinal will have name tags, but every other knight is simply referred to as “Pale Haired Knight”, “Brunette Knight”, “Fierce Officer” or “Sharp Eyed Knight” which instantly severs the bond of character exploration instantly. The music is on a fair scale, with the girly vocals from every Knight in combat bringing it down, but there is no voice acting at all during the parts of the game that would actually benefit from it.

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