Review – Knights in the Nightmare
Platform: Playstation Portable (PSP), Nintendo DS
Genre: Action/Strategy RPG
Rating: T – Teen
ESRB Content Descriptors: Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes
Official Website: http://www.atlus.com/knightspsp/
The Scoop: ATLUS and Sting deliver a Strategy-RPG with some interesting new twists. Coupled with an engaging story of tragedy and righteous vengeance, beautifully illustrated characters and stages, Knights in the Nightmare is a treat to experience.
The Setup: “Somewhere between heaven and the underworld-in the center of a quiet lake-stood an ancient castle known as Aventheim. Without warning, denizens of the netherworld emerged and slaughtered the kingdom; nary a soul was left alive.
“Within an abandoned, long-forgotten church deep in the woods, the Wisp is set free. Bereft of memory, it is drawn toward the monster-infested castle and re-awakens the souls of the vanquished knights, leading them back towards the fallen stronghold to confront the very forces of evil that took their lives.”
And so begins Knights in the Nightmare, an engaging Strategy-RPG with elements from the “bullet-hell” genre of scrolling shooters. You are the Wisp, the soul of the fallen king. Awakened in a church with no memory, you must battle monsters as you search for the one who awakened you, a mysterious Armored Maiden.
In this game you are not a character, per se. You play as the Wisp, which is essentially a glowing dot that you move around on screen like a cursor via the analog stick or D-Pad. Your means of attack are the souls of fallen Knights that you encounter on your journey. Some Knights are only present for a single encounter, but others can be given Key Items, objects that held special meaning for them in life. Giving such an object to the correct Knight recruits them into your army. There are seven classes in the game, and each has their own attack ranges and weapon types. Each map opens with at least two Knights on the field, sometimes more, along with Objects that can be broken or opened to obtain items. There are sometimes non-combatant NPCs as well. Like the Knights, they can be given a Key Item, however unlike the Knights, they do not join your cause. What they DO is give you an item, so it pays to keep an eye on the inventory.
Before each fight, you are given a chance to peruse the battlefield. Enemy statuses can be viewed, showing movement range and weaknesses, available Knights can be seen with their attack range and stats, and objects are also shown on the map, as some can obstruct attacks or are hazardous. Finally, up to four items can be chosen before battle each turn. Each item has a specific ability and use, so be very careful what you choose to bring with you each turn.
Speaking of items, a few factors need to be considered when outfitting Knights. First, what classes are the available Knights? This will determine what weapons can be used. Second, what are the elemental-types of the enemies? Picking weapons of opposing elements will do greater damage. Third, do you have the Key Items for the Knights on the field (those that aren’t listed as Guest)? And lastly, what Act Phase corresponds to that weapon?
Here’s a little more about the Knights. First, there are seven classes in the game, and each has their own attack ranges and weapon types. The classes are Duelist, Warrior, Hermit, Archer, Priestess, Wizard and Lance Knight. The Duelist wields a sword and can attack to their left and their back. In Chaos Phase, they also move one space with a leaping attack. The Warrior uses axes and attacks to their back or left as well. Hermits are what most people think of as thieves or rogues, and use daggers, attacking to the front and to the right. It’s pretty obvious what the Archer uses (at least, one would hope so). They have decent range, attacking the front and right. They’re also strong against giants.
If you wind up lucky enough to have a Priestess at your disposal, she’ll be able to wield maces, attacking front and right, as well as setting Grams. Grams are basically magic booby traps, triggered when a monster steps on the square you set it in. Much like the Priestess, a Wizard can set Grams and attacks front and right. However, they wield rods and have a very wide attack range. Finally, Lance Knights, like their name suggests, wield lances. They are mounted cavalry and can attack in any direction. Now that you know a little about the Knights, you need to know about the things that affect them.
For instance, there are two Act Phases – Law and Chaos. These Phases affect a Knight’s attack pattern, and are different in each. A Lance Knight in the Law Phase with a corresponding Law weapon will do a long reaching thrust attack, while a Chaos weapon in the Chaos Phase will cause the Knight to charge forward as he attacks. One more note when it comes to attacking – it is entirely possible to attack an enemy without using an item. That kind of attack will not damage the enemy; however, it DOES release MP crystals. MP is needed to use a weapon’s Skill Attack, which will damage an enemy or enemies.
All of this may sound rather much like common fare for the most part. But what about the afore-mentioned “bullet-hell” aspect? The term “bullet-hell” refers to a genre of scrolling shooters where the number of enemy projectiles on screen is massive – anyone who has ever played Ikaruga, Raiden Fighters or even Geometry Wars will have an idea of this shooter aspect. The enemies of Knights in the Nightmare all used different attacks that send projectiles around the screen. Some move in predictable patterns, others actually track the Wisp, often necessitating a change in speed (which is just a handy button press away). The more enemies on screen, the more projectiles there are to dodge. All is not lost, though, because these projectiles are not tiny bullets moving at the speed of sound. They are all brightly colored, resembling neon signs in most respects. I almost expected to start seeing “Eat at Joe’s” come shooting across the screen. The high visibility makes dodging much less stressful, even when the projectile count is moderate.
Another interesting twist on this game is a slot-machine style aspect called the Encounter Reels. At the end of a turn, before the next starts, you are taken to the Reels. Each reel (oftentimes three or four) will spin, pictures of monsters scrolling by. At the bottom of the screen is a board with colored spaces, some of which are marked KILL. Those marks represent the monsters defeated in the first turn. As the Encounter Reels spin, different slots on the board will light with a color matching one of the reels. The object here is much like Tic-Tac-Toe – to get a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line of KILL marks. By lining new marks up with current ones, fewer monsters need to be killed to complete the encounter. The colors don’t matter, though some colors will not show up in specific rows, so time your stops wisely.
I enjoyed this game immensely. I had some worries at first, like when I saw “bullet-hell”, knowing full well what that entailed. But I have been genuinely and pleasantly surprised at how easy this game is to just pick up and play. The tutorial section is available from the start (and is also integrated in the game; you can skip it if you’ve already done it), and the screens look overwhelmingly busy. Despite that, you really aren’t watching everything at once. There are a lot of sound cues, for example when a Knight is selected to charge their attack you hear, “The Warrior, Activated!” and then a charging sound, that crescendos at full power, for instance. Selecting an item does the same – “The Axe, attached,” and so forth. So what your eyes don’t follow, your ears can.
One issue I have with the game is once you are in a fight, you are committed to it. There is no mid-battle save option or a way to back out of the fight. The saves are all between scenes, but since a scene usually consists of cut scene, info, battle, cut scene, this isn’t an issue. There are also times where you will find that the Knights you have available may not be able to hit the enemies you need to kill to progress. I ran into a problem where I had a Duelist get stuck where she couldn’t attack anything. In Chaos aspect, Duelists use a leap attack, the moves them forward and up, if the terrain ascends. However, since the can only attack to the front or the left, going back DOWN is not an option. Of course, upon retrying the level, I took some time to think up a better strategy, and was victorious.
All in all, a fun game that will appeal to strategy and RPG fans alike (and maybe to those who enjoy trying to dodge hordes of enemy bullets, too).
What’s Hot: Solid Strategy-RPG elements, an engaging story, surprisingly easy control scheme, and tutorials that are concise and helpful. The battles are self-paced, allowing for on-the-fly strategizing, and the ability to swap weapons between turns makes recruiting new Knights and keeping enemies at bay a cinch.
What’s Not: Can seem hectic to people unaccustomed to games that require some multi-tasking. You have to be able to watch AND listen and the “bullet-hell” aspect can be daunting to those new to the scene. You need to be on the ball when attacking, to keep the Wisp from getting hit a lot of the time.
Final Verdict: With an engaging story, a new twist on an old favorite style of gaming and three separate storylines to follow, Knights in the Nightmare is a marvelous offering. Anyone yearning for a fresh take on Strategy RPGs, or RPGs in general should definitely pick this one up.
[Trailer video courtesy of ATLUS.]