Trying to fully explain how to play Knights in the Nightmare would take more room than I should reasonably use here. Believe me, I tried. When I wasn't finished after writing over 500 words, I realized it was futile. Basically, the player uses the Nintendo DS's touch screen to control a wisp that hovers over the upper screen's battlefield. The title's knights are the player's units, consisting of varying classes, that are controlled by dragging weapons to them and by using the wisp to charge up their attacks. Enemies do not attack these units (with the exception of some bosses), they only attack the wisp by exuding colorful shapes of varying forms that the player must avoid in a "bullet-hell" style. Some of these attacks include water droplets that fall from the top of the screen, circles that shoot out from the enemy in six directions, and exploding eggs. Bosses have their own creatively designed attacks that truly test the player's dexterity, such as giant energy blades that try to clamp down on the wisp. Defeating a monster will fill its corresponding slot on a grid at the bottom of the screen. Filling an entire row on this grid — horizontally, vertically, or diagonally — or defeating a boss wins a battle.
"Knights in the Nightmare takes a little bit of time to learn, but it's been worth every minute so far."
Knights in the Nightmare is not an easy game to jump into. Don't even think about skipping the teachings section on the main menu when first starting up the game. In this section are ten instructions labeled "first steps," fifty labeled "tutorials," and ninety, yes ninety, labeled "tips." It sounds daunting, and will probably take forty-five minutes to an hour to fully grasp everything in the teachings section, but the game really is not that tough to understand. In my opinion, these sections are here because Sting or Atlus realized that Knights in the Nightmare is such a unique game that they felt they should provide as much help as possible to its players, and they absolutely have done that. When I lost my first battle, I was even given a little hint as to what I may have done wrong.
This game is not your typical strategy RPG. Knights in the Nightmare's turns take place in real time and can feel quite hectic. Even with all the instructions provided, it still took some time to figure out the ins and outs of each little part of the game. Luckily, all of the levels so far have been of reasonable difficulty, so I was able to learn how to play as I went along without getting frustrated. In fact, my only loss (or losses, I should say) came from a boss that threw a new tactic at me that I had to adjust to. As long as you go into Knights with an open mind and a desire to play something new, the game should be easy to pick up.
Knights in the Nightmare is the type of game that I would want to play through at least a couple of times. Recruiting named, non-generic knights — those you can level up — requires the player to smash a stage's obstacles to release key items. Key items are used on the new knights that appear in each successive level to make them join the player, or on NPCs to receive weapons in return. Weapons are also collected by smashing obstacles or by defeating enemies. It seems I have missed a fair amount of key items, so I already want to play the game again from the beginning to try to collect them. I also want to experiment more with the game's transoul system, where a knight can be strengthened by combining him/her with another sacrificed knight's soul. Adding even more replay value is the fact that levels can be replayed endlessly through the main menu to earn experience points and to collect weapons for use in the main game. However, this does point out one of the game's minor weaknesses in my eyes: there is only one save slot.
The game's story is revealed in bite-sized chunks after each level, jumping between the details of a tragedy that occurred in the past and what is currently happening in the present. Understanding more and more as the game goes on is part of Knights in the Nightmare's allure, so I won't reveal too much. Essentially, the tragedy that occurred in the world's past caused a noble king to be killed. In the present, a mysterious armored maiden frees the player, i.e. the wisp, from its captivity, and she is guiding it in an attempt to presumably stop the forces that caused the tragedy in the first place. Like any detailed story with lots of characters, Knights' story was a little hard to pick up on at first. Once I learned all of the characters and started putting the pieces together, I started to really enjoy it, and it becomes more interesting as you move through the game.
Fans of Sting's previous game, Yggdra Union, should recognize a similar graphical style, though it feels more mature in Knights. The 2-D sprites and character portraits look great, as do the painted-esque backgrounds. I am thankful that Sting still understands the value of 2-D graphics. The game is also packed with sound effects, including the constant battle cries of the player's knights during combat, and it has great mood-setting music.
I can already recommend Knights in the Nightmare to anyone that enjoyed Yggdra Union, and to those who love strategy or tactical RPGs. Yggdra Union took the tactical RPG and threw in bunch of curves to make something new, unique, and fun. Knights in the Nightmare does the exact same thing, but takes it much further and in a different direction. It's one of those rare games that has a completely innovative design that is also actually fun. Knights in the Nightmare takes a little bit of time to learn, but it's been worth every minute so far.