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Knights in the Nightmare
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Sting
Genre: Strategy RPG
Format: Cartridge
Release: US 06/02/09
Japan 09/25/08



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Maria! I've just met an armored maiden named Maria!
 
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How many people are saying this same thing about Knights in the Nightmare?
 
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Hard mode. Good luck.
 
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Uber-explode!
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Patrick Gann
Hands-On Preview
05/19/09
Patrick Gann

Have you been following the Dept Heaven series from Sting? You know, Riviera, Yggdra Union, and the like. They're all a part of one series even though each individual game offers significant changes in gameplay mechanics. Episode IV in the Dept Heaven series is a Nintendo DS game called Knights in the Nightmare (or KitN, pronounced "kitten," for short). For anyone wondering what happened to Episode III, rumors are that it's an as-of-yet-unannounced MMORPG for the PC. Knights in the Nightmare apparently takes place after whatever multitude of events occur in this MMORPG, as well as the events of Riviera and Yggdra Union.

Knights in the Nightmare marks the series' debut on the Nintendo DS (previous releases were on the GBA and ported to PSP). As each game has its own set of unique gameplay mechanics, Knights in the Nightmare makes full use of the touch screen. Never before has a "turn-based" strategy RPG had so much action. Let me explain.

You control "the Wisp," which is actually the soul of recently-deceased King Wilmgard of Aventheim. Mysterious forces from Asgard, the Underworld, and elsewhere are vying for power, but the Wisp seems to want little more than vengeance for a wrongful death. And this Wisp has a lot of followers, also from the afterlife. All of King Wilmgard's knights who have been killed (and are thus, presumably, the "knights in the nightmare") are willing to fight alongside you from one chapter to the next, either temporarily or, given the right conditions, permanently.

But for these knights to fight, the Wisp must directly guide them. And, if you haven't guessed yet, the player controls the Wisp using the stylus on the bottom screen. But here's the tricky part: the screen you have to be watching during combat is the top screen! The screens are essentially duplicates, but all of the action takes place up top. You see, the enemies, though they can damage your characters, are acting primarily to hit the Wisp, who has no health bar, but who does have a time limit. Each battle is designed to have a predetermined number of turns, with each turn having a set time limit. The time limit doesn't decrease in real-time like a clock, however. There are only two things that bring time down: 1) performing an action with a knight, 2) the Wisp getting hit by an enemy's attack.

The player controls the knights by using a point/drag/click function: if you want to use a weapon, you pick a weapon from the top-right corner of the screen and drag it onto the appropriate knight. There's a "charge time" to equip the weapon and fully utilize it, during which time the knight is vulnerable to taking damage from enemies. But while you're holding that charge, the enemies are primarily attacking the Wisp by sending crisp, colorful "bullets" after you. These can literally be bullet-sized circles of pixels, or they can be giant swords, or tornadoes, or colorful dragons. These "ethereal" attacks knock down your time, and if you hit zero, you won't even get the chance to attack after charging the knight's weapons. Other factors come into play during combat as well: you need MP to attack with a weapon, and this is gained only by nabbing crystals that are released after striking an enemy (with or without a weapon). You can also switch at any time from "Law" to "Chaos" (again, using the Wisp). This changes a number of settings, including which equipped weapons you can use.

The feature that does carry over from one Dept Heaven entry to the next is emphasis on weapons. All weapons have a set durability, and they break after enough usage. Collecting, combining, and strengthening weapons (primarily done in a menu between chapters) is of utmost importance. It's also important to maintain your party members' Vitality, which is essentially their HP. Vitality can only be regained by leveling up, or by using "Transoul," which essentially merges two knights into one. In this sense, your troops are treated more like objects (extensions of the weapons) and less like story-driven characters. After all, they're already "dead" by the time they've joined you. Only one living character is ever a member of your party, and her Vitality is always recharged at the beginning of each chapter.

For a game that uses an isometric grid, it feels so distant from Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem that it really needs to be classified and understood by gamers as a unique experience. And that is, without question, a true accomplishment on Sting's part. Whether or not this level of originality makes for a worthwhile game, that is a far more subjective question. But there's something different going on here. Forget all of your assumptions about how strategy RPGs ought to work, because this game throws out all the old rules and sets its own to make a whole new game. I'll never forget having to cope with the fact that I couldn't even move my party members without using some tricky, turn-wasting tactics (some job classes have basic movement capabilities, others are stationary).

Knights in the Nightmare is coming at the beginning of June. Can Atlus and Sting bring more fans into the fold, and can they retain the fans they had from previous titles in this strange, memorable franchise? Time will tell. And no, you cannot make the days to release pass faster by intentionally running your soul into ethereal sprites. That only works in-game.



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© 2009 Atlus, Sting. All rights reserved.


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