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   Knights in the Nightmare - Staff Review  

Let's Raise Some Havok
by Tom Goldman

PLATFORM
DS
BATTLE SYSTEM
5
INTERACTION
4
ORIGINALITY
5
STORY
4
MUSIC & SOUND
4
VISUALS
4
CHALLENGE
Moderate
COMPLETION TIME
20-40 Hours
OVERALL
4.5/5
+ Incredibly unique and creative gameplay
+ Great visual style
+ Deep, interesting story
+ Solid localization
- Steep learning curve
- Minor interface struggles possible
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Knights in the Nightmare is the fourth in Sting's Dept. Heaven series, but only the third game in that series to actually see a release. Previous games in the series include Riviera: The Promised Land and Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone. The Dept. Heaven games are known for their unique gameplay systems, and Knights in the Nightmare furthers that creativity to the nth degree. Knights mixes a strategy RPG with a bullet-hell top-down shooter, and actually manages to pull it off.

   The learning curve for entry is a bit steep. Expect to spend thirty minutes to an hour going through all the game's tutorials sections, but don't worry if you don't fully understand the game right away. Understanding of the basics is all that is required to play, and the game is quite forgiving for failure as well. Loss of a battle allows the player to restart each level as if it was never played, or to continue from the point of the loss. The difficulty is still retained somewhat with the latter option, as the player's knights do not regain any health lost in the battle and weapons do not regenerate any durability. Knights in the Nightmare may feel complicated, but it is easy to learn as it is played. Higher rankings can only be achieved through extreme expertise.

   The player controls a wisp that hovers over the upper screen's battlefield using the Nintendo DS's touch screen. A few knights, each with their own class and differing attack ability, are placed before a battle starts. Attacks against enemies of varying types are charged by dragging weapons to these knights and releasing the charge when the enemies are in range. Players must do this while also managing two battle states, Law and Chaos, collecting MP and weapon upgrade materials, smashing objects to collect items, and making sure to avoid enemy attacks that only harm the wisp. These attacks must be avoided in a bullet-hell style, squeezing and weaving throughout the safe spaces on the screen. Enemy combinations vary constantly and attacks become more and more difficult to avoid as the game moves on. Boss attacks are unique and supremely creative, making boss battles one of the most enjoyable (and challenging) parts of the game. This battle system is extremely rewarding and fun once it is understood, though it may be somewhat frustrating to fully take in at first because of how unique it is. Knights ends up being even more entertaining to play a second time around just to try to get better rankings and items with the knowledge gained in the first playthrough, in addition to new game plus options (such as retention of all knights recruited).

Caption This is all you have to do.

   Knights has a great story that is told in a simple way. Typically, a scene of the game's present is shown before each battle, while a scene from the game's past is revealed after each battle. Knights' story basically follows a terrible disaster that has occurred (or was caused) which led to the death of a noble king and the rise of some baddies with evil plans of their own. There is a monolith of text throughout the game and the localization was handled with great care. Almost every one of the game's dozens of characters has some essence to them that is often revealed in one of Knights' story scenes, giving the world a more lifelike feel (as opposed to dealing with characters that are thoughtless vessels). There is only one minor problem with the game's story, and it is that certain parts of the text fade in and out without any control by the player and can be missed if the player has to look up for a few seconds. Just pay attention and Knights' story remains interesting right to the end.

   In addition to Knights in the Nightmare's battle mechanics, the interface and other aspects take time to get used to as well. Moving the wisp around the battlefield exactly as intended will not be easy at first. However, everything necessary is there to allow for precise control during combat, and a big part of the game's strategy is managing movement of the wisp. The weapon system can be a bit hard to deal with, as players are able to carry a total of 250 weapons of many different types and elements at once. Sting has provided three different ways to organize and view these weapons, but it can be stressful to deal with such a giant, varied weapon list. Also, the game's transoul system is not fully explained in-game and may require some experimentation, though experimentation involves the permanent loss of a knight. Upgrading weapons is not necessary to win the game, and fully understanding transoul is not required either, so these annoyances are negligible.

Caption Looks crazy huh?

   The game's sound effects, such as the attack cries of the game's knights, make battles feel frenetic and energized. The game's music sets the mood and keeps things moving, or slows them down when dealing with a more tender moment. Knights' anime 2D art style meshes with its battle effects very well. Enemy attacks are simple, but each has a creative graphic design. Even with a ton happening on-screen, not a hint of slowdown occurs. In Knights in the Nightmare, Sting created a very aesthetically and technically sound game.

   I must acknowledge that Knights in the Nightmare will probably not be for everyone, but then again no game is. Knights is something completely unique and as such has a learning curve. But, once the game is understood, it only gets better and better. Knights is a shining example of the creativity that the game industry needs more of. It is without a doubt a must-have for RPGamers, especially those that enjoy unique, strategy-focused battle systems. Knights in the Nightmare is an incredibly creative and interesting experience that should not be missed by anyone remotely intrigued by the concept.

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