Knights in the Nightmare preview

When the strategy/RPG/shooter hybrid Knights in the Nightmare was released in North America for the Nintendo DS a little over a year ago, it was well received critically, but failed to make a huge impact on the gaming industry. The game’s developer, Sting Entertainment, is once again teaming up with Atlus U.S.A. to publish Knights in the Nightmare in North America, though this time around, it will be ditching the DS touch screen in favor of the graphical upgrade of the PSP. Atlus showed off the PSP version during a live web demo last week, and though the mix of shooting, strategy, and role-playing elements seem a little overwhelming, it’s hard to deny the unique nature of Knights in the Nightmare.

Though they may not be widely known in North America, Sting Entertainment is no stranger to the gaming industry, having previously developed Yggdra Union, Hexyz Force, and a number of other games with strategy or role-playing elements. Sting’s games usually have a distinct atmosphere and unusual gameplay elements, and Knights in the Nightmare is no exception. Though Atlus PR Guru Aram Jabbari and Project Editor Scott Stritchart didn’t talk too much about the game’s plot, they stated that Knights in the Nightmare has a heavy narrative that is both emotional and haunting. This is reflected in the game’s art style, with environments and characters presented in a darker, more serious fashion, while still having the familiar look of Sting Entertainment’s previous work.

Knights in the Nightmare features three lead characters, each with his or her own good and bad endings. One of these characters, Princess Yggdra, is new to the PSP version, and hails from Sting Entertainment’s strategy RPG Yggdra Union. To survive on the battlefield, one of the major focuses of the game is recruiting knight spirits to join the fight. Though dead, these knights can be very useful, and players need to win them over by presenting them with the appropriate story item. Once recruited, knights can fight in battle, be dissolved, or even be sacrificed in order to enhance other fighters. Successfully completing battles reveals more details about the fall of these knights, as well as their relationships with each other. If the player fails to recruit enough knight spirits, a third-tier fighter, the Nameless Knight, will join the party. Nameless Knights only last for one battle, and should serve as a reminder of the importance of adding new members to the party.

Besides the narrative, Knights in the Nightmare is made up almost entirely of battles, and was described as “RPG bullet hell heaven”. Employing a deeply strategic gameplay with the frantic nature of shoot-em-ups, Knights in the Nightmare paves way for an interesting (if not confusing) concept. Instead of a health bar, each battle has a timer, which runs down while the action occurs; when the timer reaches zero, the turn is over, and the player has a limited amount of attempts to reach the battle’s victory conditions. On Easy mode, which the game was presented in, there are 26 turns, but Normal difficulty brings with it a steeper learning curve, and Hard and Nightmare should challenge even the most diehard fans of the DS version of Knights in the Nightmare. Observing the position of the player’s knights, objects on the battlefield, and enemies are all crucial elements of success, because there are so many layers of strategy to the game that it’s actually a little overwhelming. Luckily, three different tutorials serve to ease players into the game, but again, any difficulty above Easy mode will likely have some trial and error involved. The player only physically controls a Wisp, a spirit who brings everything else together in battle, using the analog nub on the PSP. Without a hands-on approach, it was difficult to get a feeling of how intuitive the fighting actually is, but the battle showed off in the demo appeared to be the mix between strategic set-up and chaotic execution that would be expected from a strategy-RPG bullet hell.

This intimidating mesh of sub-genres definitely won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s hard to deny that Knights in the Nightmare is, at the very least, interesting and different. There appear to be so many layers of strategy involved that it might scare off some gamers, but those willing to stick with it should find a unique challenge in the vein of Yggdra Union or Riviera. With less than two months to go until the game’s October 19 release, Knights in the Nightmare appears to be running smoothly through its development, and it won’t be long before fans of deep strategy, inventory management, or shoot-em-ups will be in “RPG bullet hell heaven”.