Japanese RPGs of late have found a welcoming home on Sony’s PSP with Knights in the Nightmare being a recent entry. Ported over from the DS, this Strategy RPG tells the story of a world in turmoil with different parties trying to vie for dominance over all life. Caught in the middle is the Wisp with the ability to resurrect and control soldiers in battle.
As the Wisp, you and an accompanying Valkyrie must somehow stem the evil that has fallen over the land. Interesting premise but is it one to follow or ignore? Read on to find out.
To put it plainly I’ve never seen anything like what’s happening during a typical battle in KitK before. Let’s start with the normal stuff first: in battle you move the Wisp around either with the D-Pad or the analog nub and by clicking on units you can attack enemies on-screen. Switching between Law and Chaos with the right shoulder button allows for different attack strengths and ranges depending on the units. You can also drag weapons, which are set before every battle, to these units for powerful attacks that use up MP. These Magic Points are collected by damaging opponents and collecting gems that they drop. Normal battles are won after you defeat a row or column of enemies much in the way slot machines payout for winners. Boss battles are mostly singular affairs. All units, except for bosses, are aligned to a particular element whether it is Neutral, Lightning, Fire and so on. Naturally, attacks of the opposite element do more damage which adds a great deal of strategy. And of course there’s a bunch of weapons to upgrade and recruits to level up with gathered experience points. Okay, all that is familiar territory.
Enemies here attack you like those found in Japanese shoot ‘em-ups (Shmups). Apart from the 2D isometric grids in which units walk on, bad guys throw out spells or attacks of various colors that are very prominent in the foreground. What’s so cool about this is that these attacks directly affect the Wisp that you control. While trying to attack enemies you have to actively dodge to make sure the timer doesn’t run out for that round of combat. Attacks can run the gamut of simple fireballs to a handful of violet tornadoes filling the screen and even crazier stuff. Players can augment the Wisp’s speed with the triangle and circle buttons to move faster or slower which makes for some hectic but fun gameplay. There’s nothing more exhilarating than dodging a crapton of debris and while letting loose a charged up attack on some hapless creature.
All told the story is very interesting and dark, with the latter not shy about it which is commendable. The universe is split into 3 parts: Asgard (Heaven), the human world, and the Underworld. Unfortunately, there are two conflicting factions on the island of St. Celestina where the story takes place: the Kingdom of Gleivnir and the horned and winged Tiamats. The Kingdom where the story starts out is disorganized at best and collapsing at worst with an evil man sitting at the very top. What was supposed to be a union between both sides has since been nullified and a new threat has appeared that will affect every realm if not stopped. Told from a variety of viewpoints from both the good and the bad, the setting’s history slowly reveals itself and feels heavy especially under the weight of a dying world. If you pay close attention you can understand and appreciate the story but it’s held back by the first item in the NOT section…
The story takes some time to get going and the progression only makes it harder to grasp. It constantly jumps around to past and present events. After each battle, Past Revisited scenes play out to give players history that’s tied to the most recent battlefield. This can range from several hundred days before a certain event to the day of and easily any when in between. Still, these will come from a multitude of viewpoints. It might take halfway through the game or later before you can piece the story together cohesively. Also before and after each victory you get some platitude about life as a Wisp and some can be interesting but most of the time, not really.
It’s generally hard to care for any of these characters except for maybe Maria, the Valkyrie who assists the Wisp. Even then you stop controlling her halfway through and then there’s only the silent Wisp to look at. The more important story characters don’t make much of an impression since they come and go so fast a handful of others have already taken his/her place only to be forgotten themselves. It doesn’t help that nearly to the end the game throws a new character in whose identity is never explained. Also the identity of the Wisp is supposed to be a big secret but can easily be figured out within the first hour. Characters are supposed to leave an impression and cement readers, or players in the case of videogames, to the setting and story but every single one here has failed to do that.
Knights in the Nightmare will go unnoticed in the time of big name holiday releases and that’s a shame. Despite problems with how the story is told and forgettable characters the game is unique, exciting and more importantly, fun. After a single run-through players will unlock new characters and a “new game+” with which to unlock a whole bunch of good and bad endings. An even better incentive is if you act now and buy this game, you’ll get a FREE digital copy of Yggdra Union. Two PSP Strategy RPGs for the price of one, go for it!
[Editor’s Note: Knights in the Nightmare is reviewed on the PSP platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]