Everything about Knights in the Nightmare seems to deviate from the normal conventions of strategy RPGs. For starters, the genre of “strategy RPG” cannot begin to cover it. “Bullet-hell-meets-real-time-strategy-meets-RPG” starts to get there. To fully describe the game’s mechanics could take as long as going through the large amount of tutorials it has, but this necessarily is not a bad thing. Once you get over the learning curve, the game picks up and becomes much faster and streamlined.
You play as the Wisp, an amnesiac lost soul who can raise the scores of dead knights in the game’s kingdom to fight for you. Each map is grid-based, like a classic strategy RPG such as Disgaea. The enemies you fight move around randomly on these maps while you position your own recruited knights. Only two of the seven classes actually move, thus making the bulk of them stationary. Each of these characters you recruit can be leveled up, the weapons they use can be fused and upgraded, and strength is stat-based.
The execution plays more like a real-time strategy game though. Each turn of battle has two steps: set up, then go into action. As you set up and execute attacks in real time, enemies will also attack in real time. The difference is that the player activates their knights to hit enemies, while the enemies spam bullet-based attacks a’la Ikaruga to hit the player and deplete your available time. A turn ends when you run out of time, and if you cannot achieve your objective in a certain number of turns you lose the battle.
All of this barely scratches the surface of the complexity of the game. It does take a bit to get through the tutorials and learn how everything works, but once you get the fundamentals down, the game becomes streamlined and like a second nature. In other words, it’s an acquired taste.
Controls have been updated since the DS original, removing the dual screen and touch support in favor of a more streamlined user interface with several touch screen functions mapped to various buttons for the better. In the prior version, you could accidentally activate knights at times while trying to shift from the Law phase to the Chaos phase, and while in the PSP version a button press does this for you. Another change for the better is the actual movement of the Wisp. Whereas in the DS version you’d move with the touch screen and stylus, precision has been added with the use of the analog stick on the PSP.
On top of all of this, Knights in the Nightmare presents detailed visuals, including great character sprites, an excellent audio presentation, and an incredible amount of replayability with major differences for your second and third playthroughs.
Overall, Knights in the Nightmare takes a bit to get used to, but ends up shining as an incredible deviation from its core genre’s norm. Learning the game takes a while and might deter a player at first, but if you persevere you’ll be rewarded.
Pros: Wildly original take on the genre, plot leaves you asking for more
Cons: Lengthy tutorials can be a major deterrent, recruitable characters don’t have much depth