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Knights in the Nightmare Hands-On

After many rounds of lengthy tutorials, we explore this unique and fascinating role-playing game.


The role-playing games on the Nintendo DS just keep on coming, and next on the horizon is Knights in the Nightmare, from Sting, the maker of Yggdra Union. This game is in a class of its own, and if you thought Yggdra was confusing and a bit of a mess onscreen, you should be warned that Knights in the Nightmare looks like a disaster--at least until you've spent enough time poring over the never-ending tutorials so that you have a clue about how to proceed.

In between all the madness, there's a captivating story.
In between all the madness, there's a captivating story.

Knights in the Nightmare could be considered a strategy RPG, mostly because there is some planning needed before you enter a fight and story-driven sequences are sandwiched between battles. You play as a wisp, a floating white light used to recruit and guide soldiers in battle. Like the gameplay, the story isn't easy to follow at first. We know that trouble is brewing in the kingdom, a valkyrie is on the run, and there has been a theft that has everyone on edge, but each scene is from a different viewpoint, and with flashbacks thrown in, it's hard to immediately get a grasp on things. It's all very confusing and frustrating at first, but you can't help but get swept away in its mystery once you've invested some time in the game. To ease yourself into the game, we suggest that you study up on the battle mechanics thoroughly beforehand, because once you start, you won't get any explanations.

Similar to in a strategy RPG, the field is divided into a grid, but you're not really moving your troops around the field. Instead, you're rooted to one spot, and your weapon determines how much of an area you can attack. Monsters on the top screen will move back and forth, so you wait patiently for them to fall in your line of sight. The enemy's walking pattern as well as your zone will be highlighted on the touch screen, which displays a bare-bones grid without all the graphics and effects that will distract you in the upper screen. The field is small, so your foes are generally in range. If not, you have 26 turns get the right weapon or recruit the character with the best weapon to get it done. Each turn is timed, but the clock doesn't count down with each passing second; instead, it counts down only when you're charging up for an attack or if you get hit. Once you clear the enemies onscreen, you can select whom you want to face next via a monster slot machine. A matrix below marks how many monsters you've killed, and the goal is to wipe out enough to fill a line, whether it be vertical, horizontal, or diagonal, to win the battle.

Before battle, you pick the soldiers you want and then select the appropriate class-based weapons that they can use. These items are placed on the right-hand side of the top screen for you to choose when you fight. The entire battle is stylus-driven, so to attack, you need to hold the stylus down on your character and charge up your meter. This is when things get hectic, because after you hit an enemy, it will drop gems that you need to grab quickly for magic points. Once you have MP, you can equip the weapon that you have on standby and unleash a much more powerful skill attack. While you're doing all this, enemies will launch their own offensive, and since you are the bright ball of light onscreen, you need to dodge bullets as though you're playing a fast-paced shoot-'em-up. There's so much going on that this will seem incredibly intimidating at first. But once you get over that hurdle and finally figure out how this game works, you'll appreciate the unique setup because it feels a lot more engaging than lining up your fighters and telling them to simply attack.

It takes a few tries to adjust to the new battle system.
It takes a few tries to adjust to the new battle system.

So if you're completely lost by this point but are still intrigued, Knights in the Nightmare is worth a closer look--if you're willing to spend a good hour sifting through the tutorial, tips, and demonstration sections and then revisit them again later for a refresher. The tutorials are a bit tedious, but like any game with a steep learning curve, once you get it, it's easy. When you're not busting your brains trying to figure out what to do, take a step back to absorb the visuals and the music, because they are fantastic. Even though we didn't get too far in, we came across quite a few amazing melodies that we'd love to listen to on a separate soundtrack. The art style is great and is easier to appreciate once you're off the battlefield.

This game won't be easily accessible and will take a lot of patience in the beginning. It is, however, perfect for those who enjoy the challenge of a more complicated RPG and are willing to learn something new. Chances are you've never seen anything like this, and there is so much more than what we've already covered. Look for Knights in the Nightmare when it is released June 2.

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