–And now for something completely different-
Now I’m all for Sonic Team going out of their way to make titles that don’t feature the character they’re named for but there is a reason why nobody really talks about them. Firstly, Sonic is the only thing Sega generally lets out of Japan though they’ve been a bit better about that from what I’ve heard. Secondly, Sonic Team’s non-Sonic related material don’t tend to be as popular, fun or as marketed as Sonic, which horrifies me as a utter fan of Sonic Team’s best game ever: Project Rub.
However NiGHTS into Dreams… (the ellipses is a part of the title for some reason) was one major exception, it was marketed like crazy for a non-Sonic title and probably the most popular game the Sega Saturn ever had after its release in 1996. Since then it’s gotten a badly drawn comic, a Japan exclusive PS2 remake, cameos in a bunch of Sega games, a sequel on the Wii, a playable character in a tennis game, a cameo of NiGHTS in a racing game, NiGHTS playable in that racing game’s sequel and a crappy short free DLC level for Sonic Lost World. Not a bad run for a now more or less abandoned Sega franchise I guess, at the very least the Sonic/Megaman World’s Unite crossover comic appearance was nice.
Now that Japan exclusive remake I mentioned was given the HD treatment and was released worldwide for PSN, Steam and Xbox Live so basically anyone can play the original game now. The HD port also comes with the option to change the graphics back to their Saturn form and some other stuff I’ll mention later. However is the game deserving of the acclaim it got back in 1996? Well, let’s find out.
-I am thou…thou art NiGHTS…oh wait, wrong game-
Thank god the story is relatively simple, I’m sick of spending time summarizing the plots to RPGs. In the world of dreams, human dreams are played out in two places; Nightopia and Nightmare. Aspects of the dreamer’s personalities are represented by Ideya, coloured orbs that you’ll be seeing a lot of. The ruler of Nightmare is Wizeman who plans on stealing Ideya from the human visitors in order to take over both the dream world and the real world. For this purpose he starts creating stronger and stronger nightmaren, two of the most powerful “Level One” Nightmaren being NiGHTS and Reala. However NiGHTS decides to rebel against Wizeman for denying her and the world’s freedom and gets captured for her trouble. Yes I said “her”, though NiGHTS is meant to be androgynous in this game later material more or less abandon the concept. Later games give her a straight up female voice lead…even though the sequel refers to her as a “he” in the male route with the female voice still intact.
In the city of Twin Seeds, two teenagers named Elliot Edwards and Claris Sinclair are having a pretty shit time. Elliot because he fucked up in a basketball match against some older kids, Claris because she got stage fright when trying to audition for a singing part in the Twin Seeds Festival. Humiliated, they go to sleep that night only to find nightmares representing their fuck ups trying to attack them. They are saved for the moment when they are taken to Nightopia and find NiGHTS, who convinces them to help her put a stop to Wizeman. After defeating Wizeman and his Nightmaren, Elliot and Claris return to the real world now accomplishing what they’ve failed to do previously and later meet during the Twin Dreams Festival. The game ends with a camera pan up to NiGHTS atop a skyscraper, playing her invisible flute (she has one) and presumably watching over them.
Now the game itself only relinquishes certain parts of this story through CG cutscenes (gotta have those, it WAS ’96 after all). These cutscenes basically tell the part of the story involving Elliot and Claris fucking up, going to Nightopia, defeating Wizeman with NiGHTS and the following Dream Festival. Nothing involving what NiGHTS and Wizeman are doing or the Ideya are explained in anywhere besides the manual, though that’s basically gaming back then in a nutshell in that if you weren’t a RPG your story went in the manual which came with the game. Luckily the digital version of the game has a nice explanation of the plot in the How To Play section which is always good to have.
Overall the story works for what it is in the time it came out, no more no less though there isn’t really a message here besides “If you have a shit day, help a weird jester thing defeat Wizeman and maybe you’ll have a better day when you get back”. I mean the last stage of the game has you play as the character you chose instead of NiGHTS until the final boss starts but being able to fly without NiGHTS’ assistance doesn’t really fit into any message that they’ve been trying to promote, mainly because they haven’t been promoting one at all except maybe the kids overcoming their own fears. From what I’ve looked up NiGHTS is apparently supposed to be inspired by the “Shadow” of one’s self from Jungian psychology and to be fair NiGHTS is shown as a fun loving, childish creature but this game sure isn’t Persona 4 I’ll tell you that much and this is all from supplementary material anyway. If NiGHTS went about saying shit like “I am a shadow, the true self” then maybe I’d be singing a different tune but again this is all just outside information, the story is simple and really nothing more than that.
-Flying through rings…where have I heard that before?-
NiGHTS has you go through 8 different “Dreams” split up between Elliot and Claris, with the final dream for both of the characters being the same one. Each dream begins with the character you’re playing as having their Ideya stolen and only being left with the Ideya of Courage. Your job then is to get to where NiGHTS is cooped up and fuse with her, luckily you have a arrow pointing you in the direction you need to go and NiGHTS is always right in front of where you begin. After fusing with NiGHTS you need to guide her through the stage and recover all of the stolen Ideya to reach that stage’s boss fight. Defeat the boss and the stage ends. Now here comes the tricky part. NiGHTS is a 2.5D game where you fly around the stage collecting stuff, going through rings, dashing to go faster and destroy enemies and interacting with the stage in unique ways/minigames to raise your score at points. Such ways include turning into and controlling a bobsled or being turned into a mermaid and having to move around from a behind the camera view whilst on rails.
Each dream is split into 4 courses. You go into a course with a time limit of around a few minutes with the main goal of collecting 20 blue chips, destroying the Ideya container with them and taking the Ideya back to the starting point where you fused with NiGHTS. Doing so moves you onto the next course. Do this for all 4 courses and you go to the boss fight….except not.
You see you’re graded for the points you acquire in each course and you need a C Rank for the stage score overall to unlock the boss fight. Completing the boss fight before the time limit for it runs out will multiply your score depending on how much time from the fight was left, giving you your overall rank for that Dream. You need at least a C Rank in each Dream to unlock the final Dream for that character. Now what are the main ways to raise your score? Collecting stuff in succession will cause a combo or Link meter to appear, raising your score for how high of a Link you can pull off at once. There are powerups hidden in the stage that can help if you manage to find them, as well as trick rings that let you pull off tricks for points by messing around with the shoulder buttons and flying around. Flying in a loop an connecting the sparkles left by NiGHTS as she flies causes a Paraloop where anything caught in that loop will be attracted to NiGHTS or destroyed.
Now for the love of god do not try completing the current course as fast as possible, this is not Sonic and you will not get points for going fast. When you get the Ideya you enter BONUS TIME where all score bonuses are increased meaning you should enter BONUS TIME as fast as possible. In BONUS TIME, the best course of action is to keep looping the current course instead of heading back to the place where you fused with NiGHTS as everything respawns when you loop a course. Use your first run of the course to be familiar with where everything is and get the Ideya, then keep going through the course until you feel like you’re running out of time to return to the starting point. Even if you suck at the current stage this basically guarantees you’ll at least get a C rank for that course. The idea is to learn each course of the stage and do well enough to get your score high. If you run out of time you’ll be turned back into a teenager and you need to head straight back to NiGHTS before a sentient Alarm Clock attacks you and its game over. If you run out of time in a boss fight it also causes a game over also and taking damage as NiGHTS causes you to lose 5 seconds off your timer (technically more than 5 seconds since NiGHTS takes time to recover from the damage taken which is annoying at times).
Now learning the stage, getting a high score from doing stuff in quick succession, defeating the boss quickly and getting a good rank is really good arcade-like fun and the stages are always relatively short so fucking up is never much of a issue and redoing the stage as punishment is not completely bad since you already know how the stage works and where the best places to go to get points are. Though some of the boss fights can be really annoying to figure out how to win without wasting time, when you repeat a Dream that you finished already the boss you fight at the end is randomly picked from a list of the ones you fight already (the final boss being the exception…I think anyway) so you can go into a boss that you know how to beat fast instead of the one you have a hard time with. Complimenting the gameplay’s qualities is the absolutely beautiful atmosphere and environments, they’re so colourful no matter what the stage in a great way that doesn’t make it hard to distinguish stuff. Along with this we have a fucking amazing and brilliantly composed soundtrack, it’s so fucking good and it was done by the same guy who did Sonic CD’s Japanese soundtrack. The main theme is great (though the credits vocal version is a bit weird to listen to), the stage themes are beautiful and fantastic, and the boss fight themes are just awesome.
I don’t have a long list of issues with NiGHTS, most of them are due to the era it came out in but I may as well state them anyway. Firstly the control takes some getting used to, it’s a tad precise but to be fair this was 1996 and this was the first Saturn game to introduce compatibility the Saturn’s new Analog controller (which Steven Spielberg tested a prototype of for some reason). Secondly the camera can get obstructive, sometimes it doesn’t give you the best view of what’s coming up ahead leading you to running into shit especially during the parts in a couple of stages where a section has a gimmick that gives you something like a overhead view and you have NO IDEA where to go. Other stage gimmicks can be annoying as well, the on rails sections have a insane amount of “pop-up” in them leading me to miss loads of collectables on the first run through. And when I said that the boss fights can get confusing, they REALLY can get confusing. Some fights like Reala or Puffy can be ended fast via repeated Paralooping, drill dashing or grabbing the boss and tossing them. Others can take a good deal of time just figuring out how to damage the boss or whether or not the stuff that you can interact with in the boss arena is there to stun them. These fights don’t tend to come up often, it’s just a problem when I can’t get a good multiplier on my score because the boss that I have to fight is a pain in the ass to kill.
Finally I have a rather big problem with the final Dream; you HAVE to go through the courses as fast as possible here since you have one big overall time limit instead of separate time limits per course and NOTHING respawns when you loop a course. Of course the game doesn’t tell you this meaning I don’t realise the time limit doesn’t reset when I get to a new course and I don’t have enough time to get everything before I get a game over immediately since you’re already in your human state in the final stage. Basically when you get to the final stage collect the 20 blue chips and grab the Ideya as fast as possible whilst trying to get some decent Links going to get a good rank.
-In conclusion…Only this Winter-
So overall NiGHTS is great arcade fun, it has great visuals and an amazing soundtrack. Since there are only 8 stages that don’t last very long you can beat the game in one setting and come back once in a while to play around or get a better score. From here I’d talk about Christmas NiGHTS, a demo for the game that came in some promotions in 1996 that had a absolutely insane amount of content. This review is long enough as it is however, the only main things from Christmas NiGHTS that made it into the HD port was the Christmas version of Spring Valley as well as the Christmas costumes for NiGHTS, Elliot and Claris along with some great remixes. There are a bunch of other costumes and title screen changes that did make it into the HD version which are viewable here. The HD version also keeps the Sound Test and a couple of bonus videos but I’m kinda sad we never got the Sonic into Dreams… bonus section too but it didn’t look that fun to play when I watched it on Youtube. You can head to Youtube as well to view all the content that is still exclusive to the Christmas NiGHTS demo if you wish.
In conclusion, just try out NiGHTS and see if you have as much fun with it as I did.