A Japanese game that takes us to where action games and tactical RPGs collide, Knights in the Nightmare is a solid game for DS owners looking for something new. The controls work, the gameplay is novel, and while not a genre-defining classic, Knights does manage to deliver a genuine good time.

From Atlus USA comes a dark and gothic game for the DS. If forced to label this game with a genre, I would use “tactical action-RPG.” The player is given command of a ball of light called The Wisp and you lead The Wisp through battles with monsters and evil entities. These baddies have overrun a kingdom that fell victim to treachery and treason by high-ranking officials and occultists. The Nordic-inspired names and motifs make the game unique and avoid the played-out “Everyone’s name sounds Elfish” phenomenon that you tend to see in RPGs.

As The Wisp, the player utilizes the souls of knights that perished in the events leading up to or following the fall of the kingdom. By commanding these knights in battle and giving them weapons to use, The Wisp advances through different maps a la most tactical RPGs. Finally, DS owners have a game that takes tiny floating balls of light and makes them fearsome. However, the enemies in this game do not target your summoned knights, they target The Wisp itself. With the stylus, you are constantly moving The Wisp out of the path of the magical attacks of the enemies and simultaneously giving orders to your knights, which gets pretty hectic especially in the boss fights that stretch the limits of fairness. Getting hit decreases the amount of actions you can issue in a round of combat, so taking too many hits means you and your knights will be making an early exit. You will definitely be better served playing this game while sitting at your house with a stylus instead of on-the-go, since even a small bump on the bus or train will send The Wisp spiralling into the magical attacks of the enemies.

The storytelling in Knights is excellent. Before and after each battle the player is treated to a cut-scene telling a slice of the overall story from the point of view of different knights. There are many knights in the game, the box touts over 100 that you can get as allies, all with different experiences before death that colour the story. There are courageous knights giving their life so their friends can escape, badass knights that don’t care ‘bout nobody, and wimpy knights that get scared when the going gets tough. Sometimes the scenes border on irrelevant, but these little pieces are what build the universe that Knights exists in. Each of the knights you can convince to join you has a unique-ish personality that you only really glean from the lines they say when you level them up with experience earned from battles or from the cut-scenes. The major characters in the story are well developed, though, and they bring life to the beautiful gothic setting. The major enemies are evil enough to not like yet human enough to understand. The main heroine is your basic do-gooder, however, simply fighting evil because it’s the right thing to do. Even the basic enemies you fight have speaking lines, though they sometimes just consist of “Kill! Kill!”

Which brings me to my next topic: The enemies in this game need a serious dose of variety. Five different colours for the same slime-like bad guy does not five different bad guys make. After a few maps you will have experienced the backbone of what the game has to offer for enemies. What’s worse is that the baddies keep their same attacks, so the initial yellow slimes have the same kind of attacks as the later grey slimes, the grey slimes just have higher stats.

The gameplay is innovative and really something that should be held up as a model of DS game design. Using only the touch screen means that you won’t be playing with the buttons one moment then spazzing out and scrambling for the stylus the next. As such, Knights doesn’t distract you from the game and the whole package is better received because of the gameplay. The novel “control and attack while simultaneously dodging” mechanic works surprisingly well considering how it sounds like it comes from Bizzaro World. Old school JRPGers that want to rely on the numbers to do the fighting for them will probably be turned off by the higher-than-normal effort they will have to put into dodging, but their beloved grinding is still in the game so they can get lots of practice. Furthermore, the good people at Atlus provided an excellent set of tutorials that illustrate how to use their battle system. The tutorials allow the player to practice using the different combat mechanisms and show them videos of what they are trying to do.

Being a DS game, I was not expecting to see any graphical heroics out of Knights, and Knights obliged by not blowing my mind. The sprites look like you typical blocky boys and girls from the SNES days, although the animations are very smooth. The artwork, however, that goes into the portraits of the knights and their environment is superb. Everything is dark and oppressive which serves the storyline well. The gothic architecture and full illustrations of the characters are cool and the whole thing feels like more than the sum of its handheld parts. There are times when the screen gets busy, as attacking characters, enemies getting hit, and damage numbers flying around is enough to send someone into a seizure. Also, there are lots of things on the tiny screen that require precise touching, making for a frustrating experience when you are trying to collect items that are flying out of defeated enemies if they are in the frame at the same time as enemy attacks.

The sound in this game is everything that the graphics are not. It is clear, crisp, the voices are perfect, and the music is appropriate. If you can get over the somewhat irritating “little girl voice” that some of the knights have during battle, then you would be doing yourself a disservice by turning the volume down on this one. The game even comes with a CD that has the soundtrack on it! It’s like Atlus knew the music was so good you would want to hear it even when not playing.

The savvy gamer will recognize Atlus USA as the company that brings us other Japanese games with outrageous titles like “Super Robot Taisen OG Saga Endless Frontier.” Anyone in North America that picks up Knights will immediately recognize it as a localized game out of Japan. There are many mainstays in this game that are in lots of Japanese games but there is a surprisingly low number of “WTF moments” when going through the engrossing storyline.

The translation is pretty much flawless and you would barely know this game was made in Japan unless you were looking for it, except for some blatant examples, such as the epic soliloquies that go nowhere and people constantly asserting to themselves that they must do better. If you do not like the chatty characters that won’t shut up in battles (as in“Here comes the enemy!” from Star Ocean) then you won’t like Knights. The characters pretty much provide a running narrative on what you are doing, which character type you selected, the result of their attack, then a little bit of their personal feelings about the outcome of their attack (“I can’t believe I missed!”) But of course, if you had a major problem with Japanese games, you probably wouldn’t pick up a game called “Knights in the Nightmare” now, would you?

If you have a DS and are sick of the same old RPG clones that have been coming out this past year then Knights may be just what you are looking for, especially if you don’t mind trying new things. The replay value is high as you will most likely not collect every knight in your first play through and the monster generation on the maps is pseudo-random enough to keep you relying on different strategies. For the people that need each character at their maximum level, there is also the option of grinding for more experience right from the main menu and it won’t distract from those that just want to continue with the storyline. That’s just part of what is the overall main strength of Knights in the Nightmare, it is fun for all sorts of players. Anyone with a penchant for RPGs will find something they like in Knights and, if given a chance, Knights could become a DS favourite for those lucky enough to get a copy.

Gameplay:8.5, Graphics:7.5, Sound:9.0, Innovation:9.0, Mojo:8.0 Final: 8.4 / 10

Reviewed by HappyDD | 06.22.09
  • Great music and sound quality
  • Innovative gameplay is fresh fresh fresh!
  • The storyline packs a lot of intrigue and imagination into a simple format
  • Bosses are slightly disturbing in a tortured kind of way
  • The characters will not shut up in battle
  • When doing damage, hard to tell what is going on as numbers fly everywhere
  • Could be more of a nightmare
  • Battle format means that the gameplay never really changes it up


Knights in the Nightmare

Sting (JP)
Released (US)
June '09