The most frantic tactical role-playing game you'll ever play
Tactical role-playing games are typically rather slow-paced affairs, that – much like Chess – require you to take much consideration into your moves, as well as your opponents in order to attain victory. This formula has remained the same since the genre's origin, and looked to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
But then Knights in the Nightmare came along, and with it, brought some changes to the long-standing formula.
What's it's done is take the existing formula, and blends it with elements of shooters like Geometry Wars. The result is a tactical RPG that – despite a few shortcomings – successfully blends the two genres into something truly special.
The story of Knights in the Nightmare follows the revived soul of the departed Lion Heart King, now known simply as, the Wisp, as he tries to reclaim his kingdom (as well as his body), from the forces of the underworld who now occupy his castle (they're also responsible for his death). Helping him with this, is a mysterious armored maiden named Maria (whose also the one who re-awakened the king's soul), and the souls of fallen knights. The story is good, providing much mystery and intrigue, but it can be hard to follow at times because of that very reason. Well, that and the way the story is told, that is. See, the game tells a lot of the story through flashbacks that happen at the end of every stage (or "scenes" as the game calls them). These are shown in a rather disordered sequence, as the events are not shown in the order in which they happened. This coupled with the already somewhat confusing events of the present, made it the story a little more perplexing, as it only made it harder to understand what was going on. It was around the half-way point of the game when I began to figure out what was going on. Because of that, I felt the storytelling could have been handled better.
As previously stated, the gameplay is basically a blend of the tactical RPG and shooter genres. And this quickly becomes apparent while playing. Particularly the RPG elements. As, for the most part, the game is your standard tactical RPG. You take units, each with their own class, into battle and order them to attack enemies spread throughout the field with various weapons to attain victory. It sounds simple, but there are a few…complications, that mix it up a little. Firstly, your units can't move. Or rather, not all of 'em can move, as there are a couple that are capable of some movement. But the most of 'em can't, the most they can do is look in different directions. Which are also the only directions they can attack in. So placement is very important, as if you place the wrong units in the wrong area, you can't attack any enemies.
Secondly, normal attacks cannot hurt, let alone kill, enemies. All that does is cause them to drop crystals that refill your magic point meter upon grabbing them. So how do you hurt and/or kill enemies? Simple: with special attacks. These attacks are initiated by giving a unit a weapon (more on those later) they can use. Upon dong so, they begin to charge the attack, and once it's done you can unleash it upon your foes to deal out damage.
And lastly, you have to dodge bullets. Yeah, you read that right. Though they don't look like bullets… But anyway, these bullets are a big hazard, as if the Wisp (that's you, in case you forgot) is hit by 'em, the remaining time in the turn (again, more on that later) is decreased. Take too many hits, and the turn ends, as well as defeat should enough turns pass. This element is similar to games like Geometry Wars, or Gradius, as it requires you to be very quick, yet careful with how you move through the stream of bullets in order to keep the turn going.
Now then…with all that out of the way, time to move on to the things I mentioned earlier.
There a few types of weapons at your disposal, with each type being exclusive to a specific class. For example, axes can only be used by Warriors, bows by Archers, rods by wizards, etc. Each weapon also has it's own skills (or special attacks, depending on what you want to call them) that can only be used during a particular phase. So say you have a weapon that's skill can only be used during the Law phase (or Chaos phase, whatever you prefer), but the enemy you want to attack is outside of the weapons range for that particular phase. What do you do? Simple, just replace either the weapon with another, or place a different unit down instead. And to further add to the strategic nature of the game, you can only take four weapons into battle with you. Which coupled with the fact that each enemy, and weapon has an elemental affinity, makes things even more strategic. As using the enemies weaknesses to your advantage allows you to achieve victory much faster with relative ease.
As previously mentioned, turns are present in Knights in the Nightmare. But not the way you'd expect them to be. Rather than having both sides take turns attacking each other, the game opts for a real-time battle system, which allows for both sides to take action throughout the duration of the turn. When time runs out – whether it be from taking hits, or using it to execute special attacks (charging them takes time, after all) – the turns over. The purpose of these turns, is to act as a time limit of sorts. As one of the conditions for victory is to finish the battle within a certain number of turns. (The other requires you to make a line in the enemy matrix, which is done buy simply defeating enemies.) And while this may sound like it give a sense of urgency to the battles, it doesn't. At least not to the typical enemy encounters, anyway. As they very easy to get through. The turns don't really add any difficulty to these fights, despite the potential to do so.
The boss fights on the other hand, do deliver on that. As these fights – unlike the aforesaid ones – are aggravatingly difficult. How so? Simple: They have a huge amount of hit points, and you have a small amount of turns to defeat them in. And combine that with the fact that the bullets they fire are much harder to avoid, and you've got yourself one immensely difficulty boss fight that shows just how uneven the difficulty is. As you've got the super easy enemy encounters, and then you have the super hard boss encounters. There's no consistency. It's just one extreme after another.
One other thing worth mentioning is the Transoul feature, which allows you to take a units soul and fuse it with another, thus giving you a more powerful unit. But at a cost; the unit you sacrifice cannot return. Ever. But despite that, there will be times when you must Transoul units to keep them alive. Why? Because otherwise their vitality will eventually reach zero, and when that happens, the unit dies. This forces you to think carefully about which units you sacrifice for the sake of your other units. Because if you don't, you'll probably be left with either no units, or a bunch of weak units.
This may sound like a lot to remember (and it is), but it doesn't take too long to get the hang of it. Unless, of course, you're like me and finally get the hang of it around the half-way point (which isn't too bad I'd say, considering how many things there are to remember). But I (sort of) doubt that would happen to you.
Visually, the game looks great. The character models all look good, and have plenty of details. The beautiful environments have a lush feel to them. And the attacks all look very fierce and powerful. Sound wise, the game on par with its visuals. The music is very well done and fits the action and setting nicely. The battle cries are rather repetitious, but you'll probably be too engaged in the heat of battle to even take notice of this small issue.
With all the genre blend type games we see these days, Knights in the Nightmare is definitely one of the better ones. It's unique blend of the tactical RPG, and shooter genres make for a very fun, and frantic strategy game like no other. It's difficulty may be uneven, and its story a little confusing, but if you can put up with those shortcomings, then Knights in the Nightmare is well worth a look.