Knights in the Nightmare Playtest – More Chaos Than Law

By Ishaan . October 12, 2010 . 2:33pm


This is a playtest of the PSP version of Knights in the Nightmare. You can also read up on our playtest of the original DS version.


If was there were a single word I had to choose to describe what I think of Knights in the Nightmare, “arrogant” would be it. It’s a game that assumes you have no life or responsibilities outside of devoting yourself to videogames and expects you to invest a generous amount of time in learning its intricacies.


No, scratch that. It’s a game that expects you to invest a generous amount of time in simply learning how to play it, right from the most basic actions such as attacking enemies to the more complex ones like actually winning a battle. Nothing in Knights in the Nightmare is simple.


For me, this presented a conflict. Having heard about Knights in the Nightmare from Spencer and other friends that enjoyed the depth of DS version of the game immensely, I felt almost obligated not to dislike it. After all, when someone says “bullet-hell shooter combined with strategy RPG,” you’d be crazy not to sit up and take notice.


The problem lies in the way the game is presented and its pacing. Five minutes in, you’ll find yourself being pulled out of the story and assaulted by tutorials that explain how to attack enemies, equip items on your characters and so on. These tutorials are broken up by multiple loading screens, which you’ll see far too often and sometimes for far too long.



What’s more, the tutorials aren’t very easy to understand and I found myself having to rewatch them multiple times before I had any idea of how to play the game. The deeper into the combat I got, the more confused I was. Ultimately, it took an explanation from Spencer combined with Atlus USA’s custom tutorial videos for Knights in the Nightmare on DS to help me understand the basic battle system.


Here’s a brief explanation of Knights’s battle system and where it threw me for a toss:


Like all strategy RPGs, battles in Knights in the Nightmare take place on a grid. Prior to going into battle, you’re asked to equip your characters with weapons and items. Easy enough, right? Not quite. Right from the first time you open your weapons menu, you’ll see a long, long list of arms that can be used.


The exact difference between a lot of these is hard to make out, as many of them share the same look and statistics. You may find yourself wondering how the stats influence the game at all. It’s also rather difficult to figure out which weapons your characters can or cannot equip. Where most games make an effort to keep things simple when you first dive in, Knights doesn’t.



Once you’ve equipped your weapons (four per character), these are denoted by four different weapon icons at the corners of your PSP screen. You’re then sent into battle. This is where things get interesting. Instead of controlling characters directly during battles, you control an onscreen wisp — a “soul” of sorts. This is the entity that takes damage from enemies and acts as your field commander.


When an enemy attacks, they release a volley of bullets in all directions, and you, as the wisp, are required to dodge these as you would in a shoot-em-up. When it’s your turn to take the offensive, you’ll need to move your wisp to one of four corners of the screen, each one housing a weapon attached to your character, and drag the weapon you want to attack with to your character by holding down the X button and using the analog nub.


Release X when an enemy is in range, and you’ll attack them. Enemies walk around the grid, so if you time it right, you can attack two or three at a time. It’s an extremely interesting system and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in an RPG before. The problem is, it’s only the beginning of a very long and convoluted set of rules you’ll need to learn before you can actually win battles as opposed to just fighting them.







By using the L button, you can switch between Law and Chaos modes. Certain weapons can only be used in a specific mode, and each mode also has an effect on the way your character attacks, as well as the overall battle. Changing moves also affects the amount of magic point replenishing crystals you get. For awhile, Law mode may yield more crystals. Staying in Law too long will diminish the amount of crystals you receive, so you’ll need to keep switching between Law and Chaos.


But none of this actually matters unless you figure out Knights in the Nightmare’s obscure timed battles. Every battle, you’re racing against the clock (or so it seems anyway) and the only way to win is to keep an eye on the Enemy Matrix. This is admittedly the aspect of the game I struggled with the longest.


During every battle, you’ll spot a 2D grid on the screen. This is the Enemy Matrix and each enemy in the battle is assigned a spot on it, along with a colour. Killing an enemy places a marker on their spot. You’ll need to line up a row of three kill markets of the same colour Tic-Tac-Toe style before the timer runs out to win battles.


Between rounds, a game of Jackpot takes place where you can attempt to influence the position of enemies on the Enemy Grid during the next round. Managing to figure this out will help greatly. But, as with all of Knights’s other intricacies, the Enemy Grid is something for which you’ll need to watch tutorials a couple times before you have it figured out. It took me a while to understand how enemies on the grid corresponded to enemies on the battlefield.


Once again, you may think that’s all there is to it, but this is the tip of a very large iceberg of strategizing and customization. Yes, I know I sound terrible for not liking it. But it isn’t the game’s vision I have an issue with.



To me, someone who’s low on time and wants to make the most of whatever free time he has, Knights didn’t feel entertaining. To me, it felt like work. There’s no effort to make the tutorials feel properly meshed with the ongoing story, and the game presents way too much information to the player at once, making it incredibly overwhelming. There’s no effort to disguise the “work” part of the game whatsoever. In fact, the game’s introductory narrative text fades away before even giving you a chance to read it completely.


I kind of want to feel bad for not liking Knights in the Nightmare. It’s a game that takes a risk, blends two polar opposite genres together and actually makes the resulting chaos work. However, for all it does right, Knights didn’t click with me on a moment-to-moment basis.


Better character interaction. Better music to keep you in the right mood. Making the tutorials feel like part of the story instead of pulling you out of it. Any of these would likely have made Knights in the Nightmare feel a little more player-friendly and entertaining.


Food for thought:


1. I couldn’t find a Data Install option anywhere, which would’ve helped greatly with the game’s load times.


2. Watching videos of the Nintendo DS version of Knights in the Nightmare, I couldn’t help but feel it looked a tad more approachable.


3. Knights makes the crucial mistake of not giving you enough save points early on while you’re going through all the tutorials. This alone contributed a fair bit to the impression it made on me.


4. I keep finding myself wanting to go back to Knights in the Nightmare, just to see if maybe “one last try” will make me like it. Unfortunately, I find myself turned off each time. At least I can say I tried.

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  • malek86

    KITN gets too much of a bad rep for being complicated, but I don’t think it’s actually true. The tutorial is a bit difficult to remember, but when you go in battle, you see how stuff works by yourself. I didn’t even take long to understand everything there was to, by the third mission I was already blazing through. The only feature I never used was the combo system, way too complicated overall, but it should be noted that I cleared the game without ever using it, so it’s not necessary. I guess it would help tho.Of course, I’m talking about the DS game. I don’t know about the PSP version, but it shouldn’t be all that different as a whole.I’ll find out by myself when I get it… on PSN. That will also solve the loading times problem (weird how Sting went from Hexyz Force’s lack of load times to this one, uh?).

    PS. also, I think it’s one of the most short-time-friendly RPGs around. After the beginning where you understand how the game works, each mission will take no longer than 15-20 minutes to clear, so it can be easily played in short bouts.

  • Ereek

    It’s not that I didn’t like KitN, and I can certainly respect it for freshening up the SRPG genre, but Sting games and I don’t really get along. There’s just something about the majority of them that end up being a bore to me – I can’t place exactly what it is, either. Yggdra Union is the only one I’ve been able to spend a decent amount of time with.

    That said, I didn’t think KitN was too complex if you went through the tutorials. The only real difference it is that KitN gives you everything right from the start and most other SRPGs slowly give you more abilities and higher difficulty. I had a harder time mastering the in-and-out of my first Bethesda title.

  • hadjimurad

    i initially thought it was way too complex, and the tutorials were not that helpful. but just playing it for a bit, i think i did the practice missions, things began to click. i literally didn’t even think about what i had to (besides strategize with character and weapons) control-wise; it became natural. was it easy? no, i thought it was a hard game, but more due to my game skill (game over screen various occasions) rather than poor design choices when all was said and done. this was on DS. but, now that you actually know how to play it, you should play it!

  • Yusaku_Matsuda70s

    This… sounds like too much strain on my coordination, attention, and eyesight. I take it you will need at least complete understanding of how SRPGs like Disgaea work to even *begin* playing this game. Otherwise you’re doomed.

    If you can learn this battle system and win, you’re probably qualified to pilot an EVA unit and defend Tokyo3.

    • hadjimurad

      i know you were just referencing the complexity of Disgaea, but it would actually help you if you forgot just about everything you know about Disgaea when wrapping your head around this game! :)

      • Yusaku_Matsuda70s

        I never truly wrapped my head around Disgaea or any of the similar NIS games. But I can’t say I’m not curious about how this game works.

    • malek86

      For the record, this really has nothing to do with Disgaea or the such. I absolutely suck at SRPG games, and I was still able to get through this one relatively easily.

      • Yusaku_Matsuda70s

        Really? You wouldn’t happen to be good at bullet hells, would you? :P I’m skeptical, but I guess it’s one of those games I have to try for myself to see if the battle system clicks with me or not. Different systems make more/ less sense to different people.

        • malek86

          I’m a fan of shmups, though I’m not really a power player, since I can never get past stage 5 in any game (except Mushi2 Black Label, where I got to the final boss). On my defense, I always play only one credit at a time.Still, this doesn’t have much to do with shmups either. Well, maybe the PSP version a bit more, since you are controlling the wisp with the d-pad. I don’t really know how I would categorize the game. There was a demo on the Nintendo Channel, but I don’t think they’ll put one up on PSN too.I have a feeling the DS version will be better overall, the touch controls really added to the gameplay. But I really want to hear the remade soundtrack, and if I also get Yggdra Union for free that’s cool by me.

          By the way, the game gives you the option to “easy retry” every time you lose a battle, so it’s not like you can actually lose unless you want to. Eh.

  • vall03

    It took me three tries to like this game and on the third one, I tried to complete all the tutorials and then went through a few missions and suddenly liked it. The reason I didnt like it at first was the complicated tutorials and its very steep learning curve. Only borrowed it for the DS but Im definitely buying it on the PSP since I cant find the DS version anywhere in my country…

  • Well I thought Yggdra Union was complicated but this sounds like it tops the cake sevenfold. I guess I will be passing on this one.

  • kariohki

    Well, once I got how the game worked, it was a blast and I had trouble putting it down (the DS version, that is.) I picked up enough about the mechanics along the way to finish the game. It wasn’t the best way, like transmigrating or whatever with the knights wasn’t always done based on personality matches, and upgrading/fusing weapons was pick-and-choose. It really does have a learning cliff, but once scaled, I found the originality to be refreshing.

    The news about load times turn me off since it’s a rather fast-paced game…not like I was planning to get this until it dropped way in price.

  • 1. I couldn’t find a Data Install option anywhere, which would’ve helped greatly with the game’s load times. – Guess this means a PSN purchase if you’re interested in this game.

  • KITN is one of my favorite games of all time. I love the way it works. I’m eager to play the PSP version in Nov.

  • what a bunch of losers, this game is not hard to understand at all, is hard to master, granted, but to learn how to play? no way jose, you sir, fail at videogames

  • From what you’re saying… there’s no tutorial mode that’s separate from the main game like there was with the DS version.

    • I hope there still is. I loved that mode. Made things so much easier, since you could just replay a tutorial if you had problems.

      • I just want to hear Yggdra’s theme as she tutors me. 8D

    • The tutorial mode is still in the game!

  • I wrote up a little cheat sheet for the DS version, and kept it with the game. That way, even if it was a week before I got back to playing it, I’d know right away how to do everything.

    I think what looks best about the PSP version is pressing a button to shift between Law and Chaos. Having to circle it with the wisp in the DS version was what annoyed me the most.

    • Oh definitely. I hated trying to switch and then accidentally equip something. The voices are my favorite part though.

  • Joanna

    I’ve only played the DS version, but I want to respectfully disagree on a few points:1. I don’t game a lot either, but I never felt like KitN was any more of a time investment than a 40+ hour RPG (it’s probably shorter…I don’t really know how long it took me to finish because I played it b/w non-gaming breaks).2. Like others mentioned, I thought the tutorial missions were the best way to grasp the game. I found they really eased you into the gameplay. The hints weren’t even compulsory, you could finish the game without reading them or learn them while playing.3. The game is very user friendly. You have infinite continues and you can keep all the damage you have done to the boss. (Likewise you can start from scratch for more challenge).4. I found the weapons to be very easy to understand. The game tells you who can equipped it and what it does.5. It’s may require a bit more patience due to the tutorials and learning curve, but once you’ve got the basics, it’s a lot of fun.But I agree that saving is definitely an issue since you can only save between missions. And I will admit that the last 4 scenes I needed to allocate some time because they took a bit longer to finish. But ultimately, we can’t all like everything, so I get that this just isn’t your cup of tea. :)

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