In terms of stagnancy, it doesn't get much worse – or, if you’re a fan, traditional - than strategy role-playing games. Onto the field steps of Knights in the Nightmare, an SRPG that combines elements of traditional role-playing with real-time strategy and 2D shooters – seriously – to deliver some of the freshest action in recent memory. And it often succeeds, although it’s occasionally both too simple and too complex for its own good.
Using the stylus, you control the “wisp," the vaporous spirit of a deceased king determined to purge your home, Castle Aventheim, of a monster infestation. The monsters attack you on sight with various energy blasts but you can defend yourself by resurrecting the soldiers who died protecting the castle. Each time a knight's armored corpse carves into a beastie, power-ups pour out. You whoosh around the screen collecting these power ups while still avoiding the enemies’ energy attacks - remember when we told you it was like a 2D shooter? And those power ups fuel your own special attacks. Getting hit by enemy bullets and fighting back both use up time, and when your time is up, your turn ends.
It's a fun game, but not without a few a hiccups. Easily our biggest complaint is how utterly cluttered it is visually. There's just too much stuff to be following on the screen at any one time. You’ll constantly find yourself selecting icons and units you hadn't meant to and often the screen will be so full of fireworks that you'll lose track of what's going on. It doesn’t wreck the action – in fact, it’s probably deliberate, meant to resemble the more chaotic moments of a 2D shooter - but when it starts affecting our ability to select units accurately, it becomes a problem.
Perhaps in response to this concern, Nightmare is overly lenient in the number of turns it gives you to knock off your foes. Plus, outside of leveling your knights, there's little need to focus on customization. As a result, while the game boasts hundreds of playable characters in multiple classes (archers, priestesses, knights), you'll probably end up ignoring most of them in favor of your strongest few units.
In terms of story, we can certainly see hints of an interesting plot, but it jumps around so much it’s like learning about the Civil War from a schizophrenic historian. You'll see something from one day, skip to something that happened four days earlier and then jump back to four days after the first event. Confused?
Knights in the Nightmare isn't a bad game; the combat system is addictive as hell, and though the various elements of the game that might seem like an odd mix, together they make a lot of sense. It just tries to do too much, so instead of a historic must-play that changes the genre forever, we get a quirky, worthwhile oddity.
Jun 3, 2009