Nights Into Dreams (Sega Saturn) Review

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Review by The Every Gamer (December 2017)

Score: A- (4 / 5)

   I have a dream…where Sega can stop relying on Sonic and let Sonic Team do something original, like the good old days of Saturn…probably because they basically suffocated Sonic’s standalone title, Sonic Extreme, with a pillow.

   The Sega Saturn is the black sheep of the series of Sega consoles, what with Japan making it a success in their country before the likes of the PlayStation kicking them to the curb, but the west completely screwed it up, from releasing too early in the US, to refusing 2D games and RPGs…the irony being their refusal to release Final Fantasy VII. In Europe, the Saturn was a footnote in comparison to the PlayStation, which proved to be the popular console there. But like many abandoned consoles, I’m fond of the Saturn, it has games I really want to play, but to get the best ones, be prepared to mortgage your house.

   Today’s review is of a game that if you heard of it and saw the gameplay, you’d have no idea what the heck is even going on; that was me before playing this. It looks strange, but intriguing. It’s Sega and I must check it out. Is this a dream delight, or an overrated nightmare? I’m also here ’til Tuesday.

   Nights into Dreams, developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega, was released in 1997 worldwide. The game stars two teenagers, Elliot Edwards and Claris Sinclair, who have their own unique talents, but they fail at their said talents. They go to sleep and they have nightmares of their failures, then suddenly end up at Nightopia. You see, people have dreams in either Nightopia and Nightmare, with Nightopia being the good place to dream. People’s different personalities are represented by coloured spheres, known as Ideya. The evil ruler of Nightmare, Wizeman the Wicked, is stealing dream energy from the dreamers so he can not only take over Nightopia, but also the real world. He then creates a whole bunch of Nightmarens, along with two special ones: Nights and Reala. However, Nights refuses to go to the dark side and tries to rebel against Wizeman, but to no avail as Nights is imprisoned.

   Back to Elliot and Claris, as they’re special because they both have the Red Ideya of Courage, the one Ideya that Wizeman is unable to take. The kids find Nights, tell him about what Wizeman is going to do and decide to battle against Wizeman and his Nightmarens. You play as Elliot or Claris, each having their own set of levels, known as Mares. Once they enter the dream, they’re Ideyas get taken by the enemies, except for their Red Ideya, so they summon Nights and off it goes collecting enough orbs to obtain Ideyas, which you need to do four times to finish the level, with each Mare being different for each Ideya. Once you finish the level, you’ll fight against one of the Nightmarens.

   The gameplay involves Nights flying in a near 2D plane, collecting all sorts of stuff. But the objective is to collect 20 orbs, which will allow you to collect the trapped Ideya. The game becomes a score attack mode where you can go through the lap again and again scoring points but you still have to finish the lap before the timer runs out, the more points you gain, the better the ranking, and you want to get a C or above for a chance to get a good ranking at the end. If you fail to get to the lap when the timer runs out, you’ll unfuse with Nights and get an automatic F, and trust me, you might as well restart the level if that happens.

  Each character will have to go through three dreams, in order to unlock their respective final levels and you must finish all the levels with the ranking of C or above, which can be a challenging task, though not impossible. Anyone can do it with a bit of memorisation of said levels, in fact, that’s pretty much how you play the game. Nights into Dreams might be short, but the replayability is based on trying to finish the game with a good score.

   So this is basically an Arcade game where your hi-score is as important as the game you’re playing, because a high score is necessary to get a good rank. I feel like this is sort of an evolution of the Arcade, but done in a unique way where you gain the skills you need to beat it…minus the plethora of coins needed to tackle the challenge. It’s very important to get good at flying, as you go through rings for points, collect stars and the orbs, but if there’s a good chunk of said items, you can fly around them and create a circle that will suck them up for easy pick-ups. As a bonus, there are Trick Loops to go through, the more loops you create or the bigger the loops, the more points you gain.

   There’s also overhead sections and…I don’t know, I’m playing the Steam version and it’s always in these sections where the game’s framerate drops like mad, there’s a few times where that happened during the game altogether and I don’t know why. But upon some research, it’s pretty much Sega not completely testing it properly, but it doesn’t completely hinder the game for me. Nights can also transform into things depending on the theme of the level, from a Bobsled in the ice level, to a Dolphin in a water level…and that’s about it, I don’t remember Nights turning into anyone else.

   In the levels, you might come across small winged creatures known as Nightopians, they can be hatched from eggs or appear out of nowhere the more you play the game, and as you do, the levels change, from the music, to some of the environments. And then there are the Nightmarens, the bosses in the game. I have no idea what’s going on with some of them. Some strategies to beat a boss can be simple like the first boss, but then there’s a giant fish, a really chaotic fight, but I managed to beat it anyway and I’m left confused. Then there’s Reala’s boss and I create circles and it hurts it, so I keep doing it and yet I’m still going, “is this what I do”? Until I beat it and I’m like, “OK, that’s done”, it barely feels like I achieved the impossible, that’s the problem with these bosses…though the Puffy boss is funny.

   The graphics are great for the Sega Saturn, and the dated blocky designs have an appeal for me. The level design on the other hand, are some of the most creative I’ve ever seen, they’re weird, wonderful and…well dreamlike, so it does the job well to emphasise the concept of the game, I really love the look of this game. The music is also fantastic, I love some of the tracks in this game and all have variety, which is great, especially for levels with different themes in tone and level design.

   The character of Nights has mystified people (including me) for years, due to it’s ambiguous gender. And the answer is: androgynous, genderless: Nights can be whatever the hell you want Nights to be, so for all the patrons of Tumblr, there’s one thing you can’t bitch about and rejoice in it like never before…but Nights is white so that can still be problematic. Merry Christmas Everybody! Joking aside, I find the design of the character appealing, this is something you definitely wouldn’t’ get in American games at the time, it’s original, unique and can be respected worldwide…to an extent.

   But because I’m playing the Steam version, this also includes a remastered version of the game (which was also released on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) with new HD graphics, and to my surprise, they did a good job with that one too, it really looks more modern, but still keeping the charm from the original, so if you’re not a fan of blocky graphics, then the remastered mode should be your cup of tea.

   I’m not done yet, because there’s one more thing to talk about, and I know some of you may know of what I’m talking about and the reason you’re seeing this during the Christmas season: Christmas Nights (Kurisumasu Naitsu), or Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams…, released on December 1996 worldwide. In Japan, it was released in a Sega Saturn Christmas Bundle. In the US and Europe, it came free with certain magazines, especially Sega Saturn Magazine. The re-release also included Christmas Nights in the game so you won’t miss out on the Christmassy goodness. Elliot and Claris are spending time together for the holidays, and they have a good time, until they realise the city’s big Christmas Tree is missing it’s star on top. Now it might have fell or someone might have taken it…BUT NAH! Back to Nightopia we go with the help of Nights.

   The game is pretty much one level, but it differs depending on which character you play as. Claris’ Spring Valley dream level is now entirely Christmas themed. By using the internal clock of the console to change the date and time, you can change parts of the game, but only aesthetically. Heck, if you play the game on April Fool’s Day, you can play as Reala. Once you finish the level and beat the boss, you can open presents in a pairing game, you have a set number of times you can open a pair, but pick one with Reala in it and it automatically ends regardless if you still had more tries. There’s one reason I was excited to play Christmas Nights, especially on original Saturn hardware: Sonic the Hedgehog: Into Dreams. This is where you play as Sonic as you pretty much do the same thing as any other level, but on-foot. He’s not fast, he’s weird to control, but you get used to it. Once you collect all the Ideyas, you fight Dr. Robotnik, now in the style of Puffy (makes sense). And I say original Saturn hardware because Sonic the Hedgehog: Into Dreams is not included in the re-release. Why? Who knows, it’s made by the same developers so I can’t understand why they would omit something like this.

   Overall, can I recommend Nights into Dreams… to you? Well, that depends, you really need to go into this game having knowledge of how the game works, like Majora’s Mask, you should read up about the gameplay. Read a manual if you can find one. If you go into it cold turkey, you’re going to be left absolutely confused and put off by the game, which shouldn’t be the case because, this is a great game. I wouldn’t call it the best game I ever played, but it’s replayability will keep me coming back to it, it’s that fun. It’s one of those games where I haven’t seen it replicated and I assume there isn’t another version of Nights. I think that’s what makes it special, it stands alone and proud with what it is and for that, it’s a must-play, something you absolutely have to play.

You can get it on the Sega Saturn, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Steam.

Oh, and Shigeru Miyamoto said he wished he made the game…though Miyamoto being Miyamoto, it would have been absolutely tame.

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