Nights Into Dreams came out in 1996 for the Sega Saturn. My memories of the game involved begging my mother to take me to Toys R Us so I could play for an hour or so each visit (for a few weeks) on the demo set up in the video game section. It was with an excitement bred of nostalgia that I anticipated this HD update, remembering a game with a soaring purple jester-woman that I loved so much.
As I started playing the game this weekend, I realized one very important fact, a fact a few others who played the game mentioned realizing as well: I had no frikkin clue what I was doing when I played this game as a child. No clue. I did not know the story, I did not know that my goal was to attain 20 blue crystals to restore my stolen Ideyas – none of that.
Playing this game as an adult was a very different experience for me. Overall, this is not a game I would have picked up for myself as an adult if I’d never played it as a child. It is hard, repetitive and strange. It is also glorious, original and deceptively rewarding.
Haha what’s that? Just kidding. There is a plot, but it must have been explained in the game’s insert because it sure isn’t explained well in the game. You control Claris and Elliot, two children who fail at their “dream”. That night, they both dream about Nights, a Nightmaren resident of Dreamtopia, who needs their help to stop the evil wizard Wiseman.
My first discovery upon reading up on some wikis: Nights is actually not mentioned as being male or female, and is rather androgynous. I remember really enjoying that I got to play as a girl, and then also as a beautiful purple girl. I appreciate their technique even more now. This was a game that both boys and girls could play. It didn’t exclude anyone, and I really appreciate that kind of forward thinking in such an old game.
Starting this new HD version up, you will be given the choice to play the remastered version or the Sega Saturn version. They are the same as far as I can tell, but the remastered one is prettier and less clunky looking so I recommend choosing the remastered version. You can save the other version for when you want to show off to your kids “back in myyyy day graphics were horrible and people’s feet were the biggest parts of their bodies nyah nyah” etc.
Another cool little detail is that your save counts for both versions. In other words, if you start with the old version then decide you want to see the new version, you don’t lose any progress. I switched between the two a few times to get a sense for the difference and it kept track of where I was just fine.
As for the gameplay itself, it will take some getting used to if you haven’t played it in a while. This game was basically a 3D world on rails. With all of the 3D we are used to nowadays, it was very jarring not to be able to get to things I was seeing in the background. I got some pretty low scores the first few runs because it confused me into flying in circles like a lost fly.
Switching between Claris and Elliot, I honestly found Elliot’s levels to be a little bit harder. The final level, which you only unlock after getting at least a C in all of the other levels (another plot detail NOT revealed in the actual game) is the same for both Elliot and Claris. I played about 3 times with Elliot and couldn’t beat it before time ran out. I beat it the first time with Claris. I went BACK after beating the game to play again with Elliot and still couldn’t beat it in time. Very peculiar.
The boss fights are initially difficult, until you figure out what in the world you should be doing or in case you accidentally do the exact manuever necessary to kill them. While it was annoying as heck to watch the clock tick down as you helplessly tried one or two things (and even more annoying to see the hint that tells you how to beat the boss AFTER you die the first time and have to replay the entire level before you can get to the boss) it also felt MUCH more rewarding when you finally beat the boss with a decent score.
My favorite boss was the bouncing lady that I got to toss all over the place. It was a really fun and memorable fight, even if it was the easiest boss.
Grades matter in this game, because you will not be able to unlock the last stages until you get at least straight Cs. Want to know how to do it? I honestly can’t tell you. I played each level over and over until I was magically awarded a higher number. Maybe you can figure it out lol.
As a child, with a limited set of needs, I could play the same level over and over again no problem… as an adult this was infuriating. Until I beat it, and felt rewarded for all that time spent doing the same, repetitive levels. Then after beating them all, I suddenly wanted more levels to play!
In all, the game took about 5 hours to beat, and that was with me playing the levels over and over to get a better grade.
The final boss was oddly easy. What was really cool is that your friend (whichever character you are not playing) swoops in and joins you in the fight as a second Nights. This brought up the interesting idea of making this game multiplayer. How much more fun would it be to fly around these levels with a friend? Uber-fun, like the Christmas one. I still enjoyed seeing them think of that little detail to add to the final battle. In general I found it pretty creative that they had two characters doing separate dream tracks and then joining together at the end.
Learning Curve and Fun Factor
The learning curve is probably steeper for adults than young children. We think about the game, we try to get high scores and find secret paths. Kids are going to enjoy flying around in loops until things happen. The game is not as fun to me as an adult, because it is difficult and repetitive. Yet it is, as I’ve mentioned, ultimately rewarding, leaving me satisfied that I played. Would I go back and try to get Bs and As? No. This is a game I will probably never pick up again. But one thing is for certain: playing this game, you will know that this was a true classic and visionary game for its time.
Already a fan? Get this game and relive your childhood. If you are not a fan and the price sounds steep, you may want to skip it unless short, on-rail-games are your thing.