BEFORE Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic stole my life, and my heart, there was another game that held its place. Despite being knocked down to number two in the nostalgia ranking of my memories, Nights into Dreams is still one of the greatest games I’ve ever played.
AS I WAS GROWING UP IN 1996 and the console war between Nintendo 64, the PlayStation, or PS1 to the kids, and the Sega Saturn was first heating up, me and my brother never really owned anything aside from a Nintendo. Then, one day, we were browsing through a gaming magazine, and splashed across the cover was a purple jester. We flipped to the article and read about how Sega was releasing the new mascot for the Saturn: Nights. It was going to be a launch title in fully realized 3D environments!
I’D NEVER SEEN ANYTHING, let alone ever played, something in 3D like this strange new game. The images of the new 3D worlds, the colors, the environments, and the promise of flight through open 3D realms actually scared me. Seriously. I felt like games had come to such a technological advancement that I wouldn’t be able to understand how to play them.
UP UNTIL THEN we were Nintendo fanatics. Every game we played belonged to the Mario and Zelda banner. We never owned a Genesis. Never liked it. Never cared to play it. So when we first heard news about the Saturn, we were a bit skeptical, if not completely overwhelmed.
ONE CHRISTMAS MY BROTHER had a choice between the N64, PS1, and the Saturn. My younger cousins owned the N64, so we weren’t interested in that. Our friends and other relatives all had a PS1, so naturally we didn’t want that either. No one we knew owned a Saturn. I actually wanted a N64, but it was my brother’s money to spend as he wished.
THE SEGA SATURN WAS THE FIRST console we ever owned, the one gaming system that wasn’t given to us by our parents, or given as a gift. It came with a normal controller, the fat, beautiful Saturn 3D controller, and Sega’s launch title: Nights into Dreams.
WHAT FIRST SHOCKED ME about the game is that is was on a disk? I didn’t understand. Everything about this system made no sense. Where were the cartridges? Anyways, my brother placed the CD into the Saturn, booted up the game, and I watched as the screen filled with scattering cubes of light that flashed, danced, and eventually became the Saturn symbol. I was ushered from pixels into the 32-bit era.
THE CUT SCENE THAT FOLLOWED will forever be seared into my mind as one of the greatest moments I’d ever experienced as a gamer. First was the tell tale “Sonic Team” logo, with the ever memorable whisper and chime. Then Nights appeared, gliding through the air. The colors, the visuals, and the music, all set the enchanting tone of the game. It swept me away.
THE CHARACTER SELECTION SCREEN where you can choose to be a boy named Elliot, or a girl named Claris, was absolutely beautiful. The haunting theme, with the children speaking in the background, gave me chills of excitement. It was one of the most beautiful tunes I’ve ever heard.
WHEN WE FINALLY GOT to the gameplay, I with was struck with utter confusion. I was lost in a cluster of colors, objects flying in and out of space, things glowing, floating, sparkling, all happening at once. Then our character followed a multicolored path to a small citadel where a floating puppet awaited. The jester hovered, spinning, dancing, waiting for us to arrive. As soon as our character touched the purple acrobat there was a flash of light, and we were now playing as Nights!
Initiate mind blowing…now.
I DIDN’T THINK THAT I’D GET USED to the controls, or use to the spellbinding new graphics, but I couldn’t turn away. I couldn’t stop watching. At first, I was bumping into the floor, flying into enemies, with no idea where to go, or what the objective of the game even was. So, we read the manual, cause there was no way we were going to unlock the secret of Nights without some proper guidance.
AS WE TOOK TURNS PLAYING we eventually got use to the new 32-bit landscapes, mastered Night’s acrobatics, and learned to drill dash, dance, and vortex through the levels! The freedom and speed was exhilarating. I could actually feel the rush as we zipped mindlessly through the world! We played for hours, beating stage after stage. It was impossible to put down.
NIGHTS INTO DREAMS main gameplay begins in each level, or mare, when the child’s Ideya (which I always thought was pronounced “idea”?) is taken by cute little creatures, and locked into Ideya Captures. The point of each level is to gather blue orbs, which overload and destroy the Ideya Captures, allowing you to retrieve the stolen Ideya.
EVERY IDEYA REPRESENTED an emotion, feeling, or what have you: red was courage, yellow was hope, green represented growth, blue was intelligence, and white represented purity. Once all five were reunited, the level ended and it was time for the boss battle.
THERE WERE SIX BOSSES in all, split between both Claris and Elliot: three for each, and then Wiseman the Wicked, the game’s final boss.
FIRST, WE BLITZED THROUGH the three levels of Claris, defeating the nightmare bosses Gillwing, Gulpo, and Jackle. On a side not, I have to say that Jackle is the most annoying character in the entire game, as far as battles go! As a character, he’s freaking amazing. Of all the nightmaren, Wiseman included, he’s the hardest, simply because he flings these giant cards and can’t be injured until you knock off his cape. He is the only boss that requires you to do something before you can actually defeat him. However, he can fly back to his fallen cape, retrieve it, and then flies away before you even have a chance to get to him again. And the boss fight is timed. Yeah. Frustrating. Not to mention touching him can also injure you, which doesn’t deplete a health bar, but it depletes your timer.
SO, AFTER DEFEATING TWIN SEEDS, Claris’ final level, and wiping Wiseman out of existence, you’re treated to an ending FMV. Then the credits. The song that plays, “Dreams Dreams”, sung by the children first, and then two adults as it closes, is one of my favorite songs in a game. Ever. I felt such a powerful emotion when Nights ended, as the song began to play, that it will forever be one of the greatest endings a game has ever had. I felt both accomplishment and an unexplainable sadness. When a game makes me feel like that in the end, I know it was good.
WE BLAZED THROUGH Elliot’s story, dropped Puffy by grabbing her by the face and hurtling her through walls, and then blew up Clawz. When we beat Elliot’s second to last level, and the boss battle began, I was introduced to the most memorable enemy: Reala.
THE MOMENT I SAW THE black and red checkered realm, Reala standing from his throne with a sweep of his arm, and “Theme for a Tragic Revenge” began to play…my mouth dropped. I absolutely loved everything about him! Even to this day, I have an uncontrollable fascination with jesters because of Nights and Reala. He’s still one of my favorite bad guys in a video game, and the driving force of my obsession with puppets. Reala was my inspiration to create the Hand of Rel’s Puppet Masters. Well, that and the fearsome Five from Darkwing Duck, but now I’m getting off topic.
I’VE ALWAYS WONDERED what he says when he sits up? I interpreted it as, “Very smart, Nights!” Like Reala was taunting Nights. Or something. I don’t know. Also, I know his name was pronounced “REE-ala” in Nights: Journey of Dreams, but I always thought it was “Real-uh”? Anyone else with me on this, or is it just me?
THEN, ONCE WISEMAN WAS defeated for the second time, my brother went back and got A ranks in every level. Every level! I was only able to get Bs and Cs mostly, an As here and there, but never for every stage. After that, we were treated to the ending where Claris and Elliot finally meet in the real world, and the credits with the alternate version of “Dreams Dreams” begins to play.
Greatest ending ever. The true ending was so wonderful I almost cried.
NIGHTS INTO DREAMS still stands as one of the greatest games of its generation. It was the 21st highest selling game in Japan during 1996. He/she has shown up in Sega Superstars, Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing, Sonic pinball, and several other games. Nights is a classic from the beginnings of 3D gaming, and it will eternally remain one of my favorite, most nostalgic, gaming experiences that I’ll keep for a lifetime.
THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading! I’ll be back with another entry next Monday. Keep that imagination kicking! Please take care all, you all rock. Cheers!