Reviewing a game that you've already played in some other form is usually pretty easy. And to be honest, it's rarely ever quite as good the second time around. These days, with everything being ported and translated, the chances of playing something twice are fairly good. I usually don't complain as remakes and ports are rarely done on bad games, but reviewing them isn't always exciting.
I went into this port of Knights in the Nightmare feeling pretty good about it, as I really liked it the first time around when it was originally released on the DS. But I didn't expect to like it more than the original. Still, that's what ended up happening.
Knights in the Nightmare (PSP)
To be clear, not much has changed as far as core game aspects go in this move from DS to PSP. As our original review explained, KitN is a really unique blend of strategy role-playing game and shooter mixed in with some puzzle elements. You control a wisp, which is the soul of a deceased man. This wisp can take over the body of a fallen warrior on a grid-based map to attack enemies, but you'll have to move about the screen to avoid the projectiles fired from these enemies. To make things even more interesting in these battles, hit points are replaced with a timer: You start out with a set time to battle, but every time your wisp is hit by an enemy's attack, time is deducted. I'd tell you that there is also highly detailed item and character customization, slot machine-like enemy selection, and tic-tac-toe-ish boards to clear to complete objectives, but I think I might be confusing you already. Just know that if this all sounds insane, it really is, but it works beautifully. You've never seen anything else like this...other than that last release on the DS.
The story is also the same as before -- it's just presented in a prettier fashion. You begin as this wisp, void of all memories or direction. Eventually you'll meet up with a mysterious woman named Maria, who helps give you direction and some aid in battle. With her help, eventually you'll uncover more about your former self as well as what's happened to your kingdom since you died. Between battles you'll get just enough story detail to lead you into the next battle. You'll also get a touch of the setting and a flashback from the past, but it will be a long while before you can put them all together in your head. The story turns out to be good, but it just takes a long time to ramp up.
The big difference here is obviously the control scheme. In the DS version the stylus was used to freely move the wisp about the screen to interact with characters and menus as well as dodge fire. In the PSP version the analog nub does most of the work. How does it compare? Really well. I like it much more than the stylus control, which still surprises me. Guiding the wisp about the screen is very easy, and the bullet hell style dodging feels very natural with this control scheme. Moving your cursor (wisp) to your characters feels tight and snappy. I worried that the response wouldn't feel quick enough when compared to direct stylus control, but it's perfectly fine. Plus, there's the added benefit of not having your hand in the way of the action. The only hang up is minor: the pre-battle phase takes a bit longer as you'll use the d-pad to scroll through every on-screen item, enemy or character to get to what you want to modify.
The other big change is that this already lovely game can now take advantage of the PSP's graphical capabilities and large screen. The PSP version of Knights in the Nightmare is a real looker, with big, detailed scenery backgrounds and fantastic character art over it. The larger size and higher resolution managed to pull me into the game a bit more than it did the first time around. The new animated introduction also helped a bit, as did the stereo music coming from the PSP's speakers. It didn't take long for me to want to see how well this game would fare on my television and through a proper sound system. This game is fantastic on a television -- it felt like a full console experience, and being able to sit back and control from a distance was a joy. The lush graphics and high quality score were even easier to appreciate when blown up. It seems like the further away I get from the tiny DS screens the more I like this game. If you haven't picked one up yet, get a TV out cable for your PSP when you go buy this game.
If there's one thing the DS version does better, it's the load times. They aren't end-of-the-world bad on the PSP, but sometimes the wait does break up the action. I've even had a bit of odd pre-battle menu time loading, when nothing is even happening. Most of the wait time will come before battle or story segments. It's not long enough to be annoying, but it's long enough to make you long for an install option. While there isn't one, Atlus will be offering a downloadable version of the game, which is sure to cut out most of that disc loading time.
There is a slight learning curve, and the game is a bit confusing in the beginning, but its unique gameplay and lovely visuals are totally worth the effort. We've said before that Knights in the Nightmare may not be a good fit for the casual or impatient gamer, but it is a rare treat for the seasoned gamer that has tried just about everything but wants something a bit different.
While there are few changes from the DS to the PSP version under the hood, the control change and the improved visuals had me enjoying this new version a bit more. Those that did play the first one may enjoy this new control and look, and will also likely enjoy a new scenario where you can play as a character from strategy RPG Yggdra Union. And speaking of Yggdra Union: this PSP version of Knights in the Nightmare also comes with a free copy of of the game. Both are fantastic titles to add to your collection, and you'll get them both here for one price. Recommended.
THE VERDICT - Knights in the Nightmare
Reviewed by Dale North