NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams Review
Written by Nobie.
NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams Review
You're that Special Sequel I've Been Waiting For
Demand for a sequel to NiGHTS into dreams... has been around for as long as the game has been out, and now approximately 10 years later, we have one. 10 years, can you believe that? Just saying it makes me feel old.
I remember seeing the original TV commercial NiGHTS into dreams..., and I remember wanting the game badly. I remember my dad finally buying it for me, and I remember beating the game in only a day. Not only is NiGHTS my favorite video game ever, but my first online community was a NiGHTS community (Nightopia on the Net aka The Archives aka Arcana, if you're wondering). I made many friends there early on, though it was a time when everyone was much more immature. So, as I begin this review of ,NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams, I feel the wait of my own history upon it because the original Saturn game holds a very special place in my life.
So, has it been worth the wait? Does NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams successfully live up to the almost mythical folklore that surrounds the original game's status as one of the greatest Sega Saturn games ever? I certainly cannot make your decision for you, but I will tell you that, although not as world-changing or mind-shattering or bar-raising as the original NiGHTS, I find it to be a worthy sequel.
You're given the option to use the Wiimote by itself for controls. Using the Wiimote, you move a cursor called the "Mindsight" on the screen, and NiGHTS moves towards the direction of it. I haven't used it too much, and it seems to work fairly well, though I've found quite a bit of difficulty in trying to perform paraloops. Other than that, with all the other settings (Classic Controller, Gamecube Controller, Wiimote + Nunchuck) if you have ever played the Saturn game, the controls are essentially the same for most of the control systems. Analog stick is used to fly, various buttons are used to perform a Drill Dash through the air, and you can still do acrobatics. The Paraloop returns with a vengeance, though I get the feeling that the star trail (or TWINKLE DUST as they call it) is a bit shorter in Journey of Dreams.
There is one big issue the controls, and it's something I feel is one of the greatest flaws with the game: The Nintendo analog sticks are far inferior to the one on the Saturn's 3D controller. While playing Journey of Dreams, I could constantly feel my thumb slipping off the control stick, and it became frustrating on missions which require greater precision. The problem lies in three parts: The use of rubber for the control stick, the octagonal shape of the range of motion, and the convex surface of the stick itself. The Saturn's 3D controller was more like a ball, and it allowed for greater, smoother motion. Combined with the plastic concave surface of the control stick, the effectiveness of the 3D Controller is part of what gave the original NiGHTS, such smooth control. The game is still very playable, but I found myself occasionally having to pause to reorient my left thumb back on the control stick. Of all the controllers, I found the Gamecube one to be the best, though it still has issues tied to what I said above. Keep in mind that the gameplay itself is still essentially the NiGHTS we know and love, and I place the majority of the blame on the physical design of the controller, something that the game creators can't really compensate for.
The game is split into a boy's story and a girl's story, just like in the original, with Helen, a violinist, and Will, a soccer player, replacing Claris and Elliot. The story is given much more emphasis than its predecessor, leading not only to numerous cutscenes but also voices. And almost as if to make up for the fact that almost no one in the original game spoke a word of actual dialogue, Journey of Dreams has everyone speak, constantly. There are no Japanese voices, only English ones, and everyone sounds British. NiGHTS, by the way, sounds like a British woman, and to further the gender confusion, if you switch to Japanese mode, NiGHTS will refer to himself in the subtitles using the very masculine pronoun, "Ore." The voices are actually not bad, though it leads into my second and final major criticism of the game: Unskippable cutscenes.
Yes, all cutscenes except for the intros cannot be canceled no matter how much you jam on the controller's buttons. Once you've beaten a level you don't have to see them anymore for the most part, but the journey (no pun intended) can be irritating at times. That aside, the story is pretty enjoyable, and Wizeman has quite a good voice. Focusing on the doubts that come from entering adolescence, NiGHTS helps Helen and Will to have a better understanding of the personal bonds in their lives. At times, it reminds me of the fanfics I read back when I was actively a part of the NiGHTS fandom, though without all the convoluted plot threads or self-insertion. Now, let us never speak of that again.
Visually, the game is very beautiful, and though the graphics are perhaps not the best offered for this generation of video game consoles or even just the Wii itself, the art direction is still extremely solid. I have yet to completely explore the worlds of each Dream as I did on the Sega Saturn, but from my limited exploration the levels are embued with a sense of life and wonder. As Dreams, they live up to their name.
Instead of the 4-course Dream format used in the Saturn NiGHTS, Journey of Dreams has a variety of stage designs, some better than others, some particularly frustrating, but still good overall. Chase Missions are similar to the stages in the original, but gone are the Ideya Captures and the necessity of collecting 20 blue chips (those are still around by the way, but they serve a different function in this game). Instead, NiGHTS must pursue a bird called a Goodle, knock it out, take its key, and bring it back to the starting point in order to advance to the next course. Each course has a time limit of 170 seconds, a 50-second increase compared to the original. The Goodles follow roughly the course laid out by the rings and chips, and the game stresses that you should not just try to chase after the Goodle as fast as possible, but rather try to follow its course. I'm not completely clear on why this is the case, but one possibility is that the path will take you through as many rings as possible, which will keep up your dash meter, which is necessary for being able to keep up with the Goodle. Once three Goodles (not four!) have been defeated, you enter a boss battle and go head to head with whatever high-level Nightmaren is pulling the current shenanigans.
Other stages include Link missions, similar to the Frozen Bell Link Attack from Christmas NiGHTS, where your goal is to fulfill a minimum requirement on Link size, as well as platformer stages where you play as the humans themselves who have traded in the ability to super jump for the ability to throw blue chips to stun and defeat enemies. On a personal note, when I play these stages I'm reminded of my days dreaming up a sequel for the original NiGHTS, where I wished there were more stages involving just the kids and that the kids would have a way of defending themselves. Of course, my idea was to let Elliot bounce his basketball off of Nightmaren.
In addition to those are various sorts of unusual, almost-mini-game like stages. There are a few stages where I question the controls, but overall the game moves smoothly and wonderfully. Finally, at the end of every Dream is a return match with the boss you fought in stage 1, the Chase Mission, but this time they're playing for keeps.
The boss fights are one point where Journey of Dreams actually trumps its predecessor. I have to admit, I love boss fights in video games, and it's one of the reasons why I love NiGHTS into dreams... Here, the bosses are more elaborate, and their tactics more ingenious, which brings me great joy. A few bosses, notably a Puffy clone named Donbalon, are fairly similar to bosses from the original game. However, the inclusion of the enhanced boss fights (with a 300-second time limit) also makes it a new experience. The second time you face Donbalon, not only is the path to victory much longer, literally, but you must deal with moving walls and a Donbalon who actively tries to escape from you. Probably the best example of the creativity of these fights is Helen's second boss, the magician Chamelan, who casts a stage-wide illusion in order to confound NiGHTS while avoiding detection. NiGHTS must track down Chamelan by using visual clues in the stage and then paraloop him twice: once to expose Chamelan and once to deal the finishing blow. In the return match, Chamelan starts to play dirty, and leaves red herrings leading to powerful bombs with massive explosions. Reala is not an official boss fight, but you do get to face him, only this time your goal is not to Paraloop him into submission but to throw meteors at him until he's slow-motion KO'd. The battle against Wizeman will be familiar to players of the original, but it is greatly enhanced and is much more impressive visually and aurally.
The music was another major achievement of the original, and Journey of Dreams does not disappoint, with many more tracks than before. In fact, the bosses with the exception of Wizeman are given ,two themes, one for each fight against them. A wide variety of musical styles are employed, and the few themes that are reused in Journey of Dreams, including Dreams Dreams, are given new life through interesting, high-quality remixes. As previously mentioned, Wizeman sports an incredible theme in this game, and it's actually a remix of his original theme, D'Force Master. Unfortunately, it seems that manipulating the A-Life of Journey of Dreams no longer affects the music.
Yes, the A-Life is back. For those of you new to NiGHTS, A-Life is the name for the automated which controls the behavior of creatures in the world of dreams called Nightopians. They exist in every Dream, and they even reproduce. Your behavior and interaction with the Nightopians affects how they respond to you. Treat them harshly, and they will not be your fans. The Chao system from the Sonic games is based off of the Nightopian A-Life with the Chao Garden, and Journey of Dreams, in turn, takes the idea of the Chao Garden and brings it back home with "My Dream."
"My Dream" is an area where your actions in the game, including which stages you play more often, affect its appearance. It is basically a huge sandbox for you to breed Nightopians without worrying about the time limits involved when playing through the actual stages of the game. One of the most interesting features is that if you have the Weather Channel on your Wii, the weather in your hometown will affect the weather of Your Dream. For me, though, the most interesting feature of all is the way in which you get Nightopians from the stages into My Dream: Paralooping. Make a big circle around a Nightopian and fling them away. This applies to Nightmaren as well. And yes, Mepians are back. My only problem with My Dream is that I still have no idea how to breed them within My Dream, as it is much more difficult to knock an enemy into a Nightopian while playing as a human, as you are not allowed to be NiGHTS while inhabiting My Dream.
NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams flows wonderfully with responsive controls (aside from the aforementioned issue with the controller) where the better you play, the more enjoyable the game becomes. It seems fairly obvious that a game should do that, but I've seen many games in which doing well becomes a chore. This is not the case with Journey of Dreams, which portrays a powerful sense of flight and movement through its strong combination of visuals, music, and player interaction. I should mention, however, that this game is not always easy, and there may be parts which can be very frustrating and may require multiple playthroughs.
In concluding this review, my only regret is that I have been constantly comparing NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams to NiGHTS into dreams... but I realize that it was an inevitability. When the original game has been placed on such a high pedestal by even myself, I feel that it's my responsibility to address these concerns. Again, while I cannot make your decision for you, I will tell you that overall, while I cannot consider it better than the original, NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams lives up to the lofty expectations set out by its predecessor.
Welcome back, NiGHTS. Welcome back.
Thanks to Nobie for writing this for TDR.