NiGHTS into Dreams… is my favorite Sonic Team game. As much as I love running around as the blue blur or slaughtering monsters online in PSO, its their purple androgynous dream jester that I keep closest to my heart. But it wasn’t always that way for me. For years, I just didn’t like it. NiGHTS’ journey to becoming one of my favorite games is a somewhat long and windy one, but something I want to share to help other people who don’t see the appeal understand why this game is so special to some of us.
I first played NiGHTS not long after I first got my Saturn in 2002. With the recent death of the Dreamcast, I had become interested in exploring SEGA’s past, particularly their 90s consoles. I was especially curious about the Saturn, and that one weird looking Sonic Team game with the purple jester that was always getting referenced in Sonic stuff. I didn’t know what it was, but it had to be cool, right? So when I first got a Saturn off eBay in 2002, NiGHTS into Dreams was one of the first games I got for it. And well…it was not what I was expecting.
When I first played NiGHTS, I just didn’t get it. I thought I was getting some kind of platformer, but it wasn’t that at all. It was something…else. This was it? This was the game I always saw SEGA fans call Sonic Team’s all-time classic? All you do is fly through rings, collect “blue chips,” then destroy the “ideya” captures. Rinse, repeat four times, and then you kill the boss. It’s not a hard game, there’s no intricately designed platforming, what do people see in this?! On top of all that, I couldn’t figure out how to get a higher grades in the game’s levels, which locked me out of the game’s final level. I just wasn’t having fun.
I fell in love with the Saturn for other reasons, though. The Panzer Dragoon games were awesome, Astal was a fun and gorgeous 2D platformer, the system’s arcade racers were fun to play, and it even helped me get into RPGs through games like Dragon Force. But every now and then, I’d give NiGHTS another go, run into the same problems, and give up on it. “It’s just not for me,” I’d tell myself. Then, a few years later, I decided to do something weird: I read the manual.
In 2005, I decided I just wanted to beat NiGHTS already, just to say I could. But in order to do that, I needed to score at least a C grade in every level, and to do that I needed to finally sit down and learn how the scoring system worked. So I read about the mechanics in the manual, figuring out the importance of links, looping around each level’s courses even after getting the ideya to rack up points and gather “gold chips,” and beating the boss as quickly as I could. Armed with that knowledge, I went back to the game, destroyed the C-rank requirement, and suddenly found myself having fun.
NiGHTS began to appeal to me in the same way Sonic games had for years, particularly Sonic Adventure 2. There was a certain kind of joy to be found in perfecting a level, memorizing it and practicing until I was able to collect every item, kill every enemy, and pull off every maneuver in just the right way to maximize score. But where SA2 can be a bit rough, with occasional collision detection issues and other glitches getting in the way of a flawless run, a perfect NiGHTS run can be a zen-like experience. I came to love the way NiGHTS effortlessly flew through the air, deftly stringing together flying through rings, collecting blue chips, and pulling off tricks to get larger and larger links, and bigger and bigger scores. It gave me this feeling of excitement similar to when I was able to master a Sonic stage, except…I liked this more.
But it wasn’t until I played the game’s final stage that I went from liking the game to loving it. This didn’t start like the other stages. Normally, starting a level was simply a matter of approaching NiGHTS and transforming into them. But here, your character is tossed away from NiGHTS the moment they start to move. They land on a small piece of land, surrounded by nothing but distant city lights far below. There was nothing to do but leap off of it. So I did. I’d like to explore this moment more in different article, but as awesome music started to play and my character rose into the air, flying on their own without NiGHTS, I just started feeling elated. I was watching this character that had never said a single word throughout the game accomplish something, and it actually got an emotional reaction out of me.
Sonic Team created something very special with NiGHTS, and after some effort, I was finally able to appreciate it in full. I came to love its beautiful soundtrack, trippy worlds, superb character designs, its fluid and unique game play, and its basic but uniquely told story. I get that NiGHTS probably isn’t for everyone, but if anything in my experience sounds appealing to you, I hope you give it chance. It’s currently available on Steam, Xbox, and PS3, and well as through Game Pass and PS Now.