NiGHTS is seen by many to be one of the strongest original titles for the system, with cutting edge visuals and surprisingly complex gameplay. In the western world, NiGHTS was used as a marketing ploy to allow the Saturn to compete against Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64, and other 3D titles for the Sony PlayStation in the 1996 winter holiday season. Today it is seen as a cult classic and one of the flagship products of Sega during the Saturn era.
Players take the role of either Claris or Elliot, two children living in the city of Twin Seeds. In their dreams, they enter the world of Nightopia, where all human dreams are played out. An evil creature known as Wizeman is gathering power to take control of Nightopia. The children team up with NiGHTS, a rogue Nightmaren (nightmare-dweller) trying to stop Wizeman.
For the most part, NiGHTS into Dreams is a "2.5D" video game, where the world is rendered as 3D textured polygons, but gameplay is played on a two dimensional field. The basic goal of the game is to reclaim the four stolen "Ideyas" from the four Ideya Captures spread across the level, and return them to the Ideya Palace. Ideya Captures are destroyed by collecting with them, however 20 Blue Chips dotted across the level need to be collected first.
Players usually have to take control of the jester, NiGHTS to achieve this goal. NiGHTS traverses across the 2.5 plane through the skies, performing aerial acrobatics, defeating enemies and ranking up points. However at the start of the level, NiGHTS is held captive within the Ideya Palace, and players need to control the children, Claris or Elliot. The children are not restricted to the 2.5D plane, and can in fact traverse across the map as if the game were a 3D platformer, scaling mountains and wandering across valleys. The children are, however, restricted to the map's boundaries, and will be pursued by the infamous "Alarm Egg" - a floating egg with a clock face on one side. Getting caught by the Alarm Egg is the only way the game can end within a regular level - enemies will slow the children down, but not cause any damage.
Freeing NiGHTS is as simple as entering the palace (usually placed a short distance in front of the starting point), but is not strictly necessary to rescue Ideyas from Ideya Captures. In the 3D children mode, many of the items usually found in the skies lie on the ground (including Blue Chips), and Ideya Captures are within jumping distance. This style of gameplay was adapted for the Sonic into Dreams minigame of Christmas NiGHTS.
Like Sonic the Hedgehog the game is played almost entirely with one button (, or ) and the D-Pad (or analogue stick), allowing the children to jump or NiGHTS to speed up and spin. Spinning however, drains power from the meter in the bottom left of the HUD, and is replenished by flying through large yellow/orange rings. The and buttons allow NiGHTS to perform acrobatics, though are only useful if the player flies through a "Power Loop". NiGHTS can defeat enemies by performing a "paraloop", otherwise known as moving in a clockwise or anticlockwise circle. This can also reveal bonuses and collect multiple items at once (including sometimes those in the background).
Each of the four Ideyas is located on separate looped 2.5D "courses" (or "mares") for NiGHTS, each of which passes through the Ideya Palace. Players will travel around in circles until the Ideya Capture is destroyed, but items will re-spawn if the far away from the camera. NiGHTS' play is timed, and once the time runs out, you will lose any collected blue chips and become the children once more. The scoring system of NiGHTS is rather complex - scores are multiplied considerably by forming chains (links) of rings, and the value of items on the current course will increase further if the Ideya Capture is destroyed (the blue chips turning gold within this time).
To confound things further, NiGHTS has a surprisingly complex "A-Life" system, in which friendly Nightopians littered across the stage, can have their moods changed, be bred (not just with other Nightopians, but with enemies (Nightmaren), creating genetically modified "Mepians"), and be killed with very little effect on gameplay. If the player manages to not kill any Nightopians, an extra point award will be available on the fourth and final path for NiGHTS. The mood of the Nightopians can affect the level's music, though the change will only be heard if the player re-enters the stage.
Collecting all four Ideyas and taking them to the Ideya Palace will take NiGHTS to a boss, which needs to be destroyed within a certain timeframe. Here, it is impossible to play as the children, though getting hit will cause you to lose valuable seconds. Bosses vary depending on the stage, though usually involve bouncing off a weak spot or paralooping.
Enemies, or "Nightmaren" serve little purpose in NiGHTS into Dreams other than to get in the way and slow your progress. Most can be knocked out of the way with a spin, and destroyed completely with a paraloop.
There are eight "dreams" (or levels) in NiGHTS, four for Claris, and four for Elliot, all split into two halves. The first half acts as a traditional level, while the second half (nightmare) acts as a boss. Both halves must be completed to access the next dream.
Spring Valley ~the IDEAL~
Mystic Forest ~the POSSIBILITY~
Soft Museum ~the CONFUSION~
Splash Garden ~the AFFECTION~
Frozen Bell ~the CONSCIOUSNESS~
Stick Canyon ~the REVIVAL~
Twin Seeds ~the GROWTH~
Twin Seeds occurs over the fictional city, and is identical for both Claris and Elliot. It is also the only stage where you do not play as NiGHTS - the children fly around instead.
NiGHTS into Dreams represents both the end of an era at Sonic Team and the start of a new one, being the last Sega project to feature Yuji Naka as the lead programmer and the first to feature Takashi Iizuka as lead designer (replacing Hirokazu Yasuhara, now stationed in North America). The absense of Yasuhara means that the three original founding members of Sonic Team were reduced to two, and with both Naka and Naoto Ohshima rising up the ranks in the years which followed, NiGHTS marks the start of a new generation of Sonic Team developers.
Following the release of Sonic & Knuckles, the key players of Sonic Team spent six months brainstorming on new ideas, with work on NiGHTS beginning around April 1995. Naka began learning about Saturn programming in the Summer of 1994.
NiGHTS is a radically different project to the Sonic the Hedgehog games which preceeded it, and was inspired by the works of Carl Jung, and primarily his anima and animus concepts. It is said that Takashi Iizuka invested a significant amount of time researching dreams and the theories that surround them, observing the works of Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Holtz, meaning NiGHTS' themes offer a much deeper meaning than at first glance.
Naka and his team chose against developing a Sonic sequel, wishing to take a long break to come up with a more "advanced" game as opposed to falling into the trap of continuous sequels. From an early stage it was decided that the game would be based around replay value, where rather than simply progressing through levels and not looking back, there would be reasons to revisit stages and improve your skills.
The visual style NiGHTS into Dreams borrowed from Cirque du Soleil, witnessed by Yuji Naka and others while playing at the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. It's oddly typed name was originally put in place to differentiate the NiGHTS character from the word "nights", with the lower-case "i" coming from the gem on the character's chest.
NiGHTS was originally set to be a much slower game, but the speed gradually increased over time to make the game more interesting. Naka acknowledged that more could be done with the Saturn (something perhaps proven with Burning Rangers), but likewise it was said that demonstrating graphical and technical prowess was not a priority for the team.
While Sonic was seen as a one-dimensional character, NiGHTS had emotions, and was designed to look like an angel to appeal more towards US and European cultures which had proven so successful for Sonic. Notably (and ignored by its sequel), NiGHTS was designed neither to be male or female, but to represent "another you" in the dream world. The character was envisioned as a "hero within your nightmares", having a slightly frightening look but also being cute. NiGHTS is also the colour purple, attempting to challenge an idea that purple was unsuitable in the toy industry.
Prior to settling on the "dreams" idea, concepts at Sonic Team included "adventure" and "military" themes, among others. The plan was to contradict the worlds of Sonic the Hedgehog.
During testing it was noted that the standard Saturn control pad was not as responsive as the team desired, so work began on a new control scheme in the summer of 1995. Roughly 100 prototype controllers were built and tested, including remotes, foot controllers and even the concept of using a NiGHTS-shaped doll to simulate movements. The 3D Control Pad was developed simultaneously over the course of six months to ensure the game was more smooth and comfortable to play.
According to Sonic Team, major parts of the code were re-written between five and ten times. Very little is used from Sega AM2's Sega Graphics Library, with most of the technology being created by Sonic Team.
Voice samples were recorded in-house by various developers, usually in the middle of the night as Sonic Team's studios were not sound-proofed.
The game was first shown in Japan at the '96 Tokyo Toy Show. The trailer from this event is available as an unlockable in Christmas NiGHTS.
As one of the top Sega employees in his field, Yuji Naka's engine for NiGHTS is often considered to be one of the most ambitious programming projects on the Saturn, at one point being recycled for Sonic X-treme (much to his distaste). Much of the game was built with unique input methods in mind (such as odd flight sticks), inevitably evolving into Saturn's the 3D Control Pad. At one point in development, the team was visited by Steven Spielberg, who played the game on an experimental controller, later dubbed internally as the "Spielberg Controller". Unique controllers would be explored again in the development of Air NiGHTS, a cancelled Sega Dreamcast sequel.
Sonic Team were for a long time interested in a PC version, and Naka has stated that he created a conversion of NiGHTS shortly after the Saturn game's release. In an interview he assumed it had been released, however PC users did not receive a port of the game until 2012, when a version was released for Steam.
Yuji Naka has stated that NiGHTS was not intended to receive a sequel, being a stand-alone game similar to Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. After NiGHTS, Naka would assume management roles as producer and head of Sonic Team, before leaving to found Prope in 2006, only for NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams to be released one year later.
In December 1996, a special one-level Christmas version, Christmas NiGHTS was developed, being released as a stand-alone product in Japan. Elsewhere it was bundled as a free promotional item.
In 2008 the game was re-released as a budget game for the PlayStation 2 in Japan. This conversion was handled by Sega Studios China, and features enhanced graphics (and 16:9 widescreen support), content from Christmas NiGHTS and a number of minor tweaks to gameplay. It also features image galleries, a movie viewer mode and different seasonal outfits.
Sega Heritage Digital Re-release
The PlayStation 2 version was not released outside of Japan, but was used as a base for a set of "HD" conversions for the Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Steam services. These versions are almost identical to the 2008 PlayStation 2 adaptation, though lack some content (most notably the Sonic into Dreams minigame from Christmas NiGHTS) and reportedly lack true 360-degree analogue controls. The game is rendered at widescreen 720p, though the textures, models and technical features such as draw distance remain similar to their PlayStation 2 counterparts.
The Sega Saturn version game makes use of the Saturn's internal battery back-up as well as the Saturn Backup Memory to save progress. In addition, it saves data for the A-Life system separately due to its large file size.