Children are pure. The simplest new experiences can have a life-changing impact; the sensations of colour, of sound. The grand picture of our childhoods was painted with those brushes. As a child growing up with severe atopic eczema, and a somewhat chequered home life, video games became a vital mental escape I needed to get though and deal with things. I didn’t know that at the time, but I can say that now. They were my playground, where I could let the imagination of wonderful artists and game creators brighten my world. Now, as a 28-year-old man, I’m able to reminisce with my feelings of nostalgia, but able to deconstruct and digest my favourite games with a new pair of eyes.
When I was about eight years old, my grandmother would pick me up from home and take me to her work before school. It was a warehouse that manufactured clothes. I did this for many years. The staff became like family to me. One Christmas, one of the staff, Eileen, bought me a gift. I was so happy. It was so unexpected, as none of them had done this before. She instructed me to keep it under the tree for Christmas Day. I did.
On Christmas morning, like any kid, I tore into all my gifts. Me, my mother and my father all had a great time. Hours went by. But I’d forgot one present – my gift from Eileen. I tore it open. It was a Sega Saturn game; she’d heard me talk about my Saturn non-stop, no doubt. The game was NiGHTS into Dreams. In the beginning, I was too young to really understand what the message of the game would do for me, but what it turned out to be was something I truly needed to hear.
A journey’s beginning
The player embarked on the journey of either Elliot or Claris, two selectable characters that had separate paths, which converged at the end for the final stage. The two characters were both children growing up at school, facing the same struggles and worries that every child does. Elliot’s opening dream scene showed him failing at basketball and being mocked for it, with the kids laughing at him and turning into demons as he ran away. Claris’s situation saw her trying to pluck up the courage to sing at an audition. She was chased out the room as the producer and director turned into similar apparitions. These demons, both metaphorical and literal, haunted them both at night and tear down everything they hoped for in their futures.
Enter a being called NiGHTS, an androgynous, cheerful and carefree creature who allowed them to navigate the traitorous and scary path to their goals. Each level, or ‘Dream’, was a wonderful winding course through a bizarre and surreal landscape. Players needed to collect blue chips to overload the ‘Ideya Capture’, a sort of cage in which ‘Ideya’ were kept. Ideya were orbs, and five had to be collected in each level to progress to the boss.
Each one represented a positive human trait:
- Red for courage;
- White for purity;
- Blue for intelligence;
- Green for growth; and
- Yellow for hope.
Points earned by flying through rings, collecting stars and doing tricks went towards a final grade for each section, or ‘Mare’, of the stage.
As each Dream was completed, Elliot and Claris both progressed along their paths through the game until they joined in the skies of the final level. It’s this stage that held the greatest message: one that stays with me to this day.
A moment of truth
The last level of NiGHTS into Dreams, Twin Seeds, started in the skies of the city the two of them called home. It was no longer a bouncy museum or an endless gloomy forest; just completely cold, familiar ground. The player was thrown down onto a floating piece of terrain – a piece of their favourite park. This time, you weren’t playing as NiGHTS, but as Elliot or Claris. Typically, upon starting the stage, a guiding arrow led the player to the levels’ starting point, where they met NiGHTS and started flying along the course, but here it didn’t. The arrow pointed straight off the edge.
The first time I played this level, I didn’t understand what was being asked of me. I was too naïve in my perception of what was possible, and what I needed to do to really push and succeed in the game. I was being told to blindly jump of the edge – as a regular child character, not as the mystical flying being that was NiGHTS. Did I know what was going to happen? Was I going to die? Would this magical and rewarding experience end well?
I jumped. There was a pause of silence.
Rushing back up to the screen with a huge crescendo of uplifting techno progressions and glistening sound, there I was, Claris, flying just like my mentor NiGHTS. What ensued is a stage so off the chain, so fast-paced, so packed with rings, stars and chips, that it was an utter dream come true. There was so much to collect and speed through that it was very difficult to get a grade other than A. It was an onslaught of sparkles, stars, pops, balloons, rings and confetti; a kid’s carnival fever dream.
A song most sweet
I’d taken the leap of faith and was now flourishing, and it wasn’t because I was taking on the powers of something else, it was there inside of me, all along. This feeling of euphoria only supercharged my passion to take down the final boss, Wizeman the Wicked, the grand manifestation of fear. The character you were not playing as joins you to help you break the barrier to the final battle. You take on the final task together, giving the game another layer of moral teaching: to make friends and help othes in need. Upon taking him down, your chosen character awakened in their bedroom, ready to take on that audition or that basketball game. And sure enough, their fears were conquered and they succeeded.
The game taught its players, including me, to overcome their fears because reward awaited them on the other side, whatever that was. It’s a message every child needs to hear, and the way this was woven into NiGHTS into Dreams by its creators was nothing short of genius. To go from regular, challenging stages to one that was just an all-out blast; to start with the security of playing as NiGHTS then being forced to fly as your regular self; to go from stages that were designed to make you work hard to get the good grades to one that made you feel like you were a master at what you were doing, after taking that leap… All these nuances contributed to a feeling of victory and euphoria in the end, with a great sense of reward.
It goes without saying that the art direction and soundtrack to this game was totally unique and exemplary across the board. As a music producer, I’ve been deeply influenced by this game’s music and there’s NiGHTS into Dreams in my work to this day. I think it’s safe to say it was my first experience of dance music. I’m thankful to have been that mouldable child when I experienced the game for the first time. I would not think the same about music today if it weren’t for my early experiences with NiGHTS into Dreams. I used to fall asleep at night with the end theme in mind, hoping that I would meet NiGHTS myself.
It’s a daily practice to remind yourself that you’re on the right path, that you need to take necessary steps if you aren’t, that you have to own your power, and that at many times in life, you simply have to grit your teeth and just do it. I’m still working on my confidence as a person and an artist. I still think about NiGHTS. I’m battling Wizeman every day, trying to decide what is best for me and what bravery I need to muster to get the job of life done. I have to tell myself that NiGHTS is in me, because as the game taught me, NiGHTS truly is, somewhere. I just have to find it. NiGHTS is in everyone.
In honour of the soundscape of this masterpiece, I’ve created a remix of the final stage music, Growing Wings by Tomoko Sasaki. A strange loop of fate brought me to create a remix of the song from the very game that gave me the aforementioned gifts. In a funny way, it was because of NiGHTS into Dreams that I listened to my heart and became a music producer. I’m still finding my way and have a lot of dream chasing left to do.
So here I am, stood on the edge, ready to jump.
- A total unique gem in the history of gaming
- Stellar soundtrack
- Challenging fast-paced gameplay
- Easy to pick up and play
- Dynamic – both highly artistic and highly hardcore
- Short playtime by today’s standards
There’s no game like NiGHTS Into Dreams. Anyone who appreciates good art direction and good video game music should at least try NiGHTS Into Dreams once. People who are open-minded and want to get the most out of the game are in for an unforgettable ride.