The third installation of Sting's Dept. Heaven cycle—confusingly designated "Episode IV" and chronologically placed between Yggdra Union and Riviera—and released for the Nintendo DS, Knights in the Nightmare tells the story of a mortal kingdom suffering a sudden influx of demons, which have killed most of the realm's knightly defenders. Compounding matters, the good King Wilmgard has vanished, and his political opponents seem to consider this a wonderful time to make their moves.
The player controls a disembodied spirit called the Wisp, brought (back?) into the world by a mysterious armored woman named Maria. The Wisp must recruit the souls of the dead knights, combat the demons, and piece together what precisely is happening to this world.
Please note that this page, for the sake of the majority of players using the English language translation, uses Atlus' Romanizations of character names, although most of the older entries for Knights in the Nightmare across the wiki use those by Sting. Both Romanizations are listed on the character sheet, for those who wish to compare or clarify who's being talked about.
This game is particularly noteworthy for the extremely unusual gameplay elements that it uses; it's an odd combination of time-management, strategy, reflex, and Bullet Hell. None of the soldier units you control are in danger of being attacked, but the wisp (which is basically your stylus pointer) IS. It's also got a rather obtuse plot; unless you're paying attention, expect to get lost.
Knights in the Nightmare utilizes these tropes:
- Affably Evil: Melissa, of all people, is not interested at all in following the orders of Zolgonark and Capehorn. She'll heckle you if you're in the way of getting Ancardia, but that's it. The only actually "evil" things she does are killing Wilmgard in the first place and eating Zolgonark...
- All There in the Manual: Having played the other games in the series makes things a lot easier to understand. There is also brief backstory information on every single recruitable Knight in the game in the art book that came as a pre-order bonus. As for the canon bible and the extra materials, a few pages of them are available here (spoilers!). If you want the rest—well, we hope you know Japanese. Or are really, really good friends with someone willing to do the translation work.
- Arbitrary Headcount Limit: Each scene has its own limit, but most of the problem comes because you can only have 4 equipment slots.
- But Not Too Black: One dark-skinned NPC girl in armor is called "Tanned Knight".
- Character Portrait: Every single knight has a unique one, other than Red Shirt ones (AKA Nameless) that are in cutscenes or in item/XP collection optional stages who have generic portraits.
- The Chessmaster: Hector is shown to be pulling the strings, laying the groundwork for his grand scheme in Riviera: The Promised Land.
- Dead to Begin With: It would be easier to list who isn't dead by the time game starts. Here's a hint: The wisp's soldiers are all deceased knights which it can briefly materialize to attack its enemies. Before each new level, we usually get to see a flashback cutscene of the new knights in that area and what they went through just before they died.
- Deal with the Devil: Marietta, of all angels, did this with Zolgonark for power, which backfired spectacularly.
- Destroyable Items: You wanted the Key Item in that treasure chest? Too bad, you got it to 100% damage. Hit Reset and try again.
- Die, Chair! Die!: Breaking objects in the field grants you materials, or key items to recruit knights.
- Disney Death: Wilmgard and all the knights, who technically were never dead in the first place. Aside from anyone you Transouled, they all get better in the good endings.
- The Dog Bites Back: Zolgonark decided to mess with Marietta and hide Ancardia with the Accursed most likely to step on it and break it, and enjoys demeaning and insulting Melissa. In Maria's route, first Maria beats him up and then Melissa eats him. In Mellia's, Mellia herself can do both.
- Emergency Weapon: Your knights' normal attacks. They do damage equal to the knights' level when the first enemies in the game have several hundred HP, making any attempt to defeat anything with them an exercise in futility. They do, however, create a large shower of crystals, perfect for restoring enough MP to use proper attacks.
- Enemy Without: Maria and Mellia are respectively good and evil sides of Marietta, separated due to the deal with the devil above.
- Everything Is Better With Explosions: ...or at least Mellia seems to think so.
- Disc-One Final Boss: Zolgonark in Maria's route is set up to be the final boss. However, after you defeat him, Melissa shows up and fuses with his remains to become the final boss. In Mellia's route, he can be the final boss, depending on your choice.
- Fusion Dance: Melissa and Zolgonark do this to become Melad Margus, the being of heresy.
- Genre-Busting: You are unlikely to be able to classify what, exactly, this game is. You may even struggle to properly describe what its components are. Let's try: A little bit of Bullet Hell mixed with Interface Screw (the enemy is shooting at the wisp, YOUR CURSOR, rather than the soldiers you animate), some Real-Time Strategy with Turn-Based Strategy hybrid elements... and some RPG elements for the various ghosts you control. That's not even getting into the really weird stuff like hitting the switch between "Law" and "Chaos" to switch modes for characters' hitboxes across the map.
- Glass Cannon: Maria has incredibly low VIT (7.77), despite her physical strength. She's the only character that recovers it between chapters, though.
- Gratuitous English: Atlus's English release cleaned up a lot of this throughout the game's menus and interface. But for just one example of it... compare this Japanese◊ screen to the one used for the English◊ version.
- Heroic Sacrifice: The player can power up any character by sacrificing others. Although it's not that big of a deal, since almost every character is already dead to begin with, and the whole Transoul action is basically merging two souls to make a mightier one...
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Yelma gets killed off by Zolgonark, a being that she helped summon. Made even funnier since she actually tried to pull off You Have Outlived Your Usefulness on Zolgonark.
- Kansai Regional Accent: In the Japanese version, all the Lemonoug people have a slight Kyoto-ben dialect. Not noticeable in the English script, obviously, where standard English was used to render every character's speech.
- Kick the Dog: Yelma, and how. The fans only lament that the Wisp could not get to give her a sound beatdown for the sheer number of evil acts she did. To a lesser extent, Capehorn.
- Loads and Loads of Loading: English PSP version, which even causes a little bit of lag on scenes and sprite animations.
- MacGuffin Delivery Service: Couldn't we, I don't know, wait to fight Alier until Yelma is NOT standing right next to the king's crystal-encased body?!
- Meaningful Name: The original Romanization of Algiery's name is "Alighierie", as in Dante. The best ending can be considered an analogue/extended Shout-Out to The Divine Comedy, with Wilmgard as Dante, Maria as Virgil, and Algiery as Beatrice.
- Mind Screw: In the artbook, one of the game designers admitted that even they had trouble keeping track of the plot. Also, do NOT try to classify the gameplay into a genre. It is an exercise in futility. See Genre-Busting above.
- Multiple Endings: There's a couple of endings for each of the four faces of Marietta; which four endings you can get are determined by whether you're playing Maria's route or Mellia's.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: During Maria's route, in Stage 46, after you beat Zolgonark, Melissa comes out and fuses with the remains of Zolgonark to become almighty Melad Margus, the final boss of that route.
- During Mellia's route, if you find Marietta's staff in the secret stage, Mellia will break it and this will automatically lead to the bad ending of Mellia's route.
- Nintendo Hard: Playing on just the normal difficulty is an exercise in badness, as the screen can quickly be blanketed in projectiles.
- No Fourth Wall: Dahlia and Pamela."I hear level-up music in my head! *giggle*"
- Optional Party Member: Everyone, technically. Most stages have a default group of knights the Wisp can use; to permanently recruit any character, the player has to find an item connected to them hidden in a previous stage, with the exception of the first, of course.
- Psychotic Smirk: Mellia goes around with a face that proudly proclaims "I eat babies".
- Rage Against the Heavens: Mellia doesn't rage so much as gleefully charge on at the prospect of making Asgard (among other things) go asplode.
- Red Baron: King Wilmgard is known as the Lion Heart King. Also, all of the knights are revealed to have nicknames in the artbook - some of the nicknames there are particularly badass (Wrath of Night, Iron Rose, Scarlet Fury) and some... aren't. (Innocent Apprentice, Sullen Axe, Passionate Youth)
- Sadistic Choice: At the end of Mellia's route, as long as you didn't defeat Scoppio. Which is more important to you — order or friendship? And no, you can't Take a Third Option.
- Self-Imposed Challenge: Many. The most popular are "Get all the knights" and "continually New Game+ from Easy Mode to Nightmare Mode without ever using Transoul". ...Also, Nightmare Mode is in itself a Self-Imposed Challenge.
- Sociopathic Hero: Mellia. She's just so over-the-top that you can't help but cheer for whatever insane thing she's doing. There is also the fact that she can pull a successful Nessiah without manipulating several countries first...
- Spell My Name with an "S": Meria/Melia/Mellia, which has been officially and unofficially written all three ways. A lot of the knights' names suffered from this, too, until they were given official spellings by Sting. When the game was translated by Atlus, however, a lot of these romanizations were discarded, some due to being too long (i.e. Willemgard becoming Wilmgard), others for unknown reasons. Naturally, this causes a lot of difficulty between longtime Dept. Heaven fans that use Sting's translations and newer/foreign fans going off of Atlus's names, especially if the same character had a dramatically different name.
- Stop Poking Me!: Not your knights really, but rather monsters. You can 'talk' to them by bringing the wisp onto the square they are in and pressing the arrow button, which is really putting the stylus on their face. Do this with a monster and they will say an annoyed quote."Don't touch me you dork!""Stop staring at me!"
- Trauma Conga Line: Poor King Wilmgard, having to watch all these awful things happen to his kingdom posthumously. Of course, he winds up taking route A and improving the situation by force because he is just that badass.