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Character Chronicle: NiGHTS

Nirbion and PushDustIn offered moral support and worked on today’s Rate That Character, so wish them sweet dreams for me!

While I greatly enjoyed Outlast, it’s the kind of game that looks out of place amongst the topics we discuss here at Source Gaming, don’t you think? SEGA’s properties, however, fit in swimmingly, and there’s one I’ve been meaning to cover. And what better day to cover it than on its twenty-second anniversary?

NiGHTS in 1996's NiGHTS into Dreams...

Have you ever noticed how NiGHTS’ head and hands aren’t physically connected to her body? (Image: SEGA)

Sonic Team’s most famous creation continues to run amok, headlining software that fluctuates in quality. But once upon a time, Sonic Team was known for a more diverse pool of franchises, many of which were of the same caliber as their mascot in his heyday. One in particular is heralded as one of SEGA’s masterpieces, a game that housed an imaginative hero unlike any other.

NiGHTS’ History

Yuji Naka and Sonic Team began their flight-themed game in 1994, following the release of Sonic & Knuckles. Six months were spent brainstorming concepts, with formal development of their new IP starting in April 1995. While an early concept for NiGHTS’ homeworld revolved around a rainbow as to not overlap with Sonic’s aesthetic, the idea evolved out of Naka’s desire to create a dimension people could plausibly enter themselves. As video games are indubitably fictional, a unique approach would need to be taken to achieve that. Thus, Sonic Team fitted NiGHTS with its dream motif.

In order to construct their new realm, Nightopia, Sonic Team researched the studies of Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Holtz, and Carl Gustav Jung. Jung’s dream archetypes were one source of inspiration, with NiGHTS’ character stemming from his “Shadow” archetype. Character designer Naoto Ohshima, meanwhile, aimed to devise a graceful, more emotive lead “similar to an angel” who could be seen as a foil to their anthropomorphic mammal. Sonic Team also observed the toy industry, a business that suggested purple is an unpopular color among children. Ohshima nevertheless optimistically noted that kids were responding favorably to NiGHTS’ violet veneer.

NiGHTS in 1996's NiGHTS into Dreams...

The aerodynamic actions of Cirque du Soleil’s Mystère performance and Peter Pan were also crucial in begeting NiGHTS. (Image: SEGA)

NiGHTS is officially classified as genderless. However, Sonic Team sought to make the character relatable and limn “everyone’s dreams.” In Takashi Iizuka’s words, the “impressions of the character with regards to gender are totally up to the player,” meaning however you want to interpret NiGHTS – male, female, both, or neither – is perfectly valid. While NiGHTS did emit an occasional high-pitched grunt when injured, the character was effectively presented as gender-neutral throughout the game. With that said, I’ll henceforth refer to NiGHTS with feminine pronouns.

The titular jester in NiGHTS into Dreams… is a Nightmaren, sinister entities built by Wizeman the Wicked to do his bidding. Along with her sibling Reala, NiGHTS is one of the two top-ranking Nightmaren. Wizeman sought to collect Ideya – five color-coded orbs composed of dream energy – in his transdimensional conquest, finally locating two kids who held the precious red-hued Ideya varieties. However, Wizeman blessed both of his first-class servants with free will, neglecting to account for the possibility that NiGHTS would disagree with his scheme. Wizeman reciprocated by imprisoning her in an Ideya Palace, but NiGHTS realized she could escape by merging with her new friends, Elliot Edwards and Claris Sinclair. The trio is ultimately victorious in their battle against the demonic oppressors, inspiring the kids to find their inner courage and an unbreakable bond in each other. NiGHTS, meanwhile, was freed, now able to fly wherever she wanted unfettered.  

Christmas NiGHTS title HD

Ohshima hoped NiGHTS would don “a variety of costumes and holiday colors” over time. Well, at least her wardrobe gained something for Christmas. (Image: SEGA)

Wanting to provide potential buyers a taste of their flagship Saturn game, Sonic Team followed up on NiGHTS into Dreams… by releasing Christmas NiGHTS, a bonus-filled demo that was distributed in now-defunct magazines or with the Saturn itself depending on the territory. Twin Seeds, the metropolis Elliot and Clair reside in, was unusually cold this winter, with the populace distracted from the holiday. Even the city’s makeshift Christmas tree, the redecorated tower in the plaza center, was missing its star. That night, a ressurgant Gillwing was discovered to have absconded with the decoration. NiGHTS, donning a festive outfit, teamed up with the teenagers to reclaim it and restore Christmas spirit. In addition to Christmas NiGHTS, Archie Comics was commissioned for a NiGHTS into Dreams… comic book (and NiGHTS later reemerged for the 2015 “Worlds Unite” crossover between Archie’s Sonic and Mega Man publications), whereas Japan scored two one-off mangas as well as a storybook that elaborated on NiGHTS’ time with Reala and Elliot.

While NiGHTS was one of the “best-selling titles” for its system, it nonetheless failed to achieve mainstream success. A sequel was worked on in some capacity, but was quietly cancelled. Nevertheless, Sonic Team affectionately made homages to NiGHTS in several of their subsequent projects, ultimately giving her more appearances in the Sonic series than in her own. One of the more significant cameos includes Sonic Adventure (and its many re-releases), where the jester can be found dancing in a segment of Casinopolis’s NiGHTS-themed pinball machine. 2003’s Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg featured guests from other Sonic Team titles among its roster of helpers, NiGHTS accounted for. Furthermore, Billy Hatcher’s unlockable “NiGHTS Score Attack” minigame gave me my first opportunity to play as the anomalous acrobat.  

NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams

NiGHTS’ redesign supplanted the original as her standardized appearance. It’s nice and preserved the essence of her classic look, although I’d argue the vest and garish copper ascot tie over-designed her a bit. (Image: SEGA)

Sonic Team, however, desired to properly return to NiGHTS, with Takashi Iizuka reverring it as “one of the most important properties” in their stable. He began plotting NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams in 2005 shortly after the launch of Shadow the Hedgehog, a recent pedigree that did not encourage confidence. Since Ohshima had long departed from SEGA, Kazuyuki Hoshino was tasked with redesigning NiGHTS. And as the cast regrettably became much chattier out of a misguided desire to deepen the gameplay, Julissa Aguirre assumed the role of the androgynous demon. Once again, Wizeman was searching for Ideya while NiGHTS met and befriended two younguns, William Taylor and Helen Cartwright. As with the previous escapade, NiGHTS and her friends were triumphant, letting the human duo resume their lives having grown during their time with NiGHTS while the enigmatic aerialist freely loomed over the peaceful city of Bellbridge.

Along with receiving imperfect re-releases of her Saturn debut, NiGHTS continues to live on through cameos. 2012’s Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is her most recent playable appearance, having previously performed flag-waving duties in its predecessor. SUMO Digital’s Steve Lycett explained she re-joined the roster due to fan demand and Transformed’s namesake gimmick lending itself well to NiGHTS’ abilities. As for Sonic Team’s own software, NiGHTS’ latest allusions occurred via a NiGHTS-themed DLC pack for Sonic Lost World and an Avatar costume in last year’s Sonic Forces. Iizuka, harboring unwavering passion for the character, promises she’ll continue to grace Sonic games. Who knows, maybe someday he will get to make a third NiGHTS.

So, what’re my thoughts on NiGHTS?

Sonic Adventure was my first exposure to NiGHTS, and what little of her lucid world was sampled therein intrigued me. I later grew to deeply appreciate the whimsical soul, admitting her into my list of industry-defining heroes.

NiGHTS into Dreams... opening shot flying

See the red gem on NiGHTS’ chest? According to Naka, it helped influence the stylized way the letters in her name are capitalized. (Image: SEGA)

NiGHTS’ design is fantastic, bearing a fashion sense that emitted a quaint, inviting aura. Her jester attire was strikingly novel; it gave her an immediately recognizable silhouette, and it synergized well with NiGHTS’ jovial, independent personality and freeform, flight-based gameplay. And when compared to her fellow Nightmaren, NiGHTS’ (former) place in their hierarchy is easy to ascertain given her humanoid figure. I can, however, speculate as to why she never caught on like her blue forebear did; Sonic’s image blended cartoon stalwarts like Felix the Cat with a dose of 90s attitude, establishing himself as the anti-Mario and providing SEGA exactly the kind of mascot they needed. NiGHTS, per Sonic Team’s intentions, is more mellow and nuanced. When compounded with her unorthodox, purple garb, all of the qualities I value in NiGHTS were probably off-putting to most.

And that’s a shame, since NiGHTS’ more minimalistic approach was one of its defining strengths. A core tenant of NiGHTS is how you can project your own experiences and identity into the character, and the more subtle storytelling utilized by her debut game facilitated this wonderfully. There was enough present in NiGHTS’ idle animations alone to showcase her personality, but some of the character’s finer details – such as her gender or how she’s arguably using naive kids – are up to the player to contemplate.

NiGHTS into Dreams... ending

NiGHTS strikes a mutually beneficial relationship with both pairs of kids. She becomes a trustworthy friend too, directly risking her own existence to end Wizeman’s. (Image: SEGA)

NiGHTS into Dreams… blurred the boundaries between the fantastical events on your screen and those in your dreams. Conversely, Journey of Dreams’ militant insistence on enriching NiGHTS with a narrative was wholly counterintuitive, preventing the immersion the original allowed and, in my experience, undoing it. Prior to playing the milquetoast continuation, I construed NiGHTS as a male. I don’t lament reinterpreting NiGHTS’ gender, Aguirre’s performance simply overrode my initial adjudgment as her voice is clearly that of a woman’s. SEGA and Sonic Team haven’t been a sterling beacon of consistency regarding NiGHTS’ gender, however; dialog in Journey of Dreams designates NiGHTS as a male, and Sonic Riders addresses her as both genders.

11 years have passed since NiGHTS last enjoyed the spotlight, yet our flamboyant purple friend is not stuck in limbo. Whether it’s thanks to the quality of her marquee Saturn title or her numerous guest spots, NiGHTS is still soaring and having fun. And NiGHTS, as the dream ambassador that she is, may even visit us during our dreams, ensuring she’ll be loved forever.

Congratulations, NiGHTS! In a dream I can see you’re not far away.

NiGHTS into Dreams...

NiGHTS into Dreams…’s eponymous protagonist sported somewhat more demonic facial expressions during the concept art phase before stabilizing as the mischievous jester we know and love. (Image: SEGA)

Yes, NiGHTS did indeed visit me in my own dreams. I guess I can say I’ve met two gaming celebrities now? Anyway, we’ve been expanding to a lot of unexplored franchises so far this year in my little column, NiGHTS being the latest. Next time, however, we’re going to revisit a series, one well-equipped to help us make new friends.

Mimikyu Z-Move

Aww, it’s just looking for a hug!

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Cart Boy

Cart Boy wants to be the very best. Like no one ever was. He also occasionally contributes an article here when the stars align properly, and he helps out with editing and Source Gaming’s Facebook page.
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2 comments
  1. Wassup! Sorry for some late comment here. Been busy with my new job in Japan…which is tough though. And whoops, sorry that I didn’t comment anything on Chris Walker. Since I really don’t know anything about him and Outlast, I accidentally skipped it. But this time, I’m back commenting on this one, along with the Beat the Backlog too!

    When I first saw the display of NiGHTS’ demo, I’ve immediately fell in love with it. But while I’ve noticed it was made by Sonic Team, I immediately loved it more. (lol) But since I didn’t own a Sega Saturn when I was little, I was able to play it since my uncle had it. In my experience, I really loved the game, even with its gameplay, storyline, graphics, everything. Unlike its blue hedgehog brother, who prefer the gameplay to be more speedy and extreme, NiGHTS was full of beauty, that made everything look so fantastic. While it did not save Sega Saturn’s fate, alongside with his infamous super hero Segata Sanshiro, I still believe NiGHTS was still the greatest game I’ve ever played and loved, despite the blue blur lost most of his chances there except for Jam and R.

    I do remember about Christmas NiGHTS. A special game that you could play as Reala and Sonic, turning every stages into Christmas mode…its a game I really wanted to play. However sadly, I never knew how to get that game. I thought it would come along with some gaming magazine, but since I lacked knowledge and money when I was a child, I never knew the way. Really regretted to lose that moment…

    However, when I noticed that NiGHTS have returned in a new game for the Wii, I’ve told myself that I need to play it, even the game was already used. (lol) But even the employee warned me the game was too complicated, I’d bought it anyways. While everything was new than being a remake, I immediately loved it. NiGHTS has finally talked in full voice, which made me understand its personality. The new children was really unfamiliar to me than the most iconic Claris and Elliot, but it didn’t took that long to get used to them at least. But while I started playing the game, I could admit what that employee tried to tell me. The controlling was really complicated as I had difficult time accomplishing certain missions, which I thought missions were totally needless in my experience. Another is that Chao Garden-like mode was another complicated thing too, which I didn’t know how it work either, ending up being skipped and ignored as I continued playing. Even Reala…who’s supposed to be NiGHTS’ evil rival, who’s mostly evil than Shadow I supposed, was surprisingly weak as a fool. Simply just shooting the thrown giant ball back at him…I was speechless. Really, I would rather say his old version was more powerful and tough than this…seriously, the new Reala was nothing but a disappointing eyesore than any other rivals like Shadow, Vegeta, and even that irritating Gary/Blue from the first Pokemon. But putting the quirky controls and the weakest some-guy-call-himself-rival on the side, I really liked the story though, even the musics along with its main theme Dream Dreams. While many people would say I’m being too generous by saying that, I wouldn’t think “being generous” is similar to “being honest”. While I would accept the gameplay wasn’t perfect enough, I still loved how the story, characters, and music was made. It may haven’t been popular, but still I credited it with respect as I enjoyed and loved it so much.

    While it’s sad NiGHTS hadn’t got any chance of having a new game or even a remake, it’s still good that he’s been around in many Sega games, including many Sonic games as being part of the Sonic family. But did you know that NiGHTS have also appeared in Sonic Shuffles if you switched the Dreamcast’s calendar system to Christmas, replacing the side character Lumina to NiGHTS? It’s rather a surprising Easter Egg, even the game wasn’t successful as Mario Party.

    I also still remember its Archie Comic series; the first 4 issues based on the actual game, while the last 4 issues were completely Archie original, like most Archie comics always are. However, I do sensed the last 4 issues where Reala became the main villain was too dull IMO. Combining with Roger, Elliot’s (forgettable) basketball rival from the first game’s cut scenes? While I’ve never seen that coming, since I didn’t see Roger that important, the conclusion of Reala’s defeat was kinda weak than I expected. Too bad the second season was quite a failure, but still it was good to see NiGHTS got his comic book for the first time. But on the other hand, I was surprised he made his return in the second Sonic/Mega Man crossover comics. While we know he wasn’t the same NiGHTS as before, it’s still good to see him come back in the Archie Comics. Even I was surprised that he teamed up with Reala to stop Sigma for the first time. While Archie Comics didn’t do well with both series in the end, I still think this collaboration was the greatest thing they every done for the fans.

    For NiGHTS’ gender…I really don’t know much about it though. While NiGHTS calls himself “俺/ore” in Japanese, which is “I” in a manly way, I’ve always thought he’s a male, even its voice sounded feminine. But as I realized that it had no gender, I just thought everything’s okay with that. (lol) But I guess NiGHTS being female looks kinda right…but I warn you, don’t even ask me why. (lol) In the end, I’d leave up to everybody’s imagination.

    While NiGHT’s has been brought up to Rate That Character, I actually imagined how NiGHTS would fight in Smash when I was little. He may have become floaty, but using its loop attack and drill tackle would be interesting, as using the Personas may become its Final Smash too. But I would admit that possibility is low since it haven’t been around for a long time other than being as a cameo, and I would think Sega would bring someone more popular instead, like maybe Puyo Puyo’s Arle. So far, although I would love to see NiGHTS in Smash, I think its chances are futile at this moment…

    Furthermore, no matter what the critics think about it negatively, I still think NiGHTS series is a great game I’ve ever played, and I still love it as being so memorable. I do hope Sega would bring NiGHTS back in action in the future, and if a new game may be impossible, maybe a remake of the first game would be more expecting. Sega need to bring back those classics into new forms, and I’d definitely play NiGHTS once again if it comes back, and it gotta be the Switch game. (lol)

    Whew…that was a long one! And next time on New Content Approaching…that evil figure…while the game admires its target, the anime contains hatred of it…why the hell…? But anyways, looking forward for it! Thanks for a wonder article of a character I loved!

    zoniken on July 14 |
    • Hey, buddy! Always a pleasure to hear from you, and I’m glad things are going well in your corner of the world. Sorry for the tardy response, my computer has been kind of dying on me lately. And no worries for skipping Chris Walker!

      You’re welcome for me covering NiGHTS. NiGHTS into Dreams… is one of my all-time favorite games too (though I sadly also never procured a copy of Christmas NiGHTS), and NiGHTS is one of my favorite characters hailing from this medium. I adore everything about her debut game, and I knew I’d want to cover her in this series on her anniversary this year. I even changed my Twitter theme in celebration of the series’ 22nd birthday and bought a neat shirt!

      To tell you the truth, I was also planning a fourth NiGHTS-related piece, a “New Content Approaching” article about Reala, but the three projects took enough time as-is. As for how Journey of Dreams handled him, I’ll refrain from talking too much about that for now, but I agree that Reala was not done justice in there. (On the topic of this series, I might as well add that I’ve been thinking about changing the “New Content Approaching” name to something new. I’m still evaluating whether I should, ha ha.)

      As for Journey of Dreams, while I maintain that it doesn’t reach the deep depths certain Sonic games have, I gotta say that I had a pretty poor time with it. There’s a dark pit in my heart for my most disliked video games, all of which happen to be games that misunderstood their predecessors. I need to mull over it longer, but I think Journey of Dreams might wind up down there sitting alongside titles like Dead Rising 4 and Metroid: Other M. Regardless, I’m glad NiGHTS has and will continue to cameo in other SEGA games. And yeah, I was aware of her Sonic Shuffle cameo. You can tell Sonic Team has a lot of affection for NiGHTS. As for NiGHTS’ tenure with Archie, I really need to read their “Worlds Unite” crossover. I’ve heard positive things!

      Regarding NiGHTS’ gender, people can absolutely interpret it however they want as per Sonic Team’s intentions. I think it’s a smart aspect about her design, given the nature of her character and how she can Dualize with kids of both genders. I personally used to interpret her as a guy, but I struggle to dissociate Aguirre’s clearly feminine voice from the character. But I don’t mind too much, even if I still wish Journey of Dreams erred on the more minimalistic style of the original. If (and when?) we get a third NiGHTS, I hope it looks closer at into Dreams…‘s strengths. As for Super Smash Bros., NiGHTS is one of my dream (heh) guests alongside Banjo. I don’t expect either, however…

      While our next subject hasn’t been waiting as long as NiGHTS has for its turn (I’ve been meaning to cover NiGHTS since 2015, only one or two characters have been waiting longer), it’s another character whose design I adore. I’m glad you’re looking forward to it, and I’ll see you next time, friend!

      Cart Boy on July 24 |