I am what you call an obsessive NiGHTS fan. NiGHTS into Dreams, for those not in the know, is a game for the SEGA Saturn that was created by Sonic Team. One of the only worthwhile titles worth playing on the system, it’s become a cult classic. The simplified version of the storyline is that you play as NiGHTS, a renegade nightmare creature (though he doesn’t look like it). Throughout the game, you help two human children reclaim stolen dream energy (Ideya) from his creator (Wizeman)’s minions, and fight other nightmare creatures. It’s pretty cut and dry in that regard.
I’ve been a fan of the series since I was a little kid. I’ve held onto my SEGA Saturn for just this reason. It’s worth noting that only diehard fans will actually spell the game’s name out with the weird capitalization of the title. I own countless versions of the full game, according to region, as well as demo versions and the Christmas editions of the game. In some circles, there’s a call for beta versions of the game, not that any seem to be available to the public. Most people want them for research purposes; I however want one to see for myself the things that were left out of the final.
Particularly, I was after a lost level and boss. People who’d cracked the data format used in Saturn games had dug up information about a boss named “SELPH”, as well as an unused level. In the data format, it was labeled as “CLARIS-TOWER”, obviously being meant for the female character, Claris. There are 7 levels total in the entire game; the 7th being shared by both characters at the end of the game, and playing exactly the same for both aside from the different character models. Most NiGHTS fans are DYING to play this level and its boss, though a version with them both intact has proven to be nonexistent. Nevertheless, I hoped against hope that I’d find copy where both were playable.
One day, I stumbled upon a listing on ebay marked “SEGA SATURN NIGHTS DISC”. It was a pretty mundane name for a listing. I took a peek, expecting to find one of the overly marketed US versions that you find scattered all over the place. What I saw wasn’t THAT. The photos on the listing shown that it was a gold, CD-Resque disc with the word “Nights” marked on it in marker, underneath of it, what appeared to be Katakana (or at least I think it was: I haven’t taken a Japanese course in five years). It was listed for incredibly cheap, so I hit “buy it now” and awaited it to arrive. I noted after buying that the seller had absolutely no feedback. Regardless of whether or not they might be a crook or a new user, I just decided I’d wait for it to arrive.
Less than a week later, it arrived in the mail. I remember the packaging: manila envelope, no return address. The disc was exactly as it had appeared in the photos. My heart soared. I quickly confirmed that it booted it, albeit to a slightly different title screen than the original, and went to leave feedback for the seller. It appeared, when I got there, that they’d deleted their account. I thought it strange, but disregarded it, as I was more than ready to dive into the beta version of this game.
I went back to my Saturn and booted up the game again. It lacked the final game’s opening video, but the title screen looked similar, aside from NiGHTS being in a different pose. The logo was the same, and it lacked title screen music, much like the original. I hit start and made a new save file on my Saturn. The menus were pretty much identical to the final version, but eager to find the differences, I selected Elliot as my playable character and started playing. Elliot’s story played out exactly identical to the final version. Same level layouts, ant the same bosses. It seemed like nothing was different until I got to Twin Seeds, the final level. The layout was the exact same, but when I got to the end of the level, there was a noticeable difference. You see, in the final level, you can’t join with NiGHTS at the beginning, and have to fly through the level as the kid you selected. At the end of the level after you retrieve all the ideya, the kid you weren’t playing as shows up as an NPC and helps you break the barrier over NiGHTS so you can join with him and fight the final boss. Claris didn’t show. There was no barrier. Elliot joined with NiGHTS and went to fight the final boss alone.
I figured they hadn’t programmed in the in-game cutscene I described, for this version at least. I beat the boss, and the credits rolled, though without the cutscenes from the final game. After the credits ended, I started on Claris’ game. Like Elliot’s, it played almost exactly the same as the final. That was until I played through her first 3 levels. I was expecting the final level for Claris to be Twin Seeds, but when I went back to the level select, the symbol for her final level was different than the Twin Seeds symbol. It was the shape of a downward spiral. My heart almost leaped out of my chest. It was the lost level! I hoped it was fully playable, and it was right there in front of me. Without a second thought, I hit the A button and proceeded to play it.
That’s when Claris did something that surprised me. She changed the expression on her face. As the character select transitioned into the beginning of the level, her normal cheerful and optimistic face changed to display a fearful frown. A title card for the level was not displayed. As the level started, Claris touched down on a platform outside of the Ideya Palace holding NiGHTS. Below the platform, was a set of dark, foggy ruins; they seemed to make the shape of a spiral going downwards. Before I could examine the level any further, a creepy laugh unlike one I’d heard in the game before sounded, and Claris was flung off of the platform, into the air. She floated there, suspended, as the platform holding NiGHTS and the Ideya Palace plummeted into the dark depths below. There was no music, only silence.
Claris’ character model clenched herself into a fetal position, and floated shivering in the air for a moment. It was then that I regained control over her. There was no time limit in this level. You merely just flew down the spiral toward the bottom. As she flew further down, the creepy laughter from before started up again. It grew more intense the deeper you flew. At points, I could make out speech. It would say things like “God has abandoned you” or “There is no delight in dreams, only sweet death”; morbid, terrible things. I began to hear crying. After a short while, I realized it was Claris. This continued on for what felt like hours.
When I got to the bottom, there was a small transition. Claris touched down in a spotlight area in the middle of a black nothing. She looked around as NiGHTS floated down in front of her. Except something was different. NiGHTS didn’t look right. He looked greyed, almost rotten. The laughter intensified even further, and NiGHTS fell to the ground like a ragdoll. The voice stopped laughing. Then it spoke. “She is ours now. Soon he will be, and then you will be as well. We are them, we are you. We are all that will ever be, and all that will ever perish. We are the Self.”
As it ended its monologue, the shadows rose and wrapped around Claris. She let out a scream, as the disembodied voice cackled, only to be silenced as the darkness impaled her through her mouth. The screen faded and the game reset.
NiGHTS was no longer present at the title screen. I returned to the character select to see that Claris was no longer selectable as well. Her name text was grayed out, and she was completely absent from the menu. Elliot however was still selectable. I noticed that in selecting levels for him that the cursor would cross over to the icon for Claris’ last level. The look on Elliot’s face changed when I moved the cursor over the Spiral level icon, as if to beg me not to select it. I felt like I had to. Almost like I had to go back for Claris. So I hit the A button and took Elliot into the level.
There was no sequence with NiGHTS, no wait to gain control over the flying kid. I had Elliot fly down into the abyss as Selph’s laughter started back up. The things it said got more abusive, more demeaning than before. The words “faggot” and “queer” were mentioned several times. Like before, Elliot too began to sob as I neared the bottom of the spiral. As he reached the area Claris had been before, I noticed NiGHTS’ remains, more rotted than before. The voice ceased laughing and spoke again. “Now he belongs to us too. You will join us soon, as well. There is no God to save you. You will join us in oblivion.”
The shadows rose around Elliot and swallowed him in the same manner they’d swallowed Claris. The screen faded to black, and the voice spoke again, almost tauntingly. “We’ll see you soon.”
The game reset to the same empty, NiGHTSless title screen I’d seen before. I went to the character select, and both characters were missing. Yet the icon for the Spiral was still selectable. I knew who it was for.
Maybe one day, I’ll face it myself.