It's 1996. Sega is in a precarious position: Sony's Playstation has proved to be a formidable competitor. Nintendo is about to release a next-gen system. Sega's flagship console, the Saturn, hasn't had a smash hit yet. Fortunately, the company has Sonic Team hard at work on... a high concept game about a silent purple jester?
NiGHTS Into Dreams is one of the best Saturn games. It's colorful and quirky and unlike anything that came before it. It's got a weird Tamagotchi-like system half-hidden inside it. Playing it properly requires a special controller. I can't understand why the Sega brass didn't say "stop doing this and give us a Sonic game for the Saturn," but I'm glad they didn't.
Here are the NiGHTS references in Burning Rangers that I know about. If you're aware of others, tell me about them!
It's well-known that Claris and Elliot can both be rescued in Mission 2. But did you know this only happens if the Saturn has NiGHTS or Christmas NiGHTS data saved to it? (Elliot requires NiGHTS data; Claris requires Christmas NiGHTS).
This fact is mentioned in the Japanese strategy guide for Burning Rangers, but it didn't seem to make it to the Anglosphere. It's true, though! Using a decompiler, you can see that there is code in the game for reading those save files.
Like the other rescuees in the game, Elliot and Claris send "emails" to the Burning Rangers. Here is Claris's first note:
It was my day off, but I was there. It seemed everything would perish. While waiting for help, I calmed myself with a song. I'm Claris sinclair from Twin Seas. I'm in high school and also appear in a small musical. Perhaps you'd like some tickets?
This is her second note:
I apologize, but I could only get one ticket for the musical. I really should give it to my boyfriend, so there'll be no extras. I hope you'll understand. Instead, this song is a gift for you. I hope you like it.
The game plays a clip of Claris signing while you read.
Did you catch that Claris says she's from "Twin Seas" instead of "Twin Seeds?" This is a translation error, but an understandable one. My friend Green Gibbon explains: the "Seeds" part is シーズ, which reads as "shiizu", no d sound.
The English version of Claris's first letter makes it seem like she works at Ocean Park, the location for Mission 2: "It was my day off, but I was there." But in the Japanese version, it's clear that she means that it was a day off from her musical.
Here is Elliot's first letter:
I was playing basketball with my friends when we got trapped. But I knew someone would come! When you first came, I thought it was my friend NiGHTS. I'll tell you more about NiGHTS in another mail. They're great!
Why was he playing basketball in an aquarium? We can only speculate. Here's his second letter:
It's about my friend, NiGHTS. You may not believe me, but NIGHTS lives in my dreams and protects me NiGHTS protects my dream world. Do you ever have nightmares? If so, try looking for NiGHTS. I'll bet you'll find him.
The Japanese versions of the letters are slightly different. Elliot's first message says: "I'll send you another mail about NiGHTS. He's someone important who helped me just like you." Claris's second message says that she should save the musical ticket "for someone important."
They both say "someone important" (大切な人). So does that imply that NiGHTS gets the extra ticket instead of Claris's boyfriend? Did Elliot get demoted?
There are some more references to NiGHTS in Burning Rangers mission 3. Here are some location names that flash at the bottom of the screen:
Spring Valley Square
Frozen Bell Square
Twin Seed St.
There are actually more in the game data. Burning Rangers expert Andreas Scholl found these extra ones:
Soft Museum Path
Stick Canyon Path
Splash Garden Path
Alarm Egg Path
Mystic Forest Square
In 2023, I helped resurface a development build of Burning Rangers. It has a couple of NiGHTS-related surprises...
One is that the NiGHTS-themed locations actually show up in the game. Stick Canyon Path is in the hallway in Mission 3 before you rescue the missing child.
The other is that Elliot and Claris appear with different models! They're sort of generic looking versions of themselves, and I imagine that these were just placeholders. But Claris's sweater does kind of look like the one in her character portrait, doesn't it?
It's no surprise that a lot of the same people who worked on NiGHTS also worked on Burning Rangers. Here are some shared credits:
Hayao Nakayama is "Executive Producer" of both games. He was actually the president of Sega at the time.
Yoji Ishii is credited as "Project Manager" on BR and "Product Manager" on NiGHTS. He went on to work with Naoto Ohshima at Artoon and Azrest after Sega.
Yuji Naka is credited as "Producer" on both games (and "Lead Programmer" on NiGHTS). If you're reading this, I presume you know about Naka.
Naoto Ohshima is credited as "Director" on both games. He's also the "Character Designer" on BR and the "NiGHTS Designer" on NiGHTS.
Takuya Matsumoto is one of the "Programmers" on BR and a "Senior Programmer" on NiGHTS. He continued with Sonic Team through Sonic Adventure and then worked with Ohshima on the Blinx games.
Akio Setsumasa are Yasuhiro Watanabe are "Programmers" on both games.
Tomonori Dobashi is a "Graphic Artist" on BR and an "Artist" on NiGHTS. He continued to work with Sonic Team, especially on the Phantasy Star Online series.
Shinichi Higashi is a "Graphic Artist" on BR and a "World Artist" on NiGHTS. He has worked with Naoto Ohshima at Azrest.
Hideaki Moriya and Tohru Watanuki are "Scene Artists" on BR and an "A-Life Character Designers" on NiGHTS.
Yukifumi Makino is "Sound Producer" on BR and "Chief Sound Designer" on NiGHTS.
Naofumi Hataya is "Sound Director" for BR, and one of the "Composers" for both games. He has continued to work with Sega.
Fumie Kumatani is one of the "Composers" for both games. She is also credited for "Sound Effects" on NiGHTS. She continued to work with Sega.