As long as I have dreams in my heart, I can never escape.
I can never awaken from my dreams.
Maybe if I follow the dream just past this doorway, then someday I can wake up again…
Originally released on PC back in February of 2018, Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- is a 3D remake/reimagining of the surreal indie freeware game Yume Nikki, which was made in RPG Maker back in 2004 by one Kikiyama.
The game has since become a cult classic within the genre, with fans praising its subtle dream like narrative and surreal imagery that leaves much up to interpretation and speculation. With that said, this is one of those games where there really is no concrete story to talk about, apart from the fact that we explore the dreams/nightmares of a young ”hikikomori” or shut-in – a person who has completely withdrawn themselves from society.
I should mention that I have played the original, but not beaten it, hence I have not seen all it has to offer. So I am going to be drawing some comparissons, but will still judge Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- on its own merrits.
Going from the top down 2D pixel graphics of the original Yume Nikki, to a 3D perspective, the first thing to notice is the free movement. With the analogue stick, you can move our pink clad pigtailed girl, Madotsuki, whom I always want to call by the game’s title for some reason, in any direction you wish, as opposed to the original where her movement was confined to going in four directions. You interact with objects and creatures with X, jump with B, grab onto ledges, and as you find various so-called Effects, other actions will be unlocked for the other buttons. The Effects are only usable within the dream worlds, and can range from a flute you can play when you hold down Y, an umbrella that summons rain and lets you double jump and hover if you keep the button pressed, and a lamp that… well… lights up dark places – duh.
Moving into the 3rd dimension, jumping is new to this remake, believe it or not, as whereas the original was purely a psychologic horror adventure. Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- branches out and becomes part platformer as well, which is especially apparant in levels like the colourful geometry world.
Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Like I said before, you play as a lonesome girl, confined to her apartment, with naught but a bed, a bookshelf, and a Famicom to call her own. Seeing this room faithfully re-created in 3D immediately brought a smile to my face, even more so seeing that the playable mini-game on the Famicom (also playable here), along with two extra secret videogames for you to find. Aside from that though, there really isn’t much to do here. It is getting late anyway, so we might as well go off to bed, and it is here the fun begins.
True to its name ”Dream Diary”, the entire game takes place within Madotsuki’s dreams, so as soon as you interact with your bed, you are whiskered away to slumberland. You then find yourself in a dark and ominous version of your room, and when you try to leave through the only door, which Madotsuki will refuse in the waken world, she finds herself in a small circular hub room consisting of a series of doors. Each door leads to a different dream world, and each must be solved in order to unlock the game’s final dream world. These can all be tackled in any order though, and they are all to some extend connected, which I found a bit silly. As you venture further and deeper into each dream, you will find yourself in all new areas you didn’t have access to before.
One thing old fans will immediately notice by the way, is the severe lack of doors, as less than half of the ones present in the original are to be found here. One could argue the removed content is a grave crime, but when I played the original myself, what little I played anyway, I found many of the different dreamscapes to be more for spectacle and creep effect, than actually surving any gameplay purpose, so perhaps this was a deliberate move on the developers behalf to make the game more streamlined.
Speaking of gameplay, and I am sorry if I tread on thin ice here, but there really was hardly any in Yume Nikki, it felt more like an experimental proof of concept trying to creep the player out as much as possible with one disturbing scenery after another, than an actual game. Perhaps that was the intention, as I will admit, the visuals and creepy sound effects in that game alone made my hair stand on end, but aside from that factor, I got bored from having nothing to do, or rather, not knowing what to do. Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- is still fairly vague in its puzzles at times, but it has a much heavier emphasis on these and they are often fairly easy to solve, though not so much that you feel the game holds your hand.
I am gonna go back a bit on something I said earlier, about it being a bit silly that your have a door for each world, when they are all interconnected anyway, as this does in fact serve a purpose. In some worlds, your progress will be halted by the need of an Effect or Collectable (this game’s Items) which can only be found in another. You can thus freely traverse to that world through the sewers, without having to painstakingly wake up and go back to bed, which you can, by the way, do by simply holding down, to have Madotsuki pinch her cheek, which I found really clever.
Effects and Collectibles are not the only thing to… well… collect, in the game either. Pieces of concept art can be found layered about in hidden places, that once obtained can then be viewed in the dream diary that Madotsuki keeps at her desk in the waking world. Furthermore, a jellyfish can be found in each world, that once all are found, will unlock the true ending of the game. Each world can be traversed whenever you wish to, so to help you keep track of where you have been, an egg will be found beside a door that you have completed, as well as a jellyfish, if you have found the one in that level. The aforementioned dream diary will also slowly have its pages filled with rough doodles that reflect what Madotsuki has seen, with each world taking up about two pages, so when these are filled, that is another way to make sure you have seen everything.
I am tempted to say that Kadokawa has taken some inspiration from Limbo and especially Inside from Playdead, as, in some locations, your free movement will be replaced with a linear ”move left or right” control scheme. It works, but I would have prefered the game just sticking to one control style or the other, and then letting me adjust to the obstacles ahead. That said, if you wanna borrow from something else, at least do it well, is what I always say, and while Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- does have some kinks to iron out, I feel these sequences are well carried out. I especially liked the Inside gameplay style at the lighthouse, where you sneek along on a bridge, trying to avoid its lights, while you make your way to the nearby forest. Or I may just have a thing for lighthouses in general.
Also, like the two above mentioned titles, you technically can’t die in this game, rather, if you are caught by a hostile enemy or fall into a bottomless pit, you will merely restart close to where you died, which I appreciate.
Where the original Yume Nikki had a creepy as heck creepypasta like soundtrack, Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- goes for more of an unsettling modern tone. Nothing it has to offer will make you look over your shoulder when you play in the middle of the night with headphones on, like the original most certainly did, but it does accomplish setting a dreary mood that fits each dreamscape – especially the haunted school. And one cannot go without mentioning the euphoric soft tune of the Pink Sea, a world that took a temporary sudden departure from the game’s overall dark themes, and put you in more of a candyfloss fairytale setting.
There isn’t much to bring mention of aside from that, as these horror games are often very subtle on variety, and certainly aren’t known for their head bopping tunes (with one huge exception in the desert level which I found pretty funny). They are minimalistic in their array of audibles, but what they have, they often use quite effectively, and I definitely think that is the case here.
Visuals & Performance
It is very cool to see the cult classic recreated in full 3D, in fact I had the same reaction when I discovered that my favorite GameBoy Advance title, ”Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories” had gotten a full 3D remake on the PlayStation 2. But because it is so stunning to see Madotsuki’s world present itself in the 3rd dimension, it is a shame that so much was left out of the original, whatever the reason for these ommisions may be. Some worlds look a bit rough around the edges, like the village, though that may be an intentional artistic choice, but they still no doubt manage to set a creepy and unsettling atmosphere all around, from the dreary back alleys of a downtown district, to a dark forest, and a somber school bathed in the mellow light of a setting sun.
The game also works wonders in handheld mode, for those wondering. Though I do hate the sound it makes when your rumbling joy-cons hammer against the Switch itself whenever you die, with no way of turning rumbling off as far as I can tell. This goes for the rumbling in general though and is not an issue I have with this game exclusively.
The original had an easter egg, where if you entered a certain house, an event would trigger in a 1 in 64 chance if you turned the lights off. Meaning you had to walk in and out of the house and turn the lights on, for at chance to make it work. In the remake however, it has been made so you only have to enter the house, and then repeatedly turn the lights on and off. After which the room is filled with an ominious presence, a heavy unsettling breathing, and has you transported to a freaky looking world where you meet the illusive character known only as ”Uboa”. Originally, in this remake, this was replaced by a mere split second jumpscare, but has since been made into a full fledged event mirroring its original counterpart, after a patch, and I am glad to see the developers showing that kind of faithfullness to the source material. The overall easter egg has, like many other things in this remake, lost some of its creepy factor in the transition from 2D to 3D, but from what I can tell, fans generally agree that it still works.
A nod to the classic
Speaking of easter eggs, and this one caught me completely off guard, which made it all the more awesome to me. One time I woke from a completed dream, after which I made Madotsuki go back to bed, only to then find myself in the original game’s 2D version of her apartment. I was stumped for several moments, and curious to see how long it lasted, but the effect sadly wore off once I entered the room of doors, which only made me wish all the more that the original had been included as a free bonus.
Effort clearly went into this package, it overall presents itself as well as you’d expect from a niche 3D remake of a 2D freeware game. Purists of that game may feel cheated that this game only has a fraction of the original content, but I feel Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- is still a competent game in its own right that, because of its more streamlined gameplay, may ultimately cater to more players than its obscure origin. Sure, many may not even have heard about either game, so I imagine people playing this one will primarily be fans of Kikiyama’s original work, but people who, like me, played the original and felt themselves lost in its obscurity, may find better value here. Not to say the original is bad at all, I wouldn’t dare as I recognize it for what it is and how it paved the way for future RPG Maker games like Ib and Mad Father, but as a videogame I think Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- has a better understanding of the concept than the original, which made it an overall more enjoyable experience for me.
Its roughness makes me question the full price of £17.99, but I am glad that it even exists, and so if you can get it on a sale I can confidently recommend it to fans of obscure mystery puzzle platformers and psychological horror, even if I feel the latter has been toned down.
Remake of a cult classic
Stays very true to its source
A decent puzzle platformer
Psychological aspect has been toned down
Rough around the edges
Much has been omitted from original