With the amount of triple-A games and slick indie titles being released seemingly every week, it’s easy to forget smaller releases that, although not as polished, are still worth the time. It’s all too common to completely overlook cult classics in favor of the next big and promising thing, be it a multimillion-dollar production or a much cheaper one that relies on nostalgia.
Although stigmatized for its capabilities and the quality of the titles that come out of it, the RPG Maker tool is home to many a great game. From the popular To the Moon, LISA, and Corpse Party to the lesser known Camp Sunshine, I’m Scared of Girls, and Middens, the RM community is filled with diversity spread through a multitude of genres. Part of the tool’s popularity could be attributed to classics such as OFF, Space Funeral, Ib, and most recently the aforementioned indie darlings To the Moon and LISA, but none of them were as impactful as Yume Nikki.
First released to the public in 2004 and with its last update being made available in 2007, Yume Nikki is a unique game developed by mysterious game designer KIKIYAMA on RPG Maker 2003. The title literally means “dream diary” and encompasses the game’s mechanics and narrative.
Yume Nikki may fall into many categories, but one of the most accurate ways to catalog it would be as an “abstract open world exploratory sandbox dream emulator.” In it, players take control of Madotsuki, a young hikikomori (or shut-in) who is believed to have lucid dreams. Madotsuki spends most of her time inside her small bedroom furnished with a TV, what appears to be an NES, a bookshelf, a desk, and a Western bed. Up north is a door, which she refuses to open, and down south is her expansive balcony.
The only thing there is to do in this section is either play NASU (a minigame available from Madotsuki’s console) or fall asleep in bed. The latter will transport the character to an almost identical room as the one she finds herself in, except this time she doesn’t hesitate in going out of the door. Doing so will reveal a hub of sorts that fans call Nexus: a large room filled with doors distributed in a circular fashion.
The premise of Yume Nikki, as explained during the introductory manual, is to explore the many dream worlds inside the character’s mind and collect the “effects” found within. There’s no coherent narrative, no map guides, no strict objectives, or even dialogue.
Art or a waste of time?
The regular gamer may find Yume Nikki‘s premise to be rather dull and unfulfilling, but the game works more as a chill psychedelic adventure rather than a walking simulator with trippy sights. Each dream world follows a theme, and many of them seem to tell a story, be it with their designs or the creatures inhabiting them. The effects (items that grant Madotsuki specific abilities) themselves tell stories, although nothing can be easily understood.
One of the reasons behind Yume Nikki‘s relevance is its abstract storytelling. Instead of delivering a digestible plot, KIKYAMA leaves hints of what might be happening in the worlds, the creatures found in them, and Madotsuki’s abilities. That leaves the most interested and clever players to take their own conclusions regarding what the dreams and effects are all about. There are a number of theories that range from the protagonist being pregnant to depression and isolation, all strongly supported by imagery and characters found in the game.
Yume Nikki can be easily compared to another Japanese cult classic, 1998’s LSD (also known as LSD: Dream Emulator). Both take players through dream-like experiences that are difficult to make sense of consciously and both feature disturbing abstract imagery. Despite being released years after, Yume Nikki had a larger impact in the video game industry and especially the RPG Maker community.
There are countless Yume Nikki fangames, the most popular ones being Yume 2kki (a fan-made sequel), .flow (pronounced “dot flow”), and Fleshchild, which while drawing inspiration from the source material, attempts to stray from its tropes. All these fangames explore different themes, with some being far more obvious than others, and a few even featuring character dialogue and a coherent story.
KIKYAMA’s influence even made it to Steam in the form of Dreaming Sarah, a surreal side-scroller where players explore the depths of a blue-haired girl’s dreams. Although it doesn’t count on a comprehensive story, it has character dialogue and items that serve the same purpose as Madotsuki’s effects.
Whether to pass the time or immerse in its weirdness, Yume Nikki is a game worth experiencing as long as you keep an open mind. It’s recommended that first timers try it out on their own instead of resorting to guides, as exploring the worlds is part of the fun. It is a freeware originally released in Japanese and later translated to English by loving fans. The latest version (0.10) is available at the Yume Nikki wiki.