Sometimes there are games that only a niche group of fans know about it. You hear whispers about it during small meet-ups with friends or maybe some cosplayer will inform you that their attire is from this game that they love, but you’ve never heard about. For me, Yume Nikki was always that game throughout high school. Sadly, I didn’t end up playing until a few years back, but I easily understood why it’s such a niche title and why fans have conversations and debates about the story to this day.
When Playism announced a reimagining of 2004’s Yume Nikki as Yume Nikki -Dream Diary-, I was skeptical at first as to how they could bring such a game to this generation. A game that pushed the tools offered in RPGMaker and created a fandom who have appreciated it for years to come. Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- ends up proving that passion plays a large part in how development teams approach remakes, but budget might be the biggest issue that this game suffers from.
Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- doesn’t really have a story, which means there is much to be interpreted. As soon as the game begins, the main protagonist, Madotsuki, is suffering from a surreal dream that leads her to wake up to her tiny room and recount the events in her dream diary. If you search the internet you’ll find many interpretations of why this little girl suffers from these terrifying dreams, so I won’t dissect it too much for this review, although it would make for a nice editorial.
If done right, I think games have the ability to tell a story with as little of text as possible and be as compelling as some of the most powerful visual novels out there. When it comes to Yume Nikki -Dream Diary-, there is so much to look at during every section of the game that it’s necessary to slow down in order to take in all that is happening around you. Ultimately, Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- demands that you think about what these dreams mean and why Madotsuki is having them. There’s no real explanation because there’s no answer, but half the fun of Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- comes from building your own backstory for the events.
The best way to explain the game’s story is by using the environments to lead you to a personal conclusion. When compared to the 2004 release, Playism adapted some of the more interesting environments for this reimagining, but in the end, the developers take huge liberties with their interpretation of the levels and setting. While playing, it’s easy to tell that the developers are huge fans of the original work and have put a lot of love into created this updated version. This is shown through the many Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the game’s environments. With that being the case, those who have played the original game will definitely feel more attached to the setting in their first playthrough, while new players will probably need to spend some time with the original to fully appreciate what the developers are trying to accomplish in this reimagining.
With that said, I don’t want to spend too much time comparing the two because this is not exactly a remake of the original. Instead, it is marketed as a reimagining, so I will critique it based on that. Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- has some very interesting puzzle design and systems, but ultimately these puzzles can be rather basic and the game’s story can be somewhat linear. The bulk of playtime is spent figuring out how to progress the game with random items in the surreal world. The game is played through 3D and 2.5D sections with some platforming ares. Sadly, the controls aren’t as responsive as they should be which resulted in a few too many deaths on my end. Also, the respawn loading screen becomes an annoyance after the fifth death.
Controls aside, Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- had me hooked from the moment I walked out of Madotsuki’s room. The music and dark world kept me interesting in seeing her adventure to the very end. Environments are what Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- do right and that is proven more and more throughout the game. Also, like others I’m sure, it was awesome to find a playable version of Nasu on Madotsuki’s Super Famicom system. The world of Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- reminds me of a bad dream, and that’s a good thing. There’s so much to discover, but as the horrors of Madotsuki’s dreams aim to drag you into the game’s mysteriously dark world, the bugs and glitches might put a damper on the immersion. I should add that an update patch was released during my time with this review that did fix a few bugs that affected my game, so it seems like the developers are still actively trying to correct some of these issues.
As I alluded to above, the music in Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- makes the experience so much better. There are some truly horrific scenes that are enhanced by the musical cues and subtle sound design choices. Also, pieces of concept art are sprinkled throughout the game that updates Madotsuki’s diary with some of the coolest monster designs that I have seen in any game. There are some terrors in Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- that have made their ways into my personal dreams and I feel as though this was what the developers were trying to accomplish.
Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- is a decent attempt at retelling a game as niche as Yume Nikki. The game provided many moments of deep thought and puzzle solving over the 10 hours I spent with it to get to the game’s true ending. Sadly, the game crashed multiple times on me and the controls and character animation were less than what I could have hoped for, although the recent patch fixed a few of the bigger issues that I encountered.
Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- is not Yume Nikki, but that ends up working well for it in the end. Developer Kadokawa AGM shows that they are truly fans of the original work and this is proven time and time again through the visuals and sound design. I feel like I want to recommend the game to peers if only to have more people to talk about the story with and hear their interpretations of the events that transpired. Being on an indie budget might have held back this game from being better and it’s never going to live up to the standards set by the original, but Yume Nikki -Dream Diary- definitely provides a decent surreal experience.