Yume Nikki is a cult classic RPG maker title originally released in 2004 that had quite the heyday upon its original release, yet it came out in a time when I was hardly following the game industry as closely as I am now, and as such, flew under my radar, only to eventually stumble onto it after the game suddenly found its way on Steam. Curious, I checked the title out and, well, let’s just say that I came away a little disappointed.
Yume Nikki Review
Publisher: AGM Playism
Yume Nikki is a surrealist adventure game that centers around Madotsuki, a hikikomori who confined themselves to their room, isolating themselves from the outside world and choosing to spend their time sleeping in order to explore the full confines of their dreams. Or at least I think that is the story that is being explored here. You see, Yume Nikki is a very hands off experience that tasks the players with figuring just about everything out for themselves. From the intricate details of the story, the symbolism, and any greater meaning any of this might hold, to the gameplay itself, which consists of wandering and… little else.
The main objective of the game is to explore the vast, expansive, and intertwining confines of Madotsuki’s nonsense world for dream people in order to find effects, abilities that allow for the young woman to transform herself in a variety of ways, such as gaining a bike, a new outfit, a couple dozen kilograms, a knife, or becoming a ghost. Once all 24 of these are uncovered and deposited in the hub area of the dream world, the game comes to a close with a conclusion that attempts to be something impactful and meaningful but honestly comes off as a very sour note to end the journey on considering how tedious and boring it all is.
For all intensive purposes, the game is just a scavenger hunt through bizarre settings that seem inspired by the more unusual moments of the first two Earthbound/Mother titles with some light yet very obtuse puzzle elements that are rarely, but occasionally, based around the mostly useless effects that the protagonist finds along her journey. A scavenger hunt where the player is given very little direction, where the world is incredibly confusing to navigate due to its massive maps with a lack of landmarks or sense of location, and where the developer seemingly went out of their way to make something that feels obnoxiously cryptic if it is being played without some form of walkthrough.
Though even with a walkthrough in hand, and several maps to help me navigate through this obtuse dream world, the journey to get all 24 effects is far from a riveting one. It really is just a lot of walking through environments that fulfill the surreal end of this game’s description, picking up an effect, waking up from the dream, saving, and going back in for another effect. It is a cycle that I honestly became tired of to the point where I found the game difficult to play in lengthy sessions, as I simply could not remain invested in the quest and developed a desire to do something more stimulating.
Now, I get what the game is going for. It is trying to be an uneasy and atmospheric adventure where the player is expected to enjoy the abnormal imagery that each area holds and take delight in discovering each new oddity that is up this game’s metaphorical sleeves, a mentality that the game enforces by making some of its secrets incredibly obtuse and difficult to uncover. However, the novelty of exploring an unusual and dream-like world likely does not have the same appeal as it did back in 2004, before oddball independent games like this became even remotely commonplace.
Although, I must still give the game props for the design of the worlds themselves, which run a wide range of themes and concepts that all possess an unnerving quality to them, even the more mundane ones, which is only enhanced by the its store score which gives the game a slightly darker mood than it would otherwise have through some surprisingly intense ambiance. It is creative, contains some very unique and interesting imagery, and at times feels like exploring some sort of interactive art gallery, albeit one that drew on too large of a canvas, as the maps are simply too darn big, with the greatest offender being the labyrinthine and eye straining Hell map.
I never enjoy going to older games and coming away with a more negative impression of them, but that is the case with Yume Nikki. For as much as one can breath meaning into the game, it really is just a game based around walking through interesting yet frustrating to navigate areas in exchange for another tick of progress for a conclusion that really is not worth the effort. In fact, I didn’t even bother getting the last effect because of how time consuming the hunt would be. It is a relic of a bygone era that went on to inspire a wide number of games, most famously Undertale, but as someone who has acclimated to more modern gaming sensibilities, the title is lacking in substance and as a result is pretty boring.