A year later, it’s still like a dream come true… and it’s still an alpha.
Notice: I reviewed Version 0.10.5 of re:Dreamer.
For those unfamiliar with the title, re:Dreamer is a Gender Bender/TG/TSF adult visual novel created by Dream Team Studio. A two-person team of CaptainCaption and Espeon, who you might be familiar with depending on how entrenched you are in the TSF gulags.
CaptainCaption is a long-standing gender bender writer who has created a plethora of detailed TG captions and short stories that can be found on his DeviantArt page. He is also a former member of the Student Transfer dev team, where he worked on the Connie route from version 2.0 and the Sayaka route in Version 4.0, among other things. He serves as the writer, editor, and programmer of re:Dreamer.
Meanwhile, Espeon is a long-standing patron and commissioner of Japanese TSF comics whose Patreon-funded translation group, Gender.tf, routinely puts out works that otherwise would never be known to English speaking audiences. She serves as the creative director, editor, and primary financier of re:Dreamer, while additional funds come from the Dream Team Studio’s Patreon.
A year ago, I reviewed Version 0.3.5 of this re:Dreamer, and my thoughts on it were more mixed than I would have liked. Most of my qualms were levied towards the introduction, which was overly long, pedantic, and had some… iffy subject matter. It got far better after the introduction, but it was still a tough pill for any player to swallow. After approaching CaptainCaption about my issues and learning that he would heavily revise the introduction in later builds, I put the game on the sideline until they completely reworked the beginning with the release of Version 0.8.0. A version I would have played upon release, but I had other stuff on my to-do-list, so I’m picking things up one version later.
Before I begin, I just want to clarify that I support Dream Team Studio on Patreon, re:Dreamer is still very much in an alpha state, and Version 0.8.1 of re:Dreamer is currently only available to Patreon backers and will not be available to the public until June 25th.
re:Dreamer is freely available for download, and the easiest way to do so is probably via the TFGames.Site page.
Edit 6/3/21: I originally stated that some of the backgrounds were borrowed from other sources, when they were all commissioned or purchased via royalty-free background packs. The text of this review has been edited to reflect this information.
re:Dreamer Version 0.8.1 Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux, Android
Developer/Publisher: Dream Team Studio
re:Dreamer follows Zach, a 20-year-old college student who catches wind of a suspicious mobile game by the name of re:Dreamer, only to see all mention of it vanish seconds later. Enraptured with curiosity, Zach sleuths their way to a pirated copy of the game and, after creating a female avatar, finds their body transforming from that of a frail young man with a “girly face” into a beautiful busty young woman. One colorful WIP transformation sequence and an emotional crisis later, Zach is greeted by Ai, an AI companion who introduces Zach to the world of re:Dreamer, explaining that they unknowingly hacked their way into a competitive reality-altering sex game and is stuck in this body for at least six months.
Having gracelessly stumbled into some “fucked-up shit [they] barely understand,” the game follows Zach as they try to deal with their transformation by confining with someone else with the two pronged goal of winning the game of re:Dreamer and going through their regular school life. From this initial starting point, re:Dreamer branches off into completely isolated and linear routes, though in its current form two of these are narrative stubs with roughly an hour of content each, while the other shows the first few chapters of the Keisuke route, where Zach confides in their childhood friend.
If that description is not enough of an indicator, re:Dreamer is very much not a choose-your-own-adventure style visual novel like Press-Switch or Student Transfer. Instead, it is a more focused and ground level tale that seeks to examine the vanilla TSF concept of ‘guy turns into a girl via some fantastical doodad’ from a rigorously detailed level. And my goodness, does Dream Team pull this off wonderfully.
The tone shifts from goofy anime-style shenanigans to more serious or somber moments as Zach reflects on their actions or struggles with the complications their new body brings. The sex scenes all have at least some greater purpose in the story and go to further character development or change character dynamics… while being hot, I guess? The quality of the writing is high overall. And despite featuring such fantastical concepts, re:Dreamer maintains a firm grip on reality, and the entire game is told from a grounded perspective that really helps humanize and endear me to the cast as a whole.
re:Dreamer can be funny, it can be heartfelt, it can be methodical, it can be sexy, it can be existential, it hits pretty much every note I want to see not only from a TSF story, but from a story in general. This game is coming from a pair of developers whose savviness and familiarity with TSF trappings and tendencies cannot be understated. They, quite simply, get it. They’ve read hundreds of TG stories, seen what works, internalized their preferences, and they understand how to make this subject matter compelling on multiple levels. Though my favorite aspect of the game is easily the characters.
Ai is an electric pixie as obnoxious as she is adorable, and… I love just about everything about her. Her ability to function as the third wheel in a conversation and butt in only when she is wanted, or unwanted, whatever the case may be. The unique power play she has as a digital being, as she’s Zach’s only hope of winning or participating in re:Dreamer and is holding their phone hostage. But she’s still just a program with zero control of the physical world around her, and who can do nothing when confronted with a strip of electrical tape. And the unique relationship she develops with Zach… almost immediately.
She teases Zach, coaxes them into doing things that they don’t openly want to, but never comes across as truly malicious, or even all that mean. She clearly has Zach’s best interest in mind, and just wants to get there in a more entertaining way. She actually reminds me of helper characters I tried writing over the years to… mixed success, and I enjoy seeing another creator bring this type of character to life, and do such a good job of it.
Keisuke, meanwhile, serves the standard role of the best friend and primary male love interest throughout re:Dreamer, and while he is a very familiar figure for those versed in the TSF gulags, he hits pretty much every note he should. He is a classical example of a male role model, excelling in physical strength and general ‘manliness,’ while holding strong chivalrous values by rushing to the aid of any woman who calls out for him.
However, he is also working with a bad case of ‘jock brain,’ having D-tier booksmarts, a stubborn personality, and a habit of underthinking certain situations. But despite these lacking qualities, he still has more than a few moments where he lets his experience with life show as he protects or otherwise aids those he cares about. I would say that he is tropey enough to be predictable, detailed and consistent enough to feel like a person, and pretty much the perfect compliment for somebody like Zach.
Then there is Britney who… actually has less content than she did in Version 0.3.5, meaning I didn’t get a super good grasp on her characters, so let’s just skip ahead to Zach, because there is no greater accomplishment in all of re:Dreamer than the character of Zach. While most visual novels go for a reserved or milquetoast protagonist, re:Dreamer takes the almost complete opposite approach and presents an excessively detailed person. They’re a dork with a penchant for obscure knowledge, a habit of spacing out, a strong technical skillset, very apparent gender issues, and a minivan’s worth of densely packed emotional baggage.
re:Dreamer is ultimately Zach’s story, and much of its appeal is seeing Zach gradually lay out their issues, present their plethora of quirks, and adapt to new situations while reassessing and reasserting who they are as a person. And person really is the best word for them here, as it is rare to find a fictional character as detailed as Zach without being a self-insert or directly based on someone the writer knows. Some might find the way the story expresses this information, the routine narration and rambling introspections that Zach goes on, a bit tiresome. But personally, I just consider that to be part of their character and an accurate reflection of what it’s like to be around them or in their head.
Whether the player likes Zach will ultimately come down to preference, but… you can probably imagine how I feel about them. They’re a frail neurodivergent kid with a gender bender fetish, a sloshy bucket of gender dysphoria, and a scattering of academic honors, who starts this story feeling lost in the world. Toss out their hacker tendencies, and you’ve got a solid depiction of me at age 20. Which is another way of saying that I both adore them and enjoy dunking on them for being such an oblivious egg.
Moving on, in my prior review, I voiced heavy criticisms over the introduction of re:Dreamer, for being overly long and containing some questionable content. Since then, the introduction has been replaced with something an order of magnitude better. I think it could stand to undergo some slight tweaking and revisions over time, such as a more detailed explanation of how re:Dreamer works, and it might still be a bit too long for some people. However, it establishes what it needs to, includes the staple transformation sequence and masturbation segment, and offers what I’d call a ‘balanced’ approach to introducing Zach’s gender issues. It is, in my book, a good introduction.
This alone makes the game leagues more approachable to newcomers, but there are naturally still gripes I have with the game in its current form. There are some ‘objective’ issues, such as continuity errors in the Keisuke route that do not reflect the revised introduction, or how I ran into a bunch of error-message-generating bugs in the Keisuke route, nothing I couldn’t mash through. However, my biggest issues are opinionated quibbles, more nitpicks than anything. I had a… lot of these, based on my 9,000 word Google doc of notes. But most of these are too petty even for my standards, so I’ll just detail the two big ones.
In earlier incarnations of re:Dreamer, the player could influence Zach’s quirks and personality based on the choices they selected via the T.E.A.C.H. system, in order to make the game accommodate different players’ protagonist preferences. However, this system proved to be cumbersome to manage, and was eventually ditched in favor of the C.H.E.A.T.S. system, which takes the same concept of protagonist customization, but uses persistent variables chosen at the start of the game.
In practice, the C.H.E.A.T.S. system does not do a lot for the majority of the game, as most of Zach’s responses and reactions are fixed, barring less than ~5% of the script. The only major exceptions to this rule are the shower and mall chapters from day 1 and 2 of the Keisuke routes, which are significantly (at least 30%) different depending on your point distributions. Both of these sections hide some genuinely good scenes between the alternate versions, and offer enough new stuff to warrant a second playthrough with inverted variables.
That all being said, I’m not a fan of the C.H.E.A.T.S. system. I know its purpose and stated goal, but I don’t think it necessarily achieves its objective, because what it is trying to do can only really be done with a more plain protagonist. You can tweak and alter Zach as much as you want, but whether you play as a Zach with all max stats (which is probably the best option based on a cursory glance at the code) or all min stats, they’re always going to be Zach.
Moving on, in my prior review, I mentioned how complicated the world building of re:Dreamer is, and voiced concerns over how its alternate WWII narrative would change both technological development and gender issues. This bugged me last time, but this time, it really got on my nerves, and I spent hours trying to make sense of this alternate future. Because there are so many cultural touchstones, major governmental events, and global shifts that simply did not happen in the world of re:Dreamer, but happened in our world. Which makes the similarities between these worlds, both cultural and technological, rather infuriating for somebody as ‘literal’ as myself.
It bothered me to the point where I brought up this matter with CaptainCaption while writing this review. After bringing up my issue, he explained more details about the world (which really should be added to the World Information section) and explained his theory on alternate histories. I approached alternate histories from a perspective of the butterfly effect, where even slight changes can lead to drastic consequences. Whereas CaptainCaption has a “river of time” approach, where no matter what ‘stones’ are thrown into the river, history will generally progress in the same direction. Which makes more sense than my theory— and he’s a history major, so I’ll take his word on anything history related— but it did not stop me from formulating a theory about how the alternate history of re:Dreamer came to be.
re:Dreamer is a game where the winner of each season is given a wish that allows them to edit reality on a fundamental level. As such, I could not help but wonder what if the alternate history seen in the world of re:Dreamer is the result of something created by a former winner who wished this world into being. And because the wish is, presumably, granted by some sort of computer, then the wish would be executed in the most efficient way possible. Which would explain… everything. It would even explain why this universe has bootleg Katamari Damacy and Kohl’s. Because computers are lazy and only do what you tell them to. Nothing more, nothing less.
Despite everything I have said about the overall story of re:Dreamer, one could make the argument that the story has not developed all that much within the past year. The devs have expanded the Keisuke route a good deal, but the Britney route shaved off some content, and with the revised intro, the game lost around 20,000 words of fluff. However, it should be clear to anybody comparing screenshots between versions that much of the work went into the presentational and technical back-end of things.
Key characters, including Zach, Ai, Keisuke, and Britney, have all been given excellent-looking custom sprites, instead of borrowing placeholders from other VNs. The game’s resolution has been bumped up to a crisp 1080p, which should remain relevant for the duration of this game’s development. The Student Transfer GUI, along with large swaths of code, have been ditched for something more original, though I can’t say I love the narrow dialog box margins or the small font in the appendix section. And the game, as to be expected, is stuffed with expression changes and animations that make this freeware VN look more vibrant than a lot of premium titles I’ve covered.
However, re:Dreamer still has quite a way to go regarding its presentation. Custom CGs need to be commissioned to bridge scenes or replace placeholders, and numerous outfits and expressions are still being worked on by the title’s primary character artist. However, these are more logistical issues, as art takes time to be made, and the dev team wants to preserve artistic consistency throughout the game. Which I appreciate, even though there is a bit of a divide in some of the backgrounds, as the game uses both pre-rendered commissioned pre-rendered 3D backgrounds and illustrated 2D backgrounds bought via asset packs. I originally thought the illustrated backgrounds were placeholder assets, but nope! They’re final, and certainly get the job done well enough.
As for the soundtrack, it’s… pretty much perfect. It’s an expansive soundtrack composed of songs lifted from Jet Set Radio, No More Heroes, Touhou, Panty and Stocking, Sonic CD, and Umineko just to name a few, and while it may be a bit… odd to compliment a game for simply selecting good unlicensed music for its soundtrack, re:Dreamer does more than that. The tracks are incorporated into the game well, can be hilarious in their application, added another dimension of the game for me to enjoy, and do a lot to punch up certain scenes..
From the use of a track from the Paprika soundtrack in a scene where Zach must flee from a dark force invading their own mind, hellbent on erasing Zach’s very existence. To the decision to pair a Jurassic 5 song to the sex scene where Zach gets fingered by their aniki. It all works so well that I struggle to imagine a better soundtrack for this game. I said all of this last time, and since then the re:Dreamer soundtrack has remained largely the same. However, the dev team are still planning on replacing the soundtrack with something less legally dubious in the future, so this is going to go away eventually… or at least that’s the plan.
But even if the music changes, re:Dreamer still boasts some impressive sound design for a visual novel. A lot of it is simple stuff that you might take for granted, such as the sound of someone grabbing something, a door opening, outdoor ambiance, and so forth. But sound design in lower-budget VNs is often put to the wayside, and it’s clear just how much work has gone into creating this soundscape. From looping specific portions of music tracks, to changing the pitch of Zach’s ‘feminine mouth noises’ for both consistency and to add to the character in a tiny, almost imperceptible, way. It’s clear that the team is relying on what they can find in free sound libraries, which can lead to a few questionable sound effects, but they are easily going above and beyond with their approach.
In summation, pretty much all the good things I said about re:Dreamer in my last review carry over here. It still has the potential to be something amazing between the quality writing, the enthralling characters, and the developers’ commitment to telling a good story. Their passion for this project goes without saying, especially when looking into the nightmare of errors CaptainCaption has been subjected to, and what they came up with has the makings of what I can only assume is their honest to goodness dream game. And it’s at least something close to that for me as well. But I am here to talk about the version I played, not what re:Dreamer could be.
In its current form… I think re:Dreamer is great. It’s still clearly a work-in-progress, but the intro is solid and what’s there is quality enough that I would fully recommend that people check it out if they are curious to see what this TSF/TG/gender bender visual novel has to offer. Or in other words, re:Dreamer is good now, no asterisks attached, no extra clauses, no if, ands, or buts. I had a wonderful time revisiting it, and I’m looking forward to doing this again in a year or so.
In addition to writing this review, I also rebuilt my re:Dreamer flowchart. There is an official flowchart included with all copies of Version 0.8.1, but I’m not a fan of its format or tiny text, so I made my own out of principle. In doing so, I realized that a flowchart is basically unnecessary for this game, as basically every choice is minor, cosmetic, and has little long-term repercussions on anything. Which is a breath of fresh air after the flowchart hell I have been subjected to as of late.