Originally created in 2004 via RPG Maker, Yume Nikki received a cult following in Japan and eventually made its way to the west via unofficial fan translation. However, I went into this Switch release of Yume Nikki –Dream Diary- absolutely blind and boy was I in for a shock. Using dark, unsettling gameplay elements and visual flair, this has to be one of the weirdest games ever created. Also, you don’t really “play” this game so much as you “experience” it.
I can’t help but think everything about this game was designed to be weird for the sake of weird. Like a nightmare fueled fever dream laced in the creepiest tones, the player assumes the role of a young Japanese girl who doesn’t speak and is locked in her room. With a bed and a Famicon (there is a Buster Brothers clone that is fully playable) as the only form of interaction in her tiny closed apartment, the girl is subjected to diving deep into her creepy dreams. Play control is simple as the only means of interaction are jumping and tapping the “interact” button to do things from a 2.5D perspective. While the dimly lit apartment essentially acts as the hub world, the player needs to travel through several doors in the sleep world and the quest only gets stranger in time.
Just how weird is this? Well, the first dream door places the girl down a dark street. After walking for a moment, giant realistic eye balls start rolling at the player for no reason. Several of them. And they make this disgusting squishing sound as they follow after you. Then a huge monster hand protrudes from the darkness, trying to grab the girl (if it succeeds, you “die” and need to restart at the beginning). Eventually the girl will make her way into a butcher’s meat locker complete with hanging corpses, forced to grab a carving knife, then be tested with solving an arbitrary number puzzle using a series of levers (you know, because those are always fun). Blocking the way is a lumpy nightmare monster without a head, a giant eye ball on its chest, and a mouth on its stomach. If the girl gets too close, the monster eats the girl through her stomach in one big creepy and sudden gulp. The game only gets weirder from here and it makes the player wonder which combination of illegal drugs the developers used to make this game.
Weird for the sake of weird is way to make a game stand out but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be fun and entertaining. The quest is never truly scary, like when playing a Silent Hill title, as opposed to just creepy, unsettling, and just kind of gross. It is also worth mentioning that the “accept” and “cancel” buttons are reversed which makes menu navigation a little confusing and can slightly take the player out of the experience.
When you think of strange or obscure games, players might recall Katamari Damacy, Mister Mosquito, Seaman, or even Goat Simulator. As these are definitely weird, they all carry a more light hearted and comedic tone. Yume Nikki –Dream Diary-, however, should be added to that list but with an asterisk as the dark aesthetic is something rarely seen in games. Fans of the original will probably gobble this up but players going in blind, like I did, are probably in for the biggest shock of 2019 when playing through this huge WTF title.
Also available on PC.
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