Yume Nikki-Dream Diary: In dreams you can fall through the map
Updated: Jul 28
Who here has played the original Yume Nikki? If you have please say so in the comments. Because I would love to hear your thoughts on that game. I for one haven’t played the original, and only know it through reputation. This reimaging did catch my attention because of that ( I didn’t know both were on Steam). Now that I am done with Dream Dairy. I hope the original has something better to offer. Dream Diary is remarkably disappointing.
Madotsuki is a Hikikomori (Japanese equivalent of a hermit) who is suffering from some sort of trauma. She spends her time playing video games and sleeping. The latter of which causes her to dream some moderately disturbing things. If you were expecting a concise and easy to understand game story, then you have come to the wrong place. Dream Diary is a perfect example of dream logic, confusing and deliberately abstract. I am not going to pan this aspect, because I would hate anything David Lynch or Ingmar Bergman have ever made. The problems come down to execution more than anything else.
Dreams: Emotional logic and what does that mean
If I were to watch Mulholland Drive, and tried to understand through the lens of real world logic (everything that happened occurred in reality of the world). I would fail to understand the film. There would simply be too many inconsistencies and abnormalities for it to make any sense. However if you examine the film in terms of dream logic. Then it starts to make a little bit more sense. Dream logic is typically fuelled on emotions and memories, what the person was recently experiencing in the waking hours. How they feel about aspects of their life.
Dreams often express these emotions and memories through symbolic and metaphorical representations. This analytic lens can be applied to the likes of Mulholland Drive and Wild Strawberries. The problem with Dream Dairy is that it barely gives enough information for a suitable understanding. I only found out that girl’s name was Madotsuki through the wiki. Asides from being sad (a bit of a stretch as her face is pretty static) we have absolutely no idea what she is like as a person. She is sad and a loner but not much else.
The problem with abstract
Art is subjective; even more so when it comes to art woven with dream logic, just look up the theories about Mulholland Drive to see what I mean regarding that. But even that movie had a firm basis of characters for us to care about. Dream Dairy never gets that far, Madotsuki as mentioned previously, is a blank slate with less emotional range then Ellen Page in a David Cage game. There’s a spooky girl cries and screams spookily. The problem is we have absolutely no indication who is she or why we should care.
There are possible theories for who she is (is the suicide victim we saw in the beginning). There are metaphorical interpretations to be had. But Dream Dairy struggles to engage because it fails to provide enough base characterisation for me to care. Dream Diary took the abstract elements of dream logic so far, that it kind of forgot to make the protagonist interesting.
Beware of spoilers
After getting chased by a spooky nightmare, Madotsuki finds herself back in her bedroom. After some hesitation, she opens the bedroom door and walks into a glowing hallway of light. Then the game ends. Dream Diary’s ending is pretty much in keeping with the rest of Dream Diary’s story, in that it is very much up for interpretation. But it cannot stop being from being an anticlimax, judging that she goes into the light after fleeing the darkness. This suggests that whatever sadness and trauma she experienced has past.
She got better in the end, this could have been impactful but without decent characterisation or gravitas, it comes across less as someone struggling to overcome emotional turmoil. But more as someone who has some messed up dreams, gets sad before getting better through force of will. It would like if Senua (Hellblade) only had one facial expression and never said anything for the entirety of the game before getting the same ending. One was profoundly hopeful, while the other is made limp by a lack of identifiable characters.
Dream Dairy is an exploration focused puzzle platformer. Very similar in spirit to the original RPG maker game, the only new thing is the introduction of platfoming in a 3d plane from a 2d perspective. It’s not particularly great in all honesty, and I hope I can explain why.
Never telling you where to go
Dream Diary doesn’t hold your hand when telling you where to go or what to do. This is not a bad thing per say (Soulsborne titles and D: OS2 are great games). The player is forced to figure out how to get from A to B. The problem is that Dream Diary fails to provide enough clues for the player in terms of exploration and mechanics. For example there are six base worlds (Street, Docks, Mall, Wilderness School and Sewers) these worlds are further occupied by a number of sub worlds.
I could not for the life of me get access to two sub worlds (Block World and Snow World). Even with a guide, the game gives no clue as to how I was supposed move forward. What makes it even worse is that you can technically visit any worlds in any order, but not all of them are completable unless get the “effect” (items) that mitigates the problem.
Unfortunately the game does not give any indication as to what would work, one example would be the school. Which can’t be entered because of a spooky crying girl, screaming away Madotsuki. It is only after you get the umbrella (which causes rain when opened) the school becomes accessible. There is no clue (shows her recoil from water maybe) to why the player should get an umbrella or where to get it. You are just supposed to wonder blindly until you stumble upon it in one of the sub worlds.
Dream Diary has to be approached in a linear fashion, while giving to the illusion of freedom. As a result, the player will be punished for daring to explore. Dream Dairy’s lack of audio-visual signposting or and deliberate obfuscation will make this Yume Nikki a frustrating and unrewarding experience. The fisherman just shaking his head when you interact with him does not provide good enough information to suggest the player needs to give him a blood bag.
When the game in the 2d perspective the platfoming aspect is fine. The jump is a little clunky but never the less passable. That is until the final platforming section, namely that even though the camera at the 2d perspective; it is on a 3d plane. This turns what is a deceptively easy platforming section, turns into a frustrating game of guess the size and distance.
Because you have to glide yourself unto the small platforms and large pieces of land (within a short amount of time). You can easily misjudge the distance or the edge of the platform. This turned what should have been a horrifying chase through hell into an annoying moment of trial and error. Because of the camera angel I was constantly falling off the side of the platform or just missing it. Even if you can’t take the time to judge the jump because of the scary instant death ghost chasing you.
Puzzles: The easy and the obtuse
In The Wilderness world there is a place with four holders, that require four glyphs to be placed in a certain order. Even though the game does not tell you if this is the final area. If the glyphs are even in the right order, the game does not give you enough information in how to solve the puzzle. The pillars (which would have glowing icons) only give vague indications as to what they are supposed to correspond to. This is not a bad thing until you notice that glyphs are very similar to each other, and the lack of audio feedback make the puzzle unnecessarily annoying.
Then there are the platforming puzzles in the in the docks which (while well signposted) are childishly simple. All you have to do is trap the bug faced bird woman before going on your merry way. Another example would be later, when you have to avoid a lighthouse’s beams. You have to time the moments when you are potentially vulnerable in order to solve puzzles. It is pretty good as puzzles go, works well with the dream like tone and setting but is not obtuse. Which is a shame really as that puzzle showed some really good ideas. Instead we get puzzles that do not provide enough information or ones that were so easy. The player is left empty as a result.
Graphics and art style:
Textures are often flat and blurry, the girl herself looks like a pale doll and animates about as much as one. Considering that Dream Dairy is an indie title, I am willing to forgive the lacklustre texturing and graphical fidelity. I wish that Active Gaming Media had stuck to a 2d art style instead of 3d modelling. They could have stylised the hell out of it, they could have made it look beautiful with 2d art and graphics instead of cheap looking 3d modelling. There is some rather great imagery to be had regardless (the street level has some excellent lighting).
I fell through the map once by turning back. I had to restart the entire nightmare because of it. Needless to say I was not happy with that. Sometimes enemies would get stuck in the scenery. But at least the frame rate was mostly decent and it didn’t crash.
Dream Diary is like drinking weak tea mixed with too little LSD, underwhelming and disappointing in results. If the substances were higher in quantity or of increased potency it might have been something interesting or great. Unfortunately Dream Diary is too weak as a platfomrer, as a horror game and as a product to really make an impact or have me recommend it. Maybe if Dream Diary was a little bit more willing to explain mechanics. If the player didn't get hopelessly lost, then it might be have been a better product. As it stands, it could have been soo much better but I have played worse.