Part exploration game, part horror game, the silent adventures of the 8-bit Madotsuki through her dreamscape builds a kind of dread and sorrow that lingers with the audience and won’t be shaken so easily by turning off the computer. Yume Nikki has a specific story to tell that only becomes clear once you know the ending. And so, if you’re the kind of gamer who hates spoilers, I’d advise you to download a copy and play it through before reading further.
What initially seems like an exercise in exploring some truly disturbing or twisted dreamscapes is actually the story of a depressed girl committing suicide. A sense of claustrophobia pervades the game–Madotsuki will not leave her room except to go to the balcony, and her only activities are writing in her diary, playing games, and sleeping. As if to contrast her suffocating surroundings, her dreams have an unlimited, boundless quality to them, but the aimlessness of her wandering fails to provide respite from her everyday life. Studded as they are with nightmarish NPCs that either refuse to interact with her or become actively hostile in hallucinogenic and surreal environments, Madotsuki’s dreams provide a glimpse into the mind of a completely isolated young girl who is deeply traumatized by an unknown past event. Different dream worlds will sometimes loop in on themselves without warning, leaving you to wander the same small patch of non-reality searching for a way out.
Intensely sad and sometimes upsetting, Yume Nikki is worth playing just for the ingenuity of the level design and how perfectly it captures the experience of dreaming.