Yume Nikki (PC) review
"It's captured a segment of the internet's imagination for 10 years, maybe I can help ramble about why?"
I suppose for many of us who grew up in the internet era, we find one period particularly nostalgic or familiar. An age where we were (even if peripherally) involved in “something”, some kind of fandom or niche in internet culture. For some it was the early 2000’s era, Linkin park lyrics in that little flavourtext area on your MSN or AIM chat window may bring back some memories, for others it was when Homestuck was in one of its “actually good” phases. For me that period was my early-mid teens, 2008-2011 ish. The beginnings and -arguably- heyday of creepypastas. Slenderman, The Rake and The SCP Foundation all started in this period. I found the stories and storytelling fascinating and it was in this period that Yume Nikki was released.
Around 2009/2010 I heard about this game, nobody really knew who made it beyond the username “Kikiyama”, it seemingly had no real plot or dialogue and was full of strange and surreal imagery. It sounded like the beginning of a creepypasta. Admittedly I was not entirely correct. It did however turn me on to the RPGMaker scene, for that I am always grateful. This long preamble is basically me saying “I am so biased about this game it’s not even funny, so I may as well own up to it” the score is high but I want to convince you I’m not entirely crazy
Yume Nikki is an exploration based experience, created in RPGMaker 2003. In it you play as Madotsuki, a young woman who seems to live in a high rise, one room flat…somewhere. Her sprite never opens its eyes and she refuses to leave her apartment, shaking her head if you ever try to make her. She has a desk where she can write in a journal, this is the game’s save feature. A game console which allows her to play NASU: a pretty dry and depressing game about eating eggplant. And of course, her bed. Upon sleeping she will begin to lucid dream, appearing on the balcony of her apartment and from here you wander through the recesses of Madosuki’s mind.
Madotsuki has a rather interesting dreamscape. In dream she can leave her apartment into a surrealist room with a series of doors. Pick one, enter, go. See the various dreamscapes, interact with the denizens. They’re not very talkative but see what they say anyway. I find that picking a direction and going that a way is the best way to go through it. On occasion, you will see unique characters or prominent looking landmarks, they give you various effects. Some are quite important or useful like the bicycle; it allows you to travel much faster through the sometimes exhaustively large worlds. Others give you shit hair…as in literal hair in the style of the poop emoji…complete with flies. Collecting all of them allows you to unlock the “ending”, though that ending is the subject of a lot of contention.
Yume Nikki is a really hard beast to pin down. I personally have always described it as a kind of David Lynch video game. It doesn’t want to explain things to you. Hell, it probably explains more than it wants to due to the limitations of the medium it’s in. Madotsuki for example isn’t a name in Japanese. Roughly translated it means something like “window” or, perhaps “Avatar”. None of the myriad characters in the game are named either. All of them have been named by fans. The various areas connect using a logic probably known only to Kikiyama, the imagery could have meaning or it could have been thrown in because it’s cool.
The various areas often connect but all have their own personality, one looks like a neon Aztec casino wonderland with goofy music. Another is a drab and dreary land, puddles shine a full moon while giving the impression we entered just as a rainstorm has ended, the music downbeat and with hints of a person crying in the background. Another is a stark, monochrome desert with almost crayon looking black lines for definition and sparse white noise like sounds. Each one has a hint of menacing surrealism to it, like the neighbourhood in blue velvet or the waiting room in twin peaks. The deeper down the rabbit hole, the more unsettling things often become. Going back to my creepypasta analogy, I’ve often described playing this alone at night and expecting my phone to ring, a voice proclaiming I have seven days. It’s certainly one of those types of game that does set you in an odd mood by its atmosphere.
There are characters to be seen, some are wandering blobs of colour that only give a sound effect when interacted with, others are strange and demented looking bird women who are probably the closest thing to an enemy in the game. They run faster than you and if they catch you they teleport you to an inescapable prison platform in a random area. Of course, you are only dreaming and as such you only need to pinch yourself awake. The most interesting character -and the one everyone knows- is Uboa. In one area of the game you see a cottage, getting there is no easy task either. Inside you see a quite nicely decorated home. It’s bright and colourful, quite welcoming in fact. In the middle is a blonde woman, actually she seems almost to be the inverted colour of Madotsuki. She does not speak of course. Nobody does. But, if you decide to turn off the lights of the home, there is a 1 in 64 chance that the colour palette will invert and the blonde woman will be replaced by Uboa, the soundtrack changing from a small and overall bright sounding tune, to what sounds like a constant scream. Interact with Uboa and you’re shifted to a strange, monochrome side scrolling screen with a strange, grabbing face that seems to be happily vomiting red.
It’s this kind of unexplained surrealism that has kept the internet going on this game for nearly 10 years at this point. Nothing is explained, so anything can be divined from it. Some people believe that Madotsuki is witness to her best friend’s death by being run over by a car, others believe she is a rape victim and various incidents imply she had an abortion. Others think Madotsuki isn’t female at all but instead MtF transgender. Each one does have its own merits when examined from events in the game. In fact it’s just as interesting, unsettling and engrossing reading about the game -perhaps not this- than actually playing it.
Yume Nikki is probably one of those games that will get under certain people’s skin and inspire certain people to create, despite not necessarily getting more than token appreciation outside its dedicated fanbase. It’s understandable why, RPGMaker isn’t exactly a premier game engine, Yume Nikki is a niche game that doesn’t explain very much and it has some flaws; movement is a chore considering the sheer size and lack of features in more than a few maps and the game is so sprawling that it’s easy to go in circles or keep seeing the same thing over and over. But, much like the works of H.P Lovecraft or David Lynch, they won’t be as appreciated by a broad audience, but they inspire creators to expand on their work and create masterpieces of their own. It’s already happening and it’s a good thing. If you want to try it, the English release is only a google search away. It’s less than 50 megabytes, free and could probably run on a toaster for all the system resources it uses.
Community review by maboroshi (September 17, 2017)
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