The long awaited day for Yume Nikki fans has finally come. After a decade of inactivity on the front of official works, an official reimagining of the cult classic dream exploration game was announced. It finally released Feb. 22 on Steam and as a fan of the game since middle school, I pretty much bought the game as soon as it was available.
Yume Nikki – Dream Diary – is developed by the Kadokawa Corporation, which is largely known for developing the RPG Maker engines that helped birth the original Yume Nikki to begin with. The original developer, Kikiyama, reportedly gave input on the project. There’s conspiracy theories that Kadokawa just made the game on their own since Kikiyama is anonymous and chooses to stay that way, but that’s nonsense, considering the fact that Kikiyama’s own website updated with the new logo (it’s the first link under the first red text on the left). I don’t know, maybe next people will claim that the site was hacked on Kadokawa’s behalf.
For the sake of convenience moving forward, I’ll refer to this new game as Dream Diary and call the original by Yume Nikki. Also, if you see a jumble of text within brackets, it’s a spoiler that I’ve put through Rot 13. If you don’t care about spoilers, open this link and copy paste that for a translation.
A short intro sequence has Madotsuki walk out of a convenience store toward a conspicuous blood stain. She is jolted awake when something falls toward her. If you’ve played the original game and seen the ending, it’s rather foreboding. The title screen shows up and you can properly begin the game.
Madotsuki’s room is more detailed than it was in the original game, but it does nothing to change her refusal to leave. Her diary sits at her desk and while it was Yume Nikki‘s save mechanism, the modern achievement that is auto-saving relegates the journal to a concept art showcase, the individual parts of which you collect throughout the game. You can also sit down at her television and play Super NASU… which is actually super good! The original NASU was just A Thing, but here, the game is touched up with whole new mechanics that makes it actually interesting and fun to play. It’s a good distraction from the main game and it’s definitely worth a few plays. [Nyfb na vagrerfgvat qvfgenpgvba: gur Nb Bav zvavtnzr gung lbh pna cynl va gur qernz irefvba bs gur ncnegzrag. Fvapr Xnqbxnjn’f znqr n ohapu bs Nb Bav nqncgngvbaf, gurl guerj va na Nb Bav pnzrb gung nyfb tvsgf lbh n zvavtnzr. Gur zvavtnzr vf n fhcre fvzcyvsvrq, nepnqr irevfba bs Nb Bav naq juvyr V jnfa’g n sna bs gur tnzr jura V cynlrq vg, V fgvyy nccerpvngr gung vg’f urer.]
But enough screwing around. Time to bring Madotuski to bed and talk about the meat of the game: her dream world.
Dream Diary‘s structure is more traditionally gamey. Yume Nikki had you collecting Effects in a mostly open world, with most of it being cosmetic. You can go for them in any order, so you can just take your time and explore. NPCs rarely interact with you and noteworthy events are hard yet rewarding to find. Dream Diary is a mostly linear game, and while some paths cross into each other, your goal is to get to the end of each dream path from the hub world. You find items in the world and you have to trade them with NPCs, who’ll let you proceed or give you hints to other puzzles down the line. The Effects you get all grant you practical powers, like a double jump or an ability to find hidden items. Contrasting with the adventure game stuff are the more active 2D platforming segments, where you guide Madotsuki around and try to keep her from getting killed. Essentially, Dream Diary turns Yume Nikki into a more traditional adventure game, with the 2D sections being a Yume Nikki themed Limbo/Little Nightmares.
The lack of exploration is easily one of the sorest points with people. What made Yume Nikki Yume Nikki for many people was the exploration. The expansive settings sort of sets this tone of loneliness and fuels a desire to look at and understand everything. I think Dream Diary’s settings are interesting, but you can’t explore most of it. You’re pretty much railroaded through the game, with few areas where you can freely walk around. Want to see what’s down that alleyway? Nah, you can’t. Want to meet one of those mysterious figures in the woods? Sorry, keep walking. At the very least, though, no awful Hell Mazes.
Another thing that separates these games is the sense of danger. There was rarely any actual danger to you in Yume Nikki, with most scary things just being foreboding things waiting in the background, watching. But that’s what made the game’s horror elements work – you never know when something’s going to happen. There is a set of characters that chases you, the Toriningen, and while Madotsuki can get the ability to stab people, she’s always powerless against them.
Dream Diary, in the meantime has a lot of things trying to kill you with little subtlety. It has action sequences, with stuff like dodging around Toriningen and trying to figure out how to kill them and a cinematic chase down an alleyway full of rolling eyeballs and ghosts with gazes that will kill you (though in this case, I admit that it’s a pretty cool reinterpretation of the Dark/Eyeball Worlds). A giant hand smashes on top of Madotsuki, a Toriningen grabs her and starts chewing at her… and instead of being forcibly awoken (or put in a situation that can only be escaped by waking up), Madotsuki merely respawns at an earlier point. While this is convenient from a gameplay standpoint, it cheapens the threat that they have. Ironically, in pursuing more traditional horror elements, the game’s actually less scary. There’s so many threats that the game loses the punch of having a foreboding presence, which is yet another thing traditional fans will decry. The fact that you can also actually deal with these threats gets rid of the powerlessness that the original game makes you feel. Even if you aren’t a traditional fan of Yume Nikki, you may see this and think “oh I’ve seen this before,” as you get stuck in Yet Another Chase Sequence.
While the structure is different and flawed, Dream Diary does manage to capture a great sense of atmosphere. The models and animations is reminiscent of PS2-era stuff and come off as awkward, yes, but the overall art style is okay. The game makes really good use of light and shadows in its environment and the soundtrack brings ethereal tunes to accompany the dream adventure. Personally, I felt that the game’s aesthetics could have been stronger if it leaned in hard on being like one of those PS1/PS2-core games that’s been popping up lately, embracing a lo-fi look or some cel-shading that could bring more abstract elements to the game instead of trying and failing to be an HD game in the eyes of many. Despite that though, I still think atmosphere succeeds at being a strong part of the game.
And speaking of the soundtrack, it’s a great improvement on Yume Nikki‘s soundtrack. It’s a mix of remixed stuff and original tunes, atmospheric stuff that gets you lost in the game’s world. Looking at the opinions on the game, Dream Diary‘s soundtrack seems to be the one thing people agree is an improvement and a good factor of the game. Honestly, I wouldn’t be mad if Kadokawa goes on to sell a soundtrack, I’d love to listen to this stuff while I’m doing other things.
If anything perfectly encapsulates the game, it’s the [Cvax Frn frdhrapr gung yrnqf hc gb Hobn. Lbh fubj hc va guvf oevtug jbeyq, na benatr tybj pnfg npebff gur frn ol n fhafrg. Fgenatr rlronyy orvatf pvepyr nebhaq n pbeahpbcvn cnynpr ng gur pragre bs vg nyy. Lbh fgneg gerxxvat gbjneq gur ohvyqvat, gur zhfvp fjryyvat nf vs va nagvpvcngvba. Vg’f na vaperqvoyr ngzbfcurevp ohvyq-hc, nf lbh ubc nebhaq vfynaqf jvgu onyybbaf gbjneq gur ohvyqvat. Lbh svanyyl ernpu vg naq lbh frr Cbavxb, fvggvat ng ure qrfx, oevrsyl npxabjyrqtvat Znqbgfhxv’f cerfrapr orsber tbvat onpx gb jbex. Lbh fgneg syvpxrevat gur yvtugf gb sbepr gur vpbavp zbzrag. Naq, nsgre nyy gur ohvyq-hc… Hobn nccrnef nf n guerr frpbaq fgnaqneq whzc fpner naq lbh’er sbeprq njnxr. Ab vagrenpgvba, ab orvat genccrq va Cbavxb’f ubhfr, ab zlfgrevbhf bgure jbeyq, whfg n fgenvtug hc whzc fpner. Vg’f n snagnfgvp yrnq-hc gbjneq fbzrguvat gung’f zber genqvgvbanyyl ubeebe, juvpu vf Qernz Qvnel va n ahgfuryy.]
Now, there’s something that’s objectively bad about the game and it’s that it’s buggy. Sometimes, platforming just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to and collisions are glitchy, leading to situations where you can get stuck. Performance is also pretty lackluster on lower end computers, which makes some 2D sections a complete pain in the ass.
The buggiest part of the game is easily the interpretation of Yume Nikki‘s mall. Do you like wall collisions? Well, a lot of them actually lack that. You can simply pass through a lot of the walls and end up falling through a void. In some cases, you pass through a locked door and think, “oh, maybe I’m supposed to go through here.” Nope, it’s supposed to stay closed, keeping you away from the endless void. In fact, try to avoid going into doors that are supposed to loop you around, because sometimes they don’t respawn Madotsuki’s position, which forced me to reset the game entirely.
But the mall didn’t even have the worst glitch. Instead, I give the worst glitch award to the dang filing cabinet in the school, which refuses to let me jump over it. Somebody suggested that I turn down all my settings and it somehow got me over it… the first time. You have to push the filing cabinet downstairs and jump on top of it to get something, but somehow, it refuses to let me jump on again. I’ve restarted the section multiple times already and the game refuses to let me jump on top of the filing cabinet when it’s downstairs. From what I’ve seen, this has been an issue for a few people and it’s an issue that pretty much prevents people from completing the game. I normally don’t make a big deal about glitches, but they’re usually not game breaking. And you know, you’d expect a game to be more stable if it’s selling for $20 at launch.
Yume Nikki – Dream Diary – is not the 3D Yume Nikki a lot of people would have hoped for and the overall reaction’s been very divided. Is it worth $20? I liked what I could play of Dream Diary – the keyword being “could” – but there’s a lot of things that would bug people. I can’t sincerely say that most fans will enjoy it, since Dream Diary lacks the elements that made the original Yume Nikki so memorable. In fact, I can’t say that I’d recommend the game to newcomers that want to experience Yume Nikki, because it doesn’t fully capture what people see in the game and its derivatives. In fact, the game’s inconsistent performance makes it hard to say that you should get it out of the gate.
If you enjoy the settings and bit characters of Yume Nikki or if you’re just a big fan of the game, you may be interested in seeing how this game reinterprets all that. Like the game’s atmosphere, there’s still a sense of mystery to the game to uncover. But even then, with the game’s bugs, I recommend that you wait a bit for more bug fixes before picking it up, especially if you have a lower-end computer.
It’s not the game people dreamed of, but hey, it’s a thing.