This isn’t a new feeling for me, of course, as a suffer of insomnia, though this week has brought with it a level of mental fatigue that I wasn’t quite prepared to deal with, scheduling for myself a list of games to play that require a certain… attention be paid to them. Even so, I liked the irony of playing a game about dreams whilst being unable to sleep. I thought it would, if nothing else, put me in a unique place during this revisit to Yume Nikki, though truth is, you already need to be in a very specific head-space to deal with what it has to offer.
Similar to LSD, Yume Nikki is all about the randomness and inherent creepiness of the dream world, though offering something much more oppressive and hostile. In LSD, you could be anyone, experiencing or feeling just about anything; none of which may actually reflect who you’re supposed to be, but Yume Nikki’s world is designed for Madotsuki, the young shut-in that refuses to leave her home. Outside of the one video game she owns, she does nothing but sleep to pass the time. You never learn anything else about her either, left only with a few context clues and vaguest bits of symbolism to form your own mental narrative. Since those symbols exist only in the realm of dreams, you’re left only with more questions as to which should be trusted.
It’s esoteric to the point of being undefinable, being a RPG Maker game that in no way resembles an RPG. It’s not a horror game, though a significant portion of it certainly feels that way. You can’t even really say it’s an adventure game, since that would imply some sort of end-goal. Yume Nikki is about nothing more than the mere act of exploration; aimlessly navigating interconnected worlds in a search for meaning. Sometimes you discover an “effect”, an ability of sorts that you can activate on Madotsuki herself. Most are completely useless, doing nothing more than changing her appearance, but some, like the knife, can change everything. Monsters in your dreams don’t react well to being stabbed, for example. Sometimes your curiosity may lead you down an even darker path. In a game where a simple stroll through a forest means passing through a series of vomiting ghosts, you often find yourself wondering if that’s even possible.
The sheer fact that it feels like anything is possible is what makes the game so endearing. It’s not what one would call fun, but if you have an affinity for the weird like I do, it’s endlessly fascinating, dare I say, one of the most important games I’ve ever played. It’s a deep character study on a character that never utters a word. And it was all the work of one mysterious hobbyist developer that released it for free. To this day, over a decade later, next to nothing is even known about the creator, Kikiyama, though I can certainly draw some morbid conclusions from playing his/her game. It’s the kind of rockstar artist move that I’d love to pull off myself, knowing that I’d be unable to keep away from the adulation of those that found something in my creation that spoke to them.
Looking in from the outside, the mystery just makes that creation even more intriguing, even after all these years.