Yume Nikki: Dream Diary Loses the Essence of its Source Material


#1

It’s late, and the structure of thought in this OP probably isn’t going to be too clean, but maybe that stream-of-consciousness style is more fitting for the game in question.

Yume Nikki, the 2004 RPG Maker game, was as submerged in the logic and structure of dreams as it could be, which is to say it gave sparse direction (save for a few words at the beginning), followed a loose structure, and contextualized nothing. This isn’t to say it was an aimless or directionless game. In fact, it’s one of the most cohesive games I’ve played. Disorientation is an element so key to the experience of the dream, and everything in Yume Nikki exists to serve that sensation. Screen wrapping is employed on many of the dream world’s maps, turning them into endlessly looping toroidal planes, while obstacles and background tiles are repeated and repeated all over to prevent the player from clinging to landmarks that would normally help them find their bearings. Choppy, surreal background images drift around, combining with long stretches of empty map and the scrolling of the screen to confuse the player’s sense of speed. Doorways lead to doorways lead to doorways in a sprawling labyrinth of maps, and getting hopelessly lost in the labyrinth frequently makes waking up the only effective way to untangle the exploratory knot.

Yume Nikki (2004) was nothing if not intentional in everything it did, and the ways in which worked the constraints and played to the strengths of RPG Maker were groundbreaking. It inspired a fair share of excellent successors - OFF, Space Funeral, and Middens among them - but Yume Nikki remains a timeless and unapologetic work of surreal art in and of itself.

Enter Yume Nikki: Dream Diary. On January 11, 2018, a mysterious 8 minutes 33 second teaser was dropped for the project. A lot of folks (myself included) were incredibly intrigued by it, and there was heavy speculation on what exactly it was going to look like.

Fast forward to February 23rd. The game was released for $20, and, still intrigued, I decided to check out some gameplay videos; what I saw was a game that fundamentally misunderstood its source material. The best way I can describe how is that

Yume Nikki (2004) was coherently incoherent. Yume Nikki: Dream Diary is incoherently coherent.

The former has a strong sense of identity - it doesn’t mold itself around notions of what it should be as a game, and in doing so creates a mold of its own; the latter can’t seem to decide on what its identity even is, let alone capture the identity of its namesake. It tries to be an atmospheric platformer, it tries to be survival horror, it tries to be a puzzle-adventure game, and it falls short of all three.

Gone is the labyrinthine map navigation of the original; dream worlds are now levels to be completed - they have win states, and “enemies” (of which there are far more than in the original), rather than sending you to an inescapable prison-map, an element of Dream Diary’s predecessor which reinforced the game’s sense of disorientation and spatial confusion, simply reset you to a checkpoint like so many other “gamey” games.

I have plenty more thoughts to share on this, but I think I’ll stop there for now to open this up for discussion:

What makes a “reimagining” of a game - or any creative work for that matter - good? Which examples do you hold up as the strongest, and which ones do you think missed the mark the most?

(Here’s a video of Yume Nikki: Dream Diary’s gameplay, for those interested in comparing it with the original)


#2

I think there’s also something to be said for things like pixel art obscuring and distancing elements of imagery that enhances horror and unease. The strange synth sounds and the bizarre art at the beginning of the first Shin Megami Tensei on the SNES instills an unease that’s very particular. (Though, this isn’t just horror; I find the 3D art for Cave Story 3D to be garish and unappealing.)

Yume Nikki in particular (something I really need to play through the entirety of) exists in a very particular space of culture. It was this weird, obscure freeware horror game; it doesn’t have an ad team like Resident Evil. It didn’t take up the same kind of room as a large horror game like creepypasta exists in a hugely different realm than Stephen King novels. It feels more like discovery. It’s the feeling of bringing home a copy of Eraserhead or Tetsuo: The Iron Man from a rental store, afraid that the VHS will curse you by touching it. When it occupies this space, it takes on an air of mystique and confusion that fits horror so well. Your expectations suddenly don’t apply, because you have no previous experience or veteran to rely on in parsing the internal language of this art. It somehow both alienates me as a player, but also makes the experience feel far more personal. Incoherence, as stated, is something that makes that experience whole.

I guess what I’m saying is, I think Yume Nikki was released in such a particular setting that re-releases might inherently fail to maintain this.


#3

Massively this. I think the new game looks kind of interesting - I think enough of Kikiyama’s ideas seem to (from what I’ve seen) translate quite nicely to the new graphical style, because it’s not totally dependent on the hypnagogic retro unease.

But I think so much about Yume Nikki is how it relates to the childhood experience of playing games; it’s like all the emotional investment you can only as a child dedicate to searching out secrets / urban legends in those old games (for example, Pokemon) and then sort of presents that back to the player through the adult subconscious in which nostalgia merges with anxiety / traumas / whatnot. The remake kind of throws up the question: maybe that was just a happy accident, due to the limited resources of RPGMaker, and not deliberately all the stuff I (and so many others) rattle off about it.

I’d love it if this gives Kikiyama a chance to design more games (provided they want to; there’s a pretty big part of me that thinks they’ve probably put most of this behind them, tbh) cause they’ve clearly got something special.

Final point: anyone who likes Yume Nikki and hasn’t played Anodyne should definitely play that.


#4

KIKIYAMA didn’t actually develop the game themselves; it was done by another studio, but supposedly with KIKIYAMA’s approval and “the utmost respect for KIKIYAMA’s work”


#5

The original game’s value was in how much it rejected mechanical convention in favor of a pure focus on atmosphere. That this new one apparently wholly embraces the conventions of horror games is indicative that the developers were either fans who completely missed the point of the original, or crass opportunists who were solely interested in pillaging the aesthetics and IP to make a quick buck.

It sucks since I would have loved to play another game with the same pervasive feeling of alienation and isolation as the original, but I’m not too broken up since it ended up influencing a handful of modern indie games. You can definitely see it in the sub-stories of Undertale, for example.