Some developers can’t quite pull off surreal horror like the Japanese do, and Yume Nikki is an excellent example of a mindfuck.
|Genre||Psychological horror, experimental|
|Free Download (fan translation)||Download from UboaChan.|
|Free Download (AGM Playism translation)||Download from Steam.|
* For the 2018 reimagining of the game, please check the review for YUMENIKKI –DREAM DIARY–.
Before I go over Yume Nikki, I would like to bring up a previous experience. Or you can skip it, whatever.
LSD: Dream Emulator Retrospective
So, a year ago, I checked out a rare and infamous PlayStation game from Japan called LSD: Dream Emulator.
And I can feel my sanity slip already.
For those who haven’t experienced its… pleasantness, LSD: Dream Emulator is one of the most bizarre games to exist in this world due to its copious amounts of disturbing imagery. While it was certainly an interesting game, it wasn’t really… good, per say. It’s one of those trippy experiences that makes no real attempt to explain itself and showers you with weird stuff with no rhyme or reason.
It was a game loosely based on a dream journal called Lovely Sweet Dream, based on dream experiences by Hiroko Nishikawa.
Overall, the game is a novelty and had made its mark in gaming history as a rare gem.
Most games nowadays are created to sell products and consumers usually expect some sort of straightforward narrative to come with the games. Whether it’s a simple premise like Mario saving Princess Peach from Bowser again or more fleshed out stories through the likes of The Last of Us, it’s hard for the really creative stuff to make any money unless it’s expected to get a lot of publicity.
…Nice try, No Man’s Sky. You struck out.
So experimental games are a pretty rare breed, even in the indie game community. Even some of the artistic games fall within normal gaming conventions, making it easier for people to pick up and play. You’d be hard-pressed to find something similar to the likes of LSD: Dream Emulator, because something like that would only target a pretty small crowd of gamers.
However, I did find one game that is comparable.
Yume Nikki is, without a doubt, one of the most disturbing games I ever played. Its unique presentation and strange visuals have inspired many fan games. It even has some influence over the popular indie game Undertale. While I’d say LSD: Dream Emulator comes closest to being similar to Yume Nikki, even that wasn’t enough to describe the utter horrors to jump out at you.
And today, we’re going to see why.
A First Look at the Face of Madness
Yume Nikki (Dream Diary) is a free downloadable adventure game built with RPGMaker 2003. The game received multiple updates since its release in 2004, but ended at 2007. The final version is 0.10, so fans speculated that the game was never finished. While that sounds like a game meant to fade to obscurity, Yume Nikki is one of those games that wouldn’t leave your conscience once you learned of its existence. Anyone who comes across it would be met with utter shock and awe.
But enough with the buildup. Time for your night terrors of the day, bitches!
You play as a young girl named Madotsuki (literally “window”), who lives alone in a small apartment room with no exit. At first, the cute and simple visuals seem mundane and welcoming like home. There is even a parody Famicom game called NASU, which plays like a simple arcade game.
I do have to wonder about those fruit punch red clouds though.
But before long, you’ll notice that you’re playing as a young girl who is cut off from the rest of the real world and spends every day living in a cramped apartment room that doesn’t even have a kitchen or a bathroom. Nothing but a bed, a desk with a diary, a bookshelf, a TV with no channels, and a game system with only one game.
Yes, you are basically living the experiences of a hikikomori. You are already in a depressing situation. Great start, right?
However, by sleeping in your bed, you enter a dream about your apartment room—sometimes, with a surreal background outside.
How high is this anyway?
High up on the apartment or high on drugs? You decide.
But if you enter your closet, you end up in some mysterious world known as the Nexus.
I think I took too much Nyquil…
As the game explained, your job is to enter dream worlds and collect these items called Effects. In the Nexus, there are 12 doors you can enter that each lead to a different dream world. As you progress further, you will find that more worlds lie beyond the original twelve and some may even be interconnected. So without further ado, take your pick and see what you discover!
Oh my, what is that horrible thing?
Oh no no no no, this won’t do…
Okay, now I KNOW I took too much Nyquil! WHAT THE HELL!
…Yeah. That was just the icing on the cake, people.
So while you’re trying to grasp what in the actual fuck you’re looking at, you will notice that these dream worlds are pretty difficult to navigate and some even loop infinitely. So, trying to find all 24 Effects and witness all events by yourself are just inconceivable. It would take a huge amount of patience and sanity.
Luckily, around the time this game came out, online communities worked together to find new discoveries in this game. Some are easy to find and some are just bullshitly random.
Which is why the Yume Nikki wiki is a great resource to navigate.
So yeah, all you’re doing at this point is exploring these vast, crazy worlds to search for the 24 Effects. To collect an Effect, you will have to find a specific NPC or item and interact with it.
Yes, I just spoke to a towel with eyes in a desert.
Once you collect an Effect, you can use it as an item to change Madotsuki’s appearance (1 key to activate, 3 to deactivate). Some Effects will give Madotsuki special abilities like riding a bike or attacking NPCs /objects with a knife.
You could say I’m a little bright for my age.
Ba-ha-ha-ha! No comment.
So, you might be thinking, “Is this all I do in this game?”
Well, yes and no. Not only you’re collecting the 24 Effects but you’re also trying to find as many Easter eggs as possible. And trust me, there are a LOT OF THEM.
It’s amazing that a game can carry so many hidden secrets, which is what makes finding these particular ones satisfying. There’s no tangible reward for finding these secrets; some of them don’t even have Effects.
Of course, Yume Nikki has its share of creepy secrets.
The Horror of It All…
The most infamous Easter egg in Yume Nikki is none other than Uboa, a character who is just so memorably freaky despite his short appearances.
To trigger Uboa, you must follow a specific sequence of events. First, you must enter the Snow World from the Nexus. Explore a bit until you encounter an igloo with a pink pool of water. This will take you to the Pink Sea.
That is, without a doubt, a reference to Magicant from the Mother series.
After exploring the Pink Sea, you will eventually come across a house. In this house, you will meet a blonde-haired girl named Poniko.
At first, this seems like a cute room inhabited by a normal young girl. However, there is nothing to do here except turn off the lights. Seems absolutely mundane, right?
Well, get this: exit the room after you turn off the lights each time and come back in to the same thing all over again. Just by random chance, you will get…
This is easily one of the most jarring moments in Yume Nikki, which is saying A LOT. But let’s see what happens if you try interacting with Mr. Ghostface here.
OH GOD! I REGRET EVERYTHING! GET ME THE FUCK OUTTA HERE, I’M LOSING MY MIND!
Even Uboa is all, “Wait, what the fuck is this place?”
So… yeah. Are you starting to see why so many people referenced this Easter egg?
Well, consider this. The Snow World, the Pink Sea, and Poniko’s Room are some of the most pleasant places in the game. So imagine that calm and peaceful atmosphere being immediately shattered by the grinning, disembodied head of Ghostface!
Most people playing the game normally wouldn’t even know of Uboa’s existence, because his appearance is completely random and well hidden. But for those unlucky few to see him the first time they entered Poniko’s room, news reached out fast. Uboa elevated to meme status.
As soon as he appears, you’re locked inside the room and you can’t switch the lights back on. It’s a feeling of entrapment and panic. Then you’re sent to that strange swamp-like world with that giant bleeding creature in the background.
Uboa is such a popular character that there are many fan theories on what he truly represents. Personally, I liked the Inferiority Complex theory since the contrast between Madotsuki and Poniko made a lot of sense to me. I would also like to think that Poniko is the Bloody Touching Monster in Uboa’s Trap World. Since it’s puking blood, maybe it’s meant to resemble a corpse? Meaning Madotsuki killed Poniko?
Maybe not, but it’s certainly fun staring at disturbing images to come up with different ideas in your head.
I should also mention that Uboa may have been the inspiration for an Undertale character called W. D. Gaster, who was also an enigmatic character with a shaky backstory. Considering creator Toby Fox used the Uboa sprite for his fan-made Earthbound project before, it’s not entirely out of the question.
It’s so easy to get lost into the surrealism that we will literally lose sight of where we are. Luckily, all you have to do is press the 9 key to pinch yourself awake. Then you can save your progress by writing in your dream diary.
To Dream of Better Dreams?
As you can tell, Yume Nikki is filled to the brim with morbid imagery. I mean, no shit, Sherlock. But that is what makes up part of the game’s appeal. It just makes you wonder what is going through this young girl’s mind when she conjured up those images in her dreams.
If there is one thing the game is never short on, it’s this overwhelming sense of loneliness. Madotsuki has no ability to talk to any of the residents in her dreams, whether they seem capable of it or not. Even the human-like residents seem to never acknowledge her, unless you’re one of the Toriningen (“bird people”). And when the Toriningen are pissed off, they’re going to hunt you down and banish you to a tiny prison.
Seriously though, you DO NOT want to meet one of these things.
EW! Get away from me… you freaky fuck.
So even in the most peaceful worlds, it just feels so lonely.
Many of the dream worlds lack a real sense of direction and it’s easy to wander about aimlessly until something happens. The background music accompanying these worlds are all short, repetitive tunes (some are just two-second loops) or ambient sounds. It’s like the feeling of being stuck in the same place for copious amounts of time, building up a feeling of insanity.
Oh yeah, there is still more where that came from. Despite being a RPG Maker game, Yume Nikki’s atmosphere is just amazing. The strange visuals with the strange soundtrack help create this fascinating, dark universe full of possibilities.
Something is clearly tormenting Madotsuki. She cut herself off from the rest of the world and spent her days playing her only video game and sleeping. In her dreams, she is searching for something. But we don’t know what that something is. Perhaps some sort of closure?
Curiously, there are Aztec-style illustrations everywhere in her dreams—as part of the environments or parallax backgrounds. If you studied your history, the Aztec empire in modern-day Mexico was known for its brutal sacrifice rituals. Despite the lively art style and bright color schemes, the Aztecs represented bloodshed, self-harm and death.
This artistic choice may very well be intentional, perhaps even giving insight into Madotsuki’s current state of mind. Mix that in with some deranged illustrations and photoshopped images from the real world, then you have this alien setting that you can’t just look away from.
The Story Behind It All?
So, you might be asking yourself: what does all of this even mean?
Who the hell even knows.
Yeah, probably not the answer you want but it’s true. Our mysterious developer KIKIYAMA left everything entirely up to interpretation.
The game never introduces a plot. As soon as you boot up the game, all you get are some instructions. After that, you begin in your quaint apartment room.
So maybe you’re asking, “What’s the point? If there is no plot, that would mean everything that happens in the game is meaningless, right?”
Well, I don’t think so.
In my LSD: Dream Emulator review, I discussed the random nature of the game. One thing I didn’t really bring up is whether the game itself has a real meaning behind it or not. Deep down though, I felt like the game doesn’t have a true purpose behind it and it’s just designed to mystify you with disturbing images.
But unlike LSD: Dream Emulator, Yume Nikki somehow feels like a more cohesive game. It feels like a testament to the developer’s thoughts and feelings, in a way that is most recognizable to us: pictures. While the true meaning behind the game’s symbols is still a mystery to this day, the worlds and characters seem deliberate and belong to one another. There’s a sense of unity in what you explore and discover.
Like LSD: Dream Emulator, Yume Nikki makes no attempt to explain any backstories. Everything you learn about the dreams occurs right in front of you. But oddly enough, it works to this game’s favor.
No matter where you go in this game, all you have is your emotional state to rely on for context. Perhaps some events in the game are meaningless, but how you feel during those events isn’t.
It’s like trying to interpret an abstract painting, taking in its colors, lines, entities and anything else that gives it an identity. The artist may never give the real story behind the painting, so all you have is your intuition. Human beings are not just capable of using words to express themselves, but to also use pictures. And if we want to express ourselves but can’t put it into words, we turn to pictures.
And we create these pictures in hopes that someone understands us. Someone might view our pictures as the product of an insane mind, but there will be others who will somehow share the same wavelength.
“Well, is there a story?”
Maybe there is. And the only way we can understand it is to keep searching for answers and hope that the chaotic imagery will make sense to us.
But for those not satisfied with the open-ended nature of Yume Nikki, there IS a major hint on what might have been going on.
After you collect all 24 Effects in the game, you may drop them (5 key) in the Nexus. After that’s done, you may wake up and go outside of your apartment. You will see a set of steps that mysteriously appeared next to the balcony.
Madotsuki can walk on the steps and plummet to her death. And that will trigger the game’s credits.
Unsurprisingly, this ending raised more questions in a game that already doesn’t provide any direct answers. While we don’t know what happened in Madotsuki’s life, it may be safe to assume that she is willing to take her own life.
I feel like this explanation helps shed a bit of light on the ending and the story hidden in the layers of confusion
While I can’t find any official explanation from developer KIKIYAMA, it truly makes me wonder. Is Yume Nikki perhaps a projection of the developer’s own life experiences? To know such isolation and loneliness, you must experience it for yourself.
Or is the game just a spectacle where we’re simply overthinking the content?
Whether there is a real story to the game or not, I’m fascinated by it. Even enamored with it.
And I mean it. There is something uniquely charming about the mysterious worlds and the strange characters. The visuals are quite fantastic and never feel out of place with one another. The sound design, though repetitive in nature, lends itself to a bleak outlook. The seemingly endless number of Easter eggs ensures that there is never a shortage of interesting things to see.
Is There More?
While I am trying to look for more content regarding the game’s themes, the game and even the behind-the-scenes stuff seem as vague as ever.
We have no idea who KIKIYAMA is. Reportedly, this developer made contact with other users on the Internet before—often with brief responses. However, the person (or people) behind this handle is a true enigma. I also saw a mention of an interview regarding the game, though I have yet to find it.
This is what the Yume Nikki wikia mentioned regarding any contact with KIKIYAMA.
However, although this address accepts mail, it is unlikely that KIKIYAMA continues to check it for mail. Furthermore, take note that KIKIYAMA may only know Japanese and e-mails that are written in English could be disregarded. KIKIYAMA has also been known to respond very infrequently and any response that is answered will be answered in a very short, straight-forward response. As with everyone, please be respectful when attempting to e-mail KIKIYAMA.
Apparently, KIKIYAMA did host an old website based on Yume Nikki. But from what we can tell from even the Google English translation of the website, there’s not much more information beyond what we already know aside from developer logs and bug fixes.
There is also this particularly mysterious website I found on the wikia, which seems to be some sort of Q&A. But because I have next to no understanding of the Japanese language, I can’t translate it. Furthermore, most of the text is a set of images so Google Translate can’t do jack.
There is a fan site known as Project Yume Nikki, which creates merchandise based on the game including a manga and a light novel. However, I found that many of the links are broken so there’s a possibility that the website management simply isn’t around anymore. It’s too bad because I might be interested in some of the cool merchandise.
There was also a manga adaptation called Yume Nikki: Anata no Yume ni Watashi wa Inai (Dream Diary: Inside of Your Dream, I Am Not There) that began in 2013. Yes, nearly 10 years after the game’s release. While it got permission to be made from KIKIYAMA, the manga is also just an interpretation from a fan.
The manga is quite different from how I imagined the game. In this adaptation, Madotsuki may not be a hikikomori but actually locked in her apartment by a mysterious force. Furthermore, the characters Poniko, Uboa, Seccom Masada-sensei, and Mars-san have more defined roles—but in unexpected ways. And I really have no idea what’s going on. This particular story took a bizarre turn where somehow only Seccom Masada-sensei is the hero (I think). Nonetheless, it’s still interesting to see a different interpretation in the form of a narrative.
But is that all?
Not necessarily. Yume Nikki may have been a standalone (maybe incomplete) title released by an enigmatic developer, but it has a strong legacy. There are many fan games and spiritual successors based on the original game, such as the likes of Yume 2kki and .flow. But I can talk about those another time.
But hey. This is a very interesting game and I fully recommend it. It’s certainly a unique specimen and quite an experience to play during nighttime.
P.S. This game got a followup in 2018 called YUMENIKKI –DREAM DIARY–.
- While the gameplay is quite simplistic, the game does an excellent job in putting emphasis in exploration and discovery above all else.
- The morbid visuals are just fantastic and come in all sorts of art styles, blending together perfectly to create this expansive alien setting.
- Much of the atmosphere focuses on the feeling of isolation and horror, as well as possibly envy on Madotsuki's part.
- Though mainly consisting of repetitive loops, the soundtrack adds to the dark, lonely atmosphere of the dream worlds.
- Despite the lack of a proper story, the game is ripe with interpretations and symbolism that serve to tell a story through just visuals and sound design alone.
- The map layouts are generally confusing to navigate, making discoveries slow and tedious to find.
- Some Easter eggs are too well hidden to the point where they're inconceivable to find in a normal playthrough, unless you encounter them by complete accident.
- If you're looking for an actual narrative, you're definitely not going to find it here.