yume nikki — critical play

For this week’s critical play, I tried out the walking sim Yume Nikki. It is a single player game published by PLAYISM and available on Steam. This was my first experience playing a walking sim, and I must say I did not really enjoy it.

The story of the game is that you are a girl, and exploring her different dream worlds at your own pace. As you explore, you can go through different doors to go to new realms and collect different items that can change your appearance and/or do certain actions like transport you to a new place. Though the game is tagged as horror and surreal, I would not say that the game is scarring in a way that would stick with someone for a long time after playing. I felt myself feel a little anxious and stressed by the general energy of the game generated through the music and visual styles, which I found to be particularly impressive when nothing bad was able to happen to your character in the sense of dying or being attacked by different characters. I think that this game is perfect for a rainy weekend day. I see people playing this game when they have a little more time on their hands, but don’t want to do anything too high energy.

One of the major formal elements and mechanics that this game employs is that there is no clear objective of the game. In the game’s description there is a quick mention statement “Can you make it to the secret ending?”, while also noting that there is “no particular goals or story of which to speak. You simply walk around”. Through walking, a player finds different objects and worlds. This creates a dynamic in which a player completely controls the flow themselves. They can come to the game for different reasons. They can be searching for the “secret ending”, creating an aesthetic of discovery. They can just peruse the different worlds and create an aesthetic of fantasy and abnegation through the escapism that being in the game’s dream world supplies.

Another mechanic that the game employs is that when in a particular realm within the greater dream world, everything visually looks very similar. While walking around, this creates a dynamic that makes the player feel almost lost. There is no sense of direction or location within the realm. In the same way, it makes it so that everything you come across makes you feel like you want to explore it immediately because it might be impossible to find again if you try to look. This feels similar to actual dreams in which when you wake up everything that you experienced in the dream quickly gets lost to memory, so you have to “live” in the moment of that dream because you will rarely be able to have the same dream twice. This further instills the aesthetic of fantasy and abnegation that the absence of an objective supplies.

The act of walking into an endless void makes it so that there really is no exact story that the game supplies. It is what the player makes it, and it is probably never the exact same twice.

This game was cool and different, but again, I did not enjoy playing. I had to resist the urge to constantly try to find or create an end goal or objective to follow. I wanted to have a particular thing to accomplish or look for, and the game gives absolutely no cues to help me create that environment. This is not the fault of the game though. Walking simulations are particularly without a clear objective. This is more illustrative of what I personally find fun in a game, rather than an inability of this game to deliver fun to a player. This is for a very different set of game players than me.

I would have liked to be able to have mini games or challenges within the greater game to come across. I think that this would have scratched the itch that I had to have some sort of aesthetic of challenge or competition within the game.

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