Yume Nikki offers a unique storytelling experience for the patient


This area is the annex of the girl’s dreams, and each room leads to a different area of her psyche. As the player moves throughout these worlds, they quickly prove themselves to be nightmarish landscapes filled with all manner of random creatures and areas. And it won’t take long for you to start to see why this game is so scary.

Aaron Gray, Staff Writer

Yume Nikki is an odd game, to say the least. Players start the game with arbitrary directions that basically tell them to go to sleep and collect “effects” before being plopped unceremoniously into the game world, controlling a solitary young child as she moves between a sparse two-room area. You have one of three options:

1) pinch yourself

2) sit down

3) go to bed.

The first five minutes of this is enough to bore most, and another 5 would probably see many already deleting the program, shaking their heads in confusion.

Odd to think, then, that this small game by a single young Japanese programmer using a bare-bones game creator has garnered critical acclaim, novel offshoots, and merchandise adaptations across the world. In fact, it ranked #14 on the list of most-downloaded titles on popular freeware site Vector in 2010 amidst international praise from journalists and regular gamers alike.

In case you haven’t gotten the message yet, I’ll articulate it clearly: Yume Nikki is not a game that you’d be used to. There’s no villains. There’s no guns. There’s no action. In fact, aside from the sparse tutorial (if it could really even be called one), there’s hardly any text or character to character interaction at all.

The one thing that it does have, however, is what made it such an enormous sleeper hit around the world: it’s story. But how can a story be told with no text? Allow me to explain through example.

If you choose option 3 from above, the screen fades out before refocusing, with the same environment seemingly unchanged. Only two things differ: the TV now offers various, seemingly random images when interacted with, and a previously locked door becomes accessible.

This door is the pathway to the true “game.” When entered, the girl is placed inside a seemingly endless room surrounded by nothing but 12 doors. This area is the annex of the girl’s dreams, and each room leads to a different area of her psyche. As the player moves throughout these worlds, they quickly prove themselves to be nightmarish landscapes filled with all manner of random creatures and areas. And it won’t take long for you to start to see why this game is so scary.

Now you have to understand, this is coming from a guy that has forced himself through some pretty scary scenarios. I’ve played hide and seek with a grotesque, malformed pig-man with a chainsaw, faced Lovecraftian horrors with little more than a lamp held in a shaking hand, and uncovered rotten, maggot-gorged bodies in school lockers that proceeded to attempt to take a chunk out of my neck. I’ve seen just about every grisly, gore-soaked torture chamber, every ungodly catacomb filled with the screams of the dying, every hallucinogenic world with demonic creatures dragging viscera across the crimson-spattered sidewalks. I’m a guy that knows his horror games to a pretty good extent.

But Yume Nikki manages to set itself apart from all of this. This otherwise unassuming little girl has dreams that only get stranger as the player progresses. The minimalistic music plinks away in the background as mazes of seemingly non-euclidean geometry are navigated, small creatures with deformed features wander aimlessly while refusing any kind of attempted interaction, and events that are practically beyond coherent description take place.

Perhaps I was misleading. Yume Nikki isn’t really scary; at least not in the classic sense. Its a game that slowly erodes the player’s sense of security with each plip-plop of the girl’s footsteps, each little spectacle making you a little more a wary, a little bit more uncomfortable. Watching what goes on in this girl’s head is one of the most genuinely upsetting experiences I’ve ever had in a video game. Its hard to describe the feeling; the best I can liken it to is reading the original Grimm versions of the fairy tales you loved as a kid only to realize that they were a lot more violent and horrible than the censored versions you read as a child. You feel violated, like a little piece of you somewhere has been taken and replaced by something weird and foreign. Each “effect” you collect, which in other games might give a sense of completion or achievement, only deepens this feeling, as if by  and controlling this girl as she digs deeper into this diseased universe you’re acting as a kind of enabler, forcing her to keep going. Or perhaps the feeling stems from a feeling of helplessness, only being able to watch as she plop-plops her way further into the hellish landscape of her dreams.

Thats is one of the things about Yume Nikki that is so incredible; you can’t really describe it. The game leaves so much up for individualistic interpretation while maintaining the generalized concept of dread that it makes an incredibly unique story to be told, simply for the fact that most of what the story is comes from the player themselves. Yet while watching a little girl, something that we associate with purity and innocence, see such things with the knowledge that they were in her in the first place, that you’re really nothing more than an outside observer, leaves you feeling utterly disconcerted.

In conclusion, if you’re a kind of gamer that would prefer shooting Russians or having mini-heart attacks from jump scares, Yume Nikki might not be for you. But for the patient gamer looking for a strangely particular sort of game, prepare to have a gaming experience like nothing else you’ve ever seen…whether for better or worse.

Yume Nikki can be downloaded for free from many upload sites across the web. The latest version of the game is ver .10.