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RPG Maker games

RPG Maker games are something i only really got into around the height of the COVID-19 pandemic but have very quickly fallen in love with. among my very first was Yume Nikki and that was a special experience that i feel like you can only really have once; just the atmosphere, the freedom and the aimlessness, it all culminated into such a unique sense of comfort and escapism that i think i really needed at the time.

i got into some of the classics shortly after: games like OFF, ib, Re:Kinder, etc., all with their own distinct blends of horror, the surreal, and a tiny bit of tongue-in-cheek self awareness, yet with a paradoxically sobering earnestness. there's a kind of culture you can see when you play a number of RPG Maker games that i just that i just fell in love with so immediately; they can feel so intimate and so personal—almost to the point of feeling uncomfortably close sometimes—and that's not something you necessarily get a lot anywhere else; it's special.

i felt like sharing a few of my favourites and my thoughts and experiences with them ♥

(note: this page is still a work in progress and will be updated incrementally! feel free to check back every once in a while if you're interested!)

Yume Nikki

it's truly difficult to put into words anything that hasn't been said before about this game. i think the easiest and only complete way to get a sense of it is to simply experience it for yourself.

Yume Nikki seemed to have just popped suddenly into existence in 2004, its last official update happening about 3 years later with little heard from the game's developer, KIKIYAMA, since. and i think the mysteries surrounding Yume Nikki's creator, coupled with its atmosphere and the subject matter itself, add to the allure and mystique of the game for a lot of people; by its very nature there are open ends everywhere in almost every aspect of this game. it's all so fascinating to dig through.

entering the bed at the beginning of the game

at first glance it might be unclear why this game has the impact that it does on people. when i tell my uninitiated friends about Yume Nikki i tell them that it's a game about walking around and exploring a dream world, and that's it. i make sure to explicitly say that there is no "goal" in the traditional sense, save for collecting all the "effects" scattered around the world and subsequently achieving the ending ("ending"), which are both entirely optional. but, to me, that's why Yume Nikki is so special and why it's achieved the devoted following that it has. there's a particularly unique blend of emotions derived from the game's aimlessness: some parts comforting, some uneasy; some parts familiar, some totally alien. there's so much that's unexplained but that you know must mean something, right? like you've been dropped into somebody's subconscious (and, in a way, you have).

that open-endedness and lack of direction lends itself to being a deeply personal experience for each person that plays it, and is why i personally would recommend playing it completely blind, at least for the first time. people discover areas in different orders, find things in different ways, interpret things differently. it's a joy watching somebody play this game and seeing how much their experience differs from yours. it almost acts like a Rorschach test in a way: what you take away from it is individual to your subjective experiences; different things will imprint more onto different people. there's a number of fan theories regarding what exactly is happening and what is trying to be said, if anything, sprouting from recurring bits of imagery and general themes that people have picked up on.

walking around in the "Number World"

because of some of these popular interpretations, and also its mostly bleak presentation, i feel like Yume Nikki gets misconstrued as a horror game often. it certainly isn't the most optimistic game, at least at a surface level: there's a heavy weight of isolation following you as you explore this desolate dreamscape on your own, areas like the "Number World" that feel almost hostile, and moments that can be genuinely unsettling (mention FACE to a fan and they'll know what you mean), but to label it as "horror" feels like a huge undercut, in my opinion. Yume Nikki can be scary in the same way it can be scary to be alone with your own thoughts; the frightening aspects are less The Point of the game and more like a natural outcome to its surreal, free associative nature. whatever fear you might derive from it might just stem from your own personal ones.

to me, Yume Nikki instead embodies a strange kind of comfort that's hard to articulate. i played it during a particularly vulnerable time and it was an experience that was, i guess, healing in a way; something about having an entire world to explore at my own pace with nothing expected of me, the isolation feeling more familiar than uncomfortable. there were a few moments that caught me off guard with how resonant they were.

entering the "Dark Woods"
discovering a train car

so there's this area of some forest you can find that's almost pitch black, eyes peeking out from deep in the trees that follow your movements. a winding pathway is the only thing here, and upon following it you're led to this shady area with a lone train car. you're able to enter it, and when you do the murky ambiance that's been following you around stops immediately, leaving behind just the rhythm of the train as it moves (well, supposedly, as you'll see). inside the train car are empty seats, bar for one taken by a dark, red-eyed creature:

there's something a bit sad about this little guy, like they've been sitting there for as long as this train has been there. counterintuitively, leaving now doesn't do anything, you'd find yourself still in the bleak forest you arrived in. it's only when you find a seat—maybe give this guy some company—and sit still for a bit, taking in this weird little moment, where you find yourself somewhere new upon leaving.

sitting next to the creature, waiting for the train car's destination

maybe that whole sequence was inconsequential to you, but i found myself strangely moved by it; it's one of the rare moments in this game where you're able to mask the isolation for a bit, spend some time around some other entity that isn't just mindlessly walking about for a brief moment of comfortable silence. but, for as long as you can stay here, you do eventually have to leave—you'll wake up some time anyway.

i had many other moments like that struck me in much of the same way: flying carelessly through the clouds above a mall, the lighthearted melody upon entering a digital-styled world, watching over a distant city from a garden in the sky, but i'll leave those for you to discover.

just a few years after its initial release Yume Nikki rapidly became a niche cult classic on the internet, and lately i've seen an increase in interest as the culture around "liminal spaces" continues to grow. it was so unlike anything else, and still is to an extent. the only other comparable piece of media i can think of is LSD: Dream Emulator, which was released exclusively in Japan about half a decade earlier for the Playstation. let's keep in mind that this was developed in RPG Maker 2003, an engine, understandably, known for making, well, traditional RPG games! so things like a turn-based battle system, maybe a party, a plot, were what was expected from a game made with this engine. Yume Nikki came along and swept all of those conventions to the side in the interest of artistry and expression.

its unique influence can be seen across the world of indie/underground games like in other more traditional RPGs such as OMOCAT's OMORI, Undertale by Toby Fox (who even managed to conduct the first ever interview with KIKIYAMA!), and even in completely different genres of game such as Dan Salvato's Doki Doki Literature Club. Yume Nikki has even birthed its own subgenre in a way with the many fangames that have been made in the years since its release, building atop of the game's structure and each injecting their own personalities and nuances. my personal favourite is .flow. i might write about some of those sometime too, we'll see!

i could yammer on for forever about this game, but there are definitely other games that i hold equally dear that i'd love to share!

animator gobou (牛蒡) has many fun Yume Nikki animations on Youtube!