The Disappointment of Yume Nikki: Dream Diary - Review
When DmC: Devil May Cry was released, the term "not just bad for a Devil May Cry game, but a bad video game" was the most popular criticism. The people who enjoyed the game saw this as unfair, as DmC made no claims to be a sequel to the previous games and was instead a reboot. My gripe with this argument made by the defenders of DmC: Devil May Cry is that, like it or not, this game is called Devil May Cry. You can claim it's whatever weird spin-off you want, but when you use the words Devil May Cry, in that order, in the title of your game, it invokes a certain idea. You don't get to have the marketing cake of naming your game after a genre-redefining action series and then eat it too by telling your audience to suck it up because "it's a reboot" when the game was ultimately rejected for a myriad of reasons, most of all for being a bad video game.
This is the inevitable issue that comes with reviewing Yume Nikki: Dream Diary, which is bad as a Yume Nikki game but merely poor as a video game.
This does not mean that Yume Nikki: Dream Diary is entirely without merit. The inclusion of Super Nasu is cute, the graphics are serviceable (for the most part), and for fans of Yume Nikki, it will be nice to see a 3D realization of the game to any degree. In addition, this is a completely different kind of game than the original Yume Nikki, so in that respect, to compare both titles is unfair to Yume Nikki: Dream Diary. All this being said, the small, piecemeal sections of the game that show an inkling of competence do not justify the $20 price tag, nor does the game trying something different from the first excuse its overwhelming mediocrity.
Yume Nikki: Dream Diary falls short all on its own, but the title does it absolutely no favors. If this game were called Sweater Girl's Stealthy Dream Dunkin', it wouldn't have even breached the surface of the Steam shitty-horror-indie game ocean, and there would be no need to review it. The first Yume Nikki was a game where you were encouraged to explore and see all there was to see. While it did have the objective of collecting all the effects, that certainly was not the goal of the game. You wanted to get lost in Madotsuki's psyche because it was so visually stunning. The original game was steeped in surreal, hypnotic atmosphere that was so perfectly complementary to the bizarre dream world it lovingly crafted.
Yume Nikki Dream Diary removes all aforementioned elements from its predecessor, instead bringing us a chimera of only the most uninteresting indie game elements, creating what is the functional equivalent of Yume Nikki by way of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, forming an unholy union with Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project. The game is an aggressively unnecessary creation, where the meager table scraps of exploration you're able to pool together in a cruel charade of the original Yume Nikki are tarnished by invisible walls and puzzles that would make an early Myst game blush from their levels of inanity, all of which is blended to a gray-vanilla flavored puree and then topped with a spoonful of game-crashing glitches.
The platforming sections in Yume Nikki: Dream Diary are just a goddamn bore, constructed of tired levels that could have been shaped into any middle-of-the-road, 2.5D, side-scrolling section thrown together in Unity and then sheepishly hocked on Steam for $5 a hit. The stealth portions take the game from unending doldrums to clustered tedium, creating a true chore for the player to slog through that is so deprived of any kind of reward on completion that the alternative of simply not doing that part of the game sounds like a far better use of your time. I haven't even broached the mountainous lack of polish the game possesses, leading to the only logical conclusion that it is in fact an unfinished product (which the two patches since release on February 23rd support.) There was an area I entered in the game where my screen cut to black, and the game immediately crashed on the spot, apropos of nothing but trying to explore the game clearly in vain. The collision detection is capricious at best, where without warning you will fall through the floor or an object you're standing on and be rewarded with instant death
The horror in the first Yume Nikki was a slow burn, with the disturbing imagery that sloshes around in the player's mind blending with a soundtrack of rhythmic noise and ambient minimalism. While Yume Nikki: Dream Diary's soundtrack is actually quite serviceable, it takes a ham-handed approach to the horror, reducing the iconography of Yume Nikki down to jump scares that would seem more befitting a pop-up haunted house in central Florida.
Yume Nikki: Dream Diary did not have to be a 1:1 ratio 3D remake of the original Yume Nikki to be a good game. I would even make the argument that the only necessary followup to Yume Nikki that stresses accuracy from the original would be a VR game. However, Yume Nikki: Dream Diary misses the point of a reboot entirely. A reboot does not mean to completely ignore everything that made the original game great, to make something entirely new that has the occasional wink to the camera in reference to the original and then call it a day. Yume Nikki: Dream Diary is related to Yume Nikki more or less in name only, carrying only a pocketful of imagery from the first game, and gameplay-wise having next to nothing in common with it. The latter issue would be fine, but the fact of the matter is the gameplay path they chose to go down is middling at best and flat-out does not operate properly at worst.
It's a truly bizarre game in this aspect, because who is it for? People who loved the first Yume Nikki for its free-form exploration are going to find dust in the wind with Yume Nikki: Dream Diary, with the only real selling point for fans being the chance to see a scant few elements from the original game rendered in passable 3D. This is a reboot of a game that came over a decade ago; I can't imagine the people who are champing at the bit for more Yume Nikki are looking for anything like Yume Nikki: Dream Diary. While the game isn't a Highlander 2 level of betrayal to the first, it feels so wholly and completely unnecessary that you will not get anything from playing it as a fan that you couldn't find in a YouTube video, and if you have a passing interest in Yume Nikki, you're far better off playing the original, which is free on Steam.
Yume Nikki: Dream Diary is a game that, more so than just disappointing fans, fails to leave any lasting impression outside of "Wow, that was $20?"