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Saga of Sadism

Land of Dreams might possibly be the most cleverly designed RPG that I've ever played, freeware or commercial. However, this is probably an appropriate situation to employ Hanlon's Razor, since this would imply that the game's creator was acting with intense and deliberate malice towards his audience. Nevertheless, even if it's strictly unintentional, Land of Dreams is probably best appreciated when taken as a cruel and elaborate joke at the players' expense.

I originally intended to play through this game without using the video walkthrough provided by the creator, but this ultimately turned out to be unfeasible. For most of the game, I followed the process of playing through each section unguided and making an effort to progress normally, and then using the guide to advance whenever I got stuck. While the game contains extensive sidequests and optional content, I only attempted to pursue ones which I was able to uncover without the assistance of the guide. If you think it bodes ill that I was forced to alter my plans in this way, you're on the right track, but on the plus side, experiencing the game this way gave me the opportunity to contrast the two quite different entities of the game as-designed and the game as-played.

Land of Dreams tells the tale of a young mercenary who embarks on a journey and soon finds himself embroiled in a war against an expansionist empire ruled by a megalomaniac. When he and his companions discover a plot to revive an ancient power and use it as a weapon to rule over the world, he's forced into a conflict for the very fate of mankind.
Sound cliche so far? What if I told you instead that it's the story of a self-centered sociopath with a tenuous grip on reality, who embarks on a mission of vengeance for reasons that may exist only inside his own head, carrying out a personal vendetta against a national leader whose machinations should probably pose no threat to the rest of the world?
This is also story of Land of Dreams, but it's not the story the creator intended to write. An unending stream of poorly considered writing choices, unnoticed by the author, turns the plot of the game into something truly weird, and shaded to varying degrees of subtlety with utter nonsense.

While the author does not, at any point, attempt anything approaching originality, the plot contains numerous twists and turns, some of which genuinely shocked me, or at least engendered some strong emotion related to shock. Practically none of them are foreshadowed at all, and in fact, some of them flat out contradict prior exposition with only hand-wave justification. The only twist of any significance which is foreshadowed in any meaningful way comes at the very end of the game, and it's a particularly frustrating example of one of the most widely hated stock ending twists known to human storytelling.

The game serves as a compelling demonstration that even cliches must be cultivated with attention. If raised with neglect, a cliche may fall on its head or eat lead paint or suffer some similarly avoidable disaster which will leave it irreparably damaged, leading it to grow up into some cross-eyed ward of state with whom even other cliches are uncomfortable associating.

It's difficult to discuss the story's characterization while leaving aside the matter of its gameplay. As the game's characterization is inextricably intertwined with the story, so is it intertwined with the game mechanics. All these elements weave together, seamlessly, into a sort of braided whip, which lashes the player into a state of insensibility.

It would do disservice to the complexity of this game to simply say that the characters are flat, that their behavior is unrealistic, that their personal stories are introduced and resolved far too abruptly, and that there are simply too many of them given too little investment in the story, so that the player has no reason to care about most of them. Of course, all of these things are true. But it's what the game does with them that's truly exceptional. On their own, they would be uninspired, sometimes confusing, sometimes even laughable, but Land of Dreams provides a context in which they can serve as an almost endless source of frustration.

Gameplay Part 1: Character Swapping Mumbo Jumbo
How not to copy Final Fantasy VI

I would be remiss in not mentioning how liberally this game cribs from the Final Fantasy series. Many of the plot elements (along with much of the music,) are drawn from Final Fantasy VIII, and indeed one sidequest (the encounter with Bahamut, already one of the weirdest and most guide-dangity events in Final Fantasy VIII,) is lifted directly from that game, including a reproduction of the dialogue and the bizarre solution. But visually and mechanically, Land of Dreams draws the most from Final Fantasy VI.

Having the largest playable cast out of the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy VI regularly splits the main characters up and throws them back together, interspersing opportunities to pick and choose your party at your leisure with events which require the use of specific cast members, or even all of your party members together, and contains numerous sidequests offering opportunities to explore characters' backstories, address their personal issues, and even pick up a couple optional party members. Land of Dreams attempts all of these things. The implementation, however, is so disastrous that I can hardly believe it was deliberately conceived by a human being.

Like many RPGs, Land of Dreams limits the active player party to four members. No matter how many characters you recruit, no more than this will ever travel with you at a time. There is no backup party wandering around with you, waiting to be swapped in and out of your active team. For nearly the entire game, your party can only be changed in one place, the main character's house back in the starting location. Indeed, when the main character's house is inaccessible, it nearly always means that party switching is inaccessible as well. Given the game's slow overworld walking speed and high encounter rate, a trip to change your party members may take upwards of fifteen minutes in each direction. Until you acquire an airship fairly late in the game, the only way to get back to the starting location is to physically retrace the steps you took to get wherever else you are at the time. Of course, far from becoming your characters' mobile base, the airship simply expedites the process of schlepping to the main character's house and back by making it possible to avoid random encounters.

Unlike most RPGs, in Land of Dreams, every time you talk to a recruitable character, you recruit them at the end of that conversation. No exceptions, regardless of how implausible it is for them to drop whatever else is going on in their lives at that time to join your quest. Most player characters are found simply wandering around towns like NPCs, albeit ones with unique character sprites. Since I tried to do a proper job exploring the game environment, I recruited all the non-secret characters at the appropriate times, but I can only speculate what might happen if a player simply didn't bother to talk to and recruit some of the major, plot relevant characters. Judging by the evidence of how well the game usually copes with the player deviating from the expected script, it might be downright game-breaking.

Every time a new character joins your group, they enter directly into your active party. Since your active party is almost always full at four members, this usually means kicking out one of your current members, sending them back to wait at the main character's house. The player is given absolutely no say in this. If the new recruit is a dozen levels lower and has a vastly inferior moveset to the character they're displacing (and even if you're normally not in the habit of level grinding, this is likely to be the case, for reasons I'll explain later,) and you want to fix your ruined party setup, you have no choice but to travel all the way back to the main character's house to do so.

However, you need to be wary when swapping out the new characters the game suddenly and unexpectedly throws at you. Certain points in the game require the presence or abilities of certain characters in order for you to progress, but you won't receive any advance warning when this is going to happen. Removing a new character the game has thrust at you might improve your party setup and make the next section easier, or it might prevent you from progressing at all until you head back and fetch them again. In fact, by failing to have the party setup the game designer intended at certain points, it's possible to miss important hints about what you're supposed to be doing, leaving the you floundering around trying to figure out how to continue the game.

All these elements combine to turn the recruitment of new player characters into something to be actively feared by the player. Whenever you find a character with a unique sprite, you're liable to find yourself praying that they're merely a plot-significant NPC, and not somebody who'll once again shove themselves into your active party against your will.

There are only a couple points in the game where you're forced to make use of all your characters together, and one of the two is quite easy. The other, however, takes place in the final boss fight of the game, where every time one of your characters falls in combat, they'll be replaced randomly by another character from your backup party. This is absolutely infuriating, since only in the game's video walkthrough will you receive the advice, totally unnecessary prior to that point, that you should take the time to level up and properly equip all your characters right at the end of the game. In fact, for reasons that I'll address in the next section, the path of least resistance for this game will tend to lead to dramatic gaps in fighting power between your player characters, which cannot be closed quickly even in the endgame.

Gameplay Part 2: Puzzle Indecency
Exactly how long is this thing?

Land of Dreams' download page describes it as having 8-10 hours of gameplay, but this is inaccurate. A puzzler for you; if the Land of Dreams video walkthrough is divided into 22 sections averaging about 15 minutes each, but contains all the sidequests and optional content in the game, how long should it take the average player to complete the game playing normally without delving into this detour-ridden resource?

The correct answer is "forever." The video walkthrough takes a number of measures to cut its length down to something manageable- editing out random encounters, employing fade-ins and outs between locations that actually require tedious journeys to traverse in-game, fast-forwarding overworld travel and most of the longer boss fights, and using various other mechanisms which cut out a majority of the time spent playing the actual game as directed by the guide.

The vast majority of the saved time in the video walkthrough, however, comes from the elimination of huge amounts of wandering around having no idea what to do.

One of the overarching elements of Land of Dreams, in story, in characterization, but especially in gameplay, is a persistent failure to provide the player with important information. This applies in abundance to the game's sidequests and other optional content, but rather more critically, it also applies to numerous "puzzles" which the player is required to solve in order to complete the main storyline.

I put "puzzles" in scare quotes because overwhelmingly, the primary obstacle they present is not forcing you to use your reasoning skills to decipher a complex task, it's forcing you to flail around blindly trying to figure out what the hell the puzzle actually is. If a challenging but fair puzzle might present the player with a grid of colored lights, where changing the color of one light affects the lights around it, and the player must find a way to turn the entire grid one color to open a door of the same color, a Land of Dreams style puzzle might present the player with a grid of colored lights in front of a featureless door which will remain resolutely shut until the player draws a smiley face in colored lights, without providing any hint that this is the sort of solution that the game is looking for.

This is exacerbated by the fact that, with only one exception (navigating the dunes to enter the town of Darium, itself a particularly infuriating "puzzle" which is impossible to escape until it's solved,) all these mandatory puzzles take place inside dungeons with infuriatingly high random encounter rates. Land of Dreams offers no such courtesy as a reprieve from encounters to navigate, decipher and solve a puzzle. While you try to figure out, or at least stumble into, whatever it is you're supposed to be doing, you'll be constantly harassed and distracted.

One of the upshots of this is that if you're not following the guide, your active party is liable to end up dramatically overleveled from all the fights you get into while wandering around in confusion. The experience curve in Land of Dreams is relatively shallow, meaning that the amount of experience needed for each new level doesn't rise all that dramatically, and neither does the average experience per battle as you progress through the game. Thus, your characters can end up far ahead of the intended level for a given point in the game by fighting a larger number of battles than the designer intended, and this will not simply balance out in short order when you progress to a further point in the game where the monsters provide more experience. This is why new recruits are liable to be underleveled relative to your active party; they're scaled to the the expectations of the game designer who didn't account for players spending so much of their time in dungeons hopelessly stuck. This also provides an additional incentive to kick these new, weaker characters out of your active party before entering another dungeon; even if they're strong enough to get by at that point in the game, their relative weakness will make the already tedious combat your party is going to face even slower.

Gameplay Part 3: Combat Balance and Living In Tents

The combat in Land of Dreams is quite difficult at the start of the game, if not exactly "challenging." While the main character opens up the game protesting to himself that he should already be qualified to join the Tora mercenary group without having to deal with the bother of his final test, the reality is that in gameplay terms, he's dramatically underprepared for his test mission. He starts the game with no money whatsoever (a chest inside his house contains a small amount of currency, but he leaves his house automatically without opening it, the game offers no sort of reminder that it's there for your character to pick up in order to get some supplies, and you won't be able to afford more than a measly few items with it anyway.) If you attempt to head directly to the starting dungeon and progress to the end to complete the mission, you will simply die. In order to succeed, it's necessary to ferry back and forth between the dungeon and town several times in order to grind for money and experience and build up a stock of items which will allow you to reach and defeat the first boss.

From here, the level of combat difficulty is mostly downhill. The characters catch up to and accelerate past the level curve, while the availability of items skyrockets. While the video walkthrough frequently alludes to certain bosses being "challenging," or suggests that you might be running out of healing resources by the end of long dungeons, in practice neither of these things is likely.

While the game's inadvertently enforced level grinding is responsible for much of the lowered combat difficulty, the main reason that your healing resources will probably never be exhausted is the absurd overeffectiveness of tents. As in most Final Fantasy games, tents can be used to fully restore health and magic for your entire party. Unlike in Final Fantasy games, or nearly any other game which features similar items, the use of tents is not restricted to save spots or the overworld; they can be used at any time outside of combat. Because healing your party with tents is so much more economical than using tonics, potions, tinctures and ethers, there is simply no reason ever to use any of these items outside of battle. An easily affordable supply of tents can allow you to plow through random battles firing off nothing but your most powerful spells and techniques, for several hours of gameplay, by which time you will of course be able to afford a whole lot more tents than you started with. This will leave you with an abundance of healing items for boss combat if you need them, but most of the time you won't.

Towards the end of the game, however, a number of bosses, both bonus and mandatory, possess some moves which can completely screw your party over. In several entries of the video guide, the author makes notes to the effect of "pray the boss doesn't do this, because if they do, you're fucked, and there's nothing you can do about it."

This kind of luck-based gameplay is pretty much universally reviled, and for good reason. So where the combat doesn't suffer for being too easy, it mostly suffers for being heavily dependent on sheer chance.

Sidequest Madness:

Albert Einstein famously said that "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Land of Dreams' designer may have had this in mind while developing many of the game's sidequests, which are clearly designed for crazy people. Anyone who is not already crazy upon attempting them almost certainly will be afterwards.

While the game is already terrible about providing the player with the basic information necessary to complete the main plot, for the optional content, it takes this to an extreme. Not only do many sidequests require the player to undertake actions which they are given no hint that they ought to undertake, some of them offer no reward whatsoever unless the player has also completed other unrelated sidequests which were also not hinted at. The game absolutely loves to hide valuable or important things in places which offer absolutely no visual clue, nor any hint regarding where or how to look for them. Indeed, the considerable majority of all items in the game, aside from those bought in shops, are either hidden invisibly, or locked away in chests which can only be opened upon completion of a sidequest which becomes unavailable after a relatively narrow window, which an unguided player is more likely to miss in its entirety. Perhaps the most flagrant defiance of player-friendliness though, comes in all the sidequests which require the player to perform the same action over and over, past the point where a person would reasonably assume that it wasn't doing anything useful and give up. One hidden treasure requires the player to inspect the same spot on an otherwise featureless island, which gives a "??????" message when clicked, a full thirty times in order to receive their reward. Other quests require talking to the same person repeatedly even though they give the same dialogue response every time, or engaging in combat with the same regenerating bonus boss several times, without any hint that this will eventually lead to a different result than doing so once.

Of course, the most powerful and time consuming bonus boss in the game, the Fallen Angel, also regenerates immediately when defeated, and drops four copies of an apparently useless item called the Proof of Angels, and if anyone has ever inferred from the game's demonstrated habits that they're supposed to defeat that one multiple times, and attempted to kill it until something new happens, well... may God spare their soul.

Land of Dreams' creator seems to hold the game's large number of sidequests and hidden elements as a point of pride, but in the video walkthrough, he describes some of them himself as "annoying" or "frustrating," but having rewards worth the trouble, as if he simply had no conception that pushing annoying or frustrating gameplay onto players is something a designer should try to avoid.


It's hard for me to offer a coherent rating for a game like Land of Dreams. As a work of game design, of course, it's absolutely disastrous. Whereas if a game was simply bugged to the point of unplayability, I would abstain from offering a score, Land of Dreams is a complete, playable work of unadulterated user-hostility. On the other hand, as a piece of conceptual art, Land of Dreams shines with a kind of perverse glory. It inspires a kind of enthusiasm I would never have for a game which was simply mundanely mediocre. If RMN allowed me to award games black stars to games which achieve greatness via terribleness, I would absolutely do so here. But since I can't do so, I'll at least award it a score which will allow future users to seek it out as an example of what to avoid in game design.


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I feel flattered you gave such a in-depth review as you did. Spending so much time on a game you reviled. Can you tell it was my first RPG and frankly, my first game I ever made in my life? I think it shows and you picked out all the points where I failed as a designer back then. I'm far more fluent in RPGmaker now, and those bad design choices (like schlepping back to Robert's house for party change-over) is now gone and I have more techniques under my belt to not create designer 'hostility' towards the player. Which is good.
My current RPG, Amulet of Fate, is probably light years beyond anything Land of Dreams could hope to accomplish. Which is probably why its taking forever to finish, it'll be my last game I'll make using the program and I really want to get it right this time.
I accept all your criticisms, my first RPG was atrocious, but I won't go back and change it now. It is what it is. I put it up here for historical purposes and because certain players actually like the game and requested I do so. So thus...it remains up here, as a testament of what not to do and what has been. Thanks for your candid and truthful review. You basically told me everyone I already knew, but glad someone pointed it out. You can be assured, all that nonsense is gone for Amulet of Fate. I don't make the same mistakes twice. (I just make new ones...haha)

I'm glad that you've accepted the review with such a positive outlook. I was hesitant to take the tone I did, since I had no desire to offend you personally, and I'd hate to belittle someone over something they produced as part of a learning experience. But in the end I found that playing and reviewing the game was simply much more fun when I gave free rein to my urge to mock, and felt that a more polite description of the content would have been less fun to read.

Best of luck finishing Amulet of Fate, and I hope that when the time comes, I can give it a much more favorable review.
Psssh, for a work this old, I can't get offended anymore about it. Its in the past and its a piece of my game making history. Can't change much about that. Now would I be a bit miffed if Amulet of Fate got a similar review just after release after spending 12+ years on it? Maybe. But probably because its a more recent venture and we all want to see our current ventures succeed. But this review hit every button on the head and truly pointed out my failings as a budding designer. But I'm always willing to learn and correct my mistakes. Thanks again for sticking it through to the end and glad you got surprised at the plot twists you never saw coming. (and made no sense anyway)
I'll be honest, this review actually makes me want to try the game.
It couldn't hurt to give it a try. I actually had quite a bit of fun with it, since I was writing up my thoughts on it for the review and discussing it with my friends as I went.
So bad its good? Interesting viewpoint on it...
This game was the best thing from my childhood, I loved it to pieces and still play it now. I think it is a very well made game and I never used a guide to play it, everything is easy to follow and the game was challenging too, something a lot of modern day RPGs have lost... I give it 5 stars and don't agree with a lot of things desert says in his "review".

The only two things I am a little uncertain about is how my character seems to slow down after playing through the first 30 minutes of the game, both in towns and in the world map Robert runs a lot slower than when I first remember playing the game, I even started a new game to confirm this, he runs a lot faster near the beginning of the game... Could you please tell me why?

Also, this was never a problem when I first played the game years ago, but playing it today on my new computer the text is almost unreadable, nothing like the videos you made on your play through, if you could advise me on how to fix these two issues that would be amazing because I love this game to pieces and I can't believe it's the first RPG you have made!!!
How do i change from Day into night??
Go outside any town, area or dungeon and wait on the overworld map. Time will pass and day will turn to night. I must apologize that I made the 'timer' rather long however. Just be patient. Fight some enemies, it'll soon be night and vice versa.
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