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Messier than dreams

  • calunio
  • 07/05/2015 01:53 AM
Before I talk about Somnium, let me talk about Yume Nikki.

Yume Nikki is one of the most famous RPG Maker games, known even outside the RPG Maker community. It is a strange exploration game. You play as a girl locked in her bedroom. There is really nothing to do there other than lay down and dream. Once you dream, you get to explore diverse and bizarre locations. By "explore" I mean just walk around, with very little actual interaction. Although the game supposedly has an ending, most of it consists of just wandering around aimlessly and admiring the very intriguing and beautiful landscapes.

Though strange and somewhat boring, the game got many people's attention because of its uniqueness and surrealism. It also inspired many other RPG Maker games directly or indirectly, like .flow, I'm Scared of Girls, Middens, Lisa the first and others. What these games have in common is that they have poor or no gameplay, which is compensated by rewarding visual, musical and audible exploration of fascinating scenery.

So, before I talk about Somnium, it is important that you know Yume Nikki because it is an extremely similar game. Examine both games' premises:

In Yume Nikki you play as a girl closed inside her bedroom who refuses to leave. All the "action" happens when she's dreaming.
In Somnium, you play as a boy closed inside his bedroom who refuses to leave. All the "action" happens when he's daydreaming.

But Somnium's boy looks like a girl, and his daydreaming happens when he's in his bed with his eyes closed, so if I hadn't read the game's description, I would think he's actually dreaming.
Bottom line, both game's premise are exactly the same.
No points for originality here, but it doesn't really ruin the game in what it is.

By the way, only after playing Somnium and while writing this review I have noticed how many similarities both these games have. Even the game icon was directly inspired by Yume Nikki's.

So, Somnium is an exploration game. Every time you lay down in your bed, you're transported to a different place. Places vary immensely from one another in aesthetics. Your goal inside each of these places is to find objects which are called "memories". Once you've gathered enough memories, the game ends.

There are some details of the game I didn't quite get, but they are mentioned in the game's description. For instance, each daydream is composed by layers, and there are four memories in each daydream. Once you get four memories of the same daydream, you get an ending. Every time I daydreamed, I was in a completely different place, so I wasn't sure what the game means by layers, or what memories make a set with each other. It is relevant if you want to get different endings for the game, but if you just want to reach the end, you can just keep playing and you'll get it eventually.

The game is fairly short. Probably took me a little over half an hour. I only got one ending, and I didn't feel like trying another.

I have mixed feelings about this game. I wouldn't say that I actually enjoyed playing it, but I didn't regret doing it either. So let me try and break it down to more objective points.

What I liked:
What I liked the most about this game is that it has clear autobiographical references. Though it's not always obvious, the author clearly inserted references to his own personal life in the game. Maybe the entire game is openly autobiographical, and every memory found by the protagonist are actually memories from the author's life. I always liked amateur RPG Maker games - especially those made by a single person - because they say so much about the author, and they are artistic for this reason. Playing Somnium made me feel closer to a person I don't really know.

The game has also some interesting scenes, backgrounds, music and sound effects. A few of them were actually breathtaking, and the author displayed some serious graphical skills making this game.

What I didn't like
Sadly, the things I didn't like are directly tied to the ones I liked.

Although the game has hints on someone's intimate life, the pieces don't seem to form a whole. Unlike what happens in I'm Scared of Girls, in which you are exposed to random bits of of memories which slowly form a coherent story, nothing seems to be formed in Somnium. At least from my perspective, no parts of the game and no layers of the daydreams seem to be tied with each other. Also, they don't hint on any specific kind of personality. I don't know if the protagonist is a sad person, and angry person, a person who has been abandoned, a person that misses someone... some bits of the game hints on specific feelings, but they're just disconnected bits. If I was supposed to dwell into someone's mind, even after playing the entire game I feel like I don't know anything about that person's mind.

Another major problem is there is no constancy in the game's aesthetics. While some places are beautiful and interesting to look at, some were just plain boring and pointless. Some graphics were elaborate and well drawn, some were just plain lazy. This goes past the point that different draydreams were supposed to be different. It gets to a point where the game just doesn't seem to have a style of its own.

To me, this game feels very experimental. I felt like the author didn't know for sure what he was trying to accomplish. He just wanted to make a game like Yume Nikki, and experimented with different graphic styles, exploration settings, mood mechanics and etc. In this regard, I don't think I can say the game either succeeded or failed.

My advice for the author would be, even if you're trying to make a game that reflects a part of yourself (aren't we all?), try to be more empathetic with the player. The fact that the game makes sense to you doesn't mean it will make any sense to another person.

Overall, it is a game worth playing if you like games like Yume Nikki.

As a final note, I'm often annoyed by how fiction portray dreams, because dreams are commonly seen as synonymous to "random" and "bizarre", and we all know this isn't quite true. Yume Nikki's dreams aren't really dreams in any way that's relevant in a psychological standpoint. Daydreaming is quite different from dreaming, and Somnium's daydreams are a lot like Yume Nikki's dreams, and nothing like actual daydreaming. "Somnium" actually means "dreams" in Latin, and everything in this game makes it look like the protagonist is dreaming in his bed, so I don't know why it is even referencing daydreams.


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I think the use of the word "daydream" was just a poor way to distance this game from Yume Nikki, and it ended failing.
It would have been more original if the main character did something on the desk and started daydreaming there, because that would make sense. Maybe the author could've made the MC an artist? Artists love daydreaming (I'm proof of that).

And if the dreams look as bizarre as Yume Nikki's, then you're right about saying that they aren't daydreams at all.
I will be honest and say that this game is quite old and a tad early in my times with RPG Maker. But oh well, it's there.
Glad that you sent the review, though, I'm always looking to people's comments to improve.
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