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[Yume Nikki: Dream Diary]The Mysterious Japanese Game That Took 14 Years To Officially Come Out

Update time:2021-07-16 18:57Tag:

  Playing Kikoyama’s creation engenders a creeping sense of unease. While some moments are funny or delightful, the operant mood is one of frightened, lost defensiveness. It operates on an authentic dream logic, which is to say there’s little logic at all. Doors lead to other dream realms (though doors themselves can take a number of forms, from open mouths to beds to abstract, floating shapes). Some spaces are are places that Madotsuki herself could have experienced in her waking life; one area in particular has the sense of a grocery store, seen from the perspective of a frightened, anxious child. But others are so anti-representational in their design and logic that they’re difficult to even describe.

  Even more unnerving, Yume Nikki is full of startling, unexpected events that occur randomly. In a certain room, a frightening ghost face can appear when a certain light switch is flipped—but there’s only a 1 in 64 chance of it happening. In such a minimal environment, these random occurrences are almost uniformly frightening. Yume Nikki is the scariest game ever made where nothing actually happens.

  That lack of activity, combined with the uneasy atmosphere, breeds paranoid apophenia in the player. Maybe if I follow this creature, it will lead me somewhere. Maybe the best method for exploring a dream space is to moving left and right until it loops, then up and down, then diagonally. Maybe that assortment of abstract shapes is an arrow! Following these hunches sometimes leads to discovery. Sometimes not. Even in cases where these maybe-patterns lead to something like success, it’s impossible to know whether the pattern you saw was real or not. On that matter, as in all others, Yume Nikki is silent, yielding to the projects of the player, so minimally designed, in traditional terms, as to feel almost like it has no designer at all. Like it just appeared when you closed your eyes.

  What’s Behind The Bedroom Door?

  The mysteries of Yume Nikki, both inside and outside its game world, intertwine around each other in an insoluble knot. There’s, first, the mystery of Madotsuki herself. Every silent inch of her journey invites the player to speculate on who she is and why she refuses to leave her room. There are bits of repeated imagery scattered around her dreams for the player inclined toward dream interpretation: grabbing hands; screaming, monstrous women; faces distorted in neon reds and yellows.

  Some images particularly evoke a car crash, maybe suggesting that Madotsuki is traumatized from an accident. Or maybe the truth is even more macabre, and she’s an abuse victim hiding from a violent parent—or is already dead, in her own looping purgatorial dream realm. What’s really beyond that bedroom door, which doesn’t appear to be locked or barricaded? Madotsuki could leave. She just won’t.

  Then there’s the mystery of Madotsuki’s unknown creator, Kikiyama. Who are they, and where did they go? Yume Nikki’s sprawling fandom is as fascinated with speculating over the creator’s identity as they are with speculating over the game itself. One popular theory suggested they died in the earthquake that hit Japan in 2011. Another, likely taking cues from the dark subject matter of Kikiyama’s only known work, suggests they committed suicide. The re-emergence of Yume Nikki has led to a confirmation from publisher Kadokawa Games that Kikiyama is, at least, alive, and involved in some capacity in the new developments in what has come to be called the Yume Nikki Project. But not much else is known.

  For the sprawling fan community, which encompasses a decade of fan games and semi-official merchandise like manga adaptations, those two mysteries are one and the same. All art brings with it the temptation to read biographically, to try to glean details from the artist’s life and psychology out of their work. But with Yume Nikki that urge is overwhelming. The twin mysteries are so congruent—of course a game like this would have an unknown creator!—that they can’t help but feel connected. And all the games and fanfics, forum posts and Serial-style podcasts are an attempt, by those affected by Kikiyama’s games, to explain them, to hold the power they hold and make it legible.

  And yet the illegibility is itself the joy of Yume Nikki, and of Kikiyama. As I write this, a couple of days left remain on the timer counting down whatever the next step in the Yume Nikki Project is. It’s not clear what exactly it is, although another game of some sort seems a likely guess. It’s a moment not unlike what happened when famed indie band Neutral Milk Hotel emerged from a decade-long exile and went on tour. There’s a sense of possibility, as something once obscure has the potential to pass into the mainstream.

  But if these mysteries are ever solved, they’ll lose something. Like a dream, they’ll solidify and fade, transforming into something mundane. Yume Nikki is unsettling but also joyous in its own way, a warm blanket of loneliness, a world entirely the domain of one girl. To save the game, Madotsuki writes in her dream diary. She’s a cartographer, making maps of her own nightmares. She never shows her diary to anyone else. So far as we know, there’s no one with whom to share it. It belongs to her, and to the player, alone. That’s the point.