Yume Nikki and Constraining the Player

Earlier this week I played a game called Yume Nikki (or Dream Diary, apparently) by Kikiyama. A post on the IndieGames.com blog turned me on to it; you can get an English translation (with complicated installation) there. The game is about a girl who refuses to leave her room and her journeys through creepy and labyrinthine dreams. The game is one of the most open and goal-less games I’ve played in a while, and it brings up some questions on the nature of goals in games.

Upon entering the dream world proper in Yume Nikki, you’re presented with twelve doors, each of which leads to a different region. Each scrolling, wrapping region is at least four screens wide and four screens tall, and few of them are laid out in a way that makes navigation easy. From each initial region, there is at least one way to go to another region, just as expansive and aimless. You can collect things (called “effects”), but they’re scattered seemingly randomly around the world, and the only sign of a goal is that you start with 0/25 effects, and that you can collect more.

Think of your typical video game, where you are presented with a very small number of options at the beginning. Usually, you can access only a few areas, and can do a limited number of things. Even in a “sandbox” game like The Sims or Grand Theft Auto III, you are limited by resources. You can’t afford to build all your buildings at once; you need to start with an infrastructure and work up to the football stadium. You don’t have a machine gun and a hotrod; you need to start with a few missions and make some cash, unlock abilities and areas.

But with Yume Nikki, the whole game world is open from the beginning, with only a few more options granted to the player as she progresses. I found it absolutely overwhelming. I could go anywhere, and as a result I felt powerless, because I didn’t know where to go first. I would wander aimlessly until I found something new, but that something new didn’t point me in a new direction; it was just yet another option to add to my staggering list.

The establishment of goals via the restriction of player action serves to guide players through a game. In The Shadow of the Colossus, an enormous amount of the game world is open at the beginning, but there’s always a guiding beam of light to tell the player, “This is something you can do to advance the game.”

The freedom of Yume Nikki is interesting, but it was ultimately too daunting to me. I like freedom in games, but I also like enough structure that I can always find something to do next. In the end, I didn’t have the patience to even enter each of the twelve doors. I wandered through about eight before I stopped playing.

2 thoughts on “Yume Nikki and Constraining the Player

  1. When I played Yume Nikki (and a couple of days later ‘beat’ it), I took things one at a time, every effect I got I woke up and saved the game before going back. When I showed my friends this game, I told them not to view any youtube vids since they very easily ‘spoil’ it and make it too easy. It’s purely an exploration game and giving away the answers is like cheating on a test (imo).

    Yes, to most it’s a boring game and overwhelming, but people don’t realize that’s all ‘you’. The game doesn’t demand anything. Heck, it doesn’t even have any goals. You take what you can eat and if you’re still hungry, you go back for more. (But people do have their opinions. Me? I wish this game was even BIGGER.) :3

    It’s a game of exploration, atmosphere and surprises (with plenty Freudian moments you can look far too into). And it’s pretty artsy-fartsy to boot.

    well, that’s my two cents. Hope you go back to the game.. And don’t get lost in the Red Furnace Maze. ;3

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