Mental health experiences aren’t universal, but there can be shared concepts and techniques. Practicing mindfulness, self-awareness, maybe even meditation are all concepts you’ll likely run into with a counselor or therapist. There’s a common language to fighting mental health problems, from ADHD (hello) to PTSD and more. What I’m getting at is, when a game like Dreamscaper comes along and you see that language as part of the game, well, it hits different. Even if the greater context is different, those little overlaps and that common language matter.
How does that translate into this here videogame, though? Dreamscaper is a weird roguelike that takes elements of the “lite” style and spreads them on top like an encouraging glaze. Your character has carried a certain trauma with them for a decade and finds themself returning to their hometown in a last-ditch effort to do something about her chronic nightmares. Every night you go to bed and are transported to an always changing maze full of demons, memories and cool martial arts skills.
While you’re hacking away at your personal demons made flesh, you earn currencies you take back with you to the real world. You lose everything else, of course. You can take that currency to work on yourself, from meditating on a park bench to drawing in your sketchbook and… most intimidating of all, trying to talk to people and build relationships. This personal and social progress, self-care and internal exercise translates to a deeper pool of resources in the Dreamscape.
It isn’t just rote stat bumps, either. Sure, you can get upgrades like HP bumps and damage boosts against bosses, but you can also do things like add room types to the dungeons or manipulate the equipment you start out with. Not only are you getting stronger, you’re also using lucid techniques to add new kinds of play to the dungeons. The protagonist is gaining new opportunities for success or progress rather than just “solving” her trauma with brute force. Kind of like how that works in real life, minus the magical combat.
Boiling Dreamscaper down to its videogamey parts, what we have here is a roguelike that wants you to succeed… eventually. You’re going to have to lose and start over, and that’s going to look pretty nasty at first. But as you add more things to do, you’re gaining more resources to eventually win. And if you’re truly struggling, the modular difficulty settings help you tailor the experience to your needs.
Like many roguelikes, Dreamscaper isn’t always fun to play. Sometimes it can be frustrating, and that’s baked into the genre. But it isn’t always pleasant, either. Despite the progress you make in a run, you’re back in the real world, with the end of your struggles nowhere in sight. The literature tells you you’re getting stronger and doing well, so do the people around you. But is that something you can perceive in the thick of it? All you can do is take it a day at a time, and do what you can. Am I talking about the game or real life? That question shows us Dreamscaper’s success at its thematic goals.
- A successful execution of a tough videogame metaphor
- The combat fundies are great. Solid combo potential, great dodge roll with variants and good thematic adhesion
- The dreamy (natch) visual style is lovely, but sometimes makes the action harder to digest
- The differences between the weapons and abilities begin to feel less pronounced over time in gameplay terms
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review