Dreams are a funny and often a confusing thing. Everyone has them, but some people never remember them. For others they are vivid and horrifying, then some have full lucid control of their dreams, and for a lot of people a single night’s sleep can feel like days, months, or even years. For Cassidy, main character of Afterburner Studios’ Dreamscaper, dreams are a way for her to fight her inner demons and make friends when she’s awake, which helps her fight. See, Dreamscaper is a mix of a procedurally generated “rogue-like” adventure game and a story about a young woman moving to a new town, making new friends, and coming to terms with her past.
I’ll begin with the adventure portion, since Dreamscaper does too. Dreamscaper calls itself a game with permadeath which is slightly misleading, but gets the point across clearly enough. What the game means is that every trip to Cassidy’s dreams and the adventures therein has to start from the beginning, with a new map, and without any of the new equipment or powers she has acquired along the way. Well, sort of. I’ll talk about it later. In any case, whenever you begin a dream by literally falling to sleep in a beautiful sequence where the waking world gives way to the dreamscape, you begin in a world created from memories of Cassidy’s home town. Here in this dream dungeon you must use your weapons and dream powers to fight the creatures that litter her dreams in order to open new rooms, find rewards, solve puzzles and finally fight an inner demon, a particularly nasty memory or fear she symbolically fights in her dreams. Kill the inner demon and Cassidy gets to go deeper into the dream. Die to it or any other monster and Cassidy wakes up in the real world, with almost nothing to show for her exploits except perhaps a sense of accomplishment.
Except remember that “well sort of” and how I said the game doesn’t really have permadeath? Well, one of the ways it doesn’t relates to those weapons and dream powers I mentioned. Cassidy has two kinds of weapons she can equip, melee and ranged, and each of those kinds has dozens of examples of each, and any given example of those. While you can find an amazing, say baseball bat with an incredible special effect in oen of Cassidy’s dream dungeons, that bat you found is lost forever when you die. However, simply by finding a version of that weapon lets you set it as your starting equipment for the next time you tackle Cassidy’s dream. The same goes for any of the lucid dreaming powers and dodges that you find. It will always be the most basic version of that weapon, but sometimes that’s all you need, or maybe you’re just trying to unlock an ability because yes, equipment has abilities that you unlock through using them enough. There is a lot going on in the adventure side of Dreamscaper.
Don’t let that fool you into thinking there’s less going on in the waking world. In the life sim side of Dreamscaper, you can daydream, reflect on yourself, make new friends, make gifts for those new friends, and you can make sketches of neat weapons or powers, most all of which require resources collected from the adventure side of Dreamscaper (and another way that “permadeath” almost but doesn’t quite encapsulate how the adventure side works) but which all unlock new powers, perks, weapons, etc. for the adventure side as well. While you could theoretically complete Dreamscaper simply by repeatedly running through the adventure levels time and time again, but you’d be missing out on not only on the story and events of the waking world, but also the many aspects of the dream world that doing these tasks opens up for you.
Dreamscaper is meant to be played alternating between Cassidy’s high paced frenetic dreams and the slower, more personal and expository waking sequences. In addition to the pure mechanical perks of participating in the waking world, like being able to improve your default equipment’s stats at the start of a run for example, you also begin to piece together the context and deeper meaning of the places and events that form Cassidy’s dreamscapes and inner demons.
Dreamscaper might seem like an unusual meeting of the minds, a rogue like adventure attached at the hip to a life sim, but I think it works very well, both in that the waking world and dreaming worlds play off of each other mechanically, each influencing the other but neither overstaying its welcome, but also in that the two narratives and narrative styles inherent in each genre manage to complement each other well and give deeper insight into Cassidy’s troubles, her past, her desire to improve herself and how the support of newfound friends helps her do that. If you like rogue-like games at all, give Dreamscaper a go. If you’re more of a life sim person, be warned, you’re going to have to brush up on your dodge rolls but the story is rich and rewarding. To sum up, Dreamscaper good and you should play it.