I’ve played quite a number of rogue-lites recently, but Dreamscaper is different than most. By including the social aspects of a Persona game, it’s more story-driven than other games of its genre. But does this unprecedented spin on the genre work, or is it better left untouched?
It’s been ten years since it happened. Cassidy hasn’t been able to keep it off her mind since. The tragic moment still lingers in her memories and has led her down a path of loneliness and depression. Seeking a new life, Cassidy moves half-way across the country to Redhaven. The crowded streets are a shift from the quiet hometown of Backhill, and she struggles to fit in with the way of society.
The sad news is that life doesn’t always go the way you want it. Instead of pursuing her dreams as an artist, Cassidy becomes yet another link in the chain of daily life. A dull job at a boring office. Haunted by nightmares, she’s met with unrest at every turn, even in her slumbers. But why did these nightmares begin, and can she stop them? While not the focal point of the game, her tale is still concise and engaging to follow.
Dreamscaper is divided into two modes. During the day, Cassidy can socialize with people she encounters, forging new bonds. In the style of Persona, relationships bestow new powers. When asleep, she will find herself in so-called Dreamscapes – darkened versions of places she holds dear. Invaded by fearsome creatures, they are not a safe place to stay, and Cassidy will have to face her fears when venturing forward.
There are six Dreamscapes, four of which are unique, the other two being harder versions of previous areas. Each consists of a multitude of connected rooms holding treasures, enemies, and alike. Various loot can be picked up and equipped, making way for multiple playstyles. Suit yourself! At the end awaits a challenge, either in the form of a boss battle or a hardened enemy. I would guess that the latter are temporary placeholders.
Despite the procedural generation threshold, Afterburner Studios managed to craft many memorable locations. The snowy landscapes and cozy homes of Backhill stand apart from the neon-lit nightlife of Redhaven. Various buildings can be interacted with, giving the player an idea of their surroundings and what meanings they held for Cassidy. Dreamscaper‘s locations feel more personal than those of any other rogue-lite experience, and it’s one of the game’s many strengths.
Fundamentally, combat is quite simple. You’ve got your standard array of attacks: a quick attack and a slower, more powerful one. Your ranged weapon is useful for attacking enemies you don’t dare approach. Additionally, various tools are in your aid. Bombs offer a destructive way of combat, but can also remove obstacles. I preferred to utilize lucid attacks (special abilities on a cooldown) to take down enemies one by one. You can also slow down time The Matrix-style, but keep in mind that this will drain your Lucid meter. There’s an array of weapons to choose from: slugger bats, water guns and katanas are only a few examples!
I found combining these to be extra satisfying, and I’d encourage you to do as well. Enemies can feel like damage sponges if all you do is slash away at them. Utilize everything at your disposal, and you’ll dispose of enemies faster than you can say the game’s title. You’ll have to be precise about your movement. Otherwise, the situation can quickly turn dire. Actions such as parrying are of utmost importance, as they can deal a crushing blow to the enemy. The bottom line is that Dreamscaper‘s combat is fun and simple to learn, an ideal combination if I do say so myself.
As touched on briefly earlier, Cassidy can socialize with various personalities found throughout Redhaven. Currently, there are six in total, although I expect more to be added. When approaching someone, you can choose between talking to them or gifting them an item. Both increase your status with them. When your friendship reaches a new level, you’ll unlock new gear.
Cassidy can craft gifts with resources found through exploring her dreams. It’s a good idea to keep a person’s preferences in mind when doing so, as giving them a gift they love will further your bonds even more. The more you get to know a person, the more interests of theirs will become clear. If socializing ain’t your thing, you can also spend these resources on customizing your starting loadout, picking whatever weapons you prefer.
The story is told mainly through conversations with your friends. The problem here is that these stories don’t run parallel due to how the friendship systems work. Cassidy can be depressed when talking to one person, and upbeat when conversing with another. I don’t know how they could’ve avoided this issue, but it doesn’t make it less apparent. I also ran into situations where a character would marvel over my appearance, shouting, “It’s been months” despite chatting with them the day before.
Indie games often make up for their lower budgets with more personality across the board, something which can also be applied to Dreamscaper! The game uses a soothing art style to express itself. I can’t put my finger on how to describe it. I’ve included a picture below to illustrate what I mean. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say.
Accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack, the game truly is exceptional to look at and listen to. I can only wait in excitement for what is next for Afterburner Studios after Dreamscaper is complete. Suffice to say, they have a lot of skill and passion, and it shines through every aspect of this game.
Dreamscaper is not only a good rogue-lite, but it also comes with a touching story about dealing with depression. It’s an unusual combination for sure, but it works quite well. Although the game has a few problems, it didn’t ruin my enjoyment. I can only recommend the game.