Yume Nikki is unique in that, like its many interpretations, many people get many different things out of it. Things that might seem universally liked by a lot of people might end up being disliked by another sizable portions of the player base. When I made my fangame, a lot of the people didn’t mind me not including a speed effect and having the character always hustle, but someone remarked how they kinda missed the feeling of taking their time. Here’s some of the common pros and cons I see.
Atmosphere – by far the most popular and most commonly agreed upon like in the fandom is atmosphere. For almost everyone, Yume Nikki’s magic comes from how each element – the slow paced walking, the uneasy droning music, the surreal art and its variety of styles, the empty and hard to navigate maps, the ambiguous nature of the game, the bare gameplay – all of it contributes to an atmosphere of loneliness and uncertainty. The ability to make the player feel something, something hard to describe and slightly unique to each person who plays it, is the magic of the genre. Not every fangame will make the player feel the same as the original, but that’s ok: that’s what gives each game its own identity. As long as the elements of the game come together to provoke some sort of emotion, you’re hitting the right button. Fans of the genre enjoy getting lost in a strange world, never forget that.
Some players have expressed nothing ever gives them the same feeling that Yume Nikki did, whether it’s due to the game not feeling like it had something to say (I’ll talk more on this later), or it wasn’t executed properly, or it just didn’t hit the same notes Yume Nikki did. The last one is trying to recreate lightning in a bottle and is a disservice to yourself and your game if you try to emulate the same exact feeling, as it waters down your idea and your game’s identity. There is also not going to be the exact same feeling felt by each person: since it’s such an ambiguous game, a lot of applicability is involved and one person’s interpretation will be just different enough from someone else’s. You won’t be able to please everyone, so focus on making the feelings you want to feel. Heck, you might accidentally stumble upon the same or similar atmosphere through your own way of conveying it.
Note: even games with more story, dialogue, and gameplay have emotion and mood to them. Traditional fangames have to do less with more and can flourish with the restraints set by it’s predecessor, but it doesn’t mean the same atmospheric goals cannot be completed if it has
The joy of exploration & discovery – This is the second most commonly agreed upon quality I see listed as a “pro”. Yume Nikki is technically an easter egg hunt (the effects turn into eggs after all!). The best way to describe its descendants aside from “Yume Nikki clone” is with the moniker “open-world non-linear exploration”, as players are exploring a large world in a non-linear fashion. There are a few elements of gameplay included in it that lean towards adventure game, with small puzzles like “use X effect to take down an obstacle” that lean most games towards bare bone point and click adventure instead of with a win condition (collect all of the items/see all the things depending on the game), but the main focus is finding things.
Even small, simple things like finding a new world or a unique npc that does something unusual is rewarding in the genre, since finding anything requires time and patience to reach it. Without maps and guides, each discovery has a chance to surprise, delight, or provoke an emotion (usually “oh!”) in the player, and grants them the feeling of accomplishment once found. This particular zing of endorphins is what drives a lot of players to play more fangames, as they wish to see more crazy worlds with strange and unusual things in them. It’s one of the reasons games with less emphasis on atmosphere are still enjoyable to a good number of players.
Another note: While on Pinkuboa I emphasize graphics do not make a game, that’s because almost all games have gameplay and/or story to keep players interested in them. In a silent yume nikki fangame, everything relies on the artistic assets and mapping skills of the creator. You don’t have to be Salvador Dali in skill, but by all that is holy and good in this world *please use your own graphics or customized graphics for your game*. By using RTP or other premade assets, your game loses the identity it could have had and becomes a generic mush of ideas several other developers have used. Your audience will tire of it quickly and look away, as there is nothing novel or unique about default assets, and 90% of the time I see them comprising most of a game’s graphics, there is no lighting or other mapping techniques used to give it the barest sense of atmosphere. You could use stick figures and it would still be leagues better than unaltered premade assets.
Developers can make premade assets work, however: *anomiac.* and the non yume nikki fangame the *God of Crawling Eyes* edit RTP assets & add their own flavor to them. Another way to make things work is by collage: you don’t have to be great at drawing to create strange and unusual areas through cobbling together public domain pictures. It will look a bit rough, but that is the charm to collage. It doesn’t take much to have your own style, just a bit of extra effort.
Catch ‘em All – Something I don’t see talked about as much directly but indirectly is collectability. For whatever reason, collecting things makes people happy. This can be seen from stamp collections, to achievement collections, to completed Pokedexes. It’s another small accomplishment for players to enjoy and gives the game direction (it’s pretty much the only goal of these games). A lot of fangames add collectables like orbs, menus, plot items, outfits, etc. as it adds another layer of things to discover for player satisfaction.
Applicability - Or, the open-ended, interpretive nature of the genre. The original Yume Nikki has left people questioning it for years, developing theories and making connections based on their own experiences. This makes the game personal and gets players more involved/invested in the game proper, as figuring things out and constructing theories requires extra thought to be put into what a player just experienced. It’s a neat little phenomenon you can see in other works like Lost (the TV Show), the Prisoner (the TV Show), Jacob’s Ladder (the movie), Shutter Island (the book & movie), House of Leaves (the book), The Divine Comedy (the poem), and so on. Learn more about applicability here on tv tropes.
Strangeness factor – some people just enjoy seeing weird shit. I don’t have much to say about that.
Relaxation – Fan Games are slow paced as per tradition. I’ve seen people who liked the original Yume Nikki in *spite* of this, but I’ve seen enough players who like the game because of this as well. Turns out that people who enjoy the original Yume Nikki don’t usually mind a slower paced game because of it. The rhythmic beats of the protagonist’s feet as they walk across an interesting landscape with some deep tunes tends to be a zen experience. Again, this is not all player’s experiences, but that’s ok. Go towards the flow you feel.
Creepiness - the alternate emotion, something that can also be enjoyed by the same people who like the above. Yume Nikki may not quite scare you, but it does have a knack to unsettle and put players on edge through atmosphere alone. It’s a special kind of horror that a ton of horror fans crave - the numerous fans of the Silent Hill series, Amnesia series, Alien: Isolation, Soma, Darkwood, & other highly atmospheric horror games will attest to this (and will keep attesting to this until the day game companies will listen to them). I’ve known players who’ve enjoyed Yume Nikki and some of its fangames for their spooky nature, but I’ve known a number of people who aren’t too big into horror (Yume Nikki being their limit or close to it) who aren’t as keen on it. It’s another big variable, go towards what you feel as above.
Game Development Advantages
Can be made on a shoestring budget - Rpg maker is cheap. Paint.net, firealpaca, & gimp are free. LMMS, Audacity, and plenty of other music making programs are free, and so are a bunch of music and other artistic assets.
Requires little programming and little programming knowledge - anyone can make a fangame. RPG Maker is easy, and there’s hundreds of tutorials on how to make a video game and other free engines to try and make it in. Not much can hold you back aside from how fast you personally learn things, and that’s ok, even RPG Maker has a learning curve. It’s a good place to start and can give you the training wheels you need to make other projects.
Great for Artists- If you like showing off your music or art, this is the perfect genre to showcase it in as they’re the stars of the show.
A Good place to Experiment - at least, in my opinion. Adding in more gameplay options or implementing something you’ve never done before works well in these types of games since they’re a hodgepodge of things already. I see the Yume Nikki Formula as a base instead of a strict guideline that you can add, subtract, and mix around things in.
A lax attitude towards completion and perfection - While many fans lament the fact that not many fangames are complete, it’s not a bad thing for the developers themselves. There can be months or years without updates of a game and people will wait for it. You can make as many changes as you want, you can add as many things as you want, and you can complete it at your own pace and keep people happy by releasing it in installments.
Built-in Audience - There’s over 700 members in the Uboachan Discord, 300 in Dream Diary Development’s (the other one I run) discord, and 4,200+ members on the r/yumenikki subreddit. *Someone* is bound to play your game.
Now let’s talk about the other half of the coin: the downsides of Yume Nikki Fangames and other open-world nonlinear exploration games.
Boredom and Frustration – in spite of the accepting nature of the fanbase for long walking times, even they have a limit. Boredom sets in at different times in different ways due to different causes that we’ll go over in a bit. Please note: **These two emotions are the worst things to experience in any game regardless of genre.**
Lackluster Mapping - Several developers assume that scattering the same five or six objects around a looping map with a black void background is all you need to make a Yume Nikki-like map. This is true, but it doesn’t mean it is good. Maps need to be balanced between “linear corridor where one can easily get from point A to point B” and “oh god I haven’t seen a landmark in a full fucking minute where am I”. Players are patient, but there still needs to be enough landmarks and variety for players to find the cool stuff hidden in your game. There also needs to be some sort of smaller rewards scattered about. Here’s a few cool minor things you can find in the original yume nikki that separate worlds from each other and make each one have a more unique feel to them:
Even these small elements help break the trip between one big interesting thing and the next. There’s only so much “Filler” players can tolerate before they ask “Ok where the fuck is the next thing?” Playing other people’s fangames will help you figure out what you find acceptable and unacceptable yourself.
Unoriginality and Lack of Variety – This can be in concept or in structure. Here’s a few common ways.
Attack of the clones: Snow world, neon world, monochrome world, block world. Knife, bike, teleport to nexus effect. Repeat. Developers may aim to make a Yume Nikki-like game, but anyone who’s played more than 5 fangames can attest to the fact that several of these world are either overdone or done in a way that everyone else does them (there’s a big difference between the look of the Amazon rainforest, the coniferous forest of the American north west, and the bamboo forest across Asia, yet… why are there all these broccoli and Christmas tree worlds?). Yume Nikki can be a template, but it doesn’t have to be a strict set of laws. Have a climbing effect. Have your character dream a happy event. Don’t include a teleport maze. Include 3 teleport mazes. Go wild.
Deja Vu - Every map should not be a 100x100 looping area. Change the size, change the shape, change how each map loops or not loops, make a map in a sidescroller perspective, have another be isometric, have one be linear, have the next be branching paths, change! Up! The! Map!!! Not only does keeping the same kind of maps for each area make exploring it boring, but it also blends everything together into one mass of oneness (do you ever confuse the graffiti and neon world? I do). Theoretically you could call it cohesion, but I believe it’s being too scared to break a mold. Give people a reason to explore just by changing things visually.
Another Love Song: The protagonist is crazy. The protagonist is lonely. The protagonist is suicidal. And somehow, this is conveyed in nearly the exact same way in several fangames. The game is trying to unsettle you. There’s a whole world with blood splatter everywhere. There’s a world made of body parts. One or more events involve the protagonist or someone else dying. We’ve heard this song before, just the lyrics switched around. **Falling into clichés** is one of the worst things a fangame can do: Yume Nikki is renowned for its *Novelty*, not for rehashing old ideas.
“But Dr. Saturn, I can’t think of many ideas, and all the ones I want to do feel like they’ve already been done by someone else!!” That’s ok. Humans have been having this problem since the dawn of art. Creativity and originality are for the most part learned, not innate. Humans aren’t good at creating something out of nothing. We draw upon our own experiences (from relationships to school/work to hobbies to walking in the park in the middle of the day) and media we’ve engaged in (books, movies, sports, board and video games) to create things. This means that it takes time for us to learn how to be original and how to express old ideas in a creative way. It takes time, patience, thought, and most importantly, practice to get better at it, much like art, reading, walking, and so on. Cut yourself some slack and do your best. (I’ll link some videos and articles on creativity at the end of this).
Backtracking a little, you don’t have to make your game edgy to be a fangame unless you want it to be. If you think blood and severed heads are a requirement to show that there’s some nightmare elements or because all protagonists have to be a little murderous, don’t worry, you don’t have to insert it if it doesn’t help out your main theme. A related concept is “being obtuse for the sake of obtuseness”. While obtuseness can work (obviously, hail mado), if you’re being obtuse for the sake of it *and have nothing you want your audience to figure out*. Why does the game focus on something really hard one time and then never again? Who knows! The creator didn’t! The randomness of dreams can be conveyed and can have this effect but I’m trying to say “you don’t need to try so hard to be abstract that you put your own head up your own ass” as eloquently as I can (and I don’t know if it worked or not).
Lack of Things to Say – What was Kikiyama trying to say with the original Yume Nikki? Most fans agree that he was trying to say something, but not the definite answer (and that’s what makes it fun). In general, players say “Depression”, “Loneliness”, and “Isolation” as the main themes.
What is the point of your fangame? Why are you making it? What is it supposed to convey? Even if it’s something as simple as “I want to make a bunch of worlds for people to explore based off some neat ideas and/or dreams I had”, that’s still something (See: Yume 2kki for a game that makes this work). You don’t need to be elaborate; you just need to know what your purpose is. A purposeless game tends to just copy yume nikki with a few random elements thrown in to make it its own thing, and fails to be memorable due to a lack of cohesiveness in **overall** themes and mood (individual worlds can create contrast by having different themes amongst other variations). I encourage you to pick out what you are going for in your fangame and embrace it.
Slow Pacing – One of the main reasons people don’t like Yume Nikki and other walking simulators. Some people want a faster paced game. Your job is to find a way to keep the player interested as best as you can, and the way fangames do it doesn’t appeal to everyone (and why Yume Nikki is a Niche game).
Nothing to Do – Another main reason people don’t like Yume Nikki. “But what do you *do* in it?” In other games like animal crossing, you can say “It’s a daily life simulator with elements of collecting and an emphasis on decorating, with several minigames to play each day”. In other walking simulators, you can say “we’re trying to enjoy a narrative told in an interactive format”. In yume nikki, you just collect eggs then watch the main character yeet herself into the abyss with no context for any of it. It’s ok to add more gameplay and/or story to your fangames: evolving the concept of a Yume Nikki knockoff can lead to a game with more engagement and reward for both the developer(s) and the players. It’s also ok to keep it as is: you just have to be comfortable in the niche genre that nonlinear open world exploration games happen to be.
Little to No Context, Little to No Plot – I say this is one of the biggest things keeping RPG Horror fans, fans of story centric horror games, and adventure game players away from the genre. Fleshchild is one of the games that introduced a more limited world and a more defined narrative, and it probably is one of the most popular fangames for those reasons (along with a few others but that would be for a review). Miserere also introduced a plot along with more adventure game elements and it too is one of the most popular ones out there (again along with other reasons). Yume Nikki is part point and click adventure when you think about it, but really, really stripped down and released into a sandbox. This combined with “no gameplay” keeps Yume Nikki fangames sectioned away from other genres.
Cons from a Development Standpoint
Your game will be limited – A double edge sword. Unless you decide to break out of the genre’s conventions, you are stuck with the open world structure and the quirks of the genre.
You have a small audience - you may have a built in audience, but calling your game a fangame or having no gameplay/plot/dialogue means not as many people want to play it.
You have to spend most of your time mapping & creating assets - another double edged sword. If you hate either of these, this is not the right genre for you. As talked about earlier, asset creation is a must, and it is nearly impossible to make a decent game without a bit of customization. The quality of your game will depend on the skill level all of these are at. Mapping, art, music, etc., are all things that take time to git gud at. Don’t be deterred because you can’t make the Stanley Parable of Yume Nikki Fangames – you have to start somewhere.
It’s easy to fill worlds with nothing – It’s easy and tempting
Gameplay loops tend to be monotonous – Another thing caused by limiting your game. Your entire gameplay loop is this:
It’s your choice to keep this up or to throw different things in it. There’s an audience for it, it just depends on what you like and what you want your game to be.
Pacing will take a backseat – Unless you have sections blocked off by the amount of something collected or by the number of effects collected, players will be the one who controls where to go and what to do next. This is mostly detrimental towards those who dislike non-linear storytelling or feel like they want to hand craft experiences dependent on a lot of factors (like a well-designed doom arena that helps guide gameplay in one level). Almost all of these are a double edged sword.
Common Genre overlap
For those who wish to expand their gameplay or bend the boundaries of the genre, here’s a few things that segue nicely into “open-world exploration”:
Platforming - Collectathons like 3D Mario games and Banjo Kazooie are a common subgenre of platformers already. Adding in a few extra enemies and obstacles to overcome in your non-linear game can add another dimension to the above.
Point n’ Click Adventure Games - This is the most common one I see in fangames. Simple puzzles solved by using the right items in the right places or having the right knowledge at the right time to unlock progression adds a nice extra to what’s already there. I’d say this is the closest genre next to “walking simulator” that Yume Nikki is, just because reaching some areas and effects requires usin’ that noodle to get to them. Adding dialogue or more puzzles to get to areas and have a sort of narrative (or non-narrative) sequence based on those is just a natural progression of the genre in a way.
”Zelda Clones” - Exploration + collecting & using items to progress and solve puzzles + combat = Zelda-like. I would say that linear progression & much more gameplay separate Yume Nikki from games like that. As long as you kept the surreal nature and the more open ended design to levels, I believe players would still consider a game like that to be Yume Nikki-like, or at least inspired by it.
Metroidvanias - Like Zelda clones, collecting items to use them to explore more places is what Metroidvanias are all about. A greater focus on combat and boss battles would swing the game away from Yume Nikki in my opinion, but it could be done.
Sandbox Games - This is also one of the actual genres of original Yume Nikki. Add in more minigames and gameplay in general along with an overarching goal and you have a sandbox game.
Survival Horror - Another genre where exploring is key, but instead of plot important things, it’s for survival material. Combining both could go pretty smoothly if done right.
Videos and Articles on Creativity