Horror games have become rather popular as of late, especially those which leave the player helpless and unable to fight the psychological terrors they are presented with. In 2004, however, an independent Japanese game developer called Kikiyama released a game that would focus on a still unknown horror. Yume Nikki (literally translated to “Dream Diary”) is a freeware game, created with RPG Maker 2003, in which the player controls a girl called Madotsuki and explores her dreams. What makes this game interesting to most people is its entire lack of story.
Yume Nikki contains as little text as possible, with absolutely no dialogue, expository text, or anything beyond the menus and the initial instructions. The only thing the player knows is that they must go to sleep and find “effects” in the dream world. When a new game is started, they receive these instructions, and are then left in Madotsuki’s small apartment, able to go onto the balcony, play a mini-game on her television, or save the game using the diary on her desk. This total lack of story line may leave some players confused or uninterested in the game, but it allows for an even larger story to take place throughout the game. The mission is no longer just “find the effects”, it becomes “what happened to Madotsuki?”
Throughout the years since its release, and the release of its updates (the most recent being version 0.10 in 2007), fans have theorized about the true story behind this game, and why Madotsuki is having these surreal and often horrifying dreams. The most popular theory, with the most evidence behind it, is that Madotsuki was raped, and is now suffering from the traumatic event. Others theorize about the identity of Madotsuki, arguing about her age, or whether or not she is male or female. These theories tend to drive the game more than the game itself does, giving it a story, a plot, an end-game. The player’s ultimate goal is to figure out why these dreams are happening, and who Madotsuki and the other various characters are.
This “story without a story” has also influenced several other games, inspiring them to follow a similar route. There are fanmade spin-offs of Yume Nikki, such as Yume 2kki and .flow, which strive to tell a story without telling the story. Likewise, more popular games, such as Slender: The Eight Pages, give the player a goal without giving them a plot. This trope is what adds to the psychological element of the “psychological horror” drama. The player is not sure what they are supposed to be afraid of, and so they tend to find everything unsettling, surreal, and horrifying. Unlike spin-offs and recent games, though, Yume Nikki will give a more vague, more unknown horror that far surpasses anything else.