Yume Nikki: A Story Without a Story

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?”

KyuuKyuu-kun’s phallic shape and rubbing action is one piece of evidence to support the “rape” theory

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.

Related Links:
Download Yume Nikki (as well as links to related sites)
Fan-produced Wiki page

  3 comments for “Yume Nikki: A Story Without a Story

  1. Casey
    February 9, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    Cult classics have always been a topic of interest of mine. Media that isn’t necessarily big budget or even extremely well executed but acquires a following that makes the story and overall experience much greater than it would have been otherwise. From your blog post this is how I would categorize Yume Nikki. Often literature is seen as intrinsically related to words. Being a story without any real textual storytelling, Yume Nikki seems to be a counterexample to this belief. Instead of a story set in stone by the author with a specific intent, stories with less direction open up to the audience their own interpretations which often can hold just as much value. The constant search for the author’s intent, the wonder about what things that happen within the confines of the story actually mean, is perhaps one of the most engrossing methods of holding an audience’s interest.

    • jturner2
      February 10, 2015 at 7:53 am

      I don’t know if I’d call it a cult classic like my contemporary, as I don’t know how large the fan-base is for Yume Nikki, but I do find it to be an interesting find. Indie games that have smaller budgets, development teams, etc. have always appealed to me because it makes it easier for me to see the time and effort that was put in order to make the finished product the way it is. In Yume Nikki’s case, I’d say it was successful enough just by being able to influence fans of the series to create their own Yume Nikki stories/side-stories.

  2. jamerive
    February 11, 2015 at 11:21 pm

    How do you think the lack of narrative benefits the game as a whole? I know you mentioned that fans have added their own theories because of it. That’s definitely one of the things I find worth playing with games like this, when they offer you a chance to cast your own line and put the pieces together yourself. My only thing with that, though, is that sometimes it seems as though it would be more effective if there was something tangible to anchor these theories in. As with a lot of video games (though I can’t say this one is or isn’t different), fan theories make cognitive leaps for the sake of filling in the gaps that are left in our minds. Does that work here? It would make sense if that is literally the entire point.

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