Circus Reviews - Blank Dream
I have a little fondness for RPG horror games like Ib, and I find that vgperson does an exceptional job with translations. So in my new Twitter-following adventures, I found that vgperson had translated another RPG horror game, as seems to be their comfortable niche, and so I decided to give it a quick go-through. Blank Dream follows sixteen-year-old Mishiro Usui, who has committed suicide and ended up in a world called the Mirror World that seems to be a gateway between the real world and the afterlife. She is told to stare into the mirrors she finds and then break them, in order to fulfill the dying wish that she can't remember. On her way, she meets two other people, Yuzu and Ryotaro, who have forgotten their pasts and are trapped in the Mirror World, similarly to her. What will Mishiro find on her journey? Will she manage to discover and fulfill her wish?
To be honest, my first thought when playing this game was, "Somebody has played The Witch's House." There are a lot of instant death traps, just like that game, and several puzzles seem to be copy-pasted; anyone who has played The Witch's House should notice them pretty quickly. It's uncomfortably noticeable, not just because they're pretty much lifted from another game, but because this game didn't really need instant death traps. In The Witch's House, it felt necessary because the whole point of the game was that the house seemed to be trying to kill you. In this game, it's a bit out of place. At its core, it has a whole bunch of strongly dark themes like suicide, bullying, and adultery; it explored them all really well and could have done fine with just those, but it felt the need to add not just puzzles but puzzles that it doesn't seem to have invented. The other characters aside from you aren't very well developed. Yuzu and Ryotaro just kind of hang around until the very end of the game, at which point you have to interact with them to get the full story and the best endings. Ending 1, the best ending, involves fulfilling both of their dying wishes, but the game doesn't ever make you care about them enough to actually want to do so. It's a shame, because they're appealing characters, but they're just not given enough time to come into their own.
Mishiro herself is very well developed, and I think I would have liked the game more if it had just been about her. Her story is both intriguing and sad, and once you learn why she did the things she did, you'll probably end up sympathizing with her. As mentioned above, the game has some very dark themes to it; suicide is probably the most prominently explored. You're basically required to commit suicide repeatedly to break yourself out of memories and progress in the game, so it's probably not a game for the faint of heart, but it builds a dark mood that is good at drawing the player in. The story is interesting and well-paced, and the soundtrack that accompanies it is appropriately haunting. All in all, despite what it does well, the game is dragged down by its unnecessary additions. Yuzu and Ryotaro do end up appearing in Mishiro's memories in an unexpected way, but at the same time, they're not really needed outside of the endings and aren't given enough attention to warrant the player caring enough to save them. Most of the puzzles don't add to the game that much. It's sad that I'm forced to just barely recommend this game, because I can't help feeling like it could have been a lot better. On the plus side, there are wonderful, out-of-context screenshots like this one to enjoy.
Blank Dream is available in English from vgperson's website, and in Japanese from the developer's website. Final verdict: Despite a compelling main character and an interesting story surrounding her, Blank Dream is bogged down by characters that feel useless, and by puzzles that feel like they've been lifted from certain other RPG horror games. Blank Dream is developed by Kanawo (of Teriyaki Tomato) and translated to English by vgperson. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.