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You ever have a recurring nightmare that just won’t go away? For me, it tends to be my time in college, when I’d wake up thinking that I missed a final exam or something and had to rush to get dressed and head to class to beg forgiveness. That, uh, never actually occurred, so I guess that says something about what kind of honor student I was. I did skip Economics most of the time, though. Still got a B.
Still, dreams make for an interesting world where things like that might just happen, hitting you just as hard as they would in the real world. Dreamscaper‘s an action-RPG that takes that idea and runs with it – though it runs a beaten path we’ve been down many times before, it’s still able to stand out.
At its heart, Dreamscaper is yet another example of the roguelite-with-persistent-progression genre we’ve come to know and love over the past several years. If you haven’t played one of these yet, I’d be shocked – they’ve released in such volume that sometimes it feels like more roguelites come out than other types of games.
Heroine Cassidy can wield a weapon along with bombs and several types of special abilities. Naturally, she’s also got the requisite dodge roll. Outfitted as such, you’ll proceed through randomly-generated dungeons, clearing rooms and collecting loot along the way. At the end of each floor you’ll fight a tough and impressive-looking boss based on one of Cassidy’s insecurities, hopefully claiming victory in order to move on. If things go poorly, you’ll die and have to take things from the top next time.
This is a solid formula, as evidenced by the constant stream of new games based on it, and Dreamscaper does just fine with it. Cassidy’s melee attacks feel a little floaty, but once you come to grips with the lack of impact on most weapons, combat feels just fine. Special abilities are particularly interesting by comparison and tend to offer some really satisfying feedback. Practicing and improving on each run is key to making it through Dreamscaper, particularly given the complicated manner in which the player’s intended to achieve the actual ending.
Still, we’ve seen this all before. Dreamscaper’s claim to fame, then, is its framing device. Cassidy has recently moved to a new city. She doesn’t know anyone, she’s left her family and friends behind and she’s kind of having a tough time dealing with it. Cassidy finds escape in her dreams, which comprise the gameplay discussed above, but she’s also got to live her real life too.
By exploring the city and finding new ways to spend her time, Cassidy can become more powerful in the dream realm, unlocking new gear and stat boosts that allow you to make it just a tiny bit further each time you sleep. It’s a neat idea and enjoyably understated; games with themes like this aren’t typically known for their subtlety, but Dreamscaper largely refrains from beating you about the face and neck with messages.
This is also a surprisingly beautiful game given the minimalist art style the devs were going for. Characters lack faces, which can be a little off-putting, but hey – The Granstream Saga was fantastic back on the PlayStation and did the same thing, no reason it can’t work here, right? Face or no face, you’ll also appreciate Dreamscaper’s music, which nails the floaty, dreamy feeling that the rest of the game is trying to achieve, as well as the many bits of lore and flavor text that spice the proceedings up.
Again, we’ve seen this kind of game many, many times before. It’s also not likely that roguelites are going anywhere anytime soon. Dreamscaper had to do something different in order to make an impact. Thankfully, the unique conceit on offer really does help this roguelite feel different from the ever-growing horde. While the pillow-fight combat isn’t going to help it stand up to a Binding of Isaac or a Dead Cells, coming to grips with your own fears is enough of a twist that Dreamscaper’s worth playing.