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Published July 31, 2019

Who made Yume Nikki, and why?

This is a question I’ve wondered several times after playing through the game a couple years back. This question evades a clear answer, for no concrete explanations seem to exist online. The game is polished and well thought out, and yet answers to its existence are few and far between.

What is Yume Nikki?

Yume Nikki is a surreal computer game created by the enigmatic Kikiyama back in 2004. The game made use of the RPG Maker 2003 engine. It received updates up until 2007, where it ceased development. As far as my research can tell, no one seems to know anything about Kikiyama.

So where does that leave us? One must simply form their own thoughts and opinions on why the game exists. In my personal opinion, I think the game is some kind of experiment. I feel it redefines what it means to be a video game. Yume Nikki is an open-ended exploration adventure with few concrete details and a simple goal. To “win”, the main character Madotsuki must collect all the dream powers and return them to The Nexus, a room filled with strange doors.

The Nexus is a collection of doors in Yume Nikki that transport you to various areas of the game. It serves as a base station for the player to return to throughout the game.

There’s no dialogue in the game, outside of some simple instructions at the beginning. The intro simply the player to collect the dream “effects”. Oh, there’s tons of unique and varied characters within the game, but not a single one will tell you anything about themselves or the dream world that Madotsuki inhabits. Like a real life dream, the game evades explanation, instead opting to create a pure feeling or experience. I personally enjoy these kinds of games since they dive deep into the psychology of game development. I feel games like this ask us why we as a collective species make games outside of fame and fortune.

Information Fragmentation

In the early days of video games, there were few sources of information on the content of each title. Before GameFAQs and other websites that became treasure troves of information, there were really only a few sources. Examples included video game magazines, manuals/strategy guides, hint hotlines and other people you knew.

Video game magazines would sometimes fully review games, but not every game received in depth analysis. As such, you might only learn small highlights about certain games, or worse yet, nothing at all. In addition, you had to purchase the magazine covering the game or borrow it from a friend. If you played older games, you were pretty much out of luck unless you had a friend who knew about the game. Basically, you were heavily reliant on incomplete information, and as such, you often times would know next to nothing about titles that weren’t new or popular.

The Age of Mystery

Because information wasn’t as accessible like it is nowadays, an air of mystery surrounded many titles. I remember trying to play through Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest and Strider, both for nes, when I was a kid. Needless to say, I didn’t progress far 🙁 . It wasn’t until later when let’s plays became popular that I learned about how each game operated. Not to mention, games back then tended to be more cryptic on average, so actually finishing them was a challenge. Even the original Legend of Zelda, a fantastic nes game, is guilty of this.

Many older games like Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest are infamous for their cryptic, unhelpful or untrue messages that served to mystify players. Faulty translations are partially to blame, but older games also tended to simply not give the player enough tools or information to realistically complete their games without outside help.

Why Create a Mysterious Game Anyway?

There are all sorts of reasons people develop games. Some reasons include money or recognition, the usual suspects. Developing a good mystery is beneficial to making money or gaining critical acclaim since people will praise your game and want to buy it based on the intriguing experience.

Outside of the more obvious business reasons, however, developers can build these interpretive games as a form of self-expression. Maybe the person wants the audience to think about their creation and what it means to them as human beings. Or perhaps the game is an outlet for the creators desires or feelings; by keeping the game vague, the author lets the audience decide the meaning instead of pushing a particular message.

So why is Yume Nikki important/relevant?

First off, yes, you absolutely can look up how to beat Yume Nikki online; there’s plenty of let’s plays and strategy guides that can help you out with this. However, there’s still a substantial amount of intrigue to the game because of the fact that characters don’t talk and the creator never revealed why they made the game in the first place.

For these reasons, I feel Yume Nikki is like a send-up to the days of yore when people couldn’t casually access info about their favorite game. I compare it to books written in the past where the author isn’t always known. When you don’t know the source of a body of work, ascertaining meaning from the work is more difficult since author intent isn’t always laid bare. The same can be said to pieces of art or music where authorship is unknown. It also makes the work more interpretive since what each person gets out of the experience is entirely beholden to them.

As such, I feel that Yume Nikki epitomizes video games where players enjoy attempting to make sense of an interpretative piece.

What Does This Mean for Indie Games?

I feel that indie games have this special niche where people can enjoy the game even if it isn’t popular. For larger games from AAA studios, it’s rare that a studio will try to hide authorship, since that means the studio wouldn’t receive credit for making the game, which is counter intuitive to building a franchise or similar business model. A rare example of the exception is when P.T. was released as a teaser for a future “Silent Hills” game; fake company names were listed in the credits for that title, but the expectation was to inform the public later of who really made the game in order to drum up hype for the future installment.

The company 7780s Studios was created as a ruse to hide the fact that this was a gameplay teaser for the future game Silent Hills. In addition, randomness in the game makes piercing the veil of secrets for this game more difficult than normal.

Benefits of a Smaller, More Dedicated Audience

Since the majority of indie games have small audiences, this means that wiki pages don’t usually spring up around them, and that most people don’t know they exist. Because of their reduced presence, small indie studios can craft suspenseful titles where the player won’t know where the game is going, since many indie games have few to no expectations.

Undertale is an example of a popular indie game that retains a good amount of mystery thanks to it’s fanbase and creator, Toby Fox, limiting content that would spoil the game. Spoiler warnings abound for Undertale content that exists online, as it’s generally recommended to play the game blind.

Games retain secrets better with small audiences, since fewer people will try to uncover them.

FAITH is another small indie game that is filled to the brim with secrets, such as multiple endings. Since the game has a smaller fanbase than, say, a AAA title, the game’s secrets aren’t as well known, and thus are more special to the person who uncovers them.

Tl;dr of Design Ideas

Here’s a quick summary of design ideas for building mystery around your game. Keep in mind these ideas will be more or less realistic or compatible with different projects based on your needs.

Game Release

  • Release your game anonymously. If you go this route and you intend to make money, you’ll obviously need to claim authorship for it at some future point, but this could be useful for a teaser demo. If you don’t intend to create your title to make money, this option is interesting, but it also means you won’t be able to list it on your resume or gain recognition for it.
  • Release your game without any ad’s or trailers, or at least cryptic marketing. Without expectations, people won’t be able to predict your game ahead of time, letting you throw whatever you want their way and still surprising them. The smaller audience base will also reduce the chance for spoilers. If you do some marketing, however, hiding most of the details about your game can build suspense in your audience, at least.

Audience interaction

  • Ask or suggest to your audience that they not spoil your game. This option tends to work better if people like your game or you have a good relationship with your audience, since they’ll be more likely to follow your suggestions. As such, this option will likely only work for certain people or companies.

Game Design

  • Make at least some of the content in your game available on a random basis per playthrough. This method has the benefit of surprising even loyal fans on repeat plays. Also people talking about the game can share with each other about different experiences they have, painting a combined picture. The downside to this option is that it can also irritate your fanbase since the game will arbitrarily decide what content they can see. For this reason, I’d also suggest considering your company’s relations with your audience before selecting it.
  • Be conscientious of how much cryptic information you put into your project. You can fill your game up with non-essential secrets like Easter Eggs, but if your game is reliant on arbitrary guesswork, nonsensical information, or hidden game elements that aren’t set up properly by your game, you’ll likely frustrate your user base.

Conclusion

I hope today’s article helps give you some insight into design strategies in crafting modern mystique. Creating a compelling mystery in and around a video game is one of the reasons I play video games; to unravel secrets and learn more about myself in the process. The world around us is rife with intrigue and hidden knowledge; be a part of that experience and keep your audience guessing! 🙂