Even in your wildest dreams or your worst nightmares, you could never be ready for what is about to be presented. Welcome to Dreamscaper, a game released into Early Access today on Steam. It was developed by Afterburner studios and published by Freedom! Games and Maple Whispering Limited. This review is based on an early copy, even before the Early Access release, so bear in mind that some aspects might be different from the final version.
Roguelike games are a genre I never truly expected to connect with, simply due to enjoying games with linear progression since I was a Tiny Nick, playing Ocarina of Time with the help of my aunt because the copy was not in my native language. However, after playing Binding Of Isaac and Rogue Legacy, to name a couple, I can see that my opinion was vastly mistaken, and they are among my favorite types of games. Mix these elements with an ARPG and we get a game that piqued my interest very easily. Is Dreamscaper as dreamy as the title entails? Let’s find out
A Bedtime Story
Dreamscaper throws you right in, on what seems to be a destroyed portion of a forest at night, with no life in view. Walking around, you get close to tombstones with a twisted abandoned church behind them. Interact with one of the tombstones, and you get dragged to the depths of hell….also called real life. It was all a dream, in the end, so you get up your bed and carry on with your life. Ten years later, and we go back to our protagonist Cassidy as she is fixing her apartment. You get the chance to play the tutorial in a game within the game, so we get a bit of gameception for the gameplay portion.
After this, you are thrown into the world, where you will have a number of encounters. One interesting sounding aspect advertised about this game was that the bosses are meant to represent emotions. Unfortunately, I didn’t personally feel like represented any particular emotion but it might’ve gone over my head. I mean, it’s a whale for god’s sake, what am I supposed to feel?
The developers have said the story of Dreamscaper will be much more refined for the main release, as the connection to the dream world is currently a bit shaky and leaves you wondering. The premise, however, makes it quite interesting to explore the inner thoughts and demons of our protagonist. Overall, I am quite interested to see the added details for the dream world and real-world connection they are implementing.
Living life and living the dream
Speaking of these connections, let’s focus on the gameplay itself. There are two aspects to the game. The dream section consists of a roguelike dungeon crawling experience in a 3D style with an angled camera. Each dungeon is a floor, and you can clear one per night. If you are defeated, you return to the first floor and work your way back, but don’t worry you are not unarmed. You can get equipment as you go through the rooms be it from rooms with treasures, rooms with challenges such as not taking damage, shops for you to buy upgrades, and even rooms where you need to puzzles. You have a multitude of equipment for you to upgrade over time, like ranged and melee weapons, shoes, shields, and “special moves” to use.
I fell in love with Dreamscaper’s gameplay simply because of how responsive it felt. Dodging is particularly great. There’s a slow down effect if you time it just right that feels really rewarding if you get it right. There are parries you can use to stun the opponents for an attack or two, and the attacks themselves have small windows where you can do extra damage if you time it right. I do think that the visual cues could be brighter, as in the middle of combat they felt quite difficult to grasp when starting to learn it. But all of those elements lead to gameplay that’s easy to start with and advance, but you feel like you are really evolving, simply by timing your commands better in order to defeat harder enemies that appear. Though I admit that I didn’t have the coordination to use all the special moves well enough every time.
Common enemies in some rooms have dealt half of my health in a quick moment of stopping to think. This might be where people should tell me to “get gud”, but even then there was some help with it. You can choose to equip shields that disable blocks and parries in exchange for an automatic barrier that breaks with a bit of damage. This allows for a different playstyle.
I do have some minor complaints where gameplay could be improved, like the ranged attacks needing two buttons to use instead of one leading to me using it less. But that’s a nitpick that doesn’t devalue the good time I had just redoing dungeons and finding new weapons with new effects. From what I’ve seen, there’s a ton of them.
In the real world section of Dreamscaper, things take a different turn. Welcome to equipment management! In your room, you can create gifts, craft equipment if you want to start the next dungeon with a set weapon instead of a random one, check which memories you have, and some other details for the journey.
Memories are locations that you can find within dungeons that bring up a bit of Cassidy’s background, showing her perception of places she lived in and also how she valued their influence. The gifts meanwhile can be used outside of your room.
The city you live in is a lively place. There are a ton of people you can chat with and give these gifts to in order to build up their relationship meter. There’s a variety of people and jobs they possess, and you learn about them with the bonus of unlocking items and influence, which can help you in the dungeons by buffing a certain stat or weapon attribute. This basically motivates you to keep trying to interact with these personalities with the time you have outside the dream world, which is proportional to how much time you spent in the dream world, or how much of the floor you have cleared.
I would’ve appreciated if the special conversations you have after each threshold of friendship had voice acting to help the player become more immersed. I feel the text that a bit slow and I felt a bit unfocused when reading it at first due to the hype of the gameplay comparably. The writing itself is good, I just feel voice acting would’ve really helped it reach the same level as the gameplay.
Overall, a social life to mix with a roguelike dungeon is an idea I have never seen before personally so it’s an addition I deeply appreciate. It brought me the same feeling as Persona games with the social links and Fire Emblem with support conversations.
The character design in Dreamscaper is different in an endearing way. The models for the characters are simple in build, but they are detailed and the monsters have a great design, if with a tint of too much grey on all of them. I really like Cassidy’s design and the animations in these games are, in a simple way to describe, great and fast-paced for the combat, perhaps even a bit too fast sometimes but then again that “get gud” is sealed in my brain now.
The music is simple and effective in its function and while clearing dungeon floors, I was so focused on dodging and weaving that I didn’t even stop to notice it that much. Cassidy is overcoming her demons and I am overcoming almost getting one-shot by a common enemy, we are a pair!
Overall, Dreamscaper is great. I had a ton of fun with the dungeon crawling and the weapons were super fun for me to experience and play around with. The loot distribution allowed me to change my setup over time without feeling like I was stuck with a weapon for too long. The real-world portion is a breath of fresh air for me despite feeling a bit unattached to it. I am sure it’s going to be much more developed with the actual release though, so it can become even better.
If you enjoy roguelike games, don’t sleep on this game and go pick it up! If you are fast enough, you might catch Cassidy still awake.
DREAMSCAPER IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Freedom! Games and Maple Whispering Limited for a PC review code for this title.
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Nick has been gaming for quite a while, a decade now! His first console was the DS but the first one played extensively was the Nintendo 64. He loves a huge variety of games, favourite genres include RPG, platforming, metroidvanias and visual novels. No longer a member of the NookGaming team, but still here in spirit. Follow him on @NickMendz.