This is a really intriguing little thing that doesn’t seem to live up to its potential. Gamewise, it’s a(n incomplete) horror Harvest Moon.
I’m not sure what to make of this, honestly. I really loved the idea and the setting and atmosphere is just great, but the mashup only works for a bit before you start seeing problems. But it’s pretty short and you don’t even need to complete it to see what it has to offer.
Things start off extremely well. You’re a freaky skull-faced monster (whose larger and detailed sprite that we see in some cutscenes also involves angel wings, it’s really great looking) who lives in a village full of skull-faced monsters. This is because of some curse or something that changed them from their original human forms………they think. See, none of them can remember much from before, just that they were humans and that they need to stay hidden because if normal humans see them they worry they’ll be killed as monsters. Luckily their current location is very isolated…or perhaps they fled to this place for the isolation? And they don’t seem to have any concrete idea of where other villages exist. For all they know, there are no humans and they’re hiding from nothing.
I thought all this was a great idea. Just a transformation effect is meh, but adding in the amnesia and then the question of if what they think they do remember is even true makes me a lot more interested. There’s more oddness when the game starts and you have characters remarking they think there were more people originally or another who’s two-headed (but thinks she remembers having just one…) and the priest in the church saying how “lucky” it is there’s been no deaths so far but can they even die?
Our protagonist also tells us that since the transformation, lots of people have got minor powers. Theirs is the ability to retrieve things from dreams, which would be a great deal more useful if they didn’t get nothing but horrible nightmares they have virtually no control over. This is the bridge mechanic between the horror sections and the Harvest Moon bit. In a dream, you’re able to find a couple items, like mushrooms you can process into mushroom spores (or waste as bait, like I did…), seeds, and decorations.
Unfortunately, there’s very little to find. You get a mushroom or so per full dream section, which can be used to grow one mushroom in a real world patch, and I found moldy seeds twice that are just flower seeds that you can buy that need an extra item to process, and otherwise just some gold. You also get some creepy decorations…
But they apparently are just decorations.
You can also make items in the real world to bring into the dream, but that turned out to have balance issues – one item erases all enemies in that section. I appreciated it, as the final areas are pretty annoying, but something that froze them for a while would’ve still been a huge help without making it absolutely effortless. Or something that let you survive a single hit. Right now it’s rather all/nothing.
The nightmares also seem like they’re running out of steam, since they start being more recognizable and modern as you continue on, plus the overarching plot pretty much states this is just some jackass god screwing with you, which does a lot to undercut the mystery.
And you get a choice about if you even want to dream, so if you want to just play the Harvest Moon part, you can, though it’s either extremely hard to understand or really unfinished, because I couldn’t figure out how to sell animals. It’s also rather buggy – tomato seeds couldn’t be planted and getting a greenhouse was a mistake because it meant each morning I had to click through a message saying it was complete.
While the other characters seem excited about your dream ability, there’s no sense it’s actually needed. The stores are all fully stocked. There’s a factory you get going, but you do so by paying another character to put his existing machines there, and it’s just so you can get an upgrade. The only thing you can’t get are the mushrooms, but those weren’t renewable, so you could grow one of your choice of mushrooms once, then you sell it because there’s nothing else it’s good for. There was a lot of emphasis given to the mushrooms, with a whole crafting book to them, long conversations, a compost bin only used to grow them, etc, but they were irrelevant. The whole thing runs on Harvest Moon logic of buying seeds to grow plants to sell for gold to allow you to buy more, but having a focus on, say, finding new seeds and having the option of growing them to the point they seeded, which you can sell to the other characters to have as well would’ve made the character a more needed part of the community and prevented questions like where this gold was coming from. Or if the greenhouse’s building materials had to be looted from the dream rather than pay money to install machines to spit the stuff out regularly.
And conversely, you realize that the village sections are irrelevant as well. I ended up annoyed I’d invested in animals because having to deal with them was getting in my way of just falling back asleep to finish up the dream. Despite being in a tiny town where you may well be the only farmer, and despite the fact there’s an always running calendar, if you want to just sleep through each day and power through the nightmare world instead there’s no consequences.
And once you realize this, the game loses a lot of its hold. I think that in gameplay terms, we’re supposed to want to play because you get a snippet of memory each time they complete, but having the initial focus be on braving the horrors to help the village would have made more sense, as well as helping bring an element of concern into the real world. It’d also explain why you’re only just now getting started on things like farming and poking around dreams if you’d been too terrified but today finally resolved to face the nightmares because everybody needs stuff and you can bring it back.
Basically, having it be more about running a village and getting people what they need than amassing gold would’ve probably been the better move.
There’s also the issue that the only unwholesome bit of this is that everyone’s got a skull for a face, and that can only carry things all by itself for a very short while.
The atmosphere is amazing, but all your crops are totally ordinary. If there were plants of the nightmare areas you could find, rather than just a damp version of standard flower seeds, then even if the gameplay remained the same it’d keep the unsettling feeling going when you found yourself growing skull potatoes or whatever and raise the question of if the whole dream retrieval thing was actually a good idea. I was expecting things to go in this direction early on when I installed a giant pulsating flesh lump outside my door…but that’s it, you do that and then you go back to carrots and pansies.