Before I start this review, a warning: this game deals strongly with the theme of suicide. Please leave this page now if you don’t feel comfortable reading about this subject.
Of the several RPG Maker games I played or watched during my marathon RPG Maker spooky game session a week ago, Blank Dream was both the best and the most emotionally moving. If I’m being totally, completely honest, I got all verklempt when I got to the true ending of this game. I was a little bit choked up, which is a thing for me, a person who has not gotten emotional at either an artistic work (minus possibly one) or a personal circumstance for over a decade. It may be that I’m an emotionally stunted man – I almost definitely am – but it may also be that Blank Dream is just that good.
Blank Dream tells the story of Mishiro Usui, a high school girl who faces bullying and abuse at school and extreme pressure from her family at home. These stresses drive Mishiro to kill herself by drowning in a lake. When she wakes up in a strange shadowy world, however, Mishiro has no memory of who she is. By looking into mirrors scattered around this limbo she’s found herself in, Mishiro slowly recovers her memories and realizes the wish that led her to commit suicide – her desire not only to die, but to erase herself entirely from existence.
The above description makes Blank Dream sound like a bleak and lonely game, and in some ways it is. The mirrors that the player has to find are located in parts of limbo with names like the Realm of Spirits, the Realm of Blood, and the Realm of Death, and in typical RPG Maker horror game fashion, each of these realms contains puzzles that the player must solve and enemies that must be avoided. However, Mishiro also is joined in her search by two other dead characters: Ryotaro, a professional-looking guy in a suit, and Yuzu, another high school-aged girl who claims to have been stuck in limbo for several years. These characters also have mirrors that the player can find, and their stories are intertwined with Mishiro’s.
As described above, Blank Dream involves many heavy themes. Certain characters contemplate and talk about stress, depression, and suicide. It’s easy to imagine how a game creator could screw this up badly, because Blank Dream also contains the kinds of jumpscares and chase sequences involving spirits and monsters that could cheapen the experience (a problem that the otherwise good RPG Maker horror game Misao suffers from.) However, Blank Dream doesn’t suffer from these kinds of abrupt tonal shifts.
The game features plenty of deadly traps, blood-thirsty ghosts, and chases down darkened hallways, but they all work in the context of the larger story because they represent challenges that Mishiro must face to make it to her mirrors and to recover her memories. Many of these traps, like the one above, require creative thinking on the part of the player to solve. A lack of creativity in problem-solving usually leads to death. (How can Mishiro die in limbo if she’s already dead? There really is a reason for this – play the game and find out!)
There are five different endings to this game, but it’s not all that difficult to achieve the true ending if you’re paying attention. I mentioned that I got misty at the true ending. Just to be clear, I’m not the sort of person who goes for tearjerkers at all – movies, novels, and games that go straight for the tear ducts do absolutely nothing for me, and they usually just piss me off (see John Green’s critically acclaimed but absolute bullshit Young Adult novel The Fault In Our Stars for a good example of this kind of work.) Blank Dream doesn’t feel manipulative at all, though, maybe because the characters are written so well. This game doesn’t feel like it was made just to pull at the heartstrings; it tells a compelling story that feels real. And that’s the key, I think. (Though as John Green proved with his own novel, you can just be straight up manipulative in your story-telling and still sell millions of copies and get a movie made based on it that gets an 80% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Seriously, fuck you, John Green. I like your Youtube history series, though.)
Unfortunately, I can’t really say anything else about the game without giving away spoilers – Blank Dream is that kind of game. So all I can do is recommend it. If you’re looking for a really well-made RPG Maker game that has good puzzles and a great story, and if you don’t mind playing a game that deals with suicide and other heavy themes, Blank Dream is made for you. Blank Dream was produced by a company called Teriyaki Tomato (yes, really) and an English version of the game can be downloaded here.