Developer: Afterburner Studios
Release Date: August 4, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Freedom Games
There’s a fair amount to unpack when it comes to Dreamscaper, an isometric roguelite title developed by Afterburner Studios. Not only does it have an abundance of gameplay elements to delve into, but the protagonist Cassidy has her own share of intricacies for players to experience. The game explores her world and subconscious through her dreams and interactions with others.
It’s a tough world for Cassidy as she’s a young woman living alone in a new town full of strangers. Despite a change in scenery, Cassidy struggles with depression and a foggy memory.
To recall her lost memories, we explore the realms within her dreams. This context is where the core gameplay occurs. You’ll fight monsters and discover memories in the journey down the depths of her mind.
The gameplay is akin to other well-known roguelite titles, such as Hades. You proceed through randomly-generated floors hack-n-slashing monsters with customizable weapons and shields. As you progress through each area, you can find alternative weapons and armor. The pools of these upgrades are vast since there is a huge selection of melee and ranged weapons. Given the massive variety, I found it impressive that they have custom animations for each weapon type and attack.
In addition to the weapons, you also have Lucid abilities. These abilities act as elemental or magic powers that run on a cooldown meter. Some of these skills are better than others, so it’s in your best interest to play around with them and see what works for you. Alongside this are bombs and keys that can unlock areas such as puzzle rooms and shops. The puzzles are pretty standard, such as a simplified version of Minesweeper. Although they break the tempo up a little, they’re still fun to explore.
Other items include fragments of emotion, such as inspiration. These fragments can be used in the real world to upgrade the dream world in various ways, such as adding more sands (which act as the world currency) or increasing the likelihood of challenge rooms, where you get rewards by defeating enemies under restricting conditions.
You also find memories of your past life outside of enemies and items, reminiscing on times with family and friends. If you can’t tell, there’s an immense amount to discover through this game. These memories take shape in the form of golden wisps of light. While not intentionally hidden, they blend in well in bright areas, so be sure to keep your eye out for them. Though the memory fragments don’t tell much themselves, the overall narrative coalesces over time. As a result, you’ll start to realize just what kind of life and mentality Cassidy used to have prior to these circumstances.
You have the option to choose how your run begins when it comes to your weapons, abilities, and shields. Over time, you can also adjust your difficulty level for various factors, such as floor size and enemy strength. I appreciate how the game allows you to tailor the gameplay to your style. Having such customizable playstyle options and presenting incentives for each run makes this game extremely replayable. Well, almost.
I think it would be difficult to grow tired of this game in the long run, but Dreamscaper does have its moments of dullness. One of the weaknesses of combat is how stunning affects most enemies. 9 times out of 10, if you hit an enemy with a heavy attack, they’ll be stunned, and that’s the key to finishing them off, as you can just spam normal attacks afterward. This pattern can quickly become monotonous.
The enemy variety is a bit disappointing too. I like the concept of how they represent Cassidy’s anxieties and neuroses, but you will have to go through the same enemies over and over again. The bosses in each level are extremely well-designed, but their patterns are too easily predictable. As such, the excitement in fighting them dwindles significantly after your first battle.
Besides that, permadeath can become a bit cumbersome, as that entails starting a run all over again. This design choice isn’t necessarily an inherent fault, but it can be daunting to begin anew once more. I’d die in a lengthy run and then feel demotivated to continue. However, that won’t stop me from trying the challenge again the next day. I’d say Dreamscaper is great to play in pieces, but not in one sitting.
The greatest facet of the dream world is the atmosphere, from the soundtrack to the aesthetic. The art style is reminiscent of Life is Strange or Haven, where it has that textured and painted look, albeit from an isometric perspective. The dream and real worlds are beautiful to look at, with a charming mix of bright and muted colors, providing a collectively dream-like quality.
An interesting yet clever design choice is presenting the characters devoid of faces. Their appearance provides a level of uneasiness and uncertainty, but their conversations show that they are normal and quirky individuals. Alongside their interactions, you still feel a certain level of emotion coming from their words and body language.
The music of Dreamscaper is gorgeous and relaxing. From the early stages of the dreams to the boss fights, the music presents an ethereal and surreal experience. This works incredibly in its favor since you will be fighting through the same areas on each run. Despite having dozens of runs going through the same maps, I never got tired of hearing the soundtrack as it kept me engaged and immersed.
When you eventually die in a run, you wake up from your dream into the real world. In your reality, you go around and create bonds with certain people, whether it be a bartender or an older gentleman at the park. These bonds are for you to try and make human connections, but there’s more to it than that.
You get to know these people by indulging in idle chit-chat or presenting them gifts. As your bonds deepen, you get to understand the people of this new city and what they do. Though it takes some time to form these bonds, the conversations you share with these individuals are intriguing and natural. These exchanges aren’t voiced but are certainly well-written.
They each have their own likes, traits, and attributes, giving them realistic personalities. These bonds eventually gain you “influences, ” which are boons that mentally empower you in the real and dream worlds. This is a huge motivating factor for the player as you get to see Cassidy grow more comfortable with the world and learn about the kind of person she is.
Dreamscaper is a delightful and deep game, mixing elements of realistic character development with fluid combat in a dreamlike world. However, this does come with moments of tedium and monotony, making it best to experience through shorter play sessions. There’s a good balance of subtlety between the character writing and atmosphere with combat’s fast pace and tension. Dreamscaper makes a name for itself in the ever-expansive world of roguelite titles with great detail and nuance.
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