Developer: Afterburner Studios
Genres: Action RPG, Roguelite
Official Site: http://dreamscapergame.com/
Available on: PC
Version Tested: PC
Release Date: August 14, 2020
Where to Buy: Steam
The Perilous Dreamscape Chronicles
Life is weary for the video game player Cassidy. The inner demons of her subconscious attack her at night – and quite literally, in fact. As she falls into a nighttime slumber, her world transforms into a plane of existence that is manifested from her memories. Armed with a randomized loadout of strange abilities, she makes her way through several portals that eventually lead to a heart-racing encounter with an entity that aims to strike her down. Sadly, she isn’t strong enough, and the evil slays her, jolting her awake and back into the real world. The soft melodies of the game play on as Cassidy saunters around her small apartment – the dreamlike terrors lingering in the air. It’s later in the day and only a matter of time until Cassidy falls asleep to face her fears once and forevermore.
To whom it may concern and wonder, Dreamscaper is a rogue-lite action indie project from Afterburner Studios. You play as the aforementioned Cassidy, a depressed woman who wrestles with her fears every night when she falls into bed. The dungeon runs act as a forefront to the wondrous backgrounds that represent a part of Cassidy, all constructed through echoes of her past. These “dreamscapes” can be progressed with her might and creativity, empowered through the friendships she forges in the real world.
Each dreamscape run is procedurally generated to change up the flow of the rooms. Some may contain a few enemies while others will hold runes, puzzles, and shops for Cassidy to utilize. These can provide special Keepsakes to help her in her journey, or offers for items that can be swapped with your current inventory. A pair of boxing gloves can be swapped for a poisonous blade or a giant hammer; the rolling mechanic can be switched out for a shadow walk to gain the upper advantage against your foes; your astral blow can eventually be replaced with a lightning ability to serve alongside your Superman-like optic blast.
Hand-to-Hand with Permadeath
Of course, with a creative inventory comes creative gameplay, and Dreamscaper serves up an excellent dish of addictive action. Since your loadout and dream dive inceptions are almost always going to be different, the individual dreamscape adventures are unique from one another. A solid combo from your lucid abilities and your weapons (along with a sweet parry) can trigger some very rewarding moments of intensity that you feel accomplished with one successful attack after the other.
The insanely fun weapons you can wield feel almost limitless when you really start to map out your inventory. Despite not having too many unlockable items for certain weapon classes, the variety of what you can possess offers high replay value; no one dreamscape journey will be the same.
As you continue to develop friendships with the denizens of Redhaven, the more items you will unlock. They can either be found throughout your dreamscapes, or they can be equipped if the wickedness of permadeath sends you back to the beginning of the six dreamscape ladder. Just about any clever weapon you can think of most likely shows up in Dreamscaper: finger guns, wolf heads, baseball bats, yo-yos, flamethrowers, slingshots, telekinesis, and more along the slumber trips.
You can also receive character bonuses from your friends. These are known as “Influences”, which can add an omnipresent effect to Cassidy. One can add a fire effect while another may provide increased chances for critical attacks. Though keep in mind that only one can be selected at a time, so it’s best to know your friends really well if you want a better chance at overcoming the obstacles ahead of you. Whenever an enemy is defeated and when trees are destroyed, be sure to collect the particles of Sand and support fragments of Solace and such to craft gifts for your friends in order to increase their Influence, as well.
Prior to this review, I played the Prologue to Dreamscaper, which featured the opening chapter. I recall being invested with the characters and action, but was constantly annoyed with the barbarous combat. And I suppose ever since Afterburner’s time between the demo and this Early Access release that they have had plenty of time to reconfigure the game’s combat mechanics. It’s much more fluid and reactive this time around, and the unfair death strikes from the enemies are almost reasonable as opposed to being unjust and idiotic. Now I’m just thoroughly entertained by it, and the dreamscape runs are much more exciting to revisit with new weapons and newfound determination to conquer Cassidy’s fears. Plus, there are memory fragments that can be found throughout the worlds that further explore Cassidy’s past and problems.
All The Pretty Colors
Dreamscaper is, without a doubt, a gorgeous game. The art style with the characters, real and dream worlds, and the action look stunning on-screen. The effects with lucid powers, enemy confrontations, room and world transitions – all nice and smooth, especially at higher settings for the overall graphics quality. I even went a step further and connected my laptop to my TV. Least to say, it’s beautiful to look at, and each dreamscape is more mesmerizing than the last.
Moreover, the colors in this game are just so lively and vibrant. There’s a room in the dreamscapes that acts as a trading post of sorts to swap out mustered Sands in exchange for an item. The sceneries here are a magnificent sight to look upon – a moment worthy of putting your hands away and just looking at the art in front of you. It’s all great layering with the textures and backgrounds that make the dreams feel more real than life itself, and I think the developers did a fantastic job at piecing together fantasy elements with locations that resonate with Cassidy’s past and present.
The Sounds of Dreamscaper
Dreamscaper‘s music was composed by Dale North, a multi-instrumentalist who perfectly creates a score that goes together with the game’s themes. The mellow tracks for the real world versus the more epic and Homeric sounds of the dreamscapes are vastly different, adding that extra layer of magic to the game that comes from Cassidy and the things around her. North’s compositions with the boss battles were particularly my favorite, but nothing beats closing your eyes and catching a breather to the real world’s melodic magnificence at Cassidy’s apartment.
Furthermore, the sound design is more on the simplistic side but still a marvel to listen to. There is dialogue, but none of it is spoken. You may hear a grunt or two, and that’s pretty much it. All of the sound effects are applied to the weapons and enemies, leaning Dreamscaper more toward the fantasy side rather than focusing on the dramatics as much. North’s musical cues go very well with some of the moments in the game’s story, and it’s a factor that feels essential to Cassidy’s quest.
As previously mentioned in my First Impressions post on the game, I figured it was the intention of the developers to mute all the characters to give the player a chance to provide their own voices for Cassidy’s friends; to relate them to our own friends in our real world. And I still feel the same way with the game’s Early Access release. It plays out almost like a silent film, with just the music providing the mood as you continue to read and discover the interests and essence of those around you. I apply some of my friends’ voices into those of Cassidy’s, and the absence of voice acting helps bridge that gap between art and reality – by connecting something within and/or otherworldly with the art and the observer.
With a Little Help From My Friends
To briefly talk about the story, I’ll be avoiding any spoilers that would make sense for gameplay going past the second dreamscape. Now, Cassidy represents a spark of hope and will power underneath a dark cloud of negativity that can hinder even the brightest of days. After her move from home, she tries to build a new life by meeting new friends in a different town compared to her own. But she’s plagued with the internal demons of her mind, body, and soul that can bring her out of sleep and back into misery.
There’s no doubt that she would feel troubled and alone by this, but the game does an excellent job with this issue by having Cassidy conversate with friends and build connections. As you establish these ever-growing relationships, Cassidy will find new ways to combat her nightmares. In real life, we’re often encouraged to find and hang out with friends, to make relationships and to feel human. For some, depression can make the easiest tasks seem nearly impossible to do. Dreamscaper shows this with Cassidy’s quiet characterization in the beginning of the game alongside the dreamscapes that bring her back to the root of the situation. Without any assistance, the curse of permadeath will only continue to impede Cassidy’s efforts of coming to terms with herself.
But with the influences of your peers, the most unfeasible moments of uncertainty and forlornness can be alleviated, bringing you one step closer to finding inner peace and clarity. Cassidy must tackle the six dreamscapes, and she can’t do it alone. Much like how some of the most important things in life can’t be accomplished by oneself but rather with a helping hand. Without friends, there’s no promising way of facing your fears on your own. Life isn’t easy, but it can be easier with the ones you surround yourself with.
Verdict: After a successful Kickstarter campaign from three independent game developers and a music composer, Dreamscaper is already an instant indie classic. Cassidy’s journey through the six astonishing dreamscapes are addicting segments of thrilling action, and even the rush of permadeath can bring out the best dreamlike warrior within you. The artistic atmospheres, interesting characters, RPG elements, and roguelite design make this title a spectacular experience. It feels complete and it looks polished and set for an official release. I’m excited to see how it evolves until the final result is made through an update. In the meantime, I’ll happily arm myself with a yo-yo and laser eyes.