A Blast from the Past
If I was asked to describe Dream World in a single word, that word would be “dated.” Usually, when people say that about a game, they’re talking about poorly aged graphics and gameplay. When I say that about Playmage’s turn-based RPG, however, I mean it’s the most aggressively 2010 game I’ve played in a long time.
Developed by Playmage, Dream World began life as a Facebook and browser game published in 2010. As a result, it has the ramshackle feel I associate with many browser games from that time. The best example is Dream World’s character designs, where every other monster and NPC is in a wildly different art style. You will fight everything from 2010 CGI creatures to anime cyborgs to grumpy cartoon cactuses. In some cases, the transition takes place from one encounter to another.
Exploring the Dreamscape
There’s also little connectivity between different destinations on the World Map. Each location consists of a Town and one or more Exploration areas containing five Zones and a Boss. While each Town has a consistent theme, they may as well take place in entirely different games. Players start in the typical small fantasy village before moving to a modern-looking town, then a fantasy castle followed by a science-fiction megacity. While I wasn’t a fan at first, I quickly came to appreciate this kitchen-sink approach to world-building. If anything, I might argue the game didn’t go far to differentiate its locations. Mechanically, little separates the medieval bandit camp from the robot factory. They even pull from the same pool of random encounters, whether or not it fits the zone’s aesthetic and lore.
The lack of connective tissue applies to Dream World’s story as well. Players are supposed to be preventing the return of an ancient dragon, a process requiring several more hours of RPG busywork. Dream World suffers from the common RPG trope of giving every town a completely unrelated crisis to halt your progress. The dragon might as well not even exist for 99% of the game’s runtime. That makes it more than a little hard to care about defeating Dream World’s final boss.
Swords, Guns, and Sorcery
Players of the turn-based RPG will spend most of their time going from one random combat encounter to another. The player character has a standard attack and a variety of unlockable Skills. Players choose between Knight, Ranger or Mage at the beginning of the game but can invest freely into Swords, Guns or Magic. Most Skills deal damage directly, though there are also Skills for buffing and healing the player character. As RPG players might expect, the higher-level Skills tend to do more damage but cost significantly more Skill Points to cast.
While items to recover SP aren’t cheap, the primary gameplay-limiter is Energy, which players expend every encounter. At first, I wasn’t thrilled about the system, though it turned out to be significantly less of a hassle than I expected. While the game caps players at 31 units of Energy, they can get more for free from the premium currency shop. Dream World might charge for Energy eventually, but it mostly seems to be the developer’s way of reminding players that the shop exists. Fortunately, you never need to spend real money if you don’t want to.
Dreams and Nightmares
My primary criticism of the gameplay is that the Encounters get repetitive after a while. Enemies all have different steps and abilities, but I wouldn’t have noticed if the Battle Log wasn’t there to tell me. Ultimately, all that matters is whose attacks have the bigger numbers attached to them. Dream World tries to spice things up with puzzles and other random events. However, there is only a handful, and you’ll likely see them all several times in a single session.
Developers also didn’t size the game wid correct for mobile. This is a problem because essential information frequently disappears off the edge of the screen. I couldn’t even upgrade some of my character’s stats because of it. Dream World also conveys a lot of information through microscopic text popups that have a habit of overlapping each other.
I can’t deny that there is something endearing about Dream World. It’s a product of its time and obviously someone’s passion project, making it hard to dislike. Dream World is also a fun way to relive the early 2010s. On the other hand, the experience is neither deep nor developed enough to be anything more than a curiosity.
Is it Hardcore?
Playmage’s turn-based RPG Dream World is an imperfect port of a charming but at times underdeveloped game.