Have you ever wanted to use the power of God and anime to beat the hell out of your inner demons? In Dreamscaper, Cassidy finds herself in the unique position of being able to do just that.
Dreamscaper follows a young girl named Cassidy after the recent death of her sister. At night, vivid nightmares torment Cassidy and in order to discover the source of these nightmares, she must use tools from her happiest memories to battle into the depths of her dreamscape.
At its core, Dreamscaper is an inspiring story about coping with depression and the loss of a loved one. These themes are explored through creative symbolism in Cassidy’s dreams and the core roguelite loop itself. What’s inspiring about Dreamscaper is that it shows how difficult the fight against depression can be, but also how persistence makes the entire fight winnable.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Blending emotional storytelling and solid gameplay
Dreamscaper creates interactive metaphors for its players to experience. The most apparent usage of this concept is through its six stages and six bosses. Each boss and level pair shows the layers of inner turmoil Cass is struggling with. The first two stages are wonderful examples of how Dreamscaper blends metaphor, storytelling, and gameplay together.
The Departure, and its boss Fear, are the first stage. This level looks like Cass’ hometown of Backhill in the grips of winter. Players with a sharp eye for symbolism will notice that water is an important symbol in Dreamscaper, and all the water on this stage is frozen except for Fear’s boss room. By designing the level like this, Dreamscaper shows that the only way Cass can dive deeper into her dreams and start the healing process is to face her fears first.
The Renewal is the second stage and its boss is Isolation. The Renewal looks like an empty version of Cass’ new home, the city of Redhaven. Its design echoes Cass’ feeling that the city is a lonely place. Isolation’s fight further reinforces this theme of loneliness since Isolation will try to keep Cass away from it at all times.
To defeat Isolation, Cassidy has to close the gap between the two of them and break down Isolation’s walls. The entire fight is a beautiful metaphor for how Cass can defeat her feelings of isolation by opening herself up to knowing other people.
Roguelites usually have players fighting, dying, upgrading then fighting again in that order, and Dreamscaper is no exception. What’s interesting here is how well the mechanics of the roguelite tie into the themes Dreamscaper is exploring.
Every night Cassidy has to face the six monsters of her psychological torment – her fears, her loneliness, her regrets, her resentments, her negativity, and ultimately the loss of her sister – and she doesn’t always come out ahead. Whenever you die in the dream world, you’re sent right back to the waking world where Cassidy works on being a healthier person and gets help from her support network. This loop helps players see the benefits of persistence. Each failure leads to a healthier Cassidy and a chance to nurture more friendships.
Cassidy’s friendships also send a powerful message about how important support networks are in the battle against depression. Even if Cassidy defeats the final boss, she will be sent back to the waking world with little resolution.
In order to help Cassidy come to terms with her loss, the player must first fully flesh out her new support network. To do so, the player has to regularly talk to each of Cassidy’s friends and max out their friendship levels through conversations and thoughtful, hand-made gifts.
Each relationship will help Cassidy overcome a small part of her depression, whether it’s through just lending an ear for Cassidy to complain to, helping her find work as an artist, or just providing space for her to silently navigate her emotions. Once this support network is built and when players reach Loss again, Cassidy’s friends will pick her up when Loss tries to send her to the waking world, giving her strength so she can finish off Loss once and for all.
When you put all of this together, Dreamscaper shows the player that it’s okay to fail, because with that comes the opportunity for growth.
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