Release Date: April 17, 2014
Hours Played: 2 hours
Best Part: That dreamy, haunting atmosphere
This is a free game and will be rated on a “Try It! or Skip It!” scale, as “Buy It!” doesn’t apply.
A trend has been growing over the last several years. Developers aren’t using RPGMaker to make traditional, turn-based RPGs (as the software is designed), but to create atmospheric exploration games like To the Moon, which may be the most popular example thanks to its Steam release.
Dreaming Mary is mined from the same vein as cult favorites Ib and Yume Nikki. In fact, developer Dreaming Games specifically states on their blog that those two games were direct influences for Dreaming Mary.
Having played and thoroughly enjoyed both of those little-known horror/exploration gems, I was quite excited to check out Dreaming Mary. The artwork looked like nothing I’d ever seen in a game produced in RPGMaker, and quirky stuff about dreaming has always interested me. Also, the game is free. Who can pass up free?
Dreaming Mary begins in a bedroom, of all places, but this bedroom is already inside of the dream where the game takes place. A radio next to the bed gives you some background about Mary and the storyline, complete with voice-over. It’s quite specific in laying out some of the symbolism and metaphors found in the game, which is a welcome and unpretentious approach to storytelling. Surprisingly, it still leaves room for the game to flaunt its many mysterious facets.
The game is viewed from a 2D side-scrolling perspective, and checking the environment for details is essential for progression (this is an exploration game, after all). Bizarre aspects like displays of fine art and areas hidden behind foreground graphics beg for investigation in this anime candy land.
Most of the gameplay is made up of searching your surroundings and interacting with NPCs. The radio specifically states that these anthropomorphic dream denizens are somehow connected to the real world Mary, but doesn’t really give any specifics, leaving it up to the player to ponder. They include a cheerful bunny housekeeper named Bunnilda, a sly-as-a-fox – er, fox named Foxanne, a boorish boar named Boaris, and a bookish penguin named – wait for it – Penn Guindel (I love it so much).
Some NPCs are more mischievous than helpful, and others are just flat-out mean. Completing puzzles for them progresses the storyline. These puzzles start out fairly easy, but the later ones require thorough exploration and some nightmare diving to find clues to their solutions.
I only wish there were more areas to explore, as well as a greater focus on environmental interactivity. Uncovering secrets and new elements within Dreaming Mary is always exciting, but there are too few of them, and most areas only have one or two unique things to discover. It will still take you some time on your first playthrough to find them all, but I was left wanting more.
The artwork in Dreaming Mary is incredibly lush. Everything has a cotton candy sheen to it, giving off the vibe that you are within the dreams of a young girl. It is shoujo-level sweet though, so if anime art isn’t your thing, you won’t be impressed.
Things do take a dark turn in Dreaming Mary, with quite a bit of visual panache to keep things interesting. This includes silhouettes in the foreground of the lounge area where Foxanne hangs out and the darker imagery that crops up when the dream takes a left turn down nightmare alley.
The soundtrack is also quite brilliant – lilting and low-key in the nicer parts of the dream, eerie and experimental when the nightmare creeps in. It also makes impressive use of silence during key story sequences, which only adds to the already substantial atmosphere.
All in all, it takes about two or three hours to completely finish Dreaming Mary. Every time you reach the end, you are asked if you’re satisfied with the conclusion. Say “No,” and you will begin again within the same playthrough for a chance to find another ending.
There are four main endings to uncover, along with a few side-endings. Finding all of the main endings in one playthrough unlocks some bonus content within the game and on the Dreaming Games blog. I won’t spoil anything, but the in-game bonus content is hilarious, and old-school gamers will be absolutely giddy with joy when they find it.
A Short (But Sweet) Little Dream/Nightmare – Try It!
While there could have been more content to dive into, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Dreaming Mary. If you’re the type of gamer who likes ambiguity and atmosphere along with some light puzzle-solving, then I highly recommend giving it a go. It can be downloaded for free for PC and Mac on the Dreaming Games blog.
The studio is currently working on a follow-up to be released later this year, so here’s hoping that they add more to the experience, because I’m definitely keen to enter this world again.