Buried under a ton of alien-blasting, street-fighting, racing and questing are some very special video games with truly unique concepts. One of the most bizarre of the bunch is LSD: Dream Emulator for #PlayStation.
The game was released in 1998, but only in Japan. Created by Osamu Sato, LSD is based on the actual dreams of Hiroko Nishikawa, an artist at Asmik Ace Entertainment who recorded her unconscious experiences in a journal for 10 years. This real-life background is critical to the game experience, as it's clearly something that even the most avant-garde designer could not come up with using conscious logical thought. Seriously, it's just that messed-up.
In LSD the player navigates dream worlds from a first-person perspective, using the left and right directional buttons to look around and change direction, the up and down buttons to initiate or reverse movement, and the shoulder buttons to turn around and strafe left or right.
You might also enjoy:
- Does Black Mirror reveal the future of Horror Games?
- Japan is different: Listen to Sega's weird company anthem
- 8 PlayStation games we want to play on our smartphones
What Dreams May Come
The idea is simply to walk around and explore things in a trippy dream that makes about as much sense as the real thing. Although randomly generated, the environments are also influenced by past dream-states, but so far no one has been able to completely decipher the logic behind the levels. In some cases, dreams can be just plain Japanese text, or a non-interactive cutscene.
Touching walls or other objects may result in being instantly teleported to another environment through a system called "linking". According to player reports, bumping into people, animals, or special objects usually transports you to an even more surreal environment.
Each dream can last up to approximately 10 minutes, after which the player will 'wake up'. When the player wakes up, the screen will fade away, then it will show a graph that records their progress, and the player will be sent back to the game's initial menu. However, if the player falls off a cliff or into a hole during the dream, they will wake up immediately.
At the end of each dream a graph appears that keeps track of the player's state of mind; the states are upper, downer, static and dynamic, relating to the environments and the general feel of the dream the player just completed. Past states are recorded and may affect the content of later dreams.
Part of the dreamlike quality of the game is that surroundings may suddenly change while the player walks around. The walls might sprout staring eyes. #HorrorGames that rely on cheap jump scares could learn a thing or two from this title.
Even if the player visits the same place twice, it may look quite different, as the textures of walls may subtly change or new items or creatures will appear for the player to encounter.
After some days of game time, the player gains the ability to re-visit saved dream-states with 'flashbacks'. These play back a 2-4 minute segment of a previously visited dream world and, due to the shifting nature of the in-game environments, are the only way to experience the same thing twice.
The Dwellers in Dreams
While wandering the dream worlds, it's possible to encounter a menagerie of bizarre creatures, including a floating elephant, a celestial nymph flying through the air, a wild horse running around, a huge man filling up an entire room, a pterodactyl, and a weird face with arms and legs
Most of the creatures or strange objects you encounter in the dreams can be terrifying, but at least they're not actively hostile...except...
Welcome to my Nightmare
There is one unique encounter in the game that assumes a uniquely antagonistic role, and the creepier and darker the dreams get, the more likely you are to see it (although it frequently appears in the 'happy' environments when the dreamstate is getting grimmer). That is the shadowy, trenchcoat-and-fedora clad figure that fans have nicknamed The Gray Man. Should you interact with this figure, it makes you lose all your memories, wiping your saved dream-state data.
There's also the Abyss Demon, a giant monster which lures you to a pleasant location before suddenly appearing from behind a cliff to ambush you.
The Cult of LSD
LSD was never released outside Japan because previously trippy games from the developers had performed poorly overseas. But with the emergence of a few Let's Play videos back in 2009, a small but devoted fan community started to develop in the West, sharing versions of the game, documenting their particular experiences in the dream worlds, and working on an open-source remake in the Unity engine. English translations have even been made of the Dream Journal that the game is based on.
Fans have also praised the game's soundtrack, made by creator Osamu Sato. The game soundtrack got a double CD release in Japan by a Japanese techno label in 1998, with remixes from several notable musicians from Warp Records, including IDM pioneer µ-Ziq, DJ Ken Ishii, and jazz musician Jimi Tenor.
So, you want to get into LSD?
If the psychonauts among you fancy delving into the feverish dream-scapes of LSD, the good news is that fan efforts have made versions of the game available to those of us outside of Japan.
First of all, I'd recommend checking out this introduction video by DidYouKnowGaming on YouTube:
This'll give you an impression of the visuals in motion and a good overview of the background behind it. Then you'll want to get the game with the help of the fandom, who have kindly set up a wikia for your convenience. You might also consider following the development of the HD remake in Unity, which promises to bring the insanity to a richer, more intense graphical level.
Find out how you can become a Creator and contribute to Now Loading!