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[Warning: Please be aware that this game deals closely with themes some players may find upsetting. Refer to the first comment by me with spoilers if you wish to know more to make an informed decision before playing.]
In free indie horror adventure Blank Dream by Teriyaki Tomato, and translated by vgperson, Mishiro Usui's left a suicide note detailing how much she hates her boring life before she throws herself into a lake... but of course, that's not the end of the story. She wakes up somewhere dark and wet, unable to remember her name or anything about herself, but in short order discovers that the way to regaining her past, and maybe grant her wish, is to hunt for all the mirrors in this world and break them by ending her life in front of them all over again. Mishiru is faced with either wandering The Mirror World like other listless spirits, who all are struggling to regain their memories and make their wishes come true, or braving the darkness within it. Use the [arrow] keys to move around, holding left [shift] to run (and you'll need to), the [spacebar] to interact, and [ESC] to open the menu, which allows you to use items or load your game. While sometimes the game will prompt you to use items, at other times you may need to use them manually from the menu. You can only save at certain points by using a blue flame, so make use of it when you see it! There are a lot of traps and ways for Mishiro to meet (another) untimely end, so think, but think quickly. If you see a mirror that doesn't reflect Mishiro, well, maybe there's someone else who might like to take a peek inside... ?
Blank Dream is heavily focused on exploration and puzzle solving, often with very little direction or hand-holding. From the Mirror World's central hub, she'll obtain keys to unlock doors that lead to other surreal themed realms, such as a dark forest, or a strange dinner club. Of course, some of the realms are more intriguing than others, such as the one that's themed around seven urban legends inside a school that you need to puzzle out. As mentioned, it is possible to get a "dead end" game over by dying with surprising frequency. If you pay attention to your surroundings, however, it's usually easy to spot danger and figure out a way around it, which keeps those "dead ends" from feeling unfair, if not from occasionally becoming frustrating. The chase sequences are less engaging than the rest of the game in this regard, though if you liked the gory deaths of The Witch's House, being violently murdered by a stampeding pumpkin or pile of ashes is a plus and not a minus. Still, the intermittent save points combined with how annoying the chase sequences can be may make you wish there were less of them, and more thinky-type obstacles. Then again, Blank Dream does manage to do what most horror games need but often fail to, and that's make you feel as if you're never safe. You're constantly on edge, and that's a good thing... maybe not for your nerves, but for the setting the game is going for? Absolutely.
Blank Dreams is at times a deeply creepy game, and while it's got its fair share of well executed jump scares, the uneasiness more comes from its dark and unsettling atmosphere. There's a sense of wrongness in every realm you explore, and picking apart the hidden meanings in their design, especially in recurring images and themes that initially just seem to be there to be weird, makes for appealing food for thought. Mishiro and the rest of the game's cast are illustrated well with a variety of expressive character portraits, and every area is brought to life with subtle sound and well-chosen graphics. You'll want to take your time and examine everything, but maybe not too much time because NOW YOU'RE DEAD FOR NOT CLEANING UP AFTER YOURSELF!... yeah, it's that type of game, so be prepared to put on your "dream logic" hat.
While you'd be within your rights to not want to play a game that features suicide in it, much less as a sort of mechanic, you should still at least be aware that Blank Dream doesn't glorify suicide as an action or concept, and Mishiro's repeated "deaths" not only unsettle her deeply, but leave her feeling as if she's "lost something" of herself. There's a lot more going on to Blank Dream's story than Mishiro's opening words make it seem, though the foreshadowing is more like forespotlighting past a certain point. The story takes on the form of a mystery, as you try to figure out not only why Mishiro may have been driven to kill herself, but who her fellow wayward souls Yuzu and Ryotaru are and why they're in the Mirror World as well. Blank Dream, though it deals with a lot of dark subject matter, also focuses on more relatable themes, like figuring out who you are, struggling with feelings of aimlessness or depression, and so on. Blank Dream is a dark but compelling game that's filled with scares both big and bizarre, as well as subtle and hair-raising. If you can take its heavy subject matter, despite being at its heart a deeply sad tale of human failings even if you get the best ending, which is extremely bittersweet, it's more than worth the trip... with the lights turned down and the sound turned up, naturally.
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