Adventure Rules Reviews – Take the Dream IX

Hello and welcome to Adventure Rules Reviews! Since this is the first time we’ll be having this segment, I’m going to take a moment to explain the criteria. I’ll be rating today’s game on the┬ácategories of Graphics, Audio, Gameplay, Story, and Time. Each category will get one of five scores:
Zero – This aspect of the game seriously held it back – AWFUL
0.5 – This aspect of the game was poor, but had something redeemable – POOR
1 – This aspect of the game performed as expected, neither adding to nor subtracting from the experience – AVERAGE
1.5 – This aspect of the game stood out in a positive way, but could be improved somehow – GOOD
2 – This aspect of the game was nearly flawless – EXCELLENT
These five scores added together will give the RAW overall score for the game. However, at the end I may make an adjustment to the overall score. These are the adjustments:
-1: A particularly disappointing feature makes the game noticeably more frustrating
-0.5: A mildly frustrating feature holds the game back somewhat
+0.5: Something a little extra makes the game a bit better than the sum of its parts
+1: A particularly entertaining feature makes this game way more enjoyable
Naturally, I will explain in detail any reasoning behind such an adjustment. Generally, this may be because one specific aspect of the game is more heavily weighted than the others, adding or subtracting to the overall value more than the other categories.

So with all that housekeeping out of the way, let’s talk about Take the Dream IX!

OVERVIEW
“What would you do for the person you love? Are you sure you’re actually in love with them? They say love is all about sacrifice. What are you willing to lose for the one you supposedly love?”
This is the description on Steam for Take the Dream IX, a game tagged as being in the adventure genre. Trust me when I say that this is not the experience you should expect. Take the Dream IX fits better in a horror tag, with gameplay focused around escaping beings you cannot defeat or solving puzzles in creepy, unknown locations. The game is designed to mess with your head, the sort of title that plays with your expectations. The question is, does the game do this well? You’re about to find out.

GRAPHICS
As an RPG Maker title, Take the Dream IX has a pretty recognizable aesthetic. You play as a cute, pixelated hero in a top-down view, moving in the four cardinal directions in an environment peopled with other pixel characters and simple building design. This game has quite a few unique environments, some that you visit multiple times and others you’ll only see once. The game has a dark atmosphere overall, but there’s no point where you can’t see what you’re doing (unless you literally aren’t supposed to). Some areas are intentionally done with a pencil-drawn design, and these environments look good as well.
What does not look good is the character artwork. Throughout the game there are scenes where a specific character will talk to you for a period of time while you look at their portrait. These hand-drawn pieces do not look good, and comparing them to the chibi version of their designs is pretty unflattering.
My favorite moments graphically were those that employed classical horror conventions to make you react. Occasionally you’ll be walking down a dark hallway and a temporary flash of light will reveal a horde of creatures around you, but they’ll be gone when you reach where you saw them. There are only a couple of monsters in the game, but their designs are either legitimately creepy or so kooky and odd that they’ll still weird you out when they’re chasing you.
The only graphical problem I had that actually interfered with gameplay was a bit of a frame rate issue during a point where there were lots of moving figures on the screen. Luckily, this happened at a point where I was not dealing with a legitimate puzzle or escape and so it didn’t cause me to die or anything.
Overall, the graphics were pretty solid as far as an indie title goes. Frame rate issues were minimal and the overall aesthetic of the game fits the creepy, crazy theme. My main problem with the graphics is with the character portraits, which did not look good and would often be on the screen for quite a few minutes while going through dialogue.
SCORE: 1.5 – Good

AUDIO
Sound design can make or break an atmospheric game, and luckily for Take the Dream IX the audio is really solid. It couples well with the graphics to create a creepy atmosphere for the game. In the few cute, pastoral environments of the game the music matches the setting, giving you a false sense of security before stuff gets weird again.┬áSome of the music is downright catchy – I still have one particular song stuck in my head that just will not go away.
One of my favorite aspects of the game’s music is how it is as subtle or overbearing, loud or soft, fast or slow as it needs to be at each moment. When you’re walking through a dark hallway unsure of where you’re headed, the sound is muted, low, suggesting coming terror and getting your heart racing. Then when a monster appears at the end of the hall and starts chasing you in the other direction, things get louder and more urgent.
Of course, the volume is also part of a big issue that I have with the game’s sound design. I was constantly having to adjust the game volume to suit the situation. There are moments of voice acting in the game, and the voices are consistently low and hard to hear. I’d have to max out my tablet while someone was talking, and then turn it way back down during puzzles because the music would be too loud. A little balancing would have gone a long way here.
As far as the voice acting goes, it isn’t great. It doesn’t necessarily detract from the experience, and there’s at least one character I can think of that I would not have read in the voice they intended for the character to have. But it doesn’t add that much, and combining that with the fact that volume issues were consistent during voiced segments makes this the weakest part of the audio presentation.
Overall, the audio was great and contributed a lot to the game’s creepy atmosphere. Trouble with the balancing and the mediocre voicework hold it back, though.
SCORE: 1.5 – Good

GAMEPLAY
The essence of any video game, right? The interactivity is what separates a game from a film or cartoon. In Take the Dream IX, that’s about half true. The game consists of a series of dialogue sections broken up by puzzles and escapes. Now this is normal for a video game, but what holds it back is that the time spent running around talking to NPC randoms for information is really just time wasted. These conversations don’t contribute to the overall narrative and they don’t help with immediate gameplay needs.
So I’ve mentioned that there are two main types of gameplay: puzzles and escapes. The former involves exploring a room (or rooms) and interacting with the objects within them to find keys, or press switches, or satisfy some other similar condition in order to proceed. None of the puzzles are particularly difficult, but they still give you pause for a moment and make you think. Now the escapes involve running around obstacles to get to a certain area within a time limit, or to get away from a monster (sometimes both). These escapes generally take a few tries just to figure out the right path or to learn the monster’s patterns, but they occur right after save points so you won’t lose a ton of progress for a mistake.
Even though there are only really two types of gameplay scenarios, each one is different enough from the other that they don’t feel repetitive or dissatisfying. In fact, my only complaint gameplay-wise is that these challenges are too infrequent. We’ll talk about my opinions about the length of the game in the Time category, but for now just know that it could definitely stand to have more puzzles and actual gameplay.
SCORE: 1.5 – Good

STORY
So far, so good. There are certainly issues with the sections we’ve gone over but overall this game is a pretty solid indie title. Unfortunately, the story and characters of Take the Dream IX are a serious detriment to the overall experience.
You begin the game in a small, pastoral village that’s celebrating a harvest festival. If you’ve ever played an RPG in your life, this will feel familiar. There’s lots of little randoms talking about the festival, and everything’s all cute and sweet and innocent before all heck breaks loose. Then your girlfriend is kidnapped and BAM, you’ve got your hook for the adventure.
That’s probably the last part of the game that will make any sort of sense to you.
This is a game that’s all about playing with video game conventions and turning them over to give you a different, weird sort of experience. However, unlike games such as The Stanley Parable or Undertale, it doesn’t do this well. In a game where the goal is challenging your expectations, early-game confusion needs to be balanced by one of two things: endgame explanation, or a clear theme and message that justifies the confusion. This game attempts to offer the former, but leaves a lot of open holes and questions. And with a total lack of message or meaning, those holes and questions are a serious detriment to the experience.
Compounding this is the terrible character development. The game features a protagonist, a damsel in distress, four supporting allies, and two villains. One villain and the damsel enjoy no development at all. Your four allies each get one dialogue sequence – ONE – that attempts to explain who they are, why they do what they do, and why they’re friends with you. The explanations imply a lengthy relationship that you as the player see no evidence of, and with no background to justify the emotional sentiment behind these scenes, I found myself not caring at all.
The dialogue in this game is very poorly written. This is due largely to poor choices in characterization and tone. The villains are insincere, their dialogue littered with “uhs” and “ums” that take away any power they would have. Couple that with some bad jokes and you’ve got two supposedly powerful enemies that just…stink. The final villain, in particular, is a very poor attempt at social commentary that does not succeed at all. Combine that with a frustratingly angsty protagonist that shouts stuff like “I’M A %&^&ING LESBIAN!” at people who very well know she is a lesbian and do not judge her for it, and you’ve got a story where the writing does not fit the atmosphere of the game at all.
Lousy writing and poor storytelling seriously hamper this game, undoing much of the good done in its other categories.
SCORE: 0 – Awful

TIME
An important part of any game is the time-sink involved. “How long am I going to be playing this game? Will I want it to be shorter? Longer? Will I want to replay it at some point?” All of those things factor into the game’s time.
Take the Dream IX is a frustratingly short game that has too much of some things and too little of others. Too much angsty, poorly-constructed dialogue. Too little puzzles and escape scenes. Too many questions left unanswered. Too little time to answer them in.
If the game were longer, and that extra length was used to address the game’s unanswered questions and add more actual gameplay, then the game would be improved a decent amount. As it is now, the short time is actually a blessing – it makes an otherwise very disappointing game playable, because at least you don’t have to waste an entire afternoon to finish it.
SCORE: .5 – Poor

FINAL THOUGHTS
The impact that a story has on the overall game depends a lot on the genre. Mario Party? Story is an afterthought. Mortal Kombat? Story is an excuse for all the action. But in a puzzle-RPG setting like this, story is an important element in making the game successful. If the player doesn’t care about what’s happening to the characters, about why it’s happening, then he or she won’t connect. Now I already rated this game a Zero on story, but it is my opinion that the pitiful storytelling and the lousy dialogue and characters are a serious detriment to this game. Because the poor writing so hampered my enjoyment, I’ll be giving this game a negative score adjustment.
SCORE: -1

OVERALL
Take the Dream IX is a game that does well at the things it does well at, but does very poorly in the areas where it fails. With great presentation and fun puzzles, this game could have been really solid, but it is held back significantly by a nonsensical story, poorly-written dialogue, and unlikable characters. If you’re looking for a fun puzzle-escape game to kill two to three hours and have the ability to just skip over all the text in between, then this game might be for you. Otherwise, I think this title is a good one to avoid.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10

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