What do you get when you cross two of indie games’ favourite genres – visual novels and roguelike action games?
Dreamscaper, out now in early access for PC, is the answer. A unique blend of two different worlds, this early taste of the full experience works surprisingly well at making you care not only about your progress against some tough bosses, but about the characters you meet along the way.
Dreamscaper takes you on a journey with protagonist Cassidy, meeting interesting characters during the day while taking part in isometric real-time combat roguelike during the night. Initially this may seem like an odd fit, but developer Afterburner Studios have deftly wound what you do during the day into how the nighttime combat works. During the day you will be visiting various places around the city and getting to know the regulars at the park, bar, cafe and more. As you learn more about your friends and deepen your connection you get buffs and other benefits that benefit you during the night time. It is a system reminiscent of the Persona games, but with far less anime. There is an ongoing, overarching story and on top of wanting to beat each level, I kept playing to find out what was happening with Cassidy and her story.
And it must be said that Afterburner Studios have created one of the most beautiful worlds from any indie developer. It expertly combines soft, painterly qualities with stylised 3D models that are still readable at the distance they are from the games’ camera. They capture the feeling of being in a dream, without feeling compromised or over-designed.
In the current version of the game, there are six levels and three bosses to get to grips with. Each environment is substantively different from one another and represents a good range of spaces to explore. Gameplay-wise they don’t really set themselves apart, but do provide a good visual guide to where you are.
Combat is at the core of what you will be spending the majority of time with in Dreamscaper, and while not flawless, it is remarkably polished for an early access title and is a solid foundation for the rest of the work needed to complete the game.
While it initially appears that button mashing will get you through the game, overconfidence in your ability to quickly press attack will leave you exposed and your run over (each run is permadeath). You have a wide range of combat movements, and each of these can be upgraded and swapped out for new variations during the run. From your light and heavy attack, long range weapon, to your three abilities, there are always lots of options for tackling each new situation. In fact this can be a weakness, as it is easy to forget what exact special power I picked up and whether or not it would be useful right this second.
Dreamscaper is generous with it’s upgrades too, with each procedurally-generated level offering you quite a few different options if that suits your play style and build. Each attack, whatever the style, feels weighty and effective in its own right. While there may be some balancing left to do, you will always have a valid path to the end, if you don’t get overeager like I too often am. There are also some light puzzles in each level but I mostly passed by them as the time to complete versus reward effort never seemed quite worth it.
Truthfully, rougelikes aren’t really my style of game. But the combination of fluid combat, permanent progress and well-written visual novel style interludes makes Dreamscaper a different and more appealing prospect.
With the current amount of content the game well deserves it’s asking price, and with the promise of more to come, Dreamscaper is even better value.