A link symbol  This article is exactly what it says on the tin. In the year of our Lord 2022, I played the early-2000s cult classic Yume Nikki for the very first time.

Yume Nikki, or Dream Diary, is an indie adventure-horror game created in RPG Maker that released in 2004. It's a game that seems to hold quite a lot of nostalgia for many people, and is a piece of media that I have noticed talked about quite a lot on Neocities in particular (along with, of course, Serial Experiments Lain). The cultural influence of Yume Nikki cannot be overstated; it has been cited as influences for many other games, including (but not limited to) Ib, Lisa: The First, Doki Doki Literature Club, OneShot, OMORI, and Undertale.

But, for such an influential and popular game, I never ran across it when I was younger. It's likely that I had just been hanging around in the wrong circles in terms of hearing about such a game. If I had heard of it, I probably would have been frightened off by its label as a psychological surreal-horror, anyhow, as I have only really begun to appreciate horror (particularly psychological horror) in recent years.

So, 15+ years past its release, and well into the point of this game being considered a 'nostalgic classic of the past', I finally decided to pick up Yume Nikki. I will be describing my experience with the game, and I will then discuss my personal theory on the deeper meaning behind it. While reading the ladder part of this article, please keep in mind that I have not looked into the popular online theories on the game at all, so it could be completely different than what the community consensus is. I will also provide content warnings for the theory itself once I get there; but, because of the ending of the game, I'd like to give a content warning for mentions of suicide for the rest of the article.

So, here it is: my experience with the cult classic, Yume Nikki.

I came into Yume Nikki knowing a few things. Firstly, I understood the story coming in. I understood that we play as Madotsuki, a girl who lives alone in an apartment. She doesn't leave her room, and seems to play video games all day. At night, she has strange and disturbing nightmares, and when she wakes up, she records her dreams in her dream diary. I also came in understanding that the community likes to theorize about the deeper meaning of the game, so I was prepared to take notes on certain parts of the game that I thought could hold symbolic meaning. I also came in knowing the ending, which you would think would be a bigger downside than it actually ended up being, but I feel like it had little to no effect on my experience.

So, I booted up the game, went to sleep, and immediately entered the Nexus. I chose to enter Number World first, given that it was closest to the Nexus' entrance clockwise, and wandered, pressing the space bar on all of the little creatures that I ran into, looking for something to interact with. I immediately knew what people talked about in terms of getting lost in the game; I didn't feel any sense of urgency as I looked around this strange world, which I likened to a casino in my head. I searched around the lamp world next; again, interacting with everything until I found the lamp effect. I tried it immediately, and I assumed it was more or less a cosmetic effect, as it didn't seem to light up the place around me (which I'd later learn was something that it did do; just not here). And then...

I looked up a guide. Okay, I know, I know, people will say that it's completely against the spirit of the game to look up a guide, but I'm no good with games where I don't know what the goal is!! I wanted to at least know what I was supposed to be searching for, and a vague idea of where to find the things I should be. Open-ended games are scary.

So, I followed the guide that I found in order to obtain the first three items that it listed (because the guide said it listed the effects in order of usefulness): the bike, Medamaude, and the umbrella. I also spoiled myself on how to get the ending, as it seemed like it would be something I wouldn't be able to guess on my own (which I was correct about). From then on, I used the guide as sparingly as I could manage; only looking at it when I started to become antsy about what I was supposed to be doing. Again, I'm sure lots of people will say that that's against the spirit of the game, but if I played the game completely blind, I wouldn't have enjoyed it! We all have different ways of enjoying games, and I like to look at guides to help... Well... Guide me.

And enjoy the game I did. I think that the soundtrack helped a lot in this sense. It made me truly feel isolated, and I could really sense the impact that it had on the soundtrack of Undertale (my favorite game OST of all time). I played the game as if I was solving a puzzle. I would take frantic little notes in my notes app at anything I needed to remember, anything that felt important, and anything that I felt could amount to something in terms of theorizing. (I know that a lot of people also don't like when people play a game just to theorize on the meaning, but, again, that's what's fun for me! I love analyzing, I love theorizing. It's what made such a symbolism-heavy game like this pique my interest.)

I collected all of the effects in 3 days, through my on and off playing of the game. And, despite my knowing that it was coming... Guiding Madotsuki to the stairs by the railing made me feel a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I stood on the balcony, staring at the stairs for minutes on end. I knew what had to be done, and, perhaps, at the start of the game, I would have been able to climb it without hesitation but, through my theorizing on and connecting with and playing as Madotsuki, I had grown to really love her. Still, I wanted to finish the game, though. I closed my eyes just to be able to manage to guide her to the stairs.

I braced myself, forced myself to press the spacebar, and I lead Madotsuki to her death as she leapt off the railings, taking her own life.

I felt hollow as I watched the end credits. I let the music wash over me as I took a breath. I suppose my reaction to the game's ending will seem like a bit much to most people. But this is why I love psychological horror. The feeling of getting into a character's head, coming to understand the terror of their everyday lives, before, eventually, losing them to the void; whatever that may mean for that particular character.

But, because we don't see anything past her falling, I like to believe that Madotsuki survived her fall. I like to think that her stay at the hospital, with a nurse by her side constantly, while anxiety-inducing, was the first step in recovery for her. Even if maybe a happy ending for a girl like her is unlikely, I want to believe in it. I want to believe that Madotsuki is eventually able to have a happy dream.

Now, we get onto the theorizing. Again, please keep in mind that I have made a point to not look at theories online, so my theories may be very different than the community consensus. And also keep in mind that I am aware that I am likely projecting my own traumas onto Madotsuki. Like, a lot. But, hey, nothing wrong with that! If I can see a theme, and I can justify its existence, it's there.

The content warnings for my blind interpretation of the game are as follows: sexual abuse, death from traffic accidents, dysmorphia / dysphoria, and bullying (specifically of an autistic individual). If you can't handle these themes, that's okay! Please take care of yourself.

So, I theorize that Madotsuki is a non-binary autistic person who- HEY DON'T CLICK OFF. THIS ISN'T JUST PROJECTION. I have evidence!!

First of all; Madotsuki being non-binary. I think that Madotsuki can be read as trans in multiple different ways; non-binary (as I read her), a trans woman, or a trans man. There is a reoccuring theme of body horror in the game. NPCs and backgrounds, to me, sometimes resemble body parts or organs, or just straight-up are body parts. On top of this, the effects of the game all change Madotsuki's appearance, and a lot of effects specifically are about changing her appearance in general. This could be seen as a form of dysmorphia or gender dysphoria. There's also, of course, the Madotsuki who can be found, quite literally, 'in the closet'. I interpret this event more literally (as I will discuss later on), but I can definitely see it having a double-meaning. Finally, Madotsuki can enter both female and male bathrooms without hesitation. It's her entering both of them that leads me to see her specifically as non-binary; it's as if she doesn't care about gender at all, and feels disconnected from it and the idea of spaces exclusively 'for' one gender. Whether she was a closeted trans man, or a passing trans girl, I would think that she would likely hesitate going into the male bathrooms, because she undeniably appears feminine. Not to say these interpretations are not valid, because they are. That is merely my reasoning as to why I see Madotsuki specifically as non-binary.

Now, Madotsuki as an autistic character. It's likely that Madotsuki is intended as a hikkikomori; that is to say, a person who just doesn't go outside for months or years and is an extreme recluse. However, I would like to posit that she may be a hikkikomori because she is autistic. A lot of autistic people are recluses due to their struggle to socialize. On top of this, I interpret Madotsuki to be a victim of bullying (more on that later), which is a common, nearly-universal experience for autistic people. Madotsuki hardly emotes; in fact, she doesn't emote at all. And the reaction of the NPCs to Madotsuki in the mall really reminds me of my own experiences as an autistic person, whenever I have 'failed' a social interaction, put through a horror-dreamlike filter. I mean, the fact that the mall is seen as a place of horror at all reads very autistic to me. I also think that games are her special interest; reflected by the only activity that she does besides write her dreams and sleep is play games, and I think that the pixelated segments of the game are that special interest making its way into her subconscious. I also interpret Poniko and Ubao as representing the struggles of socializing as an autistic person. To us, as the player, and to Madotsuki, when she does certain things (like turn off the lights), other people react just fine. But, sometimes, when she does the same thing, her peers react angrily and scarily, and then isolate her, just as Ubao sends her to Ubao's Trap.

There were a few ongoing themes that I noticed in the game. The first of which being car accidents. Of course, there's the corpse in the road that you get the Stoplight effect from, which implies that Madotsuki inherently links death and traffic lights together. Once the Stoplight effect is gained, I noticed that some NPCs react in a creepy way to it; one of them stopped moving and lost its pupils, for example. There is also, of course, Monoko, whose appearance changes drastically when Stoplight is used. She gains multiple arms, she begins to drool, her eyes become unfocused, there seems to be a wound in her belly... This seems to me as a creepy, dreamy and almost childlike view of what a person could look like after a traffic accident. Mangled and suffering. I think that it's possible that Monoko was one of Madotsuki's few friends from her time at school, or maybe she was even just an acquaintance, but that she witnessed her suffer a traffic accident; likely at a young age. This would explain the theme of death and violence throughout the game. I also think that Madotsuki interacting with a white flower at Crossover Garden (with white flowers being associated with funeral services), and then being transferred to the Ghost World, indicates that she has an interest in or has experienced death in her life before.

I also believe that Madotsuki had few friends, and suffered from bullying. Toriningen, I believe, represent her peers from school. They are very human-like in appearance, and they chase Madotsuki around, hunting her down. When they catch her, they transport her to small and enclosed areas, which means that the player either has to wake Madotsuki up or that they have to use Medamaude to return to the Nexus. I think that this is where Madotsuki's appearance in a closet comes from; I think that, perhaps, this is the incident that her being trapped in enclosed spaces is referencing; the bullies trapped her in a closet or locker or such as a form of torment, either just once or regularly. Where I found closet Madotsuki, Toriningen were also around. Toriningen are also shown as partying together, but Madotsuki, thanks to the terrain, is physically unable to join; she feels isolated from her peers, and like she's unable to connect to them at all. (Again, very autistic experience, but nonetheless.)

This connects to the theme of isolation that I noticed through the game, as well. It's obvious, of course, that Madotsuki doesn't leave her apartment throughout the game, but, even in the dreams, Madotsuki is isolated. The locations within her dreams feel very lonely, which I believe is by design. Most NPCs also ignore Madotsuki, and there is no dialogue. I think that this is, again, due to her being autistic, but also an intense fear of social interaction due to her past with being bullied, as well as a trauma response from sexual abuse.

There is a place that Madotsuki needs to enter a zipper in order to get to; she stabs it with the knife, and it spurts out blood, indicating pain, along with a scream. In this place, you meet who is dubbed KyuuKyuu-kun. He's very creepy and somewhat phallic in appearance, and he has a single arm that rubs up and down the handrail of the stairs. If you go up the stairs, your screen will flash with a strange image, apparently so frightening to Madotsuki that it wakes her up entirely. I think that it's fair to say that KyuuKyuu-kun is intended to at least be somewhat suggestive, and the blood and the scream when the room is accessed, and the fact that close by is something so terrifying that it scares Madotsuki awake, leads me to believe that Madotsuki went through sexual assault and / or sexual abuse. This is also another explanation for the body horror imagery throughout the game.

There are some things that definitely feel important, but I do not have a specific explanation for. However, I feel satisfied with this theory.

Overall, I'm very grateful that I checked out this game. I definitely understand what all of the excitement about it is now, and I loved recognizing bits and pieces that went on to influence works that I already knew. I was worried it wouldn't have aged well, but I feel like it's still worth checking out if you haven't, even today!

Madotsuki spinning around in her spinning chair