Sometimes you can just tell how much effort and care went into making a game, and a good example of this can be seen in Dreamscaper. Developed by a tiny three-person development team, it’s impressive how much has been crammed into this little roguelite from both a story and gameplay perspective.
At its core Dreamscaper is a story about the importance of mental wellness and forming meaningful relationships. You play as a faceless woman named Cassidy, who has recently moved from her hometown of Backhill to a new city called Redhaven. Cassidy is quite lonely however, and she’s clearly dealing with some unaddressed trauma from her past that’s still haunting her daily life. To sort out her issues, Cassidy thus relives her past and faces her inner struggles head on in her dreams every night, which take the shape of randomly generated dungeons fashioned after important places from her history.
Combat is simple but strategic, as most rooms task you with cutting through a few enemies with a combination of basic attacks, special moves, blocks, and dodges. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before—we were especially reminded of Hades many times—but there’s a nice rhythm to combat and the skill ceiling feels rather high. Things like pulling off a perfectly timed dodge or spacing out your attacks just enough to maximize damage feel consistently rewarding, and there’s quite a bit of weapon diversity to keep runs feeling fresh and interesting.
We were especially thrilled by the ongoing sense of forward progression. Every room clear will reward you with something useful, whether that’s another health drop or an extra key or a new special attack or weapon to fool around with. New equipment drops are almost always an upgrade over your old kit and the random nature of how they spawn means that you’re always incentivized to branch out and try new playstyles.
This forward progression isn’t merely limited to your dungeon runs, either. When you inevitably bite the dust and wake up the next morning, there are a variety of currencies you’ve accrued from your run that can then be ‘spent’ in your waking life to improve your odds of overcoming the dream world. Things like meditating and sketching new drawings in Cassidy’s sketchbook will grant you welcome stat bumps and new items for the equipment pools, while also having nice narrative ties to how the power of self-love can improve one’s mental fortitude.
There’s also an element of relationship building to these waking portions of the game, and these can further help your chances in the dungeons. Cassidy can travel between various locales in Redhaven (like a park or a bar) and meet with a diverse cast of locals who help to make the town feel a little less intimidating. Giving gifts that match their interests will boost a confidant’s relationship level, and this then takes on a gameplay form in a passive buff that you can equip before entering a dungeon. Not only do these equipable buffs make a meaningful difference to your strategies, but the cutscenes that play out between Cassidy and her friends often fill in more gaps on her mysterious past while offering up some heartwarming and entertaining views into each person’s personality.
The only complaints we can really muster against Dreamscaper are nitpicks. For one thing, this is a very ‘safe’ roguelite, so if you’ve already burned yourself out putting thousands of hours into games like Binding of Isaac, Dead Cells and Hades, Dreamscaper isn’t the breath of fresh air that’ll reinvigorate your love for the genre. Beyond that, the text in handheld mode can be hilariously small, which makes this a game that feels like it almost must be played in the dock.
Dreamscaper really is rather good; this is a game that certainly deserves more attention than it’s received. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in heart. A surprisingly emotional story, rewarding progression system, snappy combat, and painterly visuals make for an experience that we’d suggest you give a serious look.