When Halloween slips around, you have tons of choices for hosting a retro-themed scare-a-thon on your big screen. It’s easy to dive straight into the likes of Nightmare on Elm Street, Silent Hill 2, or even these Atari 2600 ‘classics’. Formerly obscure titles like Run Like Hell for Xbox/PS2 and Nocturne on PC have been around long enough to catch the attention of many retro gamers as well. So let’s do something different this year. Let’s talk about some of the black sheep of horror gaming, the lesser-known and lesser-appreciated titles from the past. Set aside your knife glove, take off the goalie mask, and let one of these games dick-punch away your sanity for an evening. Today we’re turning Japanese with a look at LSD Dream Emulator for the PS1.
LSD Dream Emulator (1998, PS1)
What makes dreams so weird? While we’re asleep, we can see and do the weirdest, most insane stuff imaginable and it seems to make total sense. Then we wake up, reflect on the experience, and wonder why the hell it seemed logical at all. What would it be like if we could ‘dream’ while we were awake? That question led Osamu Sato to create the most bizarre, surreal video game you’re ever likely to experience.
LSD Dream Emulator is not a ‘game’ in the traditional sense. It lacks many of the fundamentals found in even the most rudimentary video games, eschewing story, action, combat, and even deliberately created worlds in favor of a randomized experience that alters itself based on the player’s interaction with the game, the length of time it has been played, and the number of ‘dreams’ one has enjoyed(?) already. One does not simply ‘play’ LSD Dream Emulator, one picks up the controller and wanders through a variety of locations with names like ‘Flesh Tunnels’, ‘Violence District’, and ‘Happy Town’.
Virtually everything you do in the game affects where your dream goes next. Bumping into objects usually teleports you to a different area. Falling down pits or into water ends your dream immediately, as sensations of falling so often do in real life. Interaction with the other denizens of your dream world likewise shape your experience by changing the texture sets for the background, switching to another of the game’s nearly 500 individual music compositions, or playing a short video clip that could consist of anything from a bunch of sheep running by to kids looking up at an apartment building and laughing.
What, if anything, you learn about yourself from playing LSD Dream Emulator is probably best left between you and your therapist, but feel free to share your own experiences in the comments. As for me, I’m not putting this in my PlayStation again until I stop having nightmares about The Gray Man in real life.