Last week, news got out that the Japanese Playstation Network would soon sell a game called LSD: Dream Emulator as a “PSOne Classic.” Seeing that provocative title and the psychedelic screenshots convinced me that I had to play this game. Originally released in Japan in 1998, LSD is perhaps the most avant-garde of designer Osamu Sato’s bizarre titles, at least partially because it has no apparent goal. The player simply experiences new somewhat interactive and disturbing environments time and again. They are all based loosely on a dream diary a staff member took for a number of years. This bizarre interactive experience has earned the game a devoted cult following, as people one by one stumble into its world and attempt to learn what they can about it. I’ve been playing for a week and I feel like I don’t know the first thing about how this game works and the mystery of it is perhaps the most rewarding part.
LSD‘s gameplay simply consists of first-person environment exploration. You walk around whatever area you’re put in, usually until you run into something, which will take you to a new environment. There are only so many environments you may end up in — an old Japanese town, a dark and frightening “violence district,” a completely bizarre toy world of sorts — and these worlds are empty of moving life about 70% of the time. That last fact makes it quite shocking and disturbing during the times when a man dressed all in grey floats toward you, or you find a Japanese cat sculpture submerged in a usually empty pond, or you see a spaceship blasting off to nowhere in the middle of a grassy plain. The ratio of desolation to bizarre action is almost perfectly calibrated to get you to jump in shock if playing at 3:00am. It’s just never predictable.
Each dream ends after about ten minutes, or sometimes when you fall off a cliff or experience something else potentially deadly. Additionally, sometimes the dream will just end at a totally random time. Regardless, the dream is always ranked on a graph afterwards with the Y-axis representing if it was an “upper” or “downer” and the X-axis going from “static” to “dynamic,” which probably represents how many rare objects you encountered in that dream. The graph doesn’t seem to have any effect on anything, but it does give some sense of progression as you fill in points over time. In fact, filling in every spot on the graph is perhaps the only conceivable goal in the game, though that would take extraordinary effort to complete.
The only breaks in the random experience gameplay are some dreams that consist only of a block of Japanese text (which are completely lost on me) and others that consists of short video clips. The video clips are very interesting and sometimes a bit Lynchian (the dream diary the game is based on does specifically mention Twin Peaks at one point) including a rather long scene of a child eating breakfast by himself and an elevator with a fish bowl inside it.
While the game has been praised for its consistent, procedurally-generated originality, it can in fact seem rather repetitive for long stretches of time. The same environments are used over and over, only with new and more bizarre textures overlaid upon them to keep things fresh. While it may be true that you could play this game forever and never see everything it has to offer, you will still see the majority of its experiences over and over again, so it should be played patiently.
It’s hard to tell what exactly is the huge appeal of this game to me, but here I am, still playing this twelve year-old game, barely able to quit in case I might miss the next bizarre thing to happen. If you can’t get access to the game, there are several very extensive Let’s Plays available on YouTube, which can give you a good idea of just some of the possibilities available. For now, I just find it remarkable that a game so out-dated and so obscure still finds devoted fans from time to time, living in our minds a little longer.
LSD: Dream Emulator is rated D (suitable for ages 17 and up) by the CERO.