LSD: Dream Emulator

That LSD stands for Lovely Sweet Dream, don’t you know.  Or one of many other things like in Limbo the Silent Dream, in Life the Sensuous Dream, in Logic the Symbolic Dream, in Leisure the Sonorous Dream, in Laughter the Spiritual Dream, in Lunacy the Savage Dream, in Linking the Sapient Dream, or one of any of the dozen phrases that can be made to fit.  But it certainly doesn’t stand for Lysergic acid diethylamide, no siree.

What this is, is a game that came out only in Japan for the Sony PlayStation in 1998.  It was issued and sold in limited quantities, and is thus pretty rare as far as PlayStation games go.  And it would have been forgotten about like many other titles of the era had it not been so unique and unforgettable.

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It’s not at all a game in the traditional sense of the word.  There really is no objective.  There are no points or score to keep.  There are no lives or hitpoints, and nothing can end the game or make you “lose” or even “win”.

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You start on Day 1.  I’m going to show some screenshots from where I picked up my progress on Day 103 here.  When you initially begin, the Flashback feature is not available.  Flashback is some very short moments in randomized sequence from previous dreams available for you to repeat.  You can also access the load and save functions from here as well as turn the walking “shake” on or off.  From here, you can also go to the game’s “graph”.

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The graph displays automatically after a dream ends.  The red square flashes and shows you the position of your most recent dream.  The white, grey and black squares are all where previous dreams have landed.  The Y axis ranges from “upper” to “downer” dreams, while the X axis ranges from “static” to “dynamic” dreams.  It seems that no one can really pin down how the game determines which is which.  Where your dreams land on the graph supposedly determines the flavour of your next dream.

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Half the time I’ve seen people discuss this game, it seems to me they’ve missed the point of it entirely.  It says what it is right in the title: Dream Emulator.  This is meant to be a simulation of what it’s like to be in a series of dreams.  The dreams of a woman named Hiroko Nishikawa, to be precise.  She worked at Asmik Ace when they made this game, and she had been keeping a detailed dream diary for ten years.

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When the game was released, the dream diary and a soundtrack CD were released in even more limited quantities along with it.  Those are available on the internet too, but I haven’t checked them out yet.  Judging by what can be seen in the game, some of Hiroko’s dreams featured colourful and strange imagery, and some were outright disturbing.  To me, the point of this game is simply to explore this world and take it in for what it is.

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Much of the game’s imagery is steeped in Japanese culture.  There are many things that would have deeper meaning if I could read Japanese.  As it is, I think the unrecognizability of the writing for me works to give certain things a mysteriousness that helps propel the often eerie mood.

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Things start out looking rather plain and basic, compared to what they turn into as time progresses.  The sky will take on strange colours, odd text or textures will colour the surrounding objects, and strange and fascinating creatures will suddenly appear.

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The world of the game is actually consistently mapped out, and you can get from one place to another either randomly or deliberately.  You can get from one “world” to another either by walking through an exit and a tunnel or by the game’s system of “linking”.

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“Linking” is what happens when you walk into an object.  That’s the only way you can interact with anything in this world, and I think that’s one of the reasons why some people get turned off by this game.  You can’t jump or shoot or throw punches here.  All you can do is walk, run, side-step and look up and down.

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But there is so much to see, and things usually change from one time to the next.  Above you can see what’s called the “Violence District“, and if you look to the right you’ll see a tin can that’s been thrown out of an apartment window.

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There is writing all over the walls and the ground here, but to my eyes, it might as well be hieroglyphics.  Oh, and mind the corpses under the streetlight.  There’s a killer on the loose around here, and sometimes you can see him kicking one of the corpses.

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Disturbing stuff indeed, especially when you happen across one of the suicide victims hanging from a light post.  The music here is usually suitably creepy as well.

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Bright Moon Cottage is sort of like your home base, but there is a dying woman there.  Sometimes the bed is empty too.  Sometimes, she appears as a bloody skeleton.

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Occasionally you won’t enter the dream world.  Instead, you will see a text message flash on the screen.  I’ve read that these say either that you had no dream that day, or the dream was too disturbing to record.

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Here is a fireplace and a bookshelf in the Bright Moon Cottage, with writing all over everything.

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And the endless tunnel.  There are ends on both sides.

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A mirage appears in the sky in the Natural World.

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A signpost points the way, but there’s nothing that I can read on it.

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A tree, the sun, and a cliff’s edge.  You can walk over the edges too, which will end your dream and wake you up.

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There’s a sunken city somewhere off the edge of the Natural World

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This strange dragon-like creature flies above your head.

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And a pink flying elephant appears floating above a bottomless pit.

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There’s a large and rather creepy face on the wall in the Kyoto town.

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Here in the Happy Town, there is a ferris wheel that will link you to a certain video cut-scene every time.

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Here seems to be a long floating hallway in space.

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The entrance to the Temple Dojo is usually guarded by a large peacock.

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Here is Happy Town with a wandering set of lips and a black sky…

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…and the sudden appearance of the Grey Man.  He is the only real villain in the game.  He will suddenly appear in front of you, and glide toward you.  If you don’t avoid him, he will intercept you, make the screen flash white, and usually take away your Flashback ability.

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I’ve never seen him appear in the Natural World, though.  Even with the ominous black sky.

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Here is one of the game’s many tunnels.  Often, when you are part of the way through, the game will take control of your walking and automatically lead you through the rest of the tunnel.

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Some dream days are video cut-scenes.

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Here is a view down the hall in Bright Moon Cottage with what’s called the “sexual” texture all over everything.

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This TV usually has some nasty words about killing you on it.  The teddy bear will come for you if you look down at him.

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The game can mist up with fog of any colour, and limit visibility.  Here is a bridge between islands.

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There are usually sumo wrestlers on this platform.

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Just behind it, the entrance to some intestine-like caverns.

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Back in Kyoto, some oddly dressed being floats around in the sky.

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A fox runs out into the street…

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He spawns from the shrine.

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There are lions out in the Natural World too.  They can do what you would expect lions to do to you.

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There is a Monument Park enclosed within Kyoto.

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Sometimes, if you stand near the Empire State Building and look up, a zeppelin will appear.  I’ve read that it will sometimes land, but I’ve never seen that.  Sometimes its appearance will make everything stretch upwards.

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The Bright Moon Cottage has a room with some empty bird cages.  They usually chirp loudly.  I think the textures here look really cool.

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Speaking of textures, the corpses here are rather decorative, wouldn’t you say?

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The Ghost Women appear in the Violence district too.  They usually just disappear when you get near them…

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…but occasionally one will have her head fall off.

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She’ll then fall toward you.  You can’t escape this, and it forces a link.

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There’s a lovely rock garden in Kyoto, here seen with unnatural textures.

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The Temple Dojo can be hard to get to, but there can be some interesting things inside, like this throne.

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Here is a young child kicking a ball.

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Graffiti appears in some places in the Violence District.  Some of it will link you to this room:

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The Orrery.

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If you get deep into that intestine-like maze, you might just stumble upon a room full of some very creepy-looking babies that bounce and spin around.

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This is the view up the steps inside the Pagoda in Kyoto.

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A sailor appears on the edge of a dock in the Violence district.  He doesn’t ever move, but if you get too close, he will vanish.  Stepping mack makes him reappear though.

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Nearby the sailor are four warehouses.  Enter at your own risk.

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This is a ghost inside one of the warehouses.  Perhaps one of the Gunman’s victims?

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While we’re talking about bad guys, it’s time for the Grey Man to make another appearance.  The best way to avoid him, I find, is to just side-step in one direction until you link somewhere else.

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But he can follow you to wherever you go, it seems.  This screenshot was taken seconds after the one above.  Although the Grey Man doesn’t even kill you in your dreams, I find him to be the most unsettling character.

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Here is a Geisha inside the Temple Dojo.  She’s waving a fan around.

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Here’s only the second time I had seen a moving car in the Violence District.  I decided to stand right in front of it to see what would happen.  It went right through me.

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This lion appears without all the textures the previous one had.  Still just as deadly if you get in front of it.

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This is the entrance to Kyoto from the Natural World.

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Kyoto can be full of Geisha.  They can appear alone or in pairs, regular size or giant like this one.  You can link with them.

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Wandering around in the Natural world can be relaxing if you need to get away from the “dangerous” and “bad” elements of the game.  There are some beautiful things to see like this double rainbow in the sky.

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I saw another car when I returned to the Violence District, so I investigated.  While I approached, another suicidal car drove off the edge of the dock into the ocean.

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Death is everywhere here.

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This chalk outline and bloodstain can be found inside one of the warehouses.  The Gunman can wait in here to shoot you when you enter.

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The next warehouse over  contains a fence.  I’ve seen the Gunman stand on one side as he shoots victims trapped and penned in by the fence.

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Just a bull walking on its hind legs through foggy Kyoto.

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Not to be outdone, the Minotaur  walks above the town.  His feet don’t seem to be there.

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One of the giant Geisha crosses a bridge.

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Out in the desert part of the Natural World, five flying saucers suddenly appeared in the sky.

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This is one of the game’s many tunnels.  Some of them are quite long, and the Grey Man can appear in front of you in these too – even when the game has control of your motion.

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The edge of a dock and the Ocean in the Violence District.

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Someone should tell the authorities about this garbage bin stuffed with body parts.  I don’t think that’s right.

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Back to a bit of serenity in the Natural World, and climbing up this rocky hill brings us to a doorway.  When it opens…

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We are transported to the Black Space.  Nothing but empty space, a few geometric shapes… oh, and a little girl playing with a hoop and a stick.

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I found myself back in the Violence District again, and I met up with the man himself, the Gunman.

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If you get close to him, he will turn toward you and aim his weapon at you…

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…and kill you.

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I ended up in the mechanical room after that.

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Outside of the Bright Moon Cottage, you can occasionally see an astronaut floating around in the air.  You can hear strange tuba music whenever he’s around, oddly enough.

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And for all its weirdness, this is the only overt reference to drugs I could find in the game.  Well, this and the giant multicoloured throbbing mushrooms in Happy Town.

I view this game as a milestone in video game art.  It’s one of the purest expressions of an idea made into a playable interactive experience.  It truly is a world unto its own.  I could criticize the graphics and the draw distance, as others have, but that too would be missing the point.  This game engages directly with the imagination.  All you need to do is sit back and let it.  The only real complaint is that there isn’t enough of this game to experience – that the in-game world isn’t large enough and that there aren’t enough fascinating, thought-provoking and unsettling things to see.

That should give you an idea what to expect if you decide to enter this world, and I highly recommend that you do.  I’ve found it to be an experience like no other.  I suggest reading up on the world and its inhabitants first for English speakers, since we’re not much familiar with the Japanese language and the cultural references that many things rely on.

You can play “LSD: Dream Emulator” on a real PlayStation, or on a compatible PS2 or PS3.  Finding an actual copy of the original disc will be difficult though, and it may set you back about $300 or more.  From what I’ve read, PlayStation 3 and 4 owners can play this through the PlayStation Network, though they need to create a Japanese account, as it’s only offered to Japanese members.

By far the easiest way of experiencing this game is to emulate it.  ePSXe is the emulator I use to play this, and it gives things a graphical enhancement too with the right settings.  You will need some graphics plugins if you use ePSXe, and the PlayStation BIOS as well.

Have fun while you wander around in the world of LSD.  Don’t forget to explore and look around.  like Niel Peart once said, “The point of the journey is not to arrive.”