I’ve never been an avid gamer, but there’s one game that’s always had a special place in my heart: Yume Nikki. Though it’s meant to be psychological horror, it has an almost calming effect on me. The game itself isn’t very scary—rather, it’s just very bizarre—but there are events in Yume Nikki that have made me cringe. There are many theories about these events, as there is no narration given. I’ve read a great deal of them, yet there never seems to be one that I completely agree with. Is it possible that some of these theories are true, but for different reasons? I took the time to play through the game again and came up with my own conclusion: what if the world of Yume Nikki is Limbo?
Spoilers, a trigger warning for sexual assault, and a seizure warning for those with epilepsy after the jump.
(Yume Nikki is free for anyone to play! Please note that this is a psychological horror, and there will be scenes that can upset or disturb people; play at your own risk.)
Yume Nikki is about a young girl named Madotsuki, who is stuck in her apartment by her own choice. There are only three things you can do here: play a game on her Famicom, walk out onto her porch, and sleep. When you fall asleep, there are an endless amount of worlds you can visit in her dreams. The only goal you have in the game is to travel through these different worlds to find powers, or “effects”. These effects vary from cosmetic changes like “long hair”, to telekinetic powers like changing the weather. When you collect all twenty-five effects, you leave them in the hub world. Then Madotsuki wakes up, and walks off of her balcony.
It’s understandable that people would come to the conclusion that Madotsuki was depressed, but I think there’s more to the game than that. Why would she leave if she enjoyed the Dream World? Why would she collect these powers just to lose them? What if Madotsuki wasn’t alive to begin with? What if you start the game as a ghost, and just wander in Limbo? Madotsuki could have died and instead of “passing on”, she tries to live a normal life. The exits in her room could be considered her “staircase to heaven” or her “fall to hell”. Rather than choosing one exit or the other, she sleeps, and travels to a spirit realm. My theory is that these worlds separate into two different categories: doors that lead to a shared limbo with other ghosts, and doors that lead to recollections of Madotsuki’s past.
Similar to how the afterlife works in the movie What Dreams May Come, there could be areas of limbo that are a shared collective of anyone’s imagination. For instance, a group of spirits could think about winter, and they’d arrive in a snowy forest. They’re free to walk around or create their own word within that world, while Madotsuki can use her powers to interact with these spirits (NPCs in the game) or with her environment. There are numerous stages that only exist to lead you to another world, or to let you interact with what you please.
The other worlds tie into a twisted reliving of Madotsuki’s life. As a sort of push to choose what her fate will be (passing on or not), she is led to explore events in her life as she goes deeper into the Dream World. I generally agree with other theories, that at some point Madotsuki was either molested or raped. During two of the most popular scenes in the game, there are moments that hint to some sort of traumatic event. The most popular scare in Yume Nikki is your meeting with Poniko/Uboa. Poniko is a girl who is hidden away in one of the worlds, who also likes to stay in a normal looking bedroom. If you go inside and switch off her lights, there’s a 1 : 64 chance that she changes into a monster (Uboa) and you’re trapped until you interact with her. If nothing happens, you have to keep going in and out of her room until the event triggers. When it does happen, Poniko/Uboa traps you in a grotesque area, forcing you to wake up from the Dream World. Theories have brought up that the figure in the background of this “trap world” looks like it’s molesting something. This could either be seen as Madotsuki continuously “visiting” a girl then being molested or raped by her, or in the very least a betrayal of trust from Poniko at some point in their lives.
The second scare is when you meet an NPC fans have named KyuuKyuu-kun. You find him by stabbing a wall resembling a zipper piece from a pair of pants. He’s seen rubbing the banister of a staircase, just smiling away. When you walk up the staircase you’re left in a dark room until a face fades into view. After an agonizing ten seconds you’re forced awake, one of the few times this happens in the game. Some have said that this face represents either a man’s or a woman’s nether regions, further proving that Madotsuki was raped. I can understand where the idea comes from, but I just see a face—although I can’t deny the fact that this event has sexual notes to it.
For this theory I interpreted the ending in two ways. In the end when Madotsuki “leaves” the Real World, she chooses to accept the fact that she’s dead. She moves on, knowing that she can’t stay in this Limbo/Dream World forever, and she surrenders her powers. The second explanation is that she’s still in a state of denial and depression, and jumps off her balcony in an attempt to commit suicide. Yet because she’s already dead, she continues her loop of “living a normal life” and exploring the Dream World for eternity.
Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a “true answer” to Yume Nikki. As much as I want some theories to be true, like Madotsuki being transgender (we could use variety in the gaming world), there doesn’t seem to be a clean cut way to interpret anything. Even my theory has its flaws. I’d love for the creator to give some input as to what he wanted people to take from their experience, even what inspired the game, but he’s leaving it up to the players to decide. If you have any theories of your own, feel free to comment below!