3 out of 5. More of an Art Museum than a Metroidvania, every individual is going to take something different from it. You may get nothing more than a pleasant experience, or it could be much deeper.
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How Metroidvania is it? Low Fit. Dreaming Sarah has a few features that it shares with the Metroidvania genre, but the primary feel is going to be more similar to a walking simulator/adventure game rather than the intentional exploration of a Metroidvania.
Primary Challenge: Exploration Focus
Time to beat: ~1 hours
Review Info: Dreaming Sarah was played on Steam.

More Info

Developer: Anthony Septim, Asteristic Game Studio
Publisher: Asteristic Game Studio
Sub-genre: Adventure Game Hybrid
Features: 2D Platformer, No Combat, Environmental Storytelling, Collectathon, Cute
Difficulty: No Difficulty, Low
Linearity/Openness: Open Low Gating - No Handholding
Platforms: Windows, Steam, Xbox One
Release Date: 2015/03/12
Available Languages: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Simplified Chinese

Store Links

    Steam    Humble Bundle    Xbox Store    itch.io    

Buy Dreaming Sarah if you like…

  • Casual - no consequence games
  • Video Game Art
  • Achievements
  • Conversing about game symbolism
  • Surrealsim

▼ Review continues below ▼

It’s pretty much impossible for me to express my thoughts on Dreaming Sarah without using wording that spoils it just a little bit. I’m going to be as vague as possible when talking about the story elements of the game, but I will mark the paragraph where I’ll talk about it anyway. Dreaming Sarah is a game that’s meant to be personally interpreted, and it Invites you to dig deeply to find value within it. I’m a fan of the concept but not necessarily a huge fan of this attempt at it. It was for me at least, a fun little experience that is recommendable, but I wouldn’t by any means call it a must play for anyone not firmly belonging to its niche.

The “Game” portion of Dreaming Sarah consists of walking back and forth looking for objects within various dream worlds. The entrances to other dreams isn’t always clearly marked, sometimes an object will be the “door” to the other world rather than a physical portal, which is consistent with the dream theme. The trigger for why these doors appear also isn’t particularly logical – sometimes things just happen as a result of finding other items. This means the wandering aspect of the game is practically forced, since you’ll sometimes have no idea where to go or even if there is a new place to go as you progress. Again, this is artistically intentional – meant to emulate the actual feeling of being in a dream. It’s also what sets it apart, in my opinion, from being an art museum vs. being a strictly Metroidvania game, so it’s important to understand what this game is before going into it. Some items do have a logical connection to the world, such as how the Umbrella let’s you float into areas you couldn’t otherwise reach, or the bus pass being usable at the bus station sign, but you’ll still be gated by arbitrary event flags nearly as much as you are by your abilities.

There is the occasional puzzle here and there. Most of the time it’s the type where you have to find the solution somewhere in the world, write it down, and then enter it into the thematic code machine. Or, it’s the typical adventure game style fetch quest. Neither of these gameplay elements are interesting all on their own. However, considering the point of the game is to take in as much information from the visuals as you can and construct your own story of what happened, this isn’t a bad way to tie the gameplay in with that theme. I do think that the puzzles could have been more symbolic to the story, but that’s a sort of pervasive issue with the game as a whole for me.

Ambiguity is necessary for a game like Dreaming Sarah, and so is being open for interpretation. Most of the game however is too much of a “nice” experience, not really inspiring any sort of interpretation. There’s a difference between a meaningless red herring, and simple arbitrary addition, and I feel like Dreaming Sarah indulges a little too much in the latter. A lot of reviews will compare this game to Yume Nikki, which is a fair comparison to draw. I think an important difference comparing the two games is that Yume Nikki has a shocking end, one that forces the player to reconsider every single thing that they saw in the game – maybe to replay it and take notes. Dreaming Sarah just sort of ends in the same pleasant sort of way that most of the game is. There are a few “shocking” moments, but they feel more like creepy pasta rather than having significance attached to the character, with the exception of one specific scene.

Some players are going to feel a lot going into Dreaming Sarah, and other players are going to get very little out of it. It all boils down to whatever life experiences you’re bringing into the game. Therefore, regardless of what I personally think, the nature of Dreaming Sarah is that it must be a personal experience. With as cheap as the game can be, I think it’s worth checking it out for yourself. If you’re not interested in spending a couple of hours wandering, then skip it. If you like being immersed in a game world just for the sake of immersion, and are interested in possibly getting a little extra out of that experience, you may find something deep within Dreaming Sarah. For myself, it was a relaxing break from life but little more.


Final Score

3/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 3

There is no combat, so it can't be terrible combat

Platforming
– 2.5

There is one spot in the game where your platforming skills are lightly tested

Exploration
– 3

The primary challenge of the game is to find all the secrets, which is slightly more rewarding than just getting an achievement

Puzzle
– 3

Never too difficult, but just enough to qualify as having puzzles

Story
– 3

Potentially a primary draw, however there aren't enough thought provoking moments to really draw out deep conversation

Graphics
– 3.5

The girl looks great, as well as some of the characters, but a lot of the backgrounds are a little bland

Music
– 3

Ranges from decent to a little repetitive

Replayability
– 2

Not much to entice a person to go back unless they just want to ponder some more


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