Embark on a whimsical journey through the enchanting realms of Initial Daydream, a captivating 1-bit RPG that manages to weave simplicity and charm into a tapestry of delightful retro gaming. In this review, I'll delve into the core elements that define this indie gem, from its snappy 1-on-1 combat reminiscent of classic RPGs to the pun-laden dialogue that adds a dash of humor to every interaction. I, Brighton Nelson, will explore the quirky characters, the absence of a traditional leveling system replaced by a unique customization approach, and the heartwarming tale that centers around a Royal Gift Exchange turned world-saving adventure. Dive into the visually striking black-and-white aesthetics, discover the entertaining locations that grace this pixelated landscape, and uncover the subtle yet engaging sidequests that breathe life into the game's concise narrative. Despite its brevity, Initial Daydream stands as a testament to the magic that can be woven within the constraints of a 1-bit world, leaving me incredibly eager to explore what the future holds for James Gameboy and his team. Now, without further ado, RPG Ranked presents... an Initial Daydream Review: A Goo-perb 1-bit RPG experience!
Battle System - 7
This game utilizes a 1-on-1 combat system akin to the original Dragon Quest! When you engage in battle, each fight has a unique environment and background, and each fight has a unique environment and background. You can walk around to select the three different commands: Fight, Item, and Run. It's a fun way to deal with combat, even if movement is pretty inconsequential. One thing I love about this combat is how fast it is. As much as cinematic battles are fun, sometimes, there's way too much fluff—and Initial Daydream cuts out all that fluff to make for snappy combat that rarely gets old or annoying. While this combat is incredibly basic, it is also enjoyable and deserves praise for its rhythm and tempo during battle.
Characters - 5
This game had some of the most punny, meta, laugh-out-loud, and witty dialogue I've seen from an RPG in a while. The characters were all amusing and charming, and some of my favorite moments in the game were interacting with the characters! However, as much as I adored the dialogue, the characters in this game weren't exactly the most profound characters you'd find in an RPG. This game reminds me of Paper Mario: Color Splash or Undertale in this regard: the characters are tons of fun, but they aren't deep or characterized enough to give this category a higher score. But, ultimately, a 5 is still a solid score, and I really enjoyed my time with the characters in this game.
Customization System - 8
This game does not have a traditional leveling system, but instead, you earn currency and purchase upgrades at the item shop! Stats that you can upgrade include your health, strength, restoration abilities, speed, and the damage of the Thorns ability. Stats can also be boosted by doing quests for people or giving them whiskey you brew... that was certainly a nice touch! You also get to find and purchase different abilities across different areas! Some of my favorites include Thorns, an ability that does damage to the enemy any time they attack; Broom, which lowers the attack of the enemy; and Triple Strike, which hits thrice with a chance of missing. I really liked how the upgrading worked in this game, and it made things more simple yet more fun and rewarding. In my eyes, that's the sign of an excellent customization system. Well done, developers. Well done.
Story - 5
Like the characters, the story in this game is very charming. It revolves around a Royal Gift Exchange, where you have to circumnavigate the world to visit the four kingdoms of Ghoulliard, Altlantis, Uiskei, and Goo to give things to the royalty. And then, after that, there's an evil alien invasion, and through the power of giving, you save the world. It's an adorable story that was full of charm, but as fun as it was, it doesn't have the depth or emotional weight to call it a favorite RPG story of mine. It's a ton of fun, though, and I don't have any major complaints about it.
Art & Graphics - 8
This game's presentation is phenomenal for a 1-bit RPG. The black-and-white art is beautifully done, especially with the cutscenes and Vampire Manor, which switches to a primarily black screen for a whole new look. The art of this game is so charming, and I love it! While I couldn't realistically convince myself to give a 1-bit game a higher score than an 8, this is the most impressive-looking 1-bit game I've seen—it looks incredible.
Locations - 7
With four towns and four dungeons, this isn't exactly a game filled to the brim with locations. However, this game has fun towns and stellar dungeon design, as brief as it may be. My favorites are the distillery town of Uiskei, a whiskey-based village where you can brew liquor to sell to folks around the world; the Liquor Mines, a dungeon full of tons of mobsters to kill and a minecart to assemble; and the Vampire Mansion, a very atmospheric area with secrets to uncover, a spider boss to defeat, and a vampire disco party to participate in. I won't be forgetting these locations anytime soon (or ever), as they are entertaining and charming, but again, it's hard to compare the brevity of this game to other modern RPGs.
Sidequests - 5
This game has very little in the way of side content, but what it does have is tons of fun. There are many NPCs you can help that will give you stat buffs if you do quests for them—and they always have great dialogue. Some of my favorites include the guy who wants starch (I won't spoil the hilarious dialogue) and the guy you get to talk to who loves his cows and doesn't want to kill them, but he needs the money. He ended up making a petting zoo instead, which was really cute. Nevertheless, these quests usually don't do much in the way of boosting stats or making the game too much more substantial, but in the end, that's okay—this game was purposefully designed as a short, streamlined retro RPG, and I'm all for that. A super boss or two wouldn't have hurt, though.
Music - 9
The music in this game is absolutely fantastic. It is now one of my favorite chiptune soundtracks of all time, and I hope to see it available on streaming platforms sometime. From the upbeat Uiskei Theme and the chilling Vampire Mansion theme to the jazzy water cave theme and the emotionally resonant Gouillard theme, this game has fantastic music. Somebody needs to hire James Gameboy or fund a large-scale Kickstarter for him because, with some backing, he could make the next smash-hit indie RPG with an even more smashing soundtrack. I also loved the lack of battle music, as it perfectly fits with the tempo of the game, as there are a lot of encounters, but each of them is very fast-paced. This makes the battles feel seamless in a way most RPGs fail to do. This is one of those soundtracks that makes you feel nostalgic, even upon a first playthrough. I was almost brought to tears by the Gouillard theme, especially... it is one of my new favorite RPG songs. Ultimately, this soundtrack is impeccable and is my favorite part of this already fun and charming RPG experience.
Quality of Life - 9
While this game will still be getting a few improvements in post-game patches, it's pretty much perfect. With the ability to save at any time, tweak tons of settings (such as difficulty, the amount of currency gained, and the random encounter rate), and fast travel, this game is pretty much perfectly made. It could use more slave slots, but otherwise, I don't have any other significant issues with this game! Also, the game developers are fantastic at responding to the fans and making bug fixes... there's nothing better than game developers who genuinely care about the people playing their game!
Fun Factor: 8
Overall Score: 71%
Letter Rating: A
Initial Daydream may not be the longest or most in-depth RPG you will ever play, but I would recommend it to anybody who loves the genre, especially retro RPG fans. This is the first game that I've reviewed that I genuinely had a hard time reviewing, as I wanted to give it more points for its charm alone. This is a game that I want everybody to play... don't let its lower score fool you—this game just transcends my reviewing system, apparently. I've never had a hard time giving a game a score until now! In the end, this is a must-play RPG that will only take you a couple of hours to beat, and in the end, its brevity is part of Initial Daydream's charm. When the biggest problem with your game is that it was too short and wasn't long enough? That's genuinely impressive. I'd take this game any day over Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, Final Fantasy X-2, Phantasy Star III, Undertale, Tales of Symphonia, and even the original Dragon Quest. That's how impressive this little, unforgettable adventure was. If James Gameboy and his team one day made a full-length RPG with more playable characters, epic story beats, and equally charming locales? I think it could truly become one of my favorite RPGs of recent years.
Want to check out this phenomenal 1-bit RPG and support the indie team behind this gem of a game? Check it out on the Playdate system (which has a game pass built into it), or use the Playdate Simulator and check it out in the link below! Even more importantly, follow James Gameboy on Twitter or his website to see his development updates. If he ever starts a Kickstarter, you'll undoubtedly want to help him make another fantastic RPG experience.
Primary Version: Initial Daydream (Playdate)