Obscure game lovers got a surprising treat this past week when ROM hackers released an English translation of the cult-classic 1998 Japanese PlayStation exclusive LSD: Dream Emulator.
Inspired by actual dream diaries and sharing its name with the potent hallucinogenic chemists call lysergic acid diethylamide, Asmik Ace Entertainment’s LSD: Dream Emulator eschews the trappings of typical video games to take players on a surrealistic, zonked-out journey through ever-shifting dreamscapes populated by bizarre casts of phantasmagoric creatures.
There’s no goal except to experience each in-game day’s dream and move on to see the next. While there are video- and text-based dreams, most take place in real-time 3D environments. You’re free to explore with basic first-person controls, but touching any wall, object, or NPC will instantly teleport you to another, seemingly random dreamscape. (In contrast, designated doors and portals always take you to the same pre-set area.)
Wander about for a certain time (or fall into a ravine or otherwise die) and the given day’s dreaming will end, after which a chart suggests just how much of an upper or downer, and how dynamic or static, that dream turned out. What does this mean? That’s for you to ponder. Some dream sequences end up a little darker and scarier than others, but LSD never becomes a horror game, per se.
Still, if you see the Gray Man, you might want to move on before... Well, you might want to move on.
The more you play LSD the stranger your in-game dreams become, with familiar maps remixed and bedecked in increasingly bizarre textures, many of which feel drawn directly from late ‘90s GeoCities websites, and occasionally pornography. (The author of the terrific Hardcore Gaming 101 write-up complains that by day 100 so many of the textures became transparent that navigation became a chore.) LSD’s graphics are crude but effective in conveying stark strangeness; that effect may even be enhanced today given the ever-widening gap between modern AAA visuals and a low-budget, 22-year-old PlayStation game.
Upon its release LSD (the game, not the substance) failed to sell in significant numbers, but over the years LSD (the game, and also the substance) slowly amassed a cult following. It hit the Japanese PSN in 2010, has its own subreddit, and a fan remake is in the later stages of development.
Now we can explore the PlayStation original in English, thanks to Mr.Nobody’s hacking, Arcanearia’s menu translations, and English text-dream translation pulled directly from LSD’s fan wiki. The text-dreams made up the lion’s share of Japanese content, and though the English is a little strange (you can see one example in the above gallery), that suits the game just fine. Various textures you might see throughout the dreams remain in Japanese, however.
You can download the patch, which requires a disc image of the original game, over at Romhacking.net.
LSD: Dream Emulator is emblematic of a wave of super-creative Japanese PlayStation games that stretched the boundaries of established genres in the mid to late ‘90s. How lovely that a wider audience can now
enjoy LSD embark on this strange trip.
(Updated 3/3/22 with new details)