Sweet Lily Dreams is a traditional turn-based RPG developed by the newly formed RosePortal Games. The game follows the story of a young girl named Lily whom, one night while her father is away working, goes to bed hoping to see him in her dreams. However, as she arrives in Dreamland, something goes wrong and her dream gets disrupted allowing her to escape from her own, personal dreams into the world beyond, where a group called the Illuminati serve to keep the dreams working and in-line. Things are not all going well, as a man called the Writer is trying to give people nightmares and Lily, her cat Curly, her dog Faith, and a doll named Muggles, become instrumental in stopping him.
The game’s gameplay mechanics are… interesting. At the start of the game, Lily picks one of four ‘powers’ that imbue her attacks with an elemental power as well as one of four dresses that protect against a certain element. The four elements function on a variation of the standard ‘one element beats another’ type systems. Fire beats Cold, Cold beats Thunder, Thunder beats Water, Water beats Fire. However, if your element is on the losing end of a battle (like Water against Thunder) you will end up dealing no damage at all, and if your element matches the enemy’s element you will not only fail to harm them, but heal them instead! Choosing the right elemental powers and dresses (they won’t heal, but can vastly reduce incoming damage) is just as important as having access to a wide variety of elemental spells.
Enemies are not so kind as to appear in groups containing just one element and your mana-pools are limited. To make it even worse, enemies are more than willing to deal sizable chunks of damage or nasty status effects on a whim. Magic spells aren’t cheap, some cost as much as 40 mana and in a game where you can reach the ending with only about 200-300 mana in your caster's pool, the cost of spells ends up being quite high. This leads the player to develop some interesting methods of dealing with enemy groups. In the later game, for example, I found that against one group made up with two water-based enemies and one lightning based, it was more practical to lay down several lightning are of effect attacks that ignored/healed the lightning enemy until after the water foes were defeated.
The game also features some fairly unique upgrade mechanics. While your character's level up in the traditional sense, doing so doesn’t grant them any magic and only a few abilities. Instead, growing stronger comes down to, of all things, interior decorations. Early in the game Lily gains access to a house that she can furnish. This furniture offers a variety of effects and boosts to stats and elemental powers, even special abilities, for placing set pieces. These pieces of furniture (as well as the elements and dresses you didn’t pick at the start of the game) can only be obtained by finding special coins in each world and redeem them at the furniture shop. However, there are a limited number of coins, and some can be VERY hard to find, resulting in a lot of exploration if you desire to be well equipped and have a stylish room.
Also, I would like to commend RosePortal Games' use of RPG maker to develop this game and, while no means a bad system, I personally have experience with this software. It took a week for me to develop a town that didn’t result in a garbled mess of houses, so kudos for being able to perform such a task!
However, there are some stirring troubles in Dreamland, namely its plot. For starters, the game suffers from jarring contrasts. In the second world, you can go from a land filled with giant gingerbread men jumping over clouds, to a dark London Mansion where Dr. Jekyll completed his now-famous experiments. In the basement, you'll fight the clown from Stephen King’s ‘It’ with no foreshadowing at all. And… that’s it for him. Never explained why he was there or what relevance he had to the plot. Likewise, it is possible to go from the aforementioned land with gingerbread men to a world heavily involved in witchcraft, beheadings, and forced abortions (no, I’m not making this up). If you thought the pretty doggy on the menu screen was there because this is a sweet game a toddler could play without problems, think again. This game gleefully delves into the darker aspects of some well-known stories.
The game also seems to lean heavily towards a Kingdom Hearts feel. Upon arriving in Dreamworld you have to visit the Fairy Godmother - no points for guessing who it is. Then there is the travel between worlds and a direct hand in influencing stories. At one point in the first world, you have to play a shell-game with the Trickmaster from Kingdom Hearts (the final boss in Alice in Wonderland if you remember). Yes, it’s him and not as an avoidable Easter Egg. I have no idea what he’s doing there or why he’s playing a shell-game with you. It never comes up again anyways. He’s just… there.
On its own, the actual plot is very jarring because it introduces a lot of various elements, like the origins of Dreamworld, Muggles' and Curly’s backstory, and Lily’s father's influence on the plot but does nothing with them. It doesn’t try to connect these elements together or anything of the sort. I felt like I was missing half the plot.
But there is one, huge thing I want to commend the game for that tells me it is worth recommending to RPG fans. The gameplay may be standard with sever unique features and the story can get rather spotty but unlike the many, quickly shelled-out RPG’s I’ve played over the years, Sweet Lily Dreams is trying very hard, even in its pre-release state. A lot of work and effort has gone into making this game and, while its developer may struggle in connecting various plot elements, they trying hard to make it all work. That alone makes it worth keeping an eye on and possibly purchasing once it gets officially released (we’ll get to see the finished product then and decide then). With luck and further development this game could become something great in its own right. It held my interest all the way through and I enjoyed myself, which is more than some other ‘better’ games can claim.
When you get down to it, Sweet Lily Dreams is a RPG with unique contrasts and some fairly unique mechanics that offers a sizable amount of potential. Even if this current iteration fails (which would be a bit unfair to this game as it holds potential) building upon it can yield a great RPG in the future and that alone makes it worth keeping an eye on.
Just remember, the cute puppy on the menu screen hides just how dark the game can really get.