You would be forgiven for thinking that a game called LSD: Dream Emulator refers to the psychedelic drug, but it doesn't. It's far more strange.
In the intro cinematic for erstwhile Japanese game developer Osamu Sato's 1998 PlayStation exclusive, a few possibilities flash across a kaleidoscope of trippy imagery cut laser-quick to driving electronic music until settling on "In Linking, the Sapient Dream." LSD, duh. Getting a consciousness-altering drug involved might have been unnecessary, though, since the famously weird cult game is trippy enough on its own.
In the game, you traverse a shifting and increasingly weird dreamscape populated by bizarre landscapes and happenings. You don't do much except walk around and experience it, and even now LSD: Dream Emulator seems surprisingly close to the walking simulators of today, especially ones that lean more into horror and the surreal. The game gained a cult following over the years and has long been available to play via console emulators. However, it wasn't released in the West and never received a full English translation.
But as Kotaku noticed last week, two ROM hackers going by "Mr. Nobody" and "ArcaneAria" have uploaded a translation that can be easily patched onto the game, making it playable fully in English for the first time. You technically need to own an original copy of the game but you can also apply the patch to available ROMs for emulators, which are illegal.
Osamu Sato is an enigmatic figure in video games, creating titles that pushed the boundaries of what games can be and the human mind itself. The results were occasionally terrifying, and always interesting. Besides LSD: Dream Emulator, works of his that have gained cult followings include Eastern Mind: The Souls of Tong-Nou and its sequel Chu-Teng. LSD: Dream Emulator in particular has been an elusive fixation of the internet for years. Sato, who started as a musician, has long walked away from game development but just released a new song and music video that echoes the style of LSD: Dream Emulator's intro, with its quick-cut montage and driving electronics.
The first time I booted up the game, I walked through an unassuming house and into a dark and murky row of apartments next to an overpass. Then, I wandered through a green field with a pit in the middle and finally into a hazy green expanse with a gigantic and nonsensical signpost pointing in every direction. The day of dreams ended, and it was deemed a "downer" in a cryptic chart at the end. The next time I booted it up, the first day of dreams took me to a farm of some kind, and then to a penned-in field filled with world monuments in miniature, and finally to forested plateaus in the sky connected by wooden bridges. I fell off the edge, and it was rated "dynamic."
As long as we're all still stuck inside, there's never been a better time to go spelunking through the unconscious and our own nostalgia with LSD: Dream Emulator.