In This Dream of Ours uses the battle of Sekigahara — to be more specific; an alternate history version of it — and Japan of the 1600’s as the setting for a historical drama. Kouji is a young man, farmer’s son turned warrior, fighting in the battle. He’s badly wounded during the course of battle, but his life is saved when a scavenger stumbles across his wounded body and rushes him to the nearby Saitoumura clinic. This is where the story starts, with him waking up badly hurt, but alive. The Saitoumura clinic is run by Hitomi, a girl Kouji’s age and her younger brother Yasahiro. Their father went off to fight in the same war as him, but never returned.
We follow Kouji on his slow crawl back to health over the course of several months as he slowly settles into his new life in Saitoumura. The tone of the first half is very slife-of-life; Kouji wanders around the clinic a bit, gets scolded by Hitomi for opening his wounds, nothing too epic. It’s not really a surprise when he eventually develops feelings for her.
Breaking up the relative mundanity of the main plot are Kouji’s regularly occurring nightmares: flashbacks of the battle he fought in. Slowly, these glimpses into the past reveal why Kouji is so traumatized; how he killed a man, and how he received his near-fatal injury. Unfortunately though, there are so many flashbacks that they gradually start to lose effectiveness.
The big secret revealed by the flashbacks, Kouji accidentally killed Hitomi’s father during the battle feels mishandled. First, while at some points it’s rather unsubtly hinted at (Hitomi: "I have my fathers eyes" immediately followed by a flashback focusing on eyes), there’s not really a scene where we see Kouji himself realize the truth — suddenly he just knows. Secondly, when he finally tells Hitomi the truth, her response doesn’t seem right. She berates him for lying and "ruining what they had together", but not once calls him a murderer or blames him for killing her father.
During the second half of the story, more conflict is gradually introduced. Basically, they lost the war and now the new emperor is sending in his cronies to levy taxes and such. The villagers aren’t too happy with that and plan a rebellion, with Yasahiro as one of the ringleaders.
In This Dream of Ours is a completely linear visual novel. Naturally, that means there’s only one ending. And the way In This Dream of Ours ends specifically may not be for everyone. However, there are some alternate endings included as bonus material after the story.
There are not proper sprites in this VN, only character portraits next to the textbox. It’s a decision made from a lack of artwork (the portraits come from a character creator app), but it works reasonably well. A consequence of using a character creator is that everyone looks way too young — 12-15 instead of 18-20. And with the focus so heavily on the bottom of the screen, things can start to feel a little cramped. Especially awkward is quick back-and-forth dialogue where it almost feels like the character images are fighting for the portrait space.
Backgrounds are filtered photos (some type of oil paint effect). There’s a decent variety, even though we spend an awful lot of time inside the clinic — an unfortunate consequence of an incapacitated protagonist. Special cut-in images (also filtered photographs) are used during the dream sequences to good effect. The special images really help make them stand out.
The soundtrack is yet another Kevin MacLeod compilation. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t do much to evoke the feeling of 1600’s Japan. Adding environmental sounds, and sometimes turning off the music entirely could’ve really helped to enhance the mood.
I don’t have much to say about the user interface — it’s mostly standard Ren’Py stuff. During interludes, text is displayed in the center of the screen which is a nice touch. All the bad things about the interface are immediately at the beginning. The VN starts with a flash of a checkerboard pattern (Ren’Py still in dev mode?), followed by a horribly mangled stretched out Ren’Py logo. The title screen is kinda crappy looking too. All in all, it leads to a pretty lousy first impression.
It does some interesting things with Kouji’s flashback sequences, but flubs on the payoff. Slice of life segments drag on a bit, and some events near the end are kinda dumb. The ending will not please everyone, but it’s probably the best part of the VN.