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Top 10 Dream Sequences

by Elise Favis on Feb 11, 2015 at 09:17 AM

Spoiler warning:
If you haven’t played some of these titles, be sure to skip past those entries. 

Being an avid lucid dreamer, I thought it would be fitting to rank the top 10 dreams in video games. They are both fascinating and mind-bending, twisting our perception of reality. The laws of physics can be ignored, logic disregarded, and horror elements are implemented frequently. Some dreams reveal the hidden fantasies, secrets, and fears of characters. Other times, they directly impact the narrative. Video games are the perfect medium to explore dreams, due to their interactive nature and ability to play with illusion. Here are the top 10 dream sequences in video games, in all their strange glory.

10. Heavy Rain

Insomniac Madison Paige thinks she’s unable to sleep, but in reality, she’s experiencing a nightmare. A murderer invades her home and, through a series of quick-time events, you attempt to fend off the villain but fail to save Madison. Of course, since this is all a dream, she wakes up in a panic. Though this is fun to play through, it feels almost cheap and gimmicky after finding out it was just a trick of her mind. 

9. Mass Effect 3 

Commander Shepard is left traumatized after being unable to save a small boy back on Earth. There are three interactive nightmare scenes periodically through the game, where Shepard chases the boy through an ominous forest filled with shadows and whispering voices. Each time the boy is found, he bursts into flames. In the final scene, both the boy and Shepard burn, symbolizing and foreshadowing the dangers that lie ahead as the galaxy fights the Reaper invasion. The dream itself is thought provocative, but navigation feels sluggish, even if it is purposely added for effect. 

8. Max Payne

Max Payne suffers drug-induced nightmares, which play out as distorted flashbacks to his family’s home invasion. In these dreams, you return to the Payne residence and hear the echoes of Max’s late wife and baby. Small details like an overturned crib with bloodstains, illogical prank calls, and hallways that become mazes make these nightmares incredibly dark. The childish wallpaper patterns of clouds on the walls give the impression of false security. Wind-up lullaby music plays in the background, giving off an uneasy, tense atmosphere that fits well with the storyline. Through the second nightmare, Max becomes momentarily self-aware that he is in a video game. 

7. Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3 is full of deranged visions and overused references to Alice in Wonderland. After drinking a poisonous mixture from the tribe leader Citra, Jason experiences some vivid hallucinations, which include traversing an underwater bridge and seeing plants sprout right before his eyes. The boss battle against Vaas has a similar feel, which takes place in a dreamlike format, with static TV screens all around and a dance-club vibe.  

6. Dragon Age: Origins

After finding the Circle Tower overrun with abominations, the party is put to sleep by a demon and enters the fade. In this dream-state metaphysical world, the Warden learns several unique powers that can only be used in the fade, such as shapeshifting. This ability can help you navigate through the maze-filled fade, as you crawl into small crevices or bash down doors. Battles against desire demons, abominations, and otherworldly creatures are aplenty. While searching for your companions, you get a glimpse at their inner fears and desires which add depth to the characters. Dragon Age utilizes the fade often, and many variations of these dreamlike quests are seen in different forms through the series.

5. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

This RPG platformer has you entering Luigi’s dreams. Shortly after arriving on Pi’illo Island, Antasma the bat king is introduced, who works alongside Bowser to take possession of the Dream Stone. Mario and Luigi will often find magical pillows or “pi’llos” if you will, that act as portals between the real world and the dream world. “Dreamy Luigi” is found in the dream world, which is basically Luigi in dream form (Luigi-ception!). Upon entering his mind, you will notice a distinguishable, dreamy art-style such as green fog on the edges of the screen. Both the dream world and reality connect in imaginative ways, such as pulling or tapping Luigi’s moustache as he sleeps, which creates effects in the dream world. For example, Mario can be slung through the air from moustache-like branches that appear.

4. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Easter egg)

Naked Snake has an odd dream when he falls asleep in a prison cell after being tortured by Colonel Volgin. His dream comes in the form of a hack-and-slash mini-game, where you attack multiple (and a seemingly infinite amount of) monsters in a blurry world. Turning off your console and then rebooting the game from that point will make this dream playable. Once the dream ends, there is some funny dialogue with characters in your codec, as you explain your nightmare. For example, Sigint rambles on about turd missiles. This Easter egg was removed from the HD and 3DS versions of the game. 

3. Catherine

This puzzle platformer tells an odd tale of deception between lovers and the hardships of commitment-lacking sheep men. After cheating on his girlfriend, Vincent begins having nightmares that transport him to a strange world. Rumor has it that if you die in these nightmares, you die in real life. The core puzzle gameplay takes place in this alternate dream world, where you fight horrific bosses such as a chainsaw-wielding zombie baby. The game blends reality and surrealism seamlessly, and the two slowly start to mix together, adding to the intrigue. The dream sequences become much more peculiar as you progress through the different stages.

2. Final Fantasy VIII

Throughout the game, Squall and company lose consciousness and enter a dream world, where the backstory of Laguna is explored in flashbacks. These sequences happen frequently, and always prove to be entertaining. As Laguna, you attempt to make romantic moves on the delicate piano player Julia, and fight through epic battles at the Lunatic Pandora, among other adventures. There are key points through these dreams that can change events for present day Squall, including small details that can be noticed when returning to the present.

1. Psychonauts

This 3D platformer reflects Tim Schafer’s twisted humor in full. Playing as Raz, a 10-year-old boy from a psychic summer camp, you physically enter the minds of several bizarre characters in an attempt to tackle their inner demons and nightmares. Each level has a dreamlike feel to it, particularly the Milkman Conspiracy level, which has winding paths and twisting roads that defy gravity. Also, who would pass on the opportunity to become a Godzilla-like monster, demolishing an underwater city inside a fish’s mind?