It’s like a dream come true… but it has a LONG road ahead.
Notice (3/17/2023): This post was updated to reflect CaptainCaption’s preferred pronouns (she/her).
Notice (6/3/2023): I reviewed Version 0.15.0 of re:Dreamer.
re:Dreamer is a Gender Bender/TG/TSF adult visual novel created by Dream Team Studio. A two-person team of CaptainCaption and Espeon, who you might be familiar with depending on how entrenched you are in the TSF community.
CaptainCaption is a long-standing gender bender writer who has created a plethora of detailed TG captions and short stories that can be found on her DeviantArt page. She is also a former member of the Student Transfer dev team, where she worked on the Connie route from version 2.0 and the Sayaka route in Version 4.0, among other things. She serves as the writer, editor, and programmer of re:Dreamer.
Espeon is a long-standing patron and commissioner of Japanese TSF comics whose Patreon-funded translation group, Gender.tf, routinely puts out works that otherwise would never be known to English-speaking audiences. She serves as the editor and primary financier of re:Dreamer, while additional funds come from the Dream Team Studio’s Patreon.
I personally support Dream Team Studio on Patreon, which grants me access to advanced Sustainer-level versions of re:Dreamer before they are made available to the public. The version I am covering today, Version 0.10.5, will not be available to the public until June 24.
re:Dreamer is freely available for download, and the easiest way to do so is probably via the TFGames.Site page.
In my previous review of re:Dreamer, I was very positive, or as CaptainCaption phrased it, “gushing,” toward the title, given its significant improvements made over the past year. However, the update from Version 0.8.1 to 0.10.5 was far more… modest. Much of this has to do with the prolonged development of the Version 0.10.0 update that took nearly 4 months, for reasons CaptainCaption described in various update posts. And because of this delay, the amount of new content I have to cover is fairly light.
- The intro got another revision with finalized transformation CGs.
- The Britney route was expanded past a stub, leads into the first sex scene, a dinner scene, a foreplay scene, and stops near the end their first date.
- The Keisuke route’s day 4 was updated with the engineering class and a new psychology lecture, along with a flash forward to the day 8 work-out session.
- Various new art assets were added to the game, including outfits, expressions, and character sprites.
- Authors notes were added (as a Substainers-exclusive feature), along with disallow nude sprites and skip sex scenes options.
- A sprite editor for Zoey was added.
Accordingly, my thoughts on the game are largely the same as they were last year. re:Dreamer is still good, I still love it, and it still has a ways to go. Because of this, I wound up recycling about half of my 0.8.1 review, so consider this to be more of an update. An update to that makes the review less reactive, introduces new pouches of praise… and also doles out a few bushels of criticism.
re:Dreamer Version 0.10.5 Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux, Android
Developer/Publisher: Dream Team Studio
re:Dreamer follows Zach, a 20-year-old college student who catches wind of a suspicious mobile game by the name of re:Dreamer, only to see all mention of it vanish seconds later. Enraptured with curiosity, Zach sleuths their way to a pirated copy of the game and, after creating a female avatar, finds their body transforming from that of a frail young man with a “girly face” into a beautiful busty young woman. One excellent transformation sequence and an emotional crisis later, Zach is greeted by Ai. An AI companion who introduces Zach to the world of re:Dreamer, explaining that they unknowingly hacked their way into a competitive reality-altering sex game and are stuck in this body for at least six months.
Having gracelessly stumbled into some “fucked-up shit [they] barely understand,” the game follows Zach as they try to deal with their transformation by picking a companion and pursuing a two-pronged goal: win the game of re:Dreamer and maintain their school life, lest their future get even more borked than it already is. From this initial starting point, re:Dreamer branches off into completely isolated and largely linear routes.
If that description is not enough of an indicator, re:Dreamer is very much not a choose-your-own-adventure style visual novel platform like Press-Switch or Student Transfer. Instead, it is a more focused and ground level tale that seeks to examine the vanilla TSF concept of ‘guy turns into a girl via some fantastical doodad’ from a rigorously detailed level. And my goodness, does Dream Team pull this off wonderfully.
The tone shifts from goofy anime-style shenanigans to more serious and somber moments as Zach reflects on their actions or struggles with the complications their new body brings. The sex scenes all have at least some greater purpose in the story and go to further character development or change character dynamics. The quality of the writing is high overall. And despite featuring such fantastical concepts, re:Dreamer maintains a firm grip on reality, and the entire game is told from a grounded perspective that really helped humanize and endear me to the cast as a whole.
re:Dreamer can be funny, it can be heartfelt, it can be methodical, it can be sexy, it can be existential. It hits pretty much every note I want to see not only from a TSF story, but from a story in general. This game is coming from a pair of developers whose savviness and familiarity with TSF trappings and tendencies cannot be understated. They, quite simply, get it. They’ve spent thousands of hours immersed in this stuff, seen what works, internalized their preferences, and they understand how to make this subject matter compelling on multiple levels. Though my favorite aspect of the game is easily the characters.
Ai is an electric pixie as obnoxious as she is adorable, and… I love just about everything about her. Her ability to function as the third wheel in a conversation and butt in only when she is wanted, or unwanted. The unique power play she has as a digital being, as she’s Zach’s only hope of winning or participating in re:Dreamer. Yet she has zero control of the physical world around her and can do absolutely nothing when confronted with a strip of gaffer tape. And then there’s the unique relationship she develops with Zach… almost immediately.
She teases Zach, coaxes them into doing things that they don’t openly want to, but never comes across as truly malicious, or even all that mean. She clearly has Zach’s best interest in mind, and just wants to get there in a more entertaining way. She actually reminds me of ‘helper’ characters I tried writing over the years to… mixed success, so I naturally enjoy seeing another creator bring this type of character to life, and do such a good job of it.
Keisuke, meanwhile, serves the role of the best friend and primary male love interest throughout re:Dreamer. While this makes him a very familiar figure for those versed in the TSF gulags, he hits pretty much every note he should. He is a classical example of a male role model, excelling in physical strength and general ‘manliness,’ while holding strong chivalrous values by rushing to the aid of any woman who calls out for him.
However, he is also working with a bad case of ‘jock brain,’ having D-tier book smarts, a stubborn personality, and a habit of underthinking certain situations. But despite these lacking qualities, he still has more than a few moments where he lets his experience with life shine as he protects or otherwise aids those he cares about. I would say that he is tropey enough to be predictable, detailed and consistent enough to feel like a person, and pretty much the perfect compliment for somebody like Zach.
Then there is Britney, Zach’s female friend from high school, and the character who I’m still trying to get the most out of the cast. She outwardly presents herself as a kind and bubbly person, eager to meet up with and socialize with Zach, but she quickly reveals herself to have a distinct edge as she is clued into Zach’s secret.
Unlike other main characters, she does not help Zach out of a sense of obligation or mutual goal. She’s the sort of person who will not let a favor go unrequited. The sort who will ‘work’ situations to her desired outcome, and when tasked to help Zach disguise themself and win the game of re:Dreamer, she tries to use this situation to benefit herself. She is someone who, ultimately, wants to have fun and enjoy herself, yet has a strong desire for control. Which is pretty apt given her background as both a lesbian in a Catholic family, and as a theater kid. I mean, the theater kid angle hasn’t really come up yet, but I can tell where her character is heading. Or at least I think I can. Because I was not expecting the Texan part of her identity to be so prominent.
Last but not least, there is no greater accomplishment in all of re:Dreamer than the character of Zach. While most visual novels go for a reserved or milquetoast protagonist, re:Dreamer takes the almost complete opposite approach and presents an excessively detailed person. They’re a dork with a penchant for obscure knowledge, a habit of spacing out, a strong technical skillset, very apparent gender issues, and a minivan’s worth of densely packed emotional baggage.
re:Dreamer is ultimately Zach’s story, and much of its appeal is seeing Zach gradually lay out their issues, present their plethora of quirks, and adapt to new situations while reassessing and reasserting who they are as a person. And ‘person’ really is the best word for them here, as it is rare to find a fictional character as detailed as Zach without being a self-insert or directly based on someone the writer knows. And despite CaptainCaption’s jokes on this matter… Zach really is not a self-insert. Trust me, I know a self-insert when I see one.
Some might find the way the story expresses this information, the routine narration and rambling introspections that Zach goes on, a bit tiresome. But personally, I consider that to be part of their character. An accurate reflection of what it’s like to be around someone like them or get inside their head. Whether the player likes Zach will ultimately come down to preference, but… you can probably imagine how I feel about them.
Zach is a frail neurodivergent kid with a gender bender fetish, a sloshy bucket of gender dysphoria, and a scattering of academic honors, who starts this story feeling lost in the world. Toss out their hacker tendencies, and you’ve got a solid depiction of me at age 20. Which is another way of saying that I both adore them, and enjoy dunking on them for being such an oblivious egg.
Those are my overarching thoughts on the story aspects, its quality, and so forth, but I should probably shift to talk about what re:Dreamer is at this point in time.
The introduction has been refined since I last covered the title, still missing the true beginning in favor of jumping into a completed and meticulously detailed TS transformation sequence. Once completed, the game shifts into a functional, albeit shouty, explanation of what re:Dreamer is, interjected with the prerequisite masturbation scene, and introduction to Zach’s gender issues. Well, the explanation is mostly functional. There really should be a paragraph of dialogue from Ai describing quests, points, and leaderboards, since she does not explain them very well.
The Keisuke route, still the most developed route, offers an in-depth introduction to the formerly brotherly relationship between Zach and Keisuke before it is rapidly transformed into something else. Zach’s situation urges and eventually forces Keisuke to make them into something ‘more than friends’ and both parties gradually situate themselves into the roles of two lovers, with a fair bit of romance and plenty of awkwardness strewn throughout. All before jumping ahead to give a glimpse into Zach’s school life by going through (most of) their Monday routine.
Overall, I still think it is the best showcase of what re:Dreamer has to offer and home to some of its best content. The mall trip is adorable and has a good sense of flow to it, with things happening frequently without much downtime. The frat party serves as a nice little play place of permutations that offer a look at how Zach acts when they are in a (mostly) comfortable social setting. The initial sex scene is still one of my favorite things in re:Dreamer (probably for the wrong reasons). And I have a soft spot for stories that walk through a day in the life of a student. As I think there is a lot you can gather from a character based on the classes they choose and the way they manage school while dealing with surreal situations.
There is a lot of great stuff here, although getting to the good stuff can be a bit of a drag. Specifically the initial meeting/convincing scenes between Zach and Keisuke, and the sento/shower chapter. Both of which could stand to shave off 20% to 30% of their length. Not because the interactions aren’t good— they’re lovely— But because they meander for far too long in what is supposed to be the first day in a 6-month-long story.
The Britney route is mostly all new content for me, and while it is not much beyond an introduction to the character’s dynamics, I find them to be a lovely little pair. Britney can be shrewd, competitive, but she is overall a fun person to be around. She also plays nicely with Zach’s more heady and reserved nature, yanking them out of their comfort zone in order to suit her needs, while never disrespecting her partner. Plus, I really enjoyed the burgeoning signs of the parallel double lives theme between the two, with Britney hiding her sexuality while Zach hides their sex. Huh. It’s almost like that’s the intended theme for this route…
The content available only expands out to the second day, depicting Zach and Britney’s first date. Including a trip to a Texan BBQ chain that breaks Britney’s southern heart, and a branching trip to the arcade. …Which also happens to be the only part of re:Dreamer that I actively dislike. Not because of any of the associated writing— that’s all great— but because CaptainCaption thought it would be a swell idea to implement four arcade minigames into re:Dreamer (one of which was cut).
While I admire… no. Appreciate? …Also no. Um… respect? Yes, respect! I respect the effort that was put into these sections, but they are some of the most aggravating things I have ever encountered in a video game. This was, admittedly, the point of most of these minigames. I just think that’s a bad point. Also, you can basically skip this entire section by picking Mrs. Puck Man and choosing ‘cancel’ twice when playing the DDR clone. You miss out on some flavor text, but this game has flavor for days.
There’s also the alone route, which continues to be the most conceptually interesting route. I mean, it begins with Zach ingesting a bottle of… Chinese nightmare liquor with seahorse aphrodisiac and LSD. This sends Zach into a dream-based hellscape where their very sense of self is threatened to be destroyed by their mind’s defense mechanisms, only to be saved from nonexistence by the repressed female side of their psyche. It is dope, I love it, and I wish it was expanded sometime in these past two years.
Next up, let’s talk about the C.H.E.A.T.S. system. The C.H.E.A.T.S. system is a series of persistent variables (Control, Horniness, Emotionality, Awkwardness, Trans, and Self-Esteem) that are determined at the start of a playthrough. (Though, you can change them freely if you support the title on Patreon.) The C.H.E.A.T.S. system functions as a way to interject slight and periodic flavor into re:Dreamer in order to make Zach’s responses and reactions more attuned to the player’s preferences of how they like their TS Heroines.
It is an ambitious concept, one meant to make the game appeal to a broader spectrum of TSF fans. However, the majority of the script and story beats are not affected by these variables, and when they are, it often takes the form of line variations, flavor text, and isolated scenes locked behind variable checks. I think the only significant differences I found in my second ‘inverted C.H.E.A.T.S.’ playthrough were found in the Keisuke route. Starting from the variations on the mirror sex scene and ending with the trip to Victoria’s Confessions, with several largely identical gaps in-between.
If this ‘guided summary’ has not been enough of an indicator, I am not a fan of the C.H.E.A.T.S. system. I know its purpose and stated goal, but I don’t think it necessarily achieves its objective, because what it is trying to do can only really be done with a more plain protagonist. You can tweak and alter Zach as much as you want, but whether you play as a Zach with all max stats or all min stats, they’re always going to be Zach.
For the sake of transparency, I played re:Dreamer with all C.H.E.A.T.S. values maxed out at 5, then skimmed over the game with all values at 1. I did this because I wanted to see Zach at their Zachiest (which is precisely what I got). Also, because the title theme, Voyager by Daft Punk, reminded me that Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem was a thing, so I felt obligated to shove all sliders to the right.
There’s also the lore of re:Dreamer, which is set in an alternate universe. One where WWII was prolonged until the 70s, Japan seized the western coast of the United States, the USSR is still a thing, technology has advanced faster, and love for anime has been even more normalized. The game tries to explain this with its world information section. Sadly, the information there is sparse, does not reflect information shared in various Patreon updates, and only scratches the surface of a history that is simultaneously both meticulous and bizarrely flippant.
Some things are broken down into immense detail, such as the geography of the fictional Portland-based Louis & Clark University— which is based on the University of Portland more than Portland’s Lewis & Clark College. Others are brushed aside, like how there just so happens to be a Katamari Damacy pastiche. And this previously caused me so much confusion before CaptainCaption explained to me, personally, that re:Dreamer follows a “river of time” approach. Where no matter what ‘stones’ are thrown into the river, history will generally progress in the same direction.
Which makes sense… but I really wish the game did a better job of explaining its world to players by, for example, mentioning the river of time analogy in the World Information section. Because while I am crazy, I am not so crazy that I would be the only person confused by this.
Now, these two are relatively minor gripes that only really muck up the experience for people with comparable neurosis to myself, but I think their sheer… ambition and the dedication put behind them is emblematic of re:Dreamer’s biggest problem. A problem not actually found within the game, but rather its development.
Despite having a core development team of two, re:Dreamer is largely being created by CaptainCaption, who has taken on basically every duty she could, and wears so many hats that she needs an entire closet for them. Writing, programming, image editing, promotion, community management, issuing updates, general directing and producing, art directing, sound design, animating, and more. This is an imposing amount for one person to take on, even when it acts as their primary job, but CaptainCaption has proven herself to be incredibly competent.
She is an amazingly capable individual with the ability to learn new skills and manage a large number of diverse tasks, excelling in most, if not all, of them. I say this based on her commentary throughout the game (which was my favorite addition in this latest playthrough), updates, and the product she did the majority of the work on. Based on all these factors, I would say that she is someone who could do and learn just about anything if she put her mind to it… and can find the necessary resources.
The problem is that CaptainCaption is one person, and nobody tells her no. Not even Espeon! Meaning that there is nobody to stop her when she muses about interjecting minor and nebulous additions into re:Dreamer that don’t add much to the core experience. Such as how she intends, or at least intended, to allow the player choose Zach’s art elective, with the options being guitar, violin, or percussion in a music class, or a painting class.
Which is all a needlessly excessive level of customization and would take weeks to write, code, and fact check all instances this topic comes up. She desperately needs someone to look at her and say: ‘That is not important. Focus on the main objective or you won’t finish this game until you’re 40.’ For the record, CaptainCaption is 28-years-old.
Actually, to be fully transparent here I showed an earlier draft of this review to CaptainCaption before it went live. And she not only agreed with this notion, she wanted me to emphasize that she is practically begging for someone to tell her what to focus on. She is basically making this game on her own, and she needs someone to hold her accountable!
Tangent aside, does all this hard work pay off? Yeah. I already explained how it does in regards to the story, so let’s jump to the positively meticulously maintained presentation. Over the years, re:Dreamer has been steadily bringing its cast to life with lavishly expressive character sprites from various artists. However, the crown jewel is easily the female Zach/Zoey sprites, which have such a broad range of diverse expressions that I struggle to think of many VN characters as detailed them. There is some notable variance with the style across sprites, as most of them were done by different artists, but you can tell that a lot of thought and care went into getting these designs right.
Animations are given a clear level of attention, adding to the liveliness of the characters while being reserved enough for characters to feel natural when they just stand around in a room and talk— like real people do. Zach’s phone was given a lavish level of detail with its custom UI screen and a clock that not only moves forward as characters speak, but a battery that drains over time. The title is steadily assembling a library of high-quality custom CGs, though it’s still about as common to see a CG borrowed from another source. While backgrounds are a mix of custom 3D environments, as seen with Zach’s dorm room, but largely consist of ones from royalty-free asset packs purchased from DLSite. They never look completely right, given the degree of intent behind most other art assets, but they do the job and keep the budget in the green.
What isn’t royalty-free (for the most part) is the game’s soundtrack, which makes heavy use of songs borrowed from other sources, with a large portion coming from other video games. You have songs lifted from Jet Set Radio, No More Heroes, Touhou, Panty and Stocking, Sonic CD, and Umineko just to name a few. And it’s… it’s pretty much perfect as far as I’m concerned. The tracks are incorporated into the game well, can be hilarious in their application, added another dimension of the game for me to enjoy, and do a lot to punch up certain scenes.
From the use of a track from the Paprika soundtrack in a scene where Zach must flee from a dark force invading their own mind, hellbent on erasing Zach’s very existence. To the decision to pair a Jurassic 5 song to the sex scene where Zach gets fingered by their aniki. It all works so well that I struggle to imagine a better soundtrack for this game.
Unfortunately, this is not sustainable, and the devs are still planning on replacing the soundtrack with something less legally dubious in the future. Which is unfortunate as the soundtrack definitely enhances the experience, and unfortunate because someone (CaptainCaption) is going to need to replace nearly every song in the game, which sounds like a positively soul-crushing ordeal.
But even if the music changes, re:Dreamer still boasts some impressive sound design for a visual novel. A lot of it is simple stuff that you might take for granted, such as the sound of someone grabbing something, a door opening, outdoor ambiance, footsteps, a penis pounding a vagina, and so forth. None of which is necessary or expected, as most VNs are content with prioritizing only the visual and novel parts, but I cannot help but appreciate all the work that has gone into crafting this soundscape. From looping specific portions of music tracks to changing the pitch of Zach’s ‘feminine mouth noises’ to match the vocal range of acclaimed rapper Mori Calliope. Yes, that is something CaptainCaption actually did. I told you she was insane!
In conclusion, I still think that re:Dreamer is great. The game continues to impress me with its writing, characters, and overall presentation, and there is enough content to warrant a detailed look at what this TSF/TG/gender bender visual novel has to offer. Despite having slightly less new content than my absent-minded brain expected, I still had a lovely time revisiting it, and I’m looking forward to continuing this annual tradition.
In addition to writing this review, I also made some updates to my re:Dreamer flowchart. There is an official flowchart included with re:Dreamer, but I’m not a fan of its format or tiny text, so I made my own. Also, thanks to CaptainCaption for giving me the uncompiled story files. I know I was able to decompile the rpyc files myself in 2021, but unren.bat did not work, and I forgot whatever trick I used.