An edited collage of a character from the video game Disillusion.
Disillusion Dev

Disillusion is a game that’s admittedly difficult to describe in so many words. A relatively recent entry in the now-niche first-person adventure genre, it was developed by “Disillusion Dev” and self-published under that name in close-to-late 2021. In their own words, it “started as an LSD Jam game” that was eventually expanded into a full-length commercial product. Although, something like an “LSD Jam” probably needs some additional context.

You see, in the indie game development community, events known as “game jams” are occasionally held as both a fun challenge and a means to showcase many a talented developer’s skills. Oftentimes, they’re focused on a single theme, with the end goal being to produce a fully functioning proof-of-concept within a tight time constraint. The LSD Jam, in particular, has nothing to do with the similarly-named hallucinogenic drug—though, you’d be forgiven for assuming so. Instead, it relates to the cult-classic Japanese exploration game LSD: Dream Emulator. It’s a game without a clear goal or linear system of progression in mind, as you’re encouraged to simply explore through a world of subconscious thought, sometimes being ripped from each level after a set time or sometimes traveling to other places of your own volition. You’re emulating the experience of dreaming, hence the title.

Noted for its psychedelic visuals, bizarre dream logic, and an incredibly experimental system of progression, LSD: Dream Emulator became something of a cult phenomenon for the modest community that grew attached to it. Whether it’s because of the comedy found in its inherently absurdist situations or a genuine desire for its dream-like qualities, LSD: Dream Emulator took off in popularity years after it was originally released, interweaving itself in the already absurd and surreal world of internet culture. Now more than ever, plenty of parallels to be drawn between the game and the bevy of non sequitur memes that pervade social media and everyday discussion.

Naturally, the many, many submissions entered into an LSD Jam—the latest of which took place in 2023—opted to emulate this idea of wandering through dreams, with some borrowing more from LSD: Dream Emulator than others. Knowing this, the first time you open Disillusion, it’s easy to see where one of its biggest influences lies.

Exploring a World of Dreams

Disillusion Game Review - Twins
Disillusion Dev

Dreams are the name of the game in Disillusion, as you awaken in a strange town with no memory of who you are, where you are, why you’re there, what’s going on, and when this all took place. The townsfolk, as sparse as they are, seem to greet you with either animosity or apprehension. All that’s revealed to you is this: everyone climbs the tower, a monolithic structure that seemingly sucks just about every resident into its ominous halls. Left with nothing but the advice of a mysterious woman named Melpomene—who claims that only you can see her—and the few wits you have, you’re left to ascend all thirty floors of the tower to hopefully find your purpose for being there. But the answers you find may unveil something more terrifying than previously thought.

You were created to suffer. the way you think, act, express emotions, and perceive reality have all been tampered with to create nothing but suffering.

You’re encouraged to explore just about everywhere in order to get the fullest experience possible. Each floor of the tower is organized into a colorful labyrinth with one dedicated exit. You’ll collect items, talk to surreal characters, battle enemies within a turn-based RPG system, buy items, and occasionally chat with Melpomene. Seeing as how Melpomene is the only thing that you can somewhat trust in this world, there’s some subtle encouragement to stay on her good side. She’ll even offer to give you hints prior to fighting bosses, which appear every tenth floor.

While traversing the many floors of the tower itself is already substantial enough, a mechanic seemingly lifted from LSD: Dream Emulator is given an exciting new twist. Optional portals are dotted throughout the tower, giving you exclusive access to areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Entire characters, regions, and even quests are exclusive to these areas, with their connection to the wider story overall making them something you can’t afford to miss. These sections seemingly defy the loose trail of logic and reason that drew you to the tower to begin with, sometimes bringing with them hilarious subversions or some of the most terrifying sections in the entire game. It’s a gamble every time, and though Melpomene encourages you to seek out a peaceful resolution with the many strange people you find during your ascent, the game does occasionally venture into oppressively morbid territory.

This is odd, considering that the general atmosphere of Disillusion comes off as something completely different. It’s a game that felt decidedly isolating. Every level, comprised of maze-like labyrinths with colorful, repeating textures everywhere, was surprisingly lacking in ambient noise or interactive features. All you get (for the most part) to accompany your journey is a melancholic soundtrack, often laid over the game’s minimal sound effects during its plentiful battle sequences. Instead of being imaginative or exploratory, it’s something that feels ominous, something that encourages you to keep going forward, albeit without a clear idea of where you’re heading or what this is all building towards. It’s aimless, in a way, something that reflects the game’s overall themes surrounding the karmic cycle and interpretations of the afterlife.

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Speaking of which, it’s really difficult to talk about the ideas that Disillusion presents without going into a full-blown philosophy lecture. To break the visage of professionalism, I am by no means an expert on the numerous concepts and ideas to be found within the story. The karmic cycle, death and rebirth, alternative lives, and collective consciousness are all given either a stark or humorous edge depending on who you talk to and when. I won’t talk at length about the game’s story, as what it has to offer is best enjoyed without any prior knowledge, but I will say that it was certainly worth experiencing, even if I felt that individual moments stuck out more than the whole narrative glued together. After all, something akin to a dream-like experience is worth experiencing for yourself anyway.

And the score: easily the biggest highlight next to the game’s overall presentation, the soundtrack for Disillusion is as delightfully ambient as can be. Equally unnerving and relaxing, the soundscape helps cue you in on whether you should feel at ease or on your toes, accompanying the dramatic shifts in color palettes and environments with utmost grace. Comprised of songs taken from three separate albums (MIDI Canoe, Selected Easy Listening, and Three Glimpses into an Opal), there’s a morose peacefulness that makes the undercurrent of suffering throughout the game’s story feel all the more poignant. Notable highlights include “Swimming,” “Mr. Cogito’s Last Dream,” and “Selected Easy Listening.”

Disillusion Has Combat (Among Other Things)

Disillusion Game Review - Skleleton
Disillusion Dev

What does give me some hesitation in recommending Disillusion, however, is how it plays. In all the interesting kaleidoscopic environments that it offers, you’re forced to fight things within them. That’s not necessarily uninteresting. What isn’t interesting, however, is how combat is executed.

Fighting things is treated as an obstacle more than something that you’ll feel excited to engage with. It’s something that feels like it has to be there, almost to justify the bare-bones combat system that exists. We’re not purposefully putting down the engine the game was made on, mind you, as RPG Maker has been the core of many amazing games within the past few years, like LISA: The Painful. It’s just that Disillusion never meaningfully expands upon the basic combat that RPG Maker is left with for it to be anything interesting.

Every battle, even bosses, can be summed up with the following actions:

  • You use your default attack.
  • The boss either misses whatever it was trying to do, activates an ability that heals itself while damaging you, or directly damages you with either a physical attack or magical ability.
  • You either attack directly back, use several potions that you’ve accrued over your playthrough, or use the very same ability most enemies have to damage them while simultaneously healing yourself.
  • Repeat all of the above.

You won’t ever get any party members with unique mechanics, you won’t come across any equipment that adds any unique status effects, and you certainly won’t find anything that throws a wrench into this tried and true strategy. On the one hand, it’s hard to complain about how brief and how cheap the overall adventure is, but at the same time, it unfortunately makes up the majority of the experience you’ll have.

Even outside of combat, your options for how to deal with future threats are limited. Item shops are seemingly deliberately limited to potions of two kinds (and antidotes for poison, which come into play in less than a single handful of occasions), barring a handful of armor and weapon shops that appear a ways away into the journey. You’ll often just be doing the same few actions over and over, fighting the same enemies in much the same way and doing little else otherwise. As long as you follow Melpomene’s advice, you’ll seemingly coast along through just about every combat encounter in the game. It’s a shame, too, considering that Melpomene can’t even be included as a party member. This is a solo journey through and through, and while the game does introduce some variety via battling multiple enemies at once a few hours in, it’s too little, too late.

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Again, this isn’t a very long game, but considering how persistent combat encounters are, you won’t feel particularly incentivized to revisit Disillusion beyond your first playthrough. This is especially true when you realize just how broken some portions of the game are.

There’s no point sugar-coating this: some of the game’s scripting is outright non-functional. Several Steam achievements are broken and don’t trigger properly,  you’ll often face a wall instead of directly forward upon entering a new floor, certain items given to you don’t function correctly, and even a significant mechanic involving Melpomene can lock you out of getting the rare True Ending. A fan-made mod exists to correct these issues, but it’s worth acknowledging that they exist as-is in the base experience.

Thankfully, anything that isn’t related to fighting things works well enough and is genuinely fun to interact with. Every floor of the tower is incredibly distinct, the many characters you come across are either deeply perturbing or outright hilarious, and the genuine sense of mystery strewn throughout the majority of the experience makes for something you’ll feel compelled to finish.

The Start of Something Greater

Disillusion Game Review - Smile
Disillusion Dev

Though Disillusion ends conclusively with a handful of different potential endings, that’s not to suggest that the adventure stops here. Disillusion Dev has returned to the colorful franchise with a brand-new entry, this time being a prequel to the events that unfold in the gameDisillusion ST includes a number of significant improvements over the first game, including a revamp of the original combat system, a shift away from combat with an additional “Pacifist” mode, and a smorgasbord of higher-quality graphics and impressive cutscenes. Like many a great prequel, however, you’ll get more out of the experience by having the context of the first game in mind.

At the end of the day, however, is this title worth playing? Though one of its core mechanics is remarkably dull compared to what else is on offer, is it worth experiencing for the sensory overload, the bizarre jokes, and the interesting incorporation of the afterlife into its central premise? Sure, if you can look past some of its faults.

Disillusion is currently available on Steam for around $3 USD. A preview of Disillusion ST can currently be procured exclusively on If you’re interested in what else Disillusion Dev is currently up to, their dedicated YouTube channel is host to a number of interesting animations and snippets of footage from their projects.

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