You would think fashion was an easy concept for video games. I mean, sure there won’t be visceral bloodletting (though a catwalk fighting game would be amazing…), but fashion lends itself to collectability, which is how many games keep players invested, and who doesn’t like playing dress-up with pretty characters? Character creator modes are a major feature of so many videogames. There have been a few exceptional fashion-themed games in the past, including Nintendo’s own Style Savvy/Style Boutique. And yet there aren’t many fashion games at all, overall. Fashion Dreamer is an attempt to bring one to the Switch and… well, to quote Zoolander, perhaps there’s more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good-looking.
It is a good-looking game, aesthetically. After setting up your character you’re dropped into a virtual world, where you can acquire a staggering range of clothing, and customise your character according to your tastes. Do you prefer the sporty look? The gothic lolita? Miniskirts and fishnets? They’re all options. In fact, the only genres of fashion that aren’t present are swimsuits and lingerie, and while I do understand that, in the sense that such things would score the game an immediate R18+ rating and commercial suicide, there is something surreal about making something that you claim is representative of the fashion industry only to totally ignore one form of fashion set to be worth US $30.9 billion by 2032 (swimwear), and one set to be worth US$131.99 billion by 2028 (lingerie).
But, once again, it is good looking, and as you get deep into the world of Fashion Dreamer, you can start to customise costumes according to your tastes in colours and designs. I’m a pastel person myself, and yellow is my shade of choice, but almost everything is there, from bright, bold colours right through to monochrome tones. As you design these outfits you can start posing in “photos” wearing them, or finding people in the area to dress up in these costumes for you. Either approach nets you “social media likes” and a couple of different points to use on gatcha and bingo minigames. All of these help you unlock even more stuff. There is a lot of stuff to collect – more than 1400 items in total – and you’ll get almost all of it by simply bumping into it as you spend time in the world.
And that’s all there is to Fashion Dreamer. There’s no narrative. You’re simply told to play fashion in the world, and the “characters” you run into are really just mannequins for you to play dress-up with. They’ll tell you their preferences for colour and style, and you need to come up with something from the collection you have. Do it well and they’ll “love” the costume, netting you many more likes.
There’s no currency and you don’t really have to work to unlock stuff. You can add people’s costumes to your collection by bumping into them and “liking” the costume. This can net you some pretty rare stuff early on (especially if you go online. I found an incredibly glamourous wedding dress in about ten seconds flat), and this is good in the sense that if keeps your wardrobe up to date with fun new things to play around with… but it becomes readily apparent that you’re not really earning anything as you play.
You’re also able to set up a showroom and share your creations with the world. It’s a good opportunity to show off your knowledge about matching colours and what shoes go with what skirts, but, again, there’s no sense of earning anything or being rewarded for being good at fashion as you play. If a game developer were looking to satirise the fashion industry and how disposable clothing is, and how vapid and meaningless it could be, then this is almost exactly how they would design it. There’s no sense that Yoko Taro or Goichi Suda had a hand in it, though. It’s quite sincere in its emptiness.
With that said, if I was to really stretch to be generous to this creative endeavour, fashion has always positioned itself as a kind of escapism. People dress up, feel beautiful, and for a time the broader concerns of the world fade into the background, behind the makeup and accessories.
Which is why this passage from a McKinsey market analysis is so confronting to the industry:
“Inflation is at the top of executives’ minds for the coming year, according to results from the annual Business of Fashion and McKinsey State of Fashion Survey. They expect that inflation will undercut consumer demand, pushing shoppers to curtail fashion spending or trade down for less expensive products as their energy and grocery bills spike. Fashion companies are also anticipating that inflation will spike their costs, with 97 per cent of executives forecasting that their cost of goods sold and SG&A expenses will rise in 2023. Cotton and cashmere prices, for example, have increased 45 per cent and 30 per cent year on year, respectively.
“…This global economic gloom is increasingly reflected in consumers’ shopping habits, and the fashion industry is expecting that demand will be weakened or unpredictable in the year ahead. We foresee that the differences between the shopping habits of low- and high-income households will become more pronounced, as cost-conscious customers are likely to cut back or trade down. Meanwhile, shoppers for luxury items will likely continue to spend largely as they have been, insulated from the impact of the economic slowdown.”
All these real world concerns are not good for fashion. Given that the cost of living is forcing people towards functional clothing rather than quality or stylish fashion, perhaps now would indeed be the wrong time to release a game about the escapist fantasy where you need to earn money to buy things and potentially, through the narrative, be told that you suck at it all. Perhaps in being so devoid of substance, meaning or purpose Fashion Dreamer is meeting the brief of allowing people to see fashion as joyful escapism.
Or perhaps it’s just that the game really is that shallow. As I said, you’d have to be applying a very generous reading of the creative motivation behind the decisions that went into this game to decide that there was some thematic reason for it being the way it is.
Sadly, apart from being really, really ridiculously good-looking, Fashion Dreamer just hasn’t got much going for it. With no real reward mechanism to encourage you to think about fashion, and nothing stopping you from building up an extensive wardrobe of clothes simply by jumping online for a couple of minutes here and there, there’s so small of an incentive to actually play. Especially once you’ve found an outfit for your character that’s so cute that you don’t feel the need to mess around with it any further.