Yume Nikki is a well known cult game. I love that game but there are also fangames that I love and this one is really interesting. An important note is that .flow is by far the darkest game I've played. If you thought Yume Nikki was dark then this is on a completely other level. It's not really fair to call it a clone of Yume Nikki. On the surface, .flow copied so much so it's very recognizeable as a fan-game. But if you take the time to explore it, to experience all the hidden events, and ultimately to complete it, then you'll understand just how different .flow really is.
I'm going to continue with this comparison throughout the review since .flow has some trouble to break free of its shackles of "fan game" in the eyes of players. Yume Nikki is a game about dreams. All you know about Yume Nikki's real world is the small amount of information contained in Madotsuki's room and on her balcony, and the fact that she refuses to leave her room. Anything else is pure conjecture based on the contents of her dreams. While there's no shortage of interpretations you can make in Yume Nikki, ultimately things just mean what you want them to mean. They're dreams. .flow, however, is different. Although it doesn't have a narrative, it definitely tells a story, and although it is plenty surrealistic, the story it tells is not pretty. In the end, the game is a total mindfuck, but it's the kind of mindfuck you can sit down and piece together if you're dedicated, smart, and if you take aid from other players. It's a puzzle in the same sense as something like Inland Empire, though more unsettling and ostensibly more difficult. If you want meaning, there's a tangible feeling that it's there. It's just almost impossible to understand. I found it totally thought provoking but I definitely didn't understand it. It's like you piece some of the puzzles together but not the whole puzzle. Also there's tons of room for personal interpretation, much moreso than Yume Nikki if you ask me.
As for the music, it's disappointing compared to Yume Nikki. Yume Nikki's music is full of what I would call "ghost tones". Short loops that are spellbinding to listen to on repeat because despite the general theme of ambience in the music, they sometimes contain an overload of sound information, it is so easy to get lost in a song without actually really hearing all of it. It's not uncommon that I'll listen to a song, and notice a certain sound that I never really payed attention to before and listen to it in a new way. Tones might trail off, literally, or they might just be trailing off in your head. It's a very mesmerizing listening experience. Meanwhile, the music of .flow is generally very simplistic, and the repetition does not quite have that hypnotic quality. lolrust is just not a great composer, however, I still do want to compliment the way the soundtrack fits the game. Living up to Kikiyama as a composer is nigh impossible, and lolrust does a decent enough effort for his own game soundtrack. .flow's music isn't as good, but it can still sound distressing, mystical, tense, and sometimes it's actually kinda catchy. This game oozes dark emotion and the music generally does too. He can get all these emotions right, so the sound is absolutely an essential part of the playing experience. The music sounds broken, like ugly fragments of something truly disgusting. Even the catchy songs have this disturbing aura in the context of this fucked up game.
And the imagery, well... I called it by far the darkest game I've played for a reason. This game is bloody, creepy, gloomy, and sometimes sublimely terrifying. Describing imagery isn't my favorite thing to do in reviews so just take my word for it and PLAY THIS GAME NOW! It's a damn masterpiece. It's probably going to be taxing on your psyche to play through this whole game and see everything, as it's like a giant nightmare. It's the slow and brooding kind of horror which you could also see at times in Yume Nikki, and while some people argue that game wasn't a horror game, if this one isn't a horror game then no horror has ever existed in any media ever because .flow is horrifying. Most of the really sublime sights are hidden, so I'd recommend to not just shelve it upon seeing the true ending. Take your time to explore further and/or use the wiki to find all events. I think that lolrust is one of the most interesting game creators, though he's not as "mysterious" as Kikiyama, the game he's made should be just as legendary as Yume Nikki. Also check out lolrust's Pixiv! https://www.pixiv.net/member.php?id=269411
Just be warned before playing .flow as it will disturb you. Consider not playing it if you're still growing, its terror could have a negative impact on your psyche. You might get nightmares. I'd say adults only but that would make me a hypocrite since I would've LOVED to play something this fucked up as a kid!