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D (Sega Saturn) Review

Ok, let the horror Begin!


D was published by the dreaded Panasonic corporation for the 3DO in April 1995 and ported to the Sega Saturn in Japan in July 1995. Panasonic unable to contain the pandora's box allowed it to spread to American and European the following year and even ported it to the PlayStation and MS-DOS. It was created and developed by Warp and it's very own Dr Frankenstein, director Kenji Eno. Apparently, the game was so terrifyingly successful in Japan that Sony couldn't keep up with preorders a fact that lead to Kenji Eno scorning them, thus when releasing the sequels Enemy Zero and D2 he made it exclusive to Sega platforms spurning Sony. Supposedly the violent imagery in the game would not have been there in the publisher approved version but Kenji Eno was a sly devil submitting his cleaned version to the publisher late. This apparently was part of Kenji's plan as the penalty for this was that he would have to hand-deliver it to the manufacturer. On the plane ride over, the devil, Kenji switched the publisher approved copy with his original unedited master copy bypassing any and all censorship. All the FMV sequences in the game were made using dark powers of Commodore's Amiga 4000 computers and the game is an early example of combining rendered 3D cinematic sequence to tell the game's story. It was heralded by critics and it developed such a big cult following that the 3DO got a re-release in Japan subtitled "the directors cut" which apparently adds additional story and FMV sequences.


Plot

You are Laura Harris and the Los Angeles police inform you that your father, Dr Richter Harris Director of an LA general hospital, has gone on a killing spree and has barricaded himself in the hospital. Police have cordoned off the hospital due to your father taking hostages. Laura rushes to the scene from San Francisco and easily gets inside the hospital grounds, good cordoning off there LAPD. Laura then enters the hospital entry where inside she sees a scene of carnage with multiple people shot dead. Upon heading deeper a strange transparent entity engulfs Laura and she is transported into a dungeon/castle-like structure. It is in this place that Laura encounters her father's disembodied spectral head and learns that she's in a world of her father's making. Laura is also told that she has little time here as the gateway back to the real world will close if she doesn't leave soon. Laura is resolute though and presses on to discover the truth of the mystery behind her father's murders.


Pros

D has quite a creepy atmosphere and excels with moments of psychology horror emphasized by Laura remembering repressed memories or hands reaching out of mirrors to grab her. Indeed my younger self would have found this quite a terrifying escapade back in the day due to the disturbing revelations of the main character and the on-point musical stings to emphasize horrifying reveals. The games overall visuals and theme is dark and disturbing with an occasional flourish of bright colours for the more trippy moments. 


D is a two hour long game. I know, for most people, that would be a Con but the game does give a reason for the two hour limit. You are in an illusionary other world created by your father's mind. Your father even states that if you do not leave soon then you will never be able to return and thus are trapped. So the game is genuinely two hours long for narrative purposes it's also one of two fail states within the game, more on that in Cons, and makes you feel a sense of tension as you desperately try and work out the puzzles knowing that you have a ticking clock. Incidentally, you can't pause this game but Laura does have a pocket watch that you can check, the game ends when it strikes five.


D has a large quantity of FMV sequences for any game of the time. Indeed all movement and actions in the game are an FMV sequence with the player been given a still image to then make their choices. This lends itself to the creepy atmosphere of the game as although you choose Laura's actions it's actually Laura who reacts and moves within the environment resulting in slow panning, surprise reveals and Laura showing emotional expression and reactions to the horrors that appear.


Cons

Randomised actions, O boy do I hate this. At some point in D a developer must have said we don't have time, space or I can't be arsed to make more clever puzzles. As there is a point in the game where the puzzle is you turn a crank and see if the doorway behind you leads to the place you want to go. Now strictly speaking I'm not one hundred percent sure this is random but it feels like it's random. You enter this room, there's no clue how it works and all you can do is rotate a crank and turn around. I kid you not I tried one turn brick wall, two turns brick wall and three turns brick wall. Then I turned the crank once, twice, and got a room. It seems to me that it's literally here to waste the time you have and it's not a puzzle it's just a pain. What's more, it's a nexus point that branches off to the other routes you need to take making it practically intolerable.


D is quite a tonally and visually dark game and as a result, this can leave you missing things just because it's not quite visible or obviously interactive. Indeed one of the first puzzles in the game can set you back some time if you're not aware of the bowl of liquid on the dining room table. Something by the way that isn't hinted at unless you use the pocket mirror. An item whose function you may not be immediately aware of as it only mentioned in the game's manual. The pocket mirror for those who are unaware gives you clues but only has a limited amount of uses and the clues are quite vague.


D's main protagonist Laura moves at a rather glacial pace for someone who is aware that she has limited time to find her father. Initially, this slow panning movement lends to the creepy vibe of the game but when you start backtracking and turning around in the random room you start to wonder if Laura's really trying to find her father or is just kinda getting to like the old illusion castle/dungeon. Actually, that would make a lot of sense considering how the story pans out.


Fail states in D. Now don't get me wrong there are a lot of things in D that could kill Laura but it's strange how not one of them ever seems to land that fatal blow. Unlike let's say a game like Cyberia for the Sega Saturn, where failing a puzzle or event results in a fatal outcome. D on the other hand only seems to have two fail states. The time running out and a final choice made at the end. Anything else will not kill you and can always be retried. This at the beginning isn't a problem but once you clock it, all tension is destroyed about Laura getting impale or killed in a death trap leaving the only real tension in the game, the timer.


Nerd O Meter Rating


An interesting, but low 3 out of 5


D is arguably more of an interesting historical piece of early FMV and adventure horror within gaming than an overly engaging game. This is one of the grandfather's of modern horror adventure games like Until Dawn released some 20+ years later. Hell D even has an actual quick time event (QTE) moment in it. Which thinking about it is probably one of the earliest examples of the now overused/despised game mechanic. So what to make of D, I would say it's an acquired taste. For someone like myself, I can appreciate it for its interesting position in history with early FMV and genuinely disturbing imagery showing up in a game at this point in time. Indeed some modern critics of the game have argued that without D games like Resident Evil wouldn't have been made. I myself though would say that D is probably more of a cog in that design as violence in video games had been present long before D. D just allowed the idea that games could generate true cinematic horror through tension and suspense rather then just graphical imagery been thrown at the screen, like Doom and Duke Nukem. However, if your expecting D to enthral you with spectacular horror, disturbing themes and compelling gameplay now, then you may be disappointed. D can be frustrating to play especially with the random room as mentioned in the Cons and I would argue that the plot from today's perspective although surprising, in a crazy sort of way, is kind of cliche. That been said the horror elements are reasonably well done until you realise that Laura can't be harmed by anything in the illusory world. That is why I would recommend D if your interested in game history and horror from the '80s and '90s, as for the gameplay alone I would contend that there are better examples out there.

By Nerdy C


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