Actually, this game is merely entitled D (Sega Saturn version). No subtitle. I just added that to the post title in an effort to make it less confusing. You might think it’s the same as one of the sponsors of Sesame Street, but the content of the game is actually quite orthogonal to that of a kids’ television show. Let’s dive right in with a representative screenshot:
Admittedly, the foregoing screenshot has been significantly brightened so you have a fighting chance of making it out. But I suppose such effect does undercut the dark nightmare scenario portrayed throughout the story. The screenshot depicts Laura, our protaganist who is also attending art school in San Francisco, discovering a skeleton long ago impaled upon a wall of spikes, a surprisingly common facet of the decoration in the area she is exploring. Thing is, her dad runs a mental institution in Los Angeles, but went nuts himself and started killing everyone. The police don’t feel like tackling the situation. So Laura makes her way from San Francisco to Los Angeles to figure things out. That’s pretty much all the backstory you get. Remember, Laura came all the way from San Francisco for this family reunion. The only reason I point that out is that the game thought it was pretty interesting. Literary criticism is a bit out of my league, but that’s okay since proper literature is probably beyond the reach of whoever wrote this story. They tried to set up this taut thriller of a storyline but threw in some completely superfluous details, to say nothing of the breaks in pacing during the intro sequence when the cinematic editing repeatedly cuts to Laura’s automobile speeding along the freeway. To get from S.F. to L.A., in case that wasn’t clear before.
If it seems like I’m harping on the cinematic and story elements pretty hard, that’s because that’s really all there is to this game. It’s another entry into that wretched genre called the interactive movie, published in 1995 during the rise of such games. Perhaps I’m somewhat prejudiced at this point but my stomach churned at the thought of playing this game. But I suck it up for the sake of the experiment.
The game is somewhat like a horror version of Myst in that you are given very little backstory or context; you’re just plunged into some alternate universe where you’re forced to bumble around, look at stuff, touch things, and just try to figure out what’s going on. Sure, the game allegedly starts in a hospital. But as soon as you set foot inside, you touch an amorphous blob and are whisked off to… well, you don’t know. Your dad’s head appears and urges you to return home. And here comes an interesting facet of the game: You have 2 hours to finish:
Check that out! How many programmers have written analog clock programs? How many of them have actually had occasion to use them in a commercial application? Hats off to the developers in that regard. Getting back to the gameplay, if you don’t finish in 2 hours, it’s game over. The game consists of moving from pre-defined location to pre-defined location where the movement is all pre-rendered FMV. There are occasional items to pick up and use. There are likely opportunities to die a horrible death. I came close to one, but the game was merciful. This time. Laura also has a compact case that she can look at to gather clues. I get the impression that you can only use it 2-3 times per game before it shatters.
BTW, no pausing. You could claim that D is similar to Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! in that respect. I suppose you could technically qualify this game as a real-time interactive movie since it enforces that 2-hour deadline at all times. Not only can you not pause but you can’t fast forward through any animations, not even drawn-out ones that you accidentally triggered a second time, like trying to open a locked door.
I gave this game a fair shake and played until I got hopelessly stuck and the compact wouldn’t surrender anymore clues. Based on what I saw, I think Laura is going to be another character like Claire from Resident Evil: Code Veronica due to the fact that, no matter how many gruesome sights and impaled corpses she witnesses, she will never grow desensitized to the horror. You might think Laura might come to expect disconcerting things in this place.