Recently, in an interview with David Cage (the director of the games Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain and the recently released Beyond: Two Souls), Yu Suzuki (the man behind the Shenmue series) was brought in, and the two discussed the art of story telling in video games. During the interview, Cage said, ‘At the time of Shenmue I was working on Fahrenheit, and when Shenmue was released I thought that we followed the same process and same thinking. We found different solutions, but I thought that we were looking for the same thing; to tell an interactive story.’
Although very sadly and recently deceased (February 2013), I feel that Kenji Eno shared the same artistic vision as David Cage and Yu Suzuki; this can be seen in the game ‘D2’ for the Sega Dreamcast, a game that he directed, wrote and composed the score for.
When I first popped this game into my Dreamcast and watched the opening cinematic, I witnessed as a massive story began to unfold itself before my eyes. The story begins with the game’s heroine, Laura Parton, sat on an airplane flight. A group of heavily armed terrorists, who seem to be part of a mysterious cult, attempt to hijack the plane. Suddenly, a meteorite strikes the plane (I know right?), sending it crashing into the Canadian wilderness. When Laura wakes up, she finds herself in a small cabin, in the company of Kimberly Fox, a girl who also survived the plane crash. After a little explanation from Kimberly, a weird creature appears and all hell breaks lose. What is this weird creature and where did it come from? Who else survived the plane crash? Who were the mysterious cult that attempted to hijack the plane? There are so many questions that need answers, and it is up to the player to find them.
Once all the commotion is over, you are thrown head first into the gameplay, of which D2 has a few different kinds. When exploring the insides of the buildings, an on-rails first-person perspective is used. When exploring the Canadian wilderness, the gameplay changes to a third-person perspective. During exploration, the player will encounter random battles with monsters (beating them provides experience and a chance to level up, basically like an RPG) and can also hunt animals (their meat can be used for health), this is where a first-person perspective is used to aim and fire weapons.
Stepping outside the cabin presents you with what I believe has to be one of the most stunning graphical displays the Sega Dreamcast has to offer. Despite their bleak appearance, the snowy environments of D2 really do pull you in, so much so that when you enter a cabin you feel grateful to be somewhere a bit cosier. The level of immersion in this game is astounding and the snowy environments really do capture that sense of isolation that all good survival horror games should have. But it isn’t just the visuals that draw you in, the beautiful music and sound effects (and in some cases, lack of) add to it all too. D2 really gives the senses a good old workout.
But an explanation of why D2 is such an awesome game wouldn’t be complete without talking about its fantastic storyline. The game includes a ‘digital actress’ known as Laura. Developers WARP created a virtual actress that played different characters in different games, kind of like how a real life actress plays different characters in different movies. It is confusing to wrap your head around at first, but after you play some of developer WARP’s other games, you will figure it out quickly enough.
Laura as a main character really adds to the story though, and how does she do this you ask? Well she does this by saying pretty much nothing; the girl has literally no lines of dialogue. This all works out to the benefit of the story though, and perhaps you could say that Laura is simply a blank canvas for players to project their emotions on to. However, that is not to say Laura is completely devoid of any emotion, and during one scene in particular, she lets out a scream of sadness. When I first saw this, it really took me by surprise as it was a rare sight for the character, and almost instantaneously, I felt her sadness too.
Just reading the explanations of certain items or reading the archive that the game puts together throughout your journey pulls you deeper and deeper into the story, revealing information and history about the alternative world of D2 that lies behind your TV screen. Kenji Eno had a fantastic attention to detail, and it really shows in D2. The Dreamcast’s VMU even shows a compass when you are exploring! Now that’s cool.
However, Kenji Eno’s attempt at creating an interactive story didn’t come without its downsides. One of the main gripes critics had with the game is that it has a very slow pace, especially since the game is buried in cutscenes. There are cutscenes for picking up items, walking through doors and very long cutscenes related to the plot of the game. This of course was used in an attempt to further draw the player in, so if you do play D2, you will have to be patient.
A minor annoyance I had personally was that the voices of the characters are incredibly out-of-sync with their lips. Also, the bosses are a little too easy, but they are interesting and freaky so that makes up for it a little. To be honest, the game as a whole isn’t too challenging and it makes me wonder if the game developers decided to dumb down the difficulty of the game in an attempt to focus player’s attentions more on the storyline and the environments.
Playing the game, I thought I would encounter the same problems that many critics had too, but I found myself drawn in more than I expected myself to be forced away, D2 just has a certain magic that can really capture and pull in a player. The key to enjoying D2 is to treat it almost like an experience, rather than just a game, because this is when the real genius of Kenji Eno starts to show. This was unfortunately the last game ever developed by WARP and one of the last games of its caliber that he was involved with. Who knows what sort of games could have been created on current generation systems judging by the extraordinary job he did on D2? Rest in peace, Kenji Eno, you will be missed. One thing that shouldn’t be missed however, is D2, as it is definitely not a game to be overlooked.
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