Pandora's Tower Review
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but swords and chains excite me. Should you climb the towers in Xseed's JRPG/adventure hybrid to save your cursed (and tragically whiny) girlfriend?
[ Editor's Note: As Nick Olsen is a writer for Theory of Gaming, this won't be counted in the monthly Vox Pop prize. However, it is very much a worthy read. ]
By Nick Olsen
Co-founder, Theory of Gaming
In 1985 Nintendo started a revolution when it...
Your spine shakes with chills as your heart begins to race. Your mind wanders with the fear of the unknown, and just when you think you were safe from whatever hunts you, you feel it’s grip across your throat. It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means, a series of reviews on some of the scariest horror themed games out there today! Welcome to my 13 days of horror reviews, where we honor the creepy, the kooky, the mysterious and spooky side of video games, both past and present. Today, we look at D-2.
While the Sega Dreamcast came and went in a flash, it did have some rather odd titles that were lucky enough to grace the system. D-2, a Survival Horror game based on a series of PC games by WARP studios in Japan, is an enigma in most regards, more of an interactive story than a actual survivor horror game.
The game stars Laura, a woman who had the unfortunate luck of being on a plane that was hijacked by terrorists, only to have it crash after colliding with a meteorite in the Canadian Wilderness. Laura awakes two days later after some terrible nightmares, only to discover that the survivors of the crash have traversed the snowy landscapes in search of rescue. Laura does the same, only to encounter monstrous creatures, and crazed, mutated humans in her path.
D2 is by director Kenji Eno, who I must admit has created one of the most cinematic, story driven games I have ever seen. Until I bought this game a few weeks back, I didn’t think much of it. But after playing it for a few days, I was totally engrossed by the storyline itself. It is deep, rich, filled with a lot of allusions, and has so much humility that I can’t help but consider it to be one of the better story driven games ever made, akin to old school adventure titles and newer games like Bioshock.
Unlike these games, however, the gameplay is a mish-mash that, while simple to master, takes time to get used to. For one, you have four basic interfaces to cycle through. Standard walking, hunting/fighting enemies, taking pictures, and first person view when in buildings. Walking is similar to Resident Evil, fighting and hunting and taking pictures is a first person view mode that reloads your shots automatically, and searching for items is similar to Myst in many ways, point and click adventure-style inside buildings. These modes of gameplay are not terrible, but don’t blend at times, making it hard to deal with when initially playing the game.
But the opposite problem happens when you do get used to these gameplay modes. Namely, it will be rare for you to die, making the game too easy. The idea of survival horror is not to have infinite ammo with your weapons, and not to find food in abundance. Scarcity, especially in the woods, should actually add to the terror of the game, but it instead detracts from it. To get food you need to hunt animals, which is a cool feature, but it’s also a rather easy feature making the game somewhat unbalanced, since hunting will be done more than fighting enemies, giving you enough health to win wars of attrition. The gameplay modes just have trouble meshing, and when you do get them in order, it becomes such a breeze to play the game, it takes out a lot of the suspense.
Another problem with the game is that while it is an amazing narrative, it suffers from Metal Gear Solid Syndrome, featuring too many cinematic and plot-driven dialogue sections vs gameplay moments. You get around ten to fifteen minutes of cut-scenes for every boss you kill, for example, and that’s a LOT of exposition you need to sit through just to continue the game. Not to mention the fact that Laura says next to nothing the entire time, and is just a bystander to the other characters you encounter around her, makes you feel like you’re watching a off-paced movie over playing a game.
And perhaps the biggest sin the game can make is that it’s not really scary. The bleakness of the wilderness is never really felt because the combat becomes no challenge, and the enemies are rather easy to kill, bosses included. The only time I felt afraid was when fighting infected humans, who in a “Thing” like twist can only be identified with green over red blood, but other than that plot device, it’s devoid of any true horror.
The game is a graphical powerhouse, featuring some of the best cinematic shots and in-game graphics for not only a Dreamcast game, but perhaps of its time. The attention to detail is amazing, and the high resolutions on the main characters and enemies add a lot of detail. Even the suggested content, such as pixilated nudity, profanity, and even a rape scene, was handled artistically, giving the game some class in dealing with controversial issues that actually had the game censored somewhat for the U.S release. The games sound design is also fantastic; a very gloomy underscore sets the tone music-wise, while the voice actors save for one do an adequate job in presenting the story to you in the cinematics.
D-2 is definitely a enigma. On the one hand it has a strong narrative and terrific story, with a great presentation. On the other, the gameplay mechanics are way too muddled with poor controls, and even when you overcome the shortcomings of these controls, the game becomes too easy, too repetitive, and most importantly, not scary. D-2 is definitely a gamer’s game; something that jaded folks may pick up and play to enjoy something truly different for a little while. Otherwise though, it is unlikely that D-2 will see the light of day in many gamer’s minds.