Last time, I examined Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and this time, we’re going to look at SWERY’s D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die. Seeing as the last time I explained the purpose behind this series, I’ll go a bit into D4 before jumping right into the research and meat of the piece.
D4 is a SWERY game, and it’s interesting. Like Deadly Premonition before it, it’s got a very unique style between the character designs, the writing, the exaggerations, and the music. It’s a detective story in the style of an hour-long television drama. Episodes are fast-paced if you go straight through, but the great part about it is that there’s so much to experience on the side. A lot of window dressing and a lot of tiny, insignificant details that, while they are not necessarily important to the world, add so much flavor. They are very SWERY in nature—that is to say, very absurd, but in the best way possible. A lot of little details add up in terms of how meaningful they are in the long run.
It’s a style of worldbuilding that I can really, really appreciate. A lot of small details give you just a tiny bit of insight into the world around you, the items that exist, and the fact that they have meaning in their existence in places like David’s apartment or the airplane that episode one takes place on where there are dozens of items to examine.
In D4, examining items works different than in games like The Walking Dead. By moving the on-screen cursor over an object, three little quick bits of flavor text pop up. These are non-voiced, and very quick, but with how many items there are to “mouse” over in the world, it’s incredibly effective. You get your bits of information that, even if they’re short, are far more substantial than “I better open that door to get into the pharmacy,” and there are plenty of them. The game is oozing with flavor—absolutely oozing with it. There’s a lot of love and care put into D4, which is definitely apparent, even more so when you see how much unique text there is with each item.
So now that I’ve talked about the aspects of D4 in terms of how it works with its worldbuilding, let’s go more in depth like we did with The Walking Dead.
Admittedly, I wasn’t able to get an exact number of items I examined. This is mainly because of the way that D4 presents its information. There are A LOT of items in the world, and some come at you incredibly quickly, disappearing within seconds if you don’t press and hold the Y button long enough to get the flavor text from it. My original plan was to take a very methodical, analytical approach like I did for The Walking Dead, but I had to stop that within five minutes of starting episode one because they’re both drastically different experiences.
The Walking Dead is very slow, very plodding, and very exact. D4 is the opposite. It’s presented as a drama, but it takes things very fast—moments come and go in an instant, and it’s easy to miss the examinable objects filled with flavor text. So, as opposed to categorizing how many items there were and into categories like “explaining what the item is,” “explanation of the solution,” and “something actually meaningful,” I mostly just took in everything that was said as best I could. It’ll be a very different approach compared to what I wrote for The Walking Dead.
Everything that’s examined in D4—which can be anything from people, to objects, to food and drink, to even a cat—have bits of flavor text. Everything has anywhere between one and six or seven tiny bits of text, usually short little blurbs explaining what the item is, which then go into more details about the item that you might not necessarily be able to see. The fast and loose approach works really well. David Young is a quick-thinking detective, so seeing the small snippets of his thoughts on different objects is interesting, but fantastic and works very well for the tone.
I do appreciate how much love and care SWERY seems to have put into the worldbuilding of D4. Everything—everything has some form of flavor to it, whether information is big or small from the main character to a bag of airline peanuts. To me, that means everything. I really enjoy worldbuilding, as I’ve noted probably a dozen times before. So the amount of work that’s put in? Means a lot to me. I enjoy reading the little flavor text bits for all these items, even if they are small.
But with the good, there are definitely issues with how D4 approaches worldbuilding—in some ways even similar to issues that I have with how worldbuilding is tackled in The Walking Dead.
One of the main issues is that sometimes you don’t even have the chance to examine things. As noted earlier, for some items, you have to press and hold the Y button to get the text, but sometimes it’s just far too quick. I set the controller down a few times and missed them, or would only have them for a split second—not even able to actually read what popped up. It’s really frustrating because I want to see as much as possible, but it just doesn’t let me. It’s a small thing, mainly because it’s technically my fault that I set my controller down, but it’s disappointing that I’m going to miss flavor text because I have a limited amount of time to hold down a button and read the text. And sure, it’s just flavor text, but I want to see it. I love flavor text—I love little bits that talk about the world and give life and meaning to the characters and items, and it just stinks to miss it.
The other issue is that for a lot of the items—at least in Episode 1—have just basic descriptions. There are the occasional funny things, but a lot of it is saying what a thing is or the details of a person. They do go into some details that you can’t necessarily see or tell, and they are the things that David Young focuses on, but it feels a bit Telltale-esque, though an evolution of it. This seems highly improved compared to what I saw in The Walking Dead. There are some very solid lines, the usual for SWERY, but a lot of it is just explaining what the items are, what the people look like, what they’re wearing, etc.
That isn’t to say that D4’s examinable items don’t have some good lines, though. Like with The Walking Dead, I wrote down a few of my favorites.
Every single food item in D4 has unique flavor text—even if you see the same type of food multiple times. One of the hamburgers in particular I liked, with it simply saying “Extra pickles.” Who would have known David could tell what would constitute extra pickles on a random burger found in the overhead luggage compartment in an airplane, but wow, David sure does have good investigative skills.
David really does well with SWERY’s absurd, hilarious writing, and D4 does as well. Compared to The Walking Dead, I like the approach when it comes to describing people or objects, though as a whole, the two games are vastly different in how they build the world around them. Like with the game in general, D4 has some flaws, but it’s very quirky with some interesting ideas—the way the examinable items work in particular. And overall? I like the approach, and I like a lot of the writing and how the world—the case, situations, setting, characters, and random items—are all built up and made to feel like they belong. In that case, it’s very unlike The Walking Dead where most things are looked at to have a purpose, and that’s one thing I absolutely love it for.
Next time we’ll look at the final episodic game in my series and its worldbuilding: the first episode of Life Is Strange.