Nanar’ is the French term for movies that are so bad they circle right around to being brilliant again. Famous examples such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Room continue to spread into mainstream consciousness countless years after their original releases, fueled solely by the passion of their dedicated fans. This concept is less prevalent in games; internet review shows like The Angry Video Game Nerd rarely prompt people to seek out the terrible games on display.

This likely stems from their interactive nature, as bad games often contain unfriendly design choices that make them harder to play than bad movies are to watch. D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die avoids the common pratfall of using poor design as a joke, instead keeping the gameplay simple and almost incidental to the aggressively nanar sensibilities of its narrative.

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If you’ve played a point-and-click adventure game, you’ll instantly feel at home controlling protagonist David Young. Objects in the environment can be pushed or grabbed for different results, and David can move only to points designated by icons on the floor. The simplistic user interface keeps the pace moving nicely and even mitigates the typical frustration of pixel hunting by highlighting interactable objects as the mouse passes over them.

Without a clunky interface in the way, it’s easy to focus on the real meat of the adventure: the dialog and text. Every environment is packed to the gills with minute items like letters, magazine articles, and assorted doodads. They provide credits to purchase restorative items and costumes, but more importantly they come packed with off-kilter flavor text that fleshes out the world in minor ways.

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This is crucial because flavor is D4’s prime directive. The main plot, which sees Young traveling through time to gather clues and solve the mystery of his wife’s murder, is far from groundbreaking. But the world in which the story takes place is jam-packed with some of the most bizarre characters in the medium. You’ll meet a detective who eats three foot-long chili dogs in one bite, a fashionista in love with his mannequin, and even a woman who thinks she is the protagonist’s pet cat. Since chatting with these individuals makes up a huge chunk of the game, it comes as a relief that nearly every one of them is a non-stop source of entertainment.

The violent bizarreness of the supporting cast highlights how boring the two most important figures are. David is serviceable as a main character, but his tendency to play straight-man to the rest of the world he inhabits keeps him from being memorable. Ben Prosky’s performance helps alleviate this dullness with a perfect mix of deadpan delivery and general bewilderment, but it’s never quite enough to make David a compelling lead.

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David’s obsession with his deceased wife Little Peggy drags him down further. Peggy appears frequently as an apparition, serving to flesh out the backstory by reminiscing about stereotypical rose-tinted memories. Ideally, this would help establish why her death was so devastating to David that he quit his job with the Boston Police Department and became a hermit.

Unfortunately, Peggy is the character equivalent of plain oatmeal and the memories she imparts are flat and typical. I braced myself whenever I heard the dippy piano music that plays under her scenes, because it almost always signaled that the following conversation would drag on eternally and add little to the story. Her childlike personality, complete with constant giggling and baby-talk, damages her further and frankly just makes their relationship seem creepy in retrospect. She is so absurdly uninteresting that I had to wonder if she was intended as a parody of the ‘idealized dead wife’ trope, but that seems unlikely and would still fail to justify the awfulness of her frequent scenes.

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Only three chapters come packaged with D4 and one is merely a tutorial prologue. This leaves very little time for plot development once all the introductions have been done, and the game ends precisely when it feels like it’s finally found its footing. Though this is almost assuredly due to issues with funding – the game’s original Xbox One release performed too poorly to justify further episodes – the fact remains that the package is terribly anemic for a full ‘season’ of entries.

In this state, it’s hard to recommend D4 on merits of story; even calling the plot unfinished would be generous, as it just barely gets off the ground before the credits roll. However, I loved the brief time I spent in the game’s world. My jaw was often agape with shock and wonderment at the outlandishly flamboyant characters and situations. Nearly every Peggy-free event is uniquely memorable and always left me longing for more.

D4 is top-tier schlock, with highs so lofty and numerous that they almost completely redeem the lows. Though the gameplay is simplistic, it wisely clears the path to the showstopping performances. This is a distinctly Japanese take on the adventure game style made popular by Telltale’s latest efforts, and there’s just nothing else quite like it.

About The Author

Community Manager/Editor

Daniel has spent the vast majority of his life immersed deeply in the worlds within games and the culture surrounding them. He hosts The Dead Pixels Podcast, a show celebrating less-than-classic retro games. His tendency toward positivity is tempered by a wealth of knowledge and experience with the medium's history.

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  • Rocky Horror is not a bad movie in any way whatsoever. It’s actually a really, really good movie and very well done as movies go. It IS a little bit transgressive, which MIGHT make you feel funny if you’ve been absolutely cloistered your whole life, but that’s about it.

    I thought the busy work and way-point/charms system in Deadly Premonition really hurt that game. Just walking to highlighted GPS point on a map for no real reason is not efficiency. The Twin Peaks like parts were where it shone, and the zombie-fighting combat sections feel like a completely separate game from that. So it’s cool if this one doesn’t have the obligatory shoot tens of things dead to resume the game sections.