Exploring Hideo Kojima’s flagship graphic adventure
Cyberpunk – A subgenre of science fiction in a futuristic setting that tends to focus on a combination of lowlife and high tech, featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as artificial intelligence and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.
I felt like I should include a definition of Cyberpunk before kicking off my review of Snatcher for the Sega CD, largely because I have heard this term used to describe not only this game, but a number of others in the science fiction genre. It was never entirely clear to me what this meant (along with the term “Steampunk”), so I wanted to clarify this for anyone who may be reading that isn’t entirely sure what that particular genre entails. I think the most relevant and notable example of a Cyberpunk science fiction story would have to be the 1982 film, Blade Runner. If you haven’t seen this film, I highly encourage you to do so. With that said, Snatcher, released in North America for the Sega CD in 1994, has a plot line that fits the above definition of a Cyberpunk story.
This Konami developed title first saw the light of day way back in 1988 on various Japanese home computers. It was eventually remade for the PC-Engine CD in 1992 and this is the version that was localized for the one and only western audience release on the Sega CD in 1994. Snatcher is played in the style of a graphic adventure/visual novel where the gameplay is primarily relegated to using the text based interface (as opposed to a point and click style) to investigate your environment for clues, talk to characters and make decisions based on the information you’ve learned.
Typical menu items are look, investigate, move and ask, among others. There are sporadic shooting gallery style elements to Snatcher that require you to take aim at various enemies on a grid and blast them with your gun. This can be accomplished simply through the use of your controller button combined with the D-pad, or you can use the Justifier light gun if you own one. I tried both methods and found that the Justifier worked very poorly when trying to aim at enemies at the top of the screen/grid. I re-calibrated my gun several times and the end result was the same.
The general plot of Snatcher is that you play as Gillian Seed, a “Junker” who is part of a select team chosen to hunt and kill “Snatchers”, robot-humanoid hybrids that take over the bodies of existing humans in an attempt to infiltrate the high society world of mid-21st century Neo Kobe City in Japan — imagine Invasion of the Body Snatchers but with a deadly robot twist, ala The Terminator.
Gillian, along with Jamie his estranged wife, have awoken from a cryogenic sleep with no memories of their prior life. Gillian has taken the Junker assignment in an effort to help jog memories of his past, as he feels they are somehow connected to the Snatchers. Snatchers have become a recent threat to society after a catastrophic biological event occurring in Russia that wiped out a large percentage of the Earth’s population. The connection between these two events remains an integral mystery that must be solved.
Snatcher attempts to provide the player the sense of an open world environment but you quickly learn that it’s not as open as you originally thought. As you move from static scene to static scene, you’ll discover that you can often move freely from room to room within a certain location, but your trusty sidekick, the robot navigator Metal Gear, will let you know if you haven’t done a sufficient job of investigating before moving on.
While this can sometimes be frustrating when you feel like you’ve investigated and looked and asked to death, it’s actually a welcome gameplay feature in my opinion. I would rather know I still need to accomplish something where I’m at than waste time running around blindly trying to figure out what to do next. Snatcher does an excellent job of slowly but efficiently providing key puzzle pieces and clues that allow both you and your character, Gillian, to come to important realizations at the same time.
The act of repeating the same commands over and over is one of Snatcher’s less endearing quirks, but after some early frustrations you quickly realize that utilizing the same commands over and over until you begin to see the same responses is just part of your character’s learning process. Once the game starts repeating responses to commands, you can usually assume it it safe to move on to another command.
This completion of commands, or series of commands in some cases, will either result in important new information that points Gillian in the right direction or it will be a dead end. Important clues are evident by a special sound effect which lets the player know they need to pay attention and either write the clue down (if old school) or take a photo of the screen (if new school) to ensure that information is retained. Sometimes Metal Gear will keep track of information or clues for you, and when this occurs he notifies Gillian that he’s saved it for future recollection and use.
The game’s music is standard 16-bit fare and is used effectively to set the tone between light, dark, and dangerous moments in the game. Musical cues are also helpful in preparing the player for shooting scenes and punctuating moments of violence, which Konami doesn’t shy away from. There’s one early scene that is jarring in its violence since the game doesn’t prepare the player for this level of shockingly graphic gore. The change in music may not have prepared me for that scene, but it certainly prepared me for future scenes of this nature.
Most Memorable Character Trait
The game’s protagonist, Gillian Seed, is a grade A horn dog who will incessantly flirt with any and all of the game’s three main female characters. His estranged wife, Jamie, the young daughter of one of his co-workers, Katrina, and the Junker Squad’s receptionist, Mika are all subjected to Gillian’s less-than-subtle advances. Not to mention other characters, such as the beautiful former actress-turned-exotic dancer that Gillian must question to get crucial information.
You can choose to flirt as much or as little as you want with these characters and the flirting is typically met with a combination of polite banter and a sense of resignation and disgust at Gillian’s inability to keep relationships with women on the professional level. I once flirted with Katrina (who is the 18-year-old daughter of a recently deceased co-worker!) just to see what would happen, and she got so angry with me that she kicked me out of her home. I was afraid I’d ruined my chances of completing the game so I made sure to save my progress to a different spot on the my back-up cartridge just in case. Luckily for me, Katrina didn’t hold a grudge for too long as she eventually needed my help and pretended like the awkwardness of a much older man pursuing sex with the teenage daughter of a co-worker that was very recently killed in the line of duty never happened. Whew!
Snatcher is one of those rare games that managed to break out of the graphic novel adventure ghetto to become a flagship title for the Sega CD. Due to its rarity, the cost of owning an original copy has priced most gamers in North America and Europe out of playing it using original software and hardware, but don’t let that stop you from trying. Snatcher’s dark, dystopian future (is there any other kind?) sets the tone perfectly, providing players with the feeling that something much bigger is going beyond your character’s imagination.
Favorite Gameplay Element
Snatcher is a graphically violent, yet amusing game. While its plot of deadly robots murdering and taking over the bodies of humans, combined with amnesia, marital separation, and biological warfare is no laughing matter, the game’s writers took great effort in creating a game with plenty of lighthearted moments. Most of these exist between Gillian and Metal Gear, the snarky robot navigator that doubles as your save point. The two have an immediate rapport and Metal Gear has no issues with giving Gillian shit when his actions call for it (and they often do).
With that said, there are plenty of other character interactions that could be considered humorous. Gillian’s main informant, Napoleon, is another snarky character who offers some gut-busting lines. The writing in Snatcher doesn’t consist of your typical groan-inducing, poorly translated and poorly acted video game voice overs. There are certainly cringeworthy lines and deliveries, but when that occurs you can see they were put there on purpose. Some lines in the game were written to lighten the mood or to add levity to a particularly bleak plot development. All in all, the writers did a wonderful job — not only with the plot, but also the plot transitions and dialogue required to push the story forward.
Most Difficult Section of the Game
Without giving much away, Snatcher’s ending is epic. And long. So very, very long. Once you reach the final section of the game, save your progress as often as you can. Metal Gear will inform you that this could be the last opportunity for you to save and he’s not joking. After much exploration and discovery inside an abandoned church, Metal Gear leaves your side to prepare for his final purpose. From this point on, there is no saving and the rest of the game must be played all in one sitting.
Be prepared and ready to set aside a good hour to get through the last section of the game, as it involves by far the most difficult and intense shooting sections, followed by an opportunity to inadvertently end your game by accidentally shooting someone very near and dear to you (I did and it sucked). If you can make it past all of that, you are treated to a lengthy denouement of all that has gone on throughout the game, with lots and lots and lots of dialogue to help fill in the blanks. I naturally expected there to be one last action segment so I kept my trigger finger warmed up, but it never happened. If I would have known, I would have been able to take in the final 45 minutes of this amazing graphic novel adventure in a much more relaxed state.