Video games come and go, but Goichi "Suda51" Suda’s Killer7 is a title that’s never truly left my mind. It’s a work that consistently keeps the player questioning what the game is really trying to say, while providing an experience that is as meaningful as it is ridiculous. No game has ever truly been able to fill the shoes that Killer7 left and I doubt any game ever will. After years of playing the game on the Nintendo Gamecube, it’s finally available on Steam in high definition for newcomers and fans alike to experience.
Killer7 is an action adventure that’s structured like an on-rails survival horror experience. Movement plays out through fixed camera angles similar to the classic Resident Evils, while combat is in the first-person. It’s a compromise of design that creates an action-horror hybrid through the tension of a limited line of sight and the pulse-pounding thrill that comes from the first-person perspective. Admittedly, the unconventional nature of the controls makes for a slightly steep learning curve. However, it’s certainly worth the effort as the game finds the perfect balance between action and suspense.
Combat is very straightforward with a basic aim and shoot set-up that restricts movement when aiming in a similar vein to Resident Evil 4, but in the first-person. The enemies are varied, usually requiring the player to approach each encounter with a specific mindset. Boss fights provide exciting battles of accuracy and quick thinking as each of them has its own unique weakness, while evoking a strong sense of urgency due to the time limit of killing or being killed. Areas consist of puzzles utilizing the many talents of the Killer7 as well as some investigative puzzles. Oftentimes, puzzles require exploration in order to gather information to be able to solve them.
The player takes the role of an elite assassination unit known as the Killer7 whose primary goal is to eliminate the terrorist organization called the Heaven Smile. The game has a notably diverse playable cast in the form of many personas of the Killer7. Suda51 crafts a narrative experience that hits hard, while imbuing meaning into each cutscene. The story really requires the player’s own interpretation and analysis. This is a result of Suda’s approach to the design as well as the fact that about only a third of the story made it into the final product.
Story in Killer7 is the Suda51’s consciousness plastered all over the screen. It’s a mess of artistic symbolism, political implications, heavily-stylized action, absurd characters, and so much more. On both macro and micro scales, Killer7 provides fulfilling and monumental moments in video game storytelling. There’s a lot to take in from of the narrative and the political commentary, which left me pondering about the history behind the relationship between the United States and Japan, as well as Japan’s role in the world after the World War II. On a more local level, the game presents a powerful story about facing one’s troubled past, which fits nicely with Suda51’s trademark Kill the Past theme.
Style bleeds out of Killer7. Everything about the game exudes an eccentricity that can only be made possible by Grasshopper Manufacture. Visually, the cel-shaded graphics evoke a comic book inspired aesthetic through their near extreme levels of contrast and shadowing. The remastered graphics look stunning, while maintaining the original look. While it all remains true to the source material, the game’s lack of fleshed out graphics settings and the need for an external graphic user interface rather than full settings integration make the port feel a little unpolished.
Composer Masafumi Takada has worked closely on many of Grasshopper Manufacture's games, such as No More Heroes, The Silver Case, and Killer7. He is an absolute genius when it comes to weaving style into a soundtrack. Along with co-composer Jun Fukuda, Takada crafts an unforgettable track list full of composed, atmospheric, and weighty music. The soundtrack finds the perfect balance between cool and calm, while matching the game’s distinct peaks of insanity.
Audio design in Killer7 plays an important role. Aside from the fantastic music, the sound effects leave a very strong impression. Since the Heaven Smiles are invisible terrorists, hearing their distinct laughs provide an indication of their presence before any visual clues. Every sound effect, from changing the channel on the television to running into an unsolved puzzle, subtly worked its way into my psyche. Unfortunately, the default sound mixing in the remaster occasionally faltered at times, but the game does provide audio settings to correct this issue.
The voice acting deserves a mention as it hasn’t aged at all. Every voiced cutscene and even the in-game one-liners are delivered in such a way that demands attention. The dialogue carefully treads the line between absurd and astonishing. Throughout the various locales are psyche remnants, voiced by a distorted speech synthesis program adding an eerie, garbled tone to every line. This is a brilliant creative decision that spices up the many bizarre, borderline esoteric conversations.
Killer7 is a work of art that surprised many in the past. Now that it’s been remastered for the PC, a lot of new players and old fans alike can finally experience the game in gorgeous high definition. Personally, the game has always been a landmark title to me that set a creative standard that has yet to be topped. It’s absolutely polarizing through the ways it breaks conventions in both the story and the gameplay. Overall, Killer7 is a game I absolutely recommend to those interested in layered, artistic experiences or highly-stylized games with surprises at every turn.