Based on: Hideo Kojima's love for Blade Runner, Bubblegum Crisis and chatty dialogue.
by blitzchamp | Posted June 1, 2008
If someone were to ask for a top-ten list of memorable games from the Sega CD platform, most people would struggle to fill it halfway. The sad fact is that coming up with even half a dozen notable releases from that dark era of gaming history is beyond the capacity of most gamers. Even the good ones tend to be forgotten. Snatcher is the perfect example of a great game subjected to imperfect timing.
Director Hideo Kojima could have licensed Snatcher action figures, a first-person shooter side story, and a CD with Snatcher's excellent soundtrack, peppering the media with ads for the game, but nothing could have saved the game from the inevitable doom borne of its Sega CD media. Thus it stands as a hidden gem passed over by the majority of the American gamers. At least it stood a chance, unlike the original MSX version, which never saw release outside Japan. Yet even so, those who know of it mostly discovered it longer after its release, when it had achieved a cult-like following through Internet lore.
Snatcher did in 1994 what would be praised many years later as new innovations. Metal Gear Solid would be revered as the first game that effectively implemented full voice acting, but its uncle Snatcher achieved this feat four years earlier. The animation was a high point of the era, eschewing crass FMV for lavish, hand-drawn bitmap graphics with vibrant colors and a style on par with most TV anime. It's revered for its comic book-like interface -- though it's far too interactive to be written off as something so flat and dated as print media.
The game is set in Neo Kobe City, a city of the future which has become overrun with a deadly epidemic. World domination is a common theme in Kojima games, and Snatcher is no exception. The titular Snatchers are robots that seek control over humans by murdering them, mimicking their skin and appearance, then replacing its victim's role in the world. Like vampires, they avoid exposure to sunlight, as UV rays are damaging to their sensitive skin. This weakness leaves Snatchers vulnerable and easier to find. The government has formed the JUNKER unit in attempts to stop snatchers and protect the people of Neo Kobe City.
The storyline is packed with revenge, love, power, and heroes, without extreme complications of certain other Kojima games that leave players baffled upon completing the game. Hideo Kojima was interested in sci-fi and noir themes, but was still fresh enough to story development that he hadn't yet over-developed it. Thus players were free to focus more on the simple but engrossing gameplay, without being too distracted by an obtuse storyline with layered meanings. The game has its share of plot twists, but they're manageable, leaving players shocked without the suspicion that the plot is completely insane. The music perfectly complements the scenes it accompanies to create both tension and relief as necessary, while keeping the player focused on the case at hand.
The player assumes the role of Gillian Seed, a man who has lost his memories of his past and has taken up a career as a JUNKER -- an undercover detective fighting to stop the Snatcher invasion that plagues Neo Kobe City. In doing so, he hopes to remember the truth of his past. JUNKER's mission is a difficult one, as corruption pervades society in every spot where Snatchers have infiltrated. Seed's support system is mostly comprised of people who do little more than offer social and moral encouragement. Mika Slayton fills the role that Mei Ling would later share with Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid -- a potentially flirtation role, depending on the player's choices, with results that can go far beyond merely having her tongue stuck out in annoyance. His ex-wife Jamie occasionally corresponds with him via computer monitor, reminding the player of a lost past yet to be uncovered. Few among Snatcher's female cast are aggressive romanticists; rather, they're reserved, sweet, gentle women who believe in the greater good. Meanwhile, a man named Random Hajile functions as a "Deep Throat" to Gillian Seed, randomly appearing and helping him when the case seems lost.
The cast consists largely of average people, creating a milieu to which the player is better able to relate. Gillian Seed possesses nothing unusual for an average adult; his skills aren't readily apparent on their own but instead depend on the player to be realized. Thus te players’ skills determine how accurately Gillian shoots, or how often he ends up lost in the city looking for his next clue. His every achievement is due to the player's participation, making it easier to appreciate him for what he is -- not a super-hero, but rather a common man fighting for the greater good. The player is even given the control to decide the fate of others, with separate endings similar to those of Metal Gear Solid.
Seed is entrusted with many assets in the course of his quest. Henry Benson is the intellect behind most of these tools, despite clearly being a troubled intellectual with a drinking problem. His most valuable creation is Metal Gear, or "Metal," a small automaton who keeps Gillian company against the dark forces behind the Snatchers, nags at Gillian (and the player) to stay focused, analyzes data, lights dark hallways, saves progress, and in many ways proves to be more useful than its own assigned JUNKER. Metal gears eerie similarities to Hal Emmerich, a pre-echo in the Kojima universe. Gillian also has his monitor, which Metal Gear fans would liken to that series' Codec. It operates on numbers rather than frequencies, and it largely fills a comic relief role, as most of the game's narrative dialogue transpires in the course of face-to-face meetings between Gillian and his contacts. His sidearm, a handgun, serves as the basis of the game's only real action element: When enemies approach, Gillian enters a first-person view and players select areas to shoot at as foes jump out. It's a minimal approach to action, but it's used effectively.
Players are given the freedom to travel throughout Neo Kobe City via a turbocycle. This causes the process of searching for clues to feel reminiscent of other urban detective games such as The Portopia Serial Murder Case? and Déjà Vu. As in these earlier titles, Snatcher's menus provide your only interface and interactivity for the majority of the game -- the brief shooting scenes obviously excluded. The freedom to explore Neo Kobe City may lead to some frustrating dead-ends, but it prevents the adventure from being a completely linear path from start to finish. Players explore of their own volition, with a satisfying sense of accomplishment when the right path eventually comes to light.
Snatcher is a resounding success as an adventure. With a great story, eerie music, superb voice acting, and puzzling mysteries, it a brilliant adventure that never received the attention it deserved. Its popularity in Japan has spawned many remakes and even a spin-off adventure called Snatcher SD. Kojima occasionally references Snatcher in interviews even now, and many fans of the game and genre hope that one day the Snatcher legend will find its way into the current generation -- perhaps in the mysterious Project S he's working on with Suda 51.