Last week, I began my foray into the cynical world of cyberpunk gaming with a look back to Hideo Kojima’s second game, Snatcher, released for the MSX 2 in 1988. I’ve been playing, and recently completed, the English language version released in 1992 for the Sega CD. Snatcher initially appeared to be an early example in the Japanese visual novel genre, but as I delved deeper into the game, I’ve learned it really embraces the adventure game format and offers players a multitude of ways to interact with the environment. Last week I only glossed over my investigation of the abandoned factory, but looking back to it, I feel this was the scene that really shows players what they’re in for.
In order to even enter the factory, the player must select the same LOOK and EXAMINE options more than once. This counter-intuitive design for menu selection occurs throughout the game. Once inside, the player finds the dead body of would-be partner Jean-Jack Gibson and begins to investigate. A handwritten note in Gibson’s pocket suggests the player should check his home. Metal Gear, Gillian’s robot companion, assists the player by providing further information when pressed, most notably his chemical analysis of the contents of Gibson’s stomach: buffalo meat, another clue. Throughout the game, players need to collect clues to know where to go or who to talk to next. These clues can be collected by using the EXAMINE menu option, by having Metal Gear analyze something in the environment, and even—as found later in the game—by interviewing witnesses and speaking with informants. Later on, the player even uses the computer back at Junker HQ to build a mugshot of a suspect from a variety of facial parts using only the description provided by a witness. Investigation really forms the bulk of gameplay in Snatcher, but the player must employ a variety of methods to succeed, which really helps the player feel like a detective. Conversations also act as a means of developing characters, forging new relationships and, in the case of Gillian, helping the player feel like the lecherous Junker agent. Gillian’s video-phone conversations with his estranged wife Jamie appropriately convey the tension, and hints of remaining chemistry, between them.
Whenever Gillian talks with women, he has the chance to flirt. But flirt too aggressively and conversations can come to an abrupt end. In this scene, Gillian can shamelessly hit on Jean-Jack’s daughter Katrina by selecting the DO SOMETHING dialog choice. But too much flirting will get you kicked out. This proves to be quite the disincentive, as Katrina refuses to let you back in for several real-time minutes.
There’s a depth to the characters in Snatcher that is rarely found even in narrative-heavy games. For this reason, coupled with the game’s detective theme, I won’t reveal any further spoilers. Snatcher should be experienced (or at least watched on YouTube). In my research on Snatcher following the game’s end credits, I learned that a followup was released two years later for the MSX 2. Instead of a sequel, this game—called SD Snatcher--is actually a reimagining of the original as an action RPG. Although the story remains mostly intact, the gameplay is radically different. The art style has also changed from a late ’80s anime aesthetic to the “super deformed” chibi style featuring characters with massive heads atop tiny bodies. The art produces an odd juxtaposition of comical visuals with the dark themes and stomach-churning gore Snatcher is known for.
With its engrossing story, deep characters, and exploration of challenging concepts, Snatcher has remained popular among adventure game and cyberpunk fans alike. The interest generated from the official radio drama, released in 2011, is a testament to the game’s longevity. Known as SDATCHER (no, that’s not a typo) the radio drama is a prequel to the events seen in Snatcher and stars Jean-Jack Gibson as he takes on a case that leads directly into the events of Snatcher including foreshadowing his death. The SDATCHER radio drama attracted a number of industry veterans to the project including Goichi Suda (game designer better known as Suda-51), Akira Yamaoka (music composer for Silent Hill), and Akio Otsuka (voice actor for Solid Snake) who gives voice to Gibson. SDATCHER has been translated into English and is worth the listen for Snatcher fans.
More than just a Blade Runner pastiche, Snatcher features mature storytelling, complex characters, rich environments, and plenty of humor. It’s a Hideo Kojima interactive story that, despite some antiquated game mechanics, shouldn’t be missed by fans of adventure games, narrative-heavy games, or cyberpunk. If you can struggle through the gameplay you’ll be rewarded.