Hideo Kojima is a freaking genius. Is his work a little indulgent? Maybe. Does it have the tendency to be bat-flip insane? Most definitely. Yet, there is no denying that the man deserves all the credit in the world for being bold enough to push the video game industry in directions it had only flirted with before he arrived on the scene. Snatcher, one of the earliest games attached to his name, both solidified his unique style as a game designer and proved just how forward thinking the man truly was. Despite only seeing a Western release on Sega’s ultimately doomed peripheral, the Sega CD, the game has left behind a legacy that cannot be denied. And since my fellow Retroware TV writers and I will be celebrating the anniversary of the Sega CD soon, I figured now would be as good a time as any to talk about this here masterpiece. So, without further ago, I give you (in no particular order) four reasons why one of the Sega CD’s best games was ahead of the curve.
1. Emphasis on Slow Pacing and Atmosphere
Forgive my repetition, but Konami deserves all the credit in the world for taking a risk and releasing a story-focused adventure game during the height of the 16-bit era. Even a game like Metal Gear, which forced players to employ tactics while playing, featured plenty of gun battles and action scenes to keep the gamers of the time happy. Snatcher, on the other hand, has almost no combat or any of the traditional thrills video games employed during that time. The closest thing the game offers to action are shooting gallery sequences that, honestly, feel a bit like an afterthought in the grand scheme of the game’s design. Some may see this lack of combat as a negative quality, but in actuality Kojima was experimenting with techniques that would become invaluable to future developers and designers. By downplaying the combat, the game allows the player to fully soak in the atmosphere and flavor of the game world without hassle. Add to that the game’s deliberate pacing, and you get an experience that forces players to settle down and get immersed in what is happening in the game. Later games such as Journey and Shadow of the Colossus would eventually use this technique to better effect, but Snatcher did it first and don’t you forget it.
2. Attempts to Tell a Mature and Sophisticated Story
Back in the day (on consoles, at least,) the most you could ask for out of a game’s story was a brief text crawl before the credits or maybe some brief interludes between levels. Snatcher not only features an overwhelming amount of story, but also incorporates elements of cyberpunk and hard science fiction to make the story as impactful and believable as possible. (For instance, the game is titled after and revolves around human replicants who can die from sunburn due to their artificial skin being sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. No, seriously.) Whether or not the game succeeds on this ambition can be debated, but there is no debating that the game had some serious cajones for even attempting such dense storytelling during an era when video games were still, by and large, considered children’s entertainment. Which brings us to our next point.
3. Violent and Brutal Without Being Over-the-Top
When Snatcher was released in 1994 for the Sega CD, Mortal Kombat had already made its mark on popular culture. This meant that the general public’s idea of violence in video games looked less like Blade Runner and more like an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon. For the most part, games of this era (and even the current era) use violence as a means of exploitation to stir up controversy and boost sales. While the violence in Snatcher was certainly controversial for its time, its actual use of that violence is far beyond the childish antics of Mortal Kombat or its many imitators. Featuring several graphic scenes of murder and gore, the game was certainly not the most kid friendly offering on Sega’s peripheral. However, this use of violence made the game’s atmosphere all the more depressing and urgent. This, coupled with the game’s previously mentioned pacing, made sure the player was on the edge of their seat. The moment you see your first corpse in the game, you start to leave behind any notion of this being a fun little sci-fi romp and instead start treating it like a serious mystery. Snatcher was basically Heavy Rain before Heavy Rain was even an idea. At least until you start hitting on cute anime girls. Speaking of which. . .
4. The Dating Sim Aspects
Yes, you read that right. While some may scoff at the very idea of incorporating elements from a genre as ridiculed as the dating sim, the fact is that many games have been able to use these elements to great emotional effect. Snatcher may not have been the best at this, but it was among the first and that is all that matters. Throughout the game, the player is able to have various conversations with the female characters in the game. These conversations are able to branch off into multiple paths depending on the dialogue choices that are chosen. While most boil down to simple exposition, some can lead to serious consequences and cannot be taken lightly. Act too pervy around Neo-Kobe’s eligible young ladies, and you are likely to be forced out of a key characters house for quite some time as punishment. Games such as Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and the Persona series have all taken this concept and ran with it, expanding player-NPC romance to newfound heights. So, thank you, Hideo Kojima, for helping make all of our virtual dreams come true (in the name of art, of course.)
Snatcher is one of the only Sega CD games people can wholeheartedly recommend without a hint of irony and it is not hard to see why. With some of the best storytelling of the era, an involving story that actually attempts real drama, and gameplay elements that acted as precursors for industry changing innovations down the road, Snatcher is an underrated gem in the truest sense of the term. If any of you have a chance, I highly recommend checking it out. If not for its historical significance, then for the good laugh you’ll get seeing Gillian Seed bat zero with the ladies of Neo Kobe.