Welcome to Playing Text, a weekly column dedicated to all things visual novel and text-based games!
Apologies for the lack of an article last week; the holidays are a busy time for me and this year was no exception. I hope everyone had a great time during the holidays!
This week I wanted to cover one of my favorite games of all time: Snatcher. Originally created for the PC-88 and MSX2 in 1988 by Hideo Kojima, Snatcher is a text-based adventure with heavy influences from seminal Science Fiction films such as Blade Runner.
Released on systems unpopular in the West, Snatcher seemed to be a game that was destined to remain in Japan. However, when the game was remade for the Sega CD in 1992, Konami put the game in Jeremy Blaustein’s capable hands and it was released in English in 1994.
So what is this game anyway?
Playing as Gillian Seed (hilariously pronounced like “Jillian” in the Japanese version) you take the job of a JUNKER: a detective assigned to seek out Snatchers masquerading as humans and eliminate them. While that is blatantly the same as Deckard’s job in Blade Runner other elements are present here. The way the Snatchers take over peoples’ lives is very much like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and their look and much of their abilities are very similar to The Terminator.
While I will attest to Blade Runner being one of my favorite movies of all time as one of the reasons I love this game, it does do a lot to differentiate itself from its influences. Almost right from the get-go you set off on your first assignment, and it is one of the most tense moments I remember experiencing in a video game. This was also the moment that sucked me into the game so hard that I played through to the end without stopping.
Numerous characters appear throughout the game who are either a great help or a major hindrance. One of these characters is Gillian’s wife, Jamie, whom Gillian separated from due to a past incident. She is not always present in the story but she is one of the central figures in the plot and a pretty interesting character in general. Another major character in the game is Metal Gear Mk.2, a goofy little robot that will provide numerous useful functions – such as saving your game – while simultaneously being a little sassbot.
Metal Gear had the potential to turn into a character like Cedric from King’s Quest V; a character so annoying that you want to delete them from the game forever or just stop playing. Thankfully, I think he was handled in such a way as to never annoy you that much, despite all the sass, but there’s probably someone out there who can’t stand him. Also yes, the same Metal Gear shows up in Metal Gear Solid 4. Now you know!
Snatcher is also one of the vanishingly small group of games that supported play with The Justifier: Sega’s version of a light gun. The usage is fairly limited with only a shooting range and a small number of shooting sequences but it’s still pretty fun to gun things down while pretending to be a JUNKER. The game designers also made it entirely possible to play the game without the gun whatsoever – instead letting you use the controller to shoot – which was definitely a nice bit of foresight.
The graphics of the game vary wildly depending on which version you play, the Sega Saturn version looking markedly different than the PC-88 version for example. However, I can safely say my favourite version is the Sega CD one; it includes improved pixel graphics from the original with some extras to enhance the experience. Those who aren’t quite as enamored with retro art as I am can play the Saturn or PlayStation 1 versions for more updated graphics.
The music of Snatcher is great and helps set the tone really well; it is also quite popular, with numerous releases of it on multiple formats. There are also re-recorded and arrange versions out there, but my favorite will always be the original with its jazzy snyth chiptunes.
There’s also full voice acting in the English version and.. it’s GOOD! It’s abundantly clear that Jeremy Blaustein, the producer of Snatcher, really cared about this project and worked hard to make it awesome. It’s extremely strange to hear good voice acting in a localized game from 1994. It’s even stranger to realize that it is even better than many more recent titles!
Not only is the voice acting done well, the translation is a cut above the rest as well. Anyone who remembers playing localized games in 1994 or has seen the All Your Base flash video will know that translations at this time were chock full of nonsense Engrish and major grammatical errors. Under Blaustein’s direction however, Snatcher completely avoided that problem with well-written dialogue and… wait for it … actual wit!
In true Kojima style, the more that is revealed the crazier everything starts to get. It certainly doesn’t hit Metal Gear Solid 2 levels with Kojima metaphorically taking a dump on the script but it doesn’t quite play out like anything you might expect. There is one important plot element that is easily guessed in the English version – an unavoidable problem due to the nature of translation – but it doesn’t ruin too much (you’ll know it if you see it).
An extra interesting tidbit about the game is that it was released during the time when Congressional Hearings about violence in video games were taking place. Weirdly, a tame game like Night Trap was focused on whereas Snatcher was ignored, despite featuring some really graphic depictions of violence. Perhaps if the localization team hadn’t carefully cut some of the partial nudity present in the game it might have gotten caught up in the controversies itself.
Sadly, Snatcher was released on a system that was not particularly popular and was fast dying out. Game sales were quite atrocious (said to be only a few thousand) and thus Snatcher fell into relative obscurity for many years. With the runaway success of Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid series and a fan translation of Kojima’s other text-based adventure – Policenauts – interest in Snatcher has grown.
Unfortunately for most, the English version of Snatcher on the Sega CD is very expensive due to its rarity (mine cost $150!) and there has been no re-release forthcoming. Those who wish to experience it are often relegated to playing it on emulators or pirated copies. Hopefully Konami notices the burgeoning fanbase for this game and releases it digitally. Perhaps they could even add in the cartoonish sorta-remake SD Snatcher too!
While Snatcher may have been largely forgotten in the West, Japan certainly didn’t forget about it. Suda51, creator of games like No More Heroes and Killer is Dead, wrote a Snatcher radio play in 2012 titled Sdatcher. Some really cool fans took it upon themselves to release the entire play on youtube with English subtitles, so go check that out after you’ve played the original!
With its above average localization, great characters, crazy plot and amazing graphics, Snatcher is a game that deserves to be excavated from the past and played. This really goes double to fans of Kojima; you really must see what he was up to before Metal Gear Solid was even a twinkle in his eye.
That’s it for this week, what do you Raptors think of Snatcher? Do you agree that it’s one of the best games ever (if you don’t I’ll disown you! teehee)? What would you like to see up next?