With the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain just around the corner and all of the news surrounding it and creator Hideo Kojima’s apparent departure from Konami I found myself thinking a fair bit about the Metal Gear series and Kojima’s other work. I was considering playing through all of the Metal Gear games again, but as I’d done that only a couple of years ago decided against it and instead thought I would track down some of his other games that I’d not played previously.
The first that came to mind is Snatcher. Originally released in Japan back in 1988, it wasn’t until 1994 that an English language version of the game was produced for the Mega CD. Featuring a complete translation of the script and sequences of recorded dialogue, the Mega CD version of the game remains the only one in English – I never understood why the later Sega Saturn and PlayStation versions we’re also translated as surely the hard work had already been done, and had the PlayStation version been done it would be a much easier game to get hold of these days.
As it is, the Mega CD version wasn’t a huge release at the time with the console already nearing the end of its release life (and let’s face it, it wasn’t the most popular of devices in the first place) meaning that genuine and good quality copies of Snatcher are now pretty hard to come by for a reasonable price.
And that’s really quite a shame, as it means that many people will never get to play it.
An early visual novel adventure, Snatcher takes place in the fictional Japanese city of Neo Kobe in the year 2047. You play as Gillian Seed, newly arrived in Neo Kobe and with no memory of his life before the past three years. Gillian has come to Neo Kobe to join the quasi police team JUNKER, who are dedicated to locating and eradicating Snatchers, robot infiltrators who pose as humans. The setting and tone of the game are prime science fiction, with echoes of Blade Runner and Terminator among others all over the place.
Gillian is introduced to his robotic sidekick, Metal Gear mk.II, given his first mission, to track down missing JUNKER agent Jean-Jack Gibson and is sent on his way to his last known location. In each location that Gillian visits you get a few options on how to interact with the area, exploring and searching for clues rather like a point and click adventure just without either the pointing or clicking.
Occasionally, Gillian will come under attack from enemies and will have to defend himself. With a quick alarm tone from Metal Gear to get ready, a targeting grid will appear on screen and you then have to aim and shoot with the d-pad or, if you happened to have a compatible light gun on the original hardware you could use that. I can only imagine these parts worked better with a gun, as the pad controls were rather clunky and you’d surely die if playing on a device without good recognition of the diagonal directions.
The script throughout the game is really good, with a number of laughs and an involved plot that keeps you guessing until almost the end. There are also some early signs of Kojima’s habitual use of very long cutscenes that the Metal Gear series would go on to be known for. While the earlier chapters aren’t too dense with them, there’s a solid hour near the end of the game that’s all story and no interaction. Not that that’s a problem though, as the story being told is so engaging.
Even playing it today, the acting from the English voice over cast is fairly good, and even more so if you compare it to the quality typically found in other games at the time that generally had badly translated gibberish that was then poorly acted.
It was also quite nice to see how Kojima keeps referencing himself over the years. Both Metal Gear and the club Gillian visits, Outer Heaven, are names pulled from that series, and Metal Gear mk.II himself then gets reused in very similar fashion in Metal Gear Solid 4 over a decade later. Some dialogue indicates that Snatcher is actually set in the future of the Metal Gear series, but that’s probably more of an in joke than a serious attempt at continuity as it wouldn’t line up with anything Kojima has done with Metal Gear since.
Throughout its many releases, Snatcher had a number of overhauls to the art which does show through in a few places. Some of the main art for Gillian in particular doesn’t quite match how he appears in the portraits that show while he’s talking and you can tell the older art when it’s on screen along with the new parts. It’s not that the original art is bad, it’s just that the newer bits have much better colouring and shading that make it stick out to me. It could be worse though, as some characters in the PlayStation version were completely redrawn with an anime style while others were left the same which sounds maddeningly inconsistent.
I liked Snatcher a whole lot, which made me a little sad when I came to the end of it as I knew that there were no other games in the series (the Japanese only prequel radio series doesn’t count, and I can’t understand it anyway) despite it ending with a solid hook for a potential sequel and given that we’re now over 20 years past the release the odds of there ever being one are very slim.