Originally part of the Capcom Five (Resident Evil 4, Viewtiful Joe, P.N.03, Dead Phoenix) which was spearheaded by Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil series, Devil May Cry), Killer7 was the only game not developed in-house and was handed over to Grasshopper Manufacture and Goichi Suda, who had the incredibly rare freedom to craft the game exactly the way he wanted. Killer7 has dysfunctional gameplay, a memorable art style, and a story steeped in political conspiracy, societal intrigue, and a tendency to make you ask, “Did that just happen???” Killer7 is one of the weirdest video games I have ever played, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now, PC players will get to enjoy the 2005 cult classic in its remastered and optimized glory.
This game is one of my all-time favorites. It is also very dark in tone and contains mature situations like graphic deaths, depictions of rape and child trafficking. If you are not comfortable with the subject material, I would recommend skipping this game. That being said, if you’re interested in the details related to the game, I highly recommend going through this link of the supplemental book, Hand in Killer7. It contains spoilers for the game’s story but it describes events and characters of interest that Suda was not able to include.
While not a stark “God versus Devil” analogy, it is clear that Kun Lan and Harman Smith are beings of higher power. Kun Lan has a power titled “Hand of God” which is what allows him to create the explosive Heaven Smiles. Harman Smith exhibits supernatural authority as the seven personalities you are able to play as throughout the game have their own voice and identity, Garcian acting as the interactive mediator before every mission. Harman also has the “God Killer” power which serves as the opposing equivalent to Kun Lan’s Hand of God. Kun Lan and Harman are also supposed to serve as proxies of eastern and western culture respectively. This contrast is shown in their allegiances; Harman to the US government, Kun Lan to the Japanese Liberal Party. Any allegories present appear to be surface-level and are only meant to be devices for Harman and Kun Lan to symbolize. There is also the Remnant Psyches that appear throughout the game. These NPCs are ghosts who were victims of the Smith Syndicate’s assassinations and occasionally appear to offer guidance and insight. The significance is that each Remnant Psyche was murdered at some point by the Smith Syndicate therefore it’s possible that Harman carries some guilt for the lives he took. It is also possible that these Remnant Psyches simply carried deep attachment to the living world. It is shown that they can choose to leave for the other world at any point they want to. There is also an antagonist in the game’s third chapter who leads a utopia and refers to his utopia as a “new faith.” One follower of this utopia refers to the antagonist as “Our father, Our Messiah.”
All the usual suspects are present throughout the game. “F***” is dropped a lot during game play and is the most prominent expletive in the game. S**t and b*****d come up rarely in cut-scenes though b*****d can come up often when using Dan’s counterattack; Kaede, Con, and Coyote use f*** when they counterattack.
Blood is a key visual and game play element of the game, so expect a lot of it to show up. Heaven Smile variations are the enemies you fight, with the exception of a few human characters as bosses. When you defeat Smiles, they fall and explode into an assortment of colored dots or a solid colored pool of dots if you hit their weak point. Also, characters will either die in explosions or by gunfire. Blood will appear but the character models will not show damage other than bullet holes or they completely disappear. However, there are a handful of graphic deaths that occur in the first chapter. One man is blown up by a Heaven Smile and his decapitated head is shown falling on-screen. One woman dies and falls face down to show that her entire back has been blown off revealing her spinal column and internal organs. Another woman has her bottom half blown up, weakly asking for help before dying. In a later chapter, two older men are shot but then come back to life like zombies but still sentient and capable of speech. Near the end of the game, while not explicitly graphic, one man is killed and embalmed. A recurring character named Susie who gives you items will reminisce about the times she had mutilated her victims.
Women in Killer7 are dressed either slightly or very provocatively. In the beginning of the third chapter, a man has a moment that he describes as ejaculating. There are three mentions of rape: one active cut-scene but not visibly shown at the beginning of the third chapter, indication of rape having occurred shows up in the penultimate chapter, and the third mention is a story told by a character in the same chapter depicting a woman attempting to force herself on her own son.
Killer7 follows the escapades of Harman Smith and his seven other personalities as the Smith Syndicate, also known as “killer7,” as the dark hand of the United States Government. The story takes place in an alternate timeline where all international conflict has been settled by disposing of all nuclear weapons, a new committee is formed to shut down public use of the Internet and all forms of air travel, replacing it with an intercontinental expressway system, and Japan is in a civil war between two political parties, giving the US government an opportunity to sever relations. You are sent out to assassinate individuals deemed dangerous by the US government and prevent whatever their schemes may be.
…Did you get all that? Good, let’s get started.
The best way to describe Killer7 technically as a rail shooter adventure game with puzzles and a cinematic story. When it first came out in 2005, the game had a mixed reception. Some praising its unique game play, others calling it rigid and repetitive but worth sticking with for the story. One thing I will state as one of the game’s greatest strengths is its visual style. Whether or not you enjoy the story, the game has a memorable cinematic style and it’s not just in the cut-scenes.
The texture rework and the adjustment to 16:9 aspect ratio enhances the game very well. The frame rate maintains 60 fps fairly well apart from the reload animation running at 30 fps. However, drawn animated cut-scenes that play later in the game were not redone but were upgraded to fit 16:9 aspect ratio.
Though you can play with keyboard and mouse, you will have to look up the keyboard configuration from the menu since there is currently no way to view controls during game play. You will want to since the number keys 1-6 allow you to quick change between the six personalities you can play as. You can also heal yourself quickly using the H key. If you would prefer the original feel, you can still use a controller; personally, I had a much better time with the keyboard and mouse since I don’t normally play first-person shooters.
Game play is pretty straightforward; your enemies are the Heaven Smiles that will lumber towards you and explode if they get close. Shooting them from afar obviously takes care of them easily but you’ll need to aim for the yellow weak points on their bodies in order to gain blood, the currency for the game that allows you to upgrade stats for each personality.
Every personality plays a little differently: Dan and Coyote Smith play fairly similar, Kaede has a long range zoom and can absorb blood into her body or release blood from her body which is used to solve a few puzzles throughout the game, Con uses dual pistols and has the ability to speed through areas, Kevin uses knives so he never has to reload and can turn invisible, Mask de Smith uses dual grenade launchers and is able to power through most enemies at the sacrifice of not gaining blood. Each Smith has their place in the game if you feel you have trouble with the enemies in certain areas. Bosses are situational enemies, defeated by figuring out their pattern or solving the puzzle of their battle.
Puzzles are fairly simple as well. You need to collect Soul Shells to gain access to the boss, much like the boss keys in Legend of Zelda games. Other puzzles function the same way, needing an item found within the chapter that acts as the key or equipping an elemental ring to retrieve a soul shell. Navigation can be tricky in later chapters but thankfully the map is accessible at any time by pressing the M key and shows you points of interest in case anything was missed.
The soundtrack is one of my most favorite aspects of this game. Masafumi Takada creates a wonderful ambient soundtrack that accomplishes its purpose beautifully. Moody earworms like “Blackburn“ help you settle into the environment while reminding you that you’re in enemy territory; meanwhile, high-energy tracks like “Oh My Julia“ get you pumped for the action ensuing. The soundtrack is sets the mood while not distracting the player from cut-scenes. I highly recommend purchasing the remastered soundtrack on Steam if you can.
The story is the main event of playing through this game but I have to commend Grasshopper Manufacture for making the game accommodate the player so there’s no intimidation by the unique control scheme. I do not want to spoil too much about the story since that is the main draw of the game, but the plot picks up once the premise is introduced in the second chapter. Talking to all the Remnant Psyches will offer pieces of insight to the background of the Smith Syndicate, Harman, Garcian, and the world at large.
Travis Bell, a recurring character, is the expositor of the game and was the Smith Syndicate’s first assassination target they had. He is the most interesting of the psyches to talk to as he appears to know more about the character than the player would. Other psyches you run into are either “living” help messages if the player gets stuck at a puzzle or is unsure where to go next or supplemental exposition for the chapter.
This is easily the best and weakest portion of the game. While all dialogue with the psyches is completely optional, some must be engaged to advance in the chapter. The dialogue is also displayed one line at a time which, depending on your reading speed, can make it difficult to follow since there is no voice acting but filtered audio replacing the speech audio and the lines advance as the psyche speaks, not at the player’s convenience. What makes this worse is that some Remnant Psyches are a one-time-only conversation and you have no way to reread their dialogue if you missed something they mentioned. It’s really unfortunate since information is sparse on the background of these characters.
As I said before, the cinematography in the in-engine cut-scenes is visually striking. The stark contrast, color scheme, use of shading, and the positioning of the frame is so impressive it honestly makes me forget that the game is more than a decade old. Thanks to the texture and aspect ratio rework, the cut-scenes feel even more enhanced for the experience. Some shots give the cut-scene more space and makes all the difference. It really is a shame that the drawn animation could not be redone because they would’ve benefited from the changes.
In regards to the story itself, I think Suda intentionally chose to create this type of story because it addresses subjects that are hard to discuss normally. The existence of people who are truly evil to the core, that nothing is as it appears to be, and a sense of dread that no matter how much society tries to change itself, the cycle of violence and deceit will continue. The third chapter and the last chapter offer some sense of hope that independence can be achieved but it will mean nothing if the free individual succumbs to darkness. The depictions of rape, child trafficking, murder, and subterfuge are not trying to sensationalize but visualize the inherent savagery people can create if they choose to submit to their desires.
Obviously, many details in the story are left unanswered and that can be frustrating but I don’t think that was the point. I think Suda just wanted to make a genuine story that expressed himself and what influenced his passion…or it could be that he just wanted to make a really interesting video game, and that’s perfectly fine, too. I think that any type of creation; whether it be a video game, a film, a book, a drawing; that is capable of challenging your worldview, and if there is something you can do to influence the world, is worth making.
Of course, it’s important to remember to have fun with your video games; not everything has to be dismal.
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