It is interesting to look at the landscape of the visual novel market now. If you are a fan of the genre you are completely spoiled, especially on the PC and Vita. This is an extreme turnaround from the prevailing thought that the genre would not sell back in the 80s and 90s. Visual novels have existed as far back as the PC-88 in Japan but were rarely translated for the international market. Bearing this in mind it makes Snatcher’s release back in 1994 all the more surreal. I don’t quite know why Konami took a chance on it but gamers won as Snatcher is one of the greatest Sega CD, no, games of all time.
On June 6, 1996 a biological weapon named Lucifer Alpha is accidentally released in Chernoton, Russia. The effects are catastrophic as 80% of Europe and Asia’s population is decimated and later half of the world. But just as suddenly as it struck the virus mutates and becomes harmless a decade later. But this was just a prelude to the real terror.
Some fifty years later a new menace strikes: cyborgs. Dubbed Snatchers because of their penchant for stealing the appearance of high ranking members of society, their appearance has grown so frequent that an entire division is created to deal with them named J.U.N.K.E.R. As Gillian Seed it is your duty to solve the mystery of the Snatchers and in the process hopefully regain your lost memories.
Snatcher wears its influences on its sleeve. While the homages to Blade Runner and Terminator are blatant it doesn’t matter because Neo Kobe is so cool. Neon signs, exotic architecture and flying cars are everywhere. Looking at and investigating each area will provide some nugget of information and history. Konami have hidden all sorts of Easter eggs in the game, some more prominent than others. Your partner Metal Gear is a miniature version of his namesake and is just so cute. The bar Outer Heaven is populated by heroes from other Konami titles and there are funny snippets of history when you examine them.
While I’ve compared this to PC adventure games this is anything but. This is first and foremost a visual novel, which places more importance on story than gameplay. You have a very small list of commands that expands as you look at and investigate items of interest. You aren’t carrying an extensive inventory of items for later use either. The few items in your possession are mainly just clues if you need them later. I estimate you’ll probably use inventory items less than twenty times over the course of the game. This eliminates one of the most frustrating aspects of adventure games, pixel hunting for crucial items. Here it is impossible to get stuck and Metal Gear will eventually give you clues if you really suck.
To spice things up there are occasional shooting segments against Snatchers or insectors which can be done using the controller or Justifier if you have one. I don’t particularly care for them but aside from one segment they are easily cleared. Really the only negatives are that menu options are often five or six layers deep and the game will stop until you repeat the same action a number of times or in a set order to trigger the next event. That’s about as minor as complaints can get.
Since puzzles are not the focus the story takes center stage and it is here Snatcher excels. Neo Kobe is rich with history and you can use the Jordan computer to read up on a wide list of topics. The designers really went all out in defining the events that shaped the world, creating an air of authenticity There are a number of mysteries surrounding the Snatchers: Why do they only appear at night and during the winter? Why do they hate animals? Why do they seemingly only snatch certain individuals? What keeps the game so compelling is that answers are provided at a nice clip. Each revelation is so intriguing you can’t help but want to learn more. I won’t spoiler it but the game’s near thirty minute conclusion answers all lingering questions and is one of my personal favorite endings of all time.
It should be noted that this was a very adult game for its time and earned its mature rating. The game does not shy away from blood and gore outside of one instance. Within the first ten minutes you’ll come across a decapitated body and must investigate the remains. It only gets bloodier from there. There is some slight nudity to go along with the gore as well. But more than anything the script respects the player’s intelligence as it was written for an older audience.
As dire as the game’s circumstances can be it does have its playful moments. The camaraderie between Gillian and Metal Gear is often hilarious as Metal Gear is over critical of Gillian’s laid back demeanor. Their bond grows over time and feels organic. As the player you have some input as to how other characters will see Gillian. If you choose you can totally portray him as a lech and hit on every woman in sight. Although the two are separated you can feel Gillian’s pain at missing his estranged wife. That the game manages to breathe so much life into these characters in so little time is a testament to its writing.
As great as the game’s script is what really sells it is the phenomenal English dub. Although it was released in 1994 Snatcher still has one of the best dubs of all time. The cast is very small despite the story unfolding over three Acts however all of the actors infuse their characters with enough emotion to really give them life. You feel the longing for connection between Gillian and his estranged wife during all of their exchanges. Despite his playful attitude you can tell their separation still hurts him deep inside. The soundtrack as well adds to the game’s atmosphere. The music is dark and foreboding, leaving you on edge whenever you open a door or explore an empty environment as though a Snatcher could appear at any moment.
Snatcher is my favorite Sega CD game and in my opinion one of the best reasons to own the platform. Unfortunately it will cost a decent amount of money to play this gem as it has never been re-released. It’s a damn shame but for those willing to take the plunge an adventure that is still pretty unique awaits. Classic.