Review by Captain_Sack

Reviewed: 03/29/06

To put it bluntly: you will either LOVE or HATE this game.

Let’s face it: if you’re here reading this review, it means you’re curious about Killer7. It also means that, more likely than not, you’ve done a bit of research about the game and have one of two things in your mind: “What is with those graphics?!” or “You mean you can’t move around?!” To be honest, these are – for better or for worse – the two main characteristics which individualise this game. Killer7 is “that wonky-looking rail shooter”, and most people who criticize it just don’t have the sufficient open-mindedness to accept something that isn’t a run-and-gun.

But I digress.

Killer7 is an action shooter – on rails – that was developed by Capcom as one of the famed “Capcom 5”, and hit the store shelves in North America to a bewildered public. Here is a game that is so unique – in both gameplay and presentation – that it’s almost impossible not to notice it. Those who played it either loved it fanatically because of its eccentricity, or completely hated it – cursing it to the pits of fiery hell – for the very same reasons. However, those who stuck through the game, and those who enveloped themselves in the absolutely crazy story, were rewarded with one of the most original, engrossing, and thought provoking games of this console cycle.

So without further ado: Killer7 – a review.

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-: Gameplay – 23/30 :-

By now you know the awful truth: Killer7 is – for the lack of a better term (because there are no other games quite like it) – a rail shooter. However, through its core gameplay, it fuses elements from many genres, creating a very strange hybrid indeed. The game controls on rails from a 3rd person perspective, but shifts to 1st person when engaging in combat. There are also many puzzles to solve and key items to collect (reminiscent of the traditional (ie: non-RE4) Resident Evil games), and tons of cutscenes to tie it all together and to weave a complex story worthy of RPG status.

So you might ask: How does it play? Well, the answer is: Killer7 plays well.

Core gameplay - 8/10

The bulk of Killer7 revolves around you, the player, controlling one of seven different personalities in order to accomplish various storyline driven missions. These missions, however, are simply stylised ways of saying “get to the end of the level” – and offer few variability in their goals. You start every mission as Garcian Smith – the only man who can control and harness the powers of the Killer7 – a group of renowned assassins. Soon however, you will be forced to switch into any of the 7 personas at will, and use them all uniquely in order to progress through the level, destroy some enemies, and eventually defeat the mission’s boss.

As I’m sure you, the reader, already know; there are 7 members in the Killer7 – each with their own unique abilities, pros, and cons. Dan Smith, for example, is a power house who can shoot powered-up balls of energy anime style to wipe out anything in his path, but is kind of slow and not ideal for tight situations. Kaede Smith is a sniper who’s rifle can zoom in and target the enemies’ weak spots and dispatch them in one clean shot (and she can also reveal secret passages by slitting her wrists – but really, who wants to know about that?). Con Smith is a blind teen equipped with automatic pistols who can run at supersonic speeds and see sounds around him. The list goes on. As the game progresses, you will undoubtedly find one or two Smiths that you like more, and spend more time playing as them and upgrading their skills (you upgrade skills by spending “blood” collected when you kill enemies). However, as each member has a unique puzzle-solving skill, you will be required to use all of them at one point – thus keeping things fresh.

Enemies in this game require a paragraph of their own, for they are the most interestingly unique type of enemy I have ever come across. They’re called the “Heaven’s Smiles” – and they (and their leader Kun Lan) are your prime target in this game. There are more than a good dozen types of Smiles, and like the rest of the game, they aren’t your typical enemies. While some of them can certainly be killed by riddling them with bullets, others require you to hit certain parts in a specific order in order to expose their weak-spots, some are armoured to the teeth and thus indestructible to but the strongest of strong attacks, some will even detonate automatically if you accidentally miss their a certain part of their bodies. The Smiles make combat more interesting, as it requires a certain amount of planning and trouble-solving to get out alive. Oh, and I forgot to mention: the Smiles’ attack? They explode themselves on you, causing MASSIVE damage (take 3 smiles on most characters and they’re in a body bag before you know it).

Lastly, one final thing I would like to discuss is Killer7’s boss fights. Now… for those of you who have been raised by modern FPS games, Killer7’s boss fights will seem strange, confusing, even frustrating. The reason is, quite simply, the bosses – every single one of them – are solved using puzzles. You can stand inches away from them, blast them with Mask de Smith’s grenade launcher, and it will do sweet nothing. You see, they all have their own unique battles – some of which aren’t even battles at all! You’ll face, for example, a duel between your old teacher, a race through a maze of ambulances (whilst being chased by a creature that can annihilate anything in one blow), and – my personal favourite – an 8 on 8 showdown; ‘Mortal Kombat’ style. It’s pure genius, and makes these parts of the game extremely enjoyable.

Control - 9/10

I honestly don’t know how I’m supposed to even rate “control” in Killer7. Seriously! Here’s the deal: to move forward, press [A]. To move backwards, press [B] to turn around, then [A] again; and when you get to a branch in the road, simply select your path. It’s as simple as it can possibly be. The consequence to this however is the “rail” effect – you simply cannot go anywhere you want. Granted, the game environments – especially in the later levels – get quite large, so it’s not as linear as one would think. So really, the only way to rate the movement is on its effectiveness – and since the game is meant to be played in this “rail-shooter” way, the controls fit it perfectly, and add a high element of suspense and atmosphere (since – as in real life – you can’t see behind you). There are also some theories on the Message Boards that Killer7’s control scheme was made to purposely aggravate North American players – who have been too accustomed to open ended gameplay.

Now, once you hear the maniacal laugh of a Heaven Smile (the cue that means it’s approaching you – ready to pounce), you will need to switch into the first-person view with [R], which is more or less similar to typical shooter (gun on the screen, crosshair in the middle, etc.). The only difference however is that, unlike WW2 soldiers, aliens, or other FPS fodder, the Smiles are invisible, and can only be revealed once you scan your field-of-vision using the [L] trigger. This will reveal their location in front of you, and subsequent scans will highlight their weak-points (which can be targeted for a one-shot-kill). Personally, I find this tactic a little unnecessary; especially since they don’t really explain why it is that the Smiths are the only ones that can scan for Smiles (or even what they are using to scan them in the first place). However, it’s not really a big deal, and after the first level you will find it entirely natural to – when prompted with “the laugh” – switch to FPS view, scan your surroundings, and shoot away.

Fun Factor - 6/10

Now, to be honest here, this game really isn’t that fun to play. In fact, I found it rather tedious and repetitive. Enemies constantly respawn – and while this means you can easily get the blood necessary for upgrades – it also makes the game a bit dull. The game is also quite short. There are seven missions (nine if you count the prologue and epilogues), and they can all be beaten in about an hour or so – looking at about ten hours of gameplay. For me, that’s not a lot.
Also, the majority of the levels are all arranged in a similar manner: you enter the level, solve a puzzle, get a ring – which will solve another puzzle, find keys to enter more rooms with puzzles, find “boss key” (called Soul Shells), then defeat the mini-boss/boss. While the levels do provide variety with vastly differing puzzles and new enemies every mission, it’s still always a similar layout. An added touch however is the fact that one level’s mini-boss always becomes a normal enemy in the next mission.

Another mild annoyance is the fact that you must – by any means necessary – play with sound. Now, for people like me who only really have time to play games late at night, I don’t usually play with sound. But this game – as it relies on audio cues to tell the player that enemies are near – requires it. The sound – however – is for the most part fantastic; so really it’s my own loss… Yea, okay, I won’t dock points for that one… Just yet…

And finally, my last little gripe with Killer7 is an interesting one: you simply cannot die… unless you’re really, really bad (or are playing in the unlockable hard modes). Whenever your avatar (one of the seven personas) die, you automatically switch over to Garcian – who was GODLY health and power – and – once you reach the spot where the persona died – he will retrieve the fallen party member and revive him at no cost. There are no “lives” or “continues” or anything – just respawning your personas. Granted, if Garcian dies you get a “Game Over” screen – but as I said, he’s so god-awful strong that it’s almost impossible for that to happen. Even for such a surreal game, this seems out of place.

-: Story – 26/30 :-

Let me just say that it is extremely hard to write about Killer7’s story. Not because it’s non-existent, or because it stinks really badly; but because even the slightest bit of information can be interpreted as spoilers – since Killer7’s plot is a completely insane one. And I mean “insane” in a good way… not “insane” like the crazy cat lady from that episode of the Simpsons.

All I can truly say is that Harman Smith, a wheelchair-bound man equipped with the hugest gun you have ever seen, is the leader of the Killer7 – and it’s up to him to fight the evil Kun Lan, who uses an ancient artifact to change ordinary people into mindless exploding terrorists – the Heaven Smile. All of the personas – Garcian, Dan, Kaede, Kevin, Coyote, Con and Mask are all operating within Harman – as different personalities of him.

Confused? Just you wait. This quite literally a fraction of the story. To be honest, I’m not even entirely sure if the above paragraph is even true! Once you get to the end of the game, your mind is completely frazzled – you won’t know right from wrong, good from evil, or reality from the imaginary. That is the genius of Killer7.

Characters - 10/10

Iwazaru: the hanging bound and gagged sage who offers all the advice you need to progress through the game

Samantha: the nurse/housekeeper who pleasures the wheelchair-bound Harman Smith sexually whenever she has a chance.

Travis: a ghost who has a mysterious past and possesses a love-hate relationship with the Smith syndicate. He always wears funny tank-tops with words like HUSTLE and YOU GO GIRL written in bold capital letters

Susie: the severed head who shares her experiences about killing her family for the fun of it. She’s always found in various tight spaces with magic rings in her mouth. Oh, and she speaks with emoticons.

Did any of that interest you? Again, I only scratched the very surface of the surface itself – every mission introduces more and more characters; each more memorable than the last. I can guarantee that – if you play and enjoy this game – the name Ulmeyda will stay with you for a very long time. Mark my words potential gamer. Mark my words.

Coherence - 6/10

Again, spoilers are everywhere, so I’ll just keep this short and swift. You will almost certainly not catch the entire story on the first play-through. You will almost certainly not catch the entire story on the second play-through. You may not even catch the entire story on the third play-through. Get the picture? Killer7’s story has so many intricate details and nuances that it has spawned countless interpretations. You will catch many things – that I can assure you. When you finish the game, you will know what happened and how the game ended – but you still might not know “how”, “why”, “by whom” and other questions – many of which can only really be answered by looking at the excellent plot-guide over here at GameFAQs. Just think of it as the “Cliffnotes” to the game!

Originality - 10/10

In a line: I’ve simply never seen anything like this before. Words simply cannot describe it. All I can recommend is that you keep an open mind when playing this game, and – although you may be tempted to do so – try not to take in the entire story at once. In all my years of gaming, Killer7 is at the top of the list for most original story; and I have a feeling it will remain there for many years to come. If you like excellently complex plots, memorable characters, and enough twists and turns to give you motion sickness whilst sitting perfectly still – I whole heartedly recommend this game.

-: Graphics – 8/10 :-

As you may have already seen, Killer7 art style is as unique as the gameplay itself. It’s dramatically cell-shaded, and the character models are significantly blocky – but not because of a poor graphics engine; but because it’s supposed to be weird like that okay?! I mean, in a game with a decapitated head giving you Water, Wind and Fire Rings, do you honestly expect normal graphics or character models? I didn’t think so!

There are also numerous enemy designs – producing many different Smiles that you will have to annihilate during your quest for the truth; and all of the personas look awesome. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t help but notice that the characters actually change their clothes for each mission! Now that’s attention to detail.

Also impressive is the fact that there are no frame-rate issues; even when the game has multiple Smiles on screen. This is clearly the advantage of having such a simplistic graphical style – it’s very easy on the system.

However a few small issues bothered me. The first was the fact that, occasionally, the outdoor levels had significantly muddy textures. The colours in the backgrounds looked washed-out, no longer providing that crisp, blocky feel of the characters around them. Also, I found this game to have a bit too many loading screens. While they never last a particularly long time, they are very distracting (the screens are a ‘TV static” in blue and white) and take away from the atmospheric effect of the game.

-: Sound – 10/10 :-

The soundtrack in Killer7 is outstanding, providing a varied mix of ambient stuff, heavier stuff, exotic stuff, and – resulting in the most memorable song in my opinion: “Rave On” – rave stuff. I’ll be the first to admit that my musical knowledge is fairly limited – but I know what I like; and I like this game’s soundtrack.

The voice acting is also spot-on – partially because it was rewritten for the North American release. Apparently, the original version was so “engrish-ed” that Capcom scrapped it, ran all the dialogue through a heavy synthesizer, and decided to use text instead. If you listen carefully, you can often still make out most of the words (I find Susie to be the easiest). The new script however was perfectly acted in the numerous cutscenes, bringing the characters to life like none other.

-: Tilt – 15/20 :-

The good :
- awesome story
- memorable characters
- unique enemies and boss fights
- outstanding music
- good replay value (story, 2 extra modes, 1 extra character, harder difficulty)

The so-so :
- loading times
- convoluted story at first
- lack of difficulty and the fact that you can’t die.

The bad :
- repetitive gameplay
- uninspired level design

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-: OVERALL SCORE: 82/100 :-
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-: Final Words :-

I bought Killer7 one afternoon on a whim when I saw it had dropped to budget price. I had heard a lot from this game, and was considering buying it at one point – but its relatively high price turned me off. A friend of mine told me that it was one of the best games she had ever played, and this encouraged me to play this strange thing even more.

When I first played through it, I was confused like you wouldn’t believe; and I had a lot of trouble getting into it. But I struggled along, and once I got to the end, I discovered why people acclaimed this game. Just like the Metal Gear series, this game is largely a cinematic production; made for its story rather than its gameplay – and that’s just what a person should expect going into this. If you choose to let yourself be enveloped by the story, Killer7 will grab you by the shins, whip you around, spit on you, take you to the top of Mount Everest then drop you into an endless crevice – then possibly do something inappropriate with a member of your inappropriate family. This game’s story – should you choose to follow it – will certainly rank among the best.

If you can find it – and buy it for cheap like I did – Get this game.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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