Review by Tachibana Ukyo
Reviewed: 06/22/03 | Updated: 07/13/03
Twilight of Neo Kobe City
In short, Hideo Kojima’s SNATCHER is the second in his holy trinity of games that refuse to die. I speak of an incredibly engrossing cult classic that hails back from as far as 1988; originally developed for NEC’s 8-bit PC8801 line of computers, it has appeared in various incarnations over the years, incarnations that include an excellent English localization on the ultimately ill-fated Sega CD. Having already taken the leap from floppy disks to the PC Engine’s (TurboGrafx 16) Super CD in 1992, and having made its rare English-only appearance for SEGA in ’94, Konami’s favorite cyberpunk adventure returned to Japan for one more remake in 1996, this time for the 32-bit horsepower of the PlayStation and Saturn.
Does it live up to its venerable lineage?
Is it worth buying yet again?
Are you going to continue reading this review?
Let’s find out!
June 6, 1991
Disaster shakes the globe on an unprecedented scale when a terrible biological weapon - a lethal bacteria called Lucifer Alpha - is released into the atmosphere after an explosion at a secret government laboratory in Chernoton, Russia. Carried on the trade winds, it spreads through Eastern Europe and Eurasia to wipe out half of the world’s entire population. This event becomes known simply as The Catastrophe.
Fifty years later, the presence of a new terror becomes known when the twisted remains of a highly advanced cybernetic android life form are discovered among the wreckage of a crashed airliner. More of these bioroids are soon spotted throughout the urban sprawl of Neo Kobe City, Japan; employing an artificial type of skin to cover their metallic endoskeletons, they murder influential humans in order to assume their victims’ identities. No one knows the origin or purpose of these deadly machines - are they too a nation’s secret biological weapon, or are they invaders from another world entirely? The city is sealed off from the rest of the world in order to prevent a global epidemic, fueling the already massive hysteria among its beleaguered residents. As they secretly extract living humans in order to take their place in society, these creatures are dubbed “Snatchers.”
Thriving on its unique atmosphere, Snatcher is a “digital comic,” in essence an interactive manga with a bit of animation and plenty of sound. Our thirty-something hero is Gillian Seed, the newest member of JUNKER (Judgement Unifected Naked Kind & Execute Ranger), a dwindling anti-Snatcher police force that closely resembles the agents of Blade Runner right down to their trench coats and massive handguns. Gillian carries out his investigation of the Snatcher menace by utilizing a menu of commands to interact with the many characters and objects on each screen, not unlike the graphic adventures commonly found on the PC. As one would expect from a Hideo Kojima game, the game is driven by a gripping, exhaustively detailed plot that dogs its player every step of the way. Of course Neo Kobe is a pretty rough place, so don’t drop your guard for a second – hostile encounters with possible Snatchers and assorted lowlifes require Mr. Junker to draw his Blaster for fast-paced shooting scenes - send those bioroids back to the scrap heap or its Game Over.
Graphic adventure? Menu of commands?
Neither frantic shoot ‘em up nor complex RPG, this is a game that instead relies purely on its storytelling to grab the player’s attention. The world of Snatcher is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, so while it may not be overly difficult to solve the puzzles, shoot the Snatchers and eventually reach the end, the real entertainment comes from being an active participant in the ever deepening conspiracy. This also means that first-time players should strongly consider playing the Sega CD version instead, or at least consider Japanese fluency a requirement; I imagine this game would be simple enough to overcome for the language-impaired with the aid of a walkthrough, but such a player would miss out on the entire story and thus the point.
The most significant and immediately noticeable improvements made to this new edition are its enhanced visuals, made painfully overt by the opening’s blinding neon view of the Neo Kobe skyline. A few of the characters and a number of the scenes have been redrawn completely and the entire color palette has been increased dramatically, giving Saturn Snatcher a depth of shading to its graphics that at times resemble those of an entirely new game. These visuals are often quite explicit, taking us on a journey of decapitated corpses and maggot-ridden flesh, a night on the town in the decaying slums or watching an exotic dancer prance about on stage at the local nightclub over the course of the investigation. In truth a few of the scenes were slightly redrawn to tone down their graphic nature, but not to the point where it makes a particularly objectionable difference.
Conversely, the voice acting (in Japanese, naturally) is understandably identical to the earlier Super CD release, as always boasting excellent quality seiyuu and frequently entertaining dialogue, from our deep-voiced hero’s rough tones and the squeaky admonishments of his diminutive robotic buddy/computer/straight man Metal Gear (Mk II !) to the mysterious bounty hunter Randam Hajile’s terminally calm bravado. But despite the otherwise booming sound effects, all is not well on the aural front; the music has regrettably been heavily remixed with less than admirable results. While a few tracks stand out (the new battle theme, Outer Heaven, and the end of Act 2) and a few more are decent, the majority of the game’s newly acquired score consists of either MIDI-ish jazzy musak or bouncy techno cuts that are inferior to the original songs at best and completely inappropriate for the scene in question at worst. True, the PC Engine’s sound chip has a rough, sandpaper quality to it, but its synths were suitably gritty and the compositions extremely memorable. Konami is capable of better than this - Konami has done better than this, as evidenced by arranged albums such as Zoom Tracks and the hard-rock Snatcher Battle.
This version also features a short first-person maze towards the end of the game, which is not so much a feature as an annoyance. A more favorable addition lies in the increased ferocity of the shoot-outs, offering more aggressive tactics and smoother animation on the part of the enemy Snatchers. And while it naturally has no effect on the game itself, it’s also worth noting that this particular remake is rather lacking in extras, shipping with a sheet of stickers and little else. You won’t find an oversized manual or the short colored manga as with the PC Engine version, which is somewhat disappointing when you consider that the Saturn remake of Policenauts published later that year was packaged in a box set and included a small hardcover illustration book.
Snatcher remains a classic title, albeit this version offers one major improvement in exchange for a number of relatively minor but nagging flaws. The Saturn port is well worth purchasing for those who have either enjoyed the previous English revision or are fluent in Japanese, particularly for those who don’t plan on owning a real PC Engine / TurboGrafx CD any time soon, but those who are already all Snatcher-ed out will probably want to pass as it is not a particularly new experience. Eight years have gone by since the Saturn disc came and went, and Konami has thankfully moved on; is there still any life left in this vintage adventure’s aging circuits, or have we finally reached the end of the line?
Only time (and potential profits) will tell.
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