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Summary[To Goichi Suda.] It was the seventh of July…
1) This game was reviewed playing it on the GameCube, in its Italian-Spanish release. Only the covers and manual were translated from English. In-game voicing is in English, lacking subtitles during video sequences, that are essential to the plot.
2) An illustrated book related to the game, Hand in Killer7, was published by Capcom in Japan. It furnishes clarifications on, and details the characters' story. The book, however, is not by Goichi Suda, the author of the game. An unofficial translation into English is available online (URL: http://suda51.wikia.com/wiki/Hand_in_killer7).
3) Japanese, American and European release have each a different front and back cover. This appears questionable. Covers should be the ones chosen by game authors or in agreement with them originally — or, no matter what, the earliest — for every release. Text on back cover should not be altered, or replaced as it is the case, either.
4) This is one of the rare GameCube games requiring two discs, the second being not just a bonus disc.
5) Due to the hardware gap, little care having been put in adjusting the aim system to Dual Shock 2, plus a handful of glitches which do not appear on the GameCube, the original version is to be favoured to PlayStation2 port.
The Bottom LineIt was July 7, I was enjoying breakfast at the hotel when Edo Macalister told me that day killer7 would be released. Edo, that friend of mine with a marked tendency to be around when crucial happenstances take place, always with that impassive smile of his, and an uncompromising taste for genuine videogames (he'd no doubt hate it, if I followed the discriminatory dictation to call them "video games", this is why I don't). We were as usual beholding fireworks, (in the island where he works, the sky is an eventful place, fireworks a recurrent delight, consist them of sinister upcoming threats, forgotten times of angst just recalled, sparkly promises of hope, or of sorrow). Edo shows up only for sincere games. It was 2005: 9 year have flowed; Travis was wearing it's Lockerbie dedicated t-shirt, as humorous and serious as ever, still thanking his murderer for having given him the exciting vibrations of being shot to death and for unchaining him from life. It all feels as if it were yesterday: I miss you Edo. I miss you, Travis.
Do you remember the writing asking if you would like to enable 60Hz video, when launching a PAL60 supporting game? It's the first thing in order of appearance. Even that writing is peculiar. killer7 — with no capital "k", or Edo will, not without good reason, take offense — exudes vertigoes since the title screen.
It is an on-rails first-third-seven-person shootadventure. It is also, self-declaredly, an anime: graphics are cel-shaded. Commands permit to move ("run", since just walking in the middle of such fearsome world would seem, and be, odd to say the least) forwards or backwards, shoot weapons, use special abilities, combat skills (which are acquired as characters' level rises. Levelling up requires serum, made from thick blood, attained hitting monsters in their small weak point. Normal blood is got by ordinary killing, and serves to replenish health) and charged shots, and last but prime scan the area before us to detect monsters which we know are there since we heard their abysmal laughter, but are invisible to the sight of eyes: reasonably, as, after all, these foes don't even exist. Rather than actual dialogues, text is mainly composed of pieces of speech, bursting with puns and strokes of irony, the ilk of irony descending from the consciousness that, albeit an aching wreck, life is a joke. While with its richness in excellent sound effects, drizzle rattle, fire crackling, hissing, creaking, morning twittering, nocturnal chirruping, overflowing pernicious laugh by every monster, this game would perhaps have been fine without, it features majestic music, by Masafumi Takada, full of winged whispered pieces of delicate melody that fly away in an eye blink, beside prominent themes, worthy of authentic cinema d'essay. And so is the surpassing photography, enriching a tense, brimming with inspiration mise en scène, depicted with hearty passion for colour, enlivened with intense hues, deep blacks and whites.
Who are we in this story? The fact is, protagonist is Harman Smith, a distinguished professional murderer; but, he has seven other personalities, each with their own body, character, talent; each wholly estranged from one another, as it is in Multifoliate Personae Phenomenon, a condition similar but not identical to Disassociative Identity Disorder, as a patient with multiple personalities only manifests the new identities, whereas Harman actually morphs into the other identity's body, and at his will. We are one, and we are seven, which shouldn't be any surprise, since numbers aren't less (de/il)lusory than speech. There's no denying all of the seven are blood-craving killers; on the other — and on the same — side, all of them are, just like everyone, victims, and do nothing but obey to Harman's orders. Harman doing nothing but obey to, well, reality. It is this that which is expressed by the gameplay developing on-rails. This game calls truth with its real name: "mask". Rather than "personalities", characters are named "personae", a term that, since its Latin origin, meant "mask". (One of them, True Mask, selling information on how to resolve puzzles, is sincere. When time to part with each other has come, his farewell is his last advice: "If you want to survive in this world, don't depend on anybody".)
It was a French to state that, in reality, a philosopher says nothing but the same one thing for the whole course of his life. This goes for artists as well. Published four years after Flower, Sun, and Rain — or Flower, Sun and Rain, from time to time —, killer7 is a completely independent game, and at a time the prosecution to that. Terrorism, non-existent yet — or even more, owing to its inexistence — terrifying terrorism, is again to be overcome. Again, everything is unreal and surreal, because this is a realistic game. Again, characters (except in video sequences) speak real human unintelligible language, that will sound unheard-of to nearly everybody, whereas not unheard-of at all to some ones. Again, life is not a straight dream, yet a series of dreams, concentric circles one within the next. Again, over and over the narration returns on the same happenings, to retell them as if dreamed in a new nightmare — nightmares patently strange to reality and real more than ever, true above any truth and less than any falsehood —: it tells and shows truths every time, and always those truths fail to be the truth, truth remaining impossible to unveil or catch a glimpse of, as it does not exist. In FSR you had to muse deeply and episodically act, here you have to aim and shoot well, and occasionally think a slight perplexity over. Puzzles aren't conundrums at their heart, rather they are essays of style, notable for signal elegance and novel fancy, as well as rigorous avoidance of repetitiveness. Outwardly, killer7 is less inclined to existentialism than FSR, instead pending towards politics and anthropology; more a bodily game. Four years is a time in which numerous seasons follow one another. In place of the uncertain, vague spring suffused with autumn of FSR — its light warm yet cool, and bright sky — there are now distinct summer and winter, both of them as cool as the sunless, purplish, seldom seen, vacant sky; and no more light, less for the frightful artificiality of lighting (which can disquiet even phantoms), nothing but lifeless whitish stains, their paleness as akin to the dark as the alive are to the dead. There was a low sound, of a voice hushed yet conclusive providing encouragement, signifying hope, near the end; at least for once, the sight of the horizon was reached; if there was no solution to questions — unresolvable like all questions are, if we look at them without the aid of self-deception — there was a trace of possibility; now death prevails unopposed, not since it outnumbers life, not either owing to it outdoing life, rather since life is not. If in appearance murk does not envelop every thing, yet there is no corner of white in where, doubtless present if not definitely traceable, the fairytale-burying laughter of the Heaven Smile does not reside. As Travis says, out of the answers to one hundred questions ninety-three are lies, and the seven which bespeak truth are the blank ones. The horizon never falls within the reach of sight. What wasn't there and is here is gore: this journey is coated with blood; that's for the most part fake blood, as Travis once warns us, fake yet true blood; as true as the most beautiful red a nightmare could be coloured with. Can you think of a flower, as red as that red, going up in the sky like a firework? Travis can: he's got sheer fantasy, he knows a lot, and always refers to events in a very sensible manner: that we killed him in the recent past probably helps: whose wisdom matches that of the dead? Now, eye-less, he can see better than ever. He can also take the liberty of sincerity those who are still alive can not. He's free. The Smith often happen into their past victims; often they are expressed the gratitude of those for having untied them from the charge of life, told they are much better now, distant from the restless struggle of existence. Death seems to be cure to life.
God is mentioned always in ironical, and not derisory to any degree, behaviour. Scorching sarcasm is addressed to religion exploiters, not to believers.This has granted the game being alleged of containing "swearing": one sets the thoughtful suggestions ("Shit, ain't that pretty wicked? Warriors who fight with a holy will on their side, and use death as a weapon") and mockery here against with the life-impeding falsities and death-bringing bottomless mystification unmercifully inflicted on the simple by most of world religious authorities till nowadays (of course, as much, and as long as, they can still do it in a specific place and historical moment) and forthright realises killer7's whiteness. One of the adepts to the in-game symbolic cult proves wisdom: "Don't trust anybody, don't trust even God. But you can trust Travis" is the hint he provides us with. Indeed, this is an innocent game; it says truth, shows truth. "There is no justice here. Only the purity of atrocity", an adept observes. God is a thrill, another one believes.
In this horror comedy, anxiety is as unresting as it should be. It arises progressively. If in early stages the number of Smile types is meager, from halfway through the game new varieties are tirelessly introduced, each representing a new menace which revives uneasiness and renews abhorrence, as well as demanding to be confronted in a new way. Fear is generated by an array of sagaciously designed factors. While chilling laughter assures we have been noticed and monsters are approaching us, their arrangement and the timing of their appearance drive to frantically scan the space before and behind us, and await in alarm, while being unable to determine wherefrom they are coming; on top of all of this, the intimidating manner of Smiles in nearing us: wry, slow, while it will feel rapid and inexorable as soon as a minimum error is committed. Also, their knowing rearrangement determined by what area we come from maintains unpredictability. In advanced stages, ambushes become the norm, and are as well contrived as to continue to catch us unawares, regardless of we being expecting to run into one. Without mortifying or bending the gameplay however, developers made killer7 playable facing a perfectly diversified range of challenge degrees, going from the middle between being easy and thorny on normal setting, to rather stiff arduousness on second setting — not banally "hard" but "deadly" —, and reaching implacability on "bloodbath" (available upon first completion). Furthermore, progress can be broadly facilitated by extensive use of Invisibility, an ability capacitating Kevin Smith to move past and through foes unseen.
There is a variety of motives for the Smith syndicate have to perpetrate assassination. The plot proceeds through — rather than along — two intertwined curves, directed to prevent the world from falling into a nuclear conflict and — more important, someone in the game says on the author's behalf, find who we ourselves are —. This gives the story the chance to touch on the most diverse subjects and move through singular locales, some of which wonderful. Japan oscillates between contemptible political proneness to the United States and ruinous impulse to revanchism, against the backdrop of the irreversible decay of Western civilization and American empire. However, murders, as well as any action, fatigue, accomplishment, are subject to the fundamental conviction regarding all what humans name as "reality". We are ephemeral parentheses within the discourse of time, a game of chess having no origin and no conclusion, or having a commencement and an end we can not see. There is a Forbidden Room. Isn't it a correspondent of the Forbidden Tree? Even disclosing it leads to no solution, no explanation. "Curiosity and inquiry: how much human despair has grown from these tendencies?" How many times an halt to war is prospected as the effect of success in our current mission, to conversely underline how unstoppable a destiny conflict is immediately after our task has been fulfilled? War is the sole possible outcome of the obsession for power mastering the humankind, an inextinguishable plague of which the Heaven Smile virus is a vivid allegory. How thoroughly killer7 eschews the totality of comforting duplicities and self-pretence society and individuals resort to in order to secure their charade — to borrow the name Travis' gives it — from the bitterness and dismay of truth. There is no kind of society; no populations; no citizens in the streets; no family, nor does ever figure any relative of one of the characters. (Save for a father and a mother, mentioned once, who doomed their son's life with their neglection.) There are solely individuals wandering in a desert with some mirage and no horizon. This is a world having no centre; denying any interpretation, making a nonsense of any logic.
It being understood that everything signifies nothing, every thing in killer7 has a meaning underlying the surface. There is a profound and ample employment of allegory and symbolism. After all, even words and speeches wear a mask in this carnival (celebrated by one of the t-shirts in Travis' collection), to which no-one, and nothing, is let in if unprovided for the fancy-dress. The toughest and most treacherous boss is the chairman of the Educational Guidance Council. Masks on the fore, masks on the back, masks behind masks, within masks. To the extent that, the sole time one of the protagonists reaches his inmost him for a moment, an holy time of tears, the camera respectfully retreats.
How much and what our memory retains and relives of it after years is a measure of a work's stature. You are into Fukushima's Japanese restaurant, hear the music embracing each other with the creaking of wood and know that frail whisper of melody will never abandon you. killer7 gifts us with more than one fadeless piece of music. Some tunes are like the snowfall that we happen to see only once: ethereal, unearthly fragments who leave fables and cross the dimension of matter for a lapse: if beauty needs to hide from reality, marvel needs so all the more, timid butterfly whose wings would shatter at the least contact with the world. Here it is concealed with care, to ascertain only they who can realise can see. In no other game Travis would be dressing a different t-shirt each of our meetings. In no other game Heaven Smiles would emit their unsettling cry till while dissolving. In no other game Master Harman's nurse would likely look as she looks here, and if she did we however wouldn't find her coupling in the attitude of a rapist with the old man; and if we found, she however wouldn't be fucking as gorgeously as she is here. Nor would Pedro lie in as perfect a back position as he does while beseeching forgiveness. In no other game there could be any of the boss fights encountered here, conceptions ablaze with originality punctuating the course of the adventure like delightful drizzle. In no other game, ever, Greensleeves in that poignant way…
killer7 is an unmistakable step towards the hoped-for conclusion to speculations whether videogames be art or not. Storytelling consistently plays with the inconsistence of time and space, or of the popular conception of these. The morphing phenomenon gives visual display to the fact that we are nothing but particle aggregations enduring the struggle we name as "life" — even flowers "can be heard groaning" — before chance dispelling us. Like insects, our breath of life vanishes easily. "This just ain't right, is it? Is it for time to march on like this?".
It is natural then, that not only amateur reviewers, but also more than a few professionals having a bona fide interest in videogames, failed to realise the preciousness of this work, misjudging it. [As for dilettantes, and fellows without genuine purposes, the worst injury to the game — assuming it could be reached by such nugatory matter, which is not — came, as it is habitual, from that old-time friend of mine living in Slaves' Republic of Horror, having the hobby of reviews, who is in such a dread of reality to be devout to a tyranny imposing the Middle Ages — with the sense of order and stability characterizing that age — in the XXI century to more than a billion people — and finds in the plaudit of the ingenuous its vital nourishment, since from those he receives the feel of protection and a bit of self-esteem, of both of which he can never have enough. Offence is the shield the weak use in front of what is beyond their comprehension, a revolutionary scientist once observed.] I can recall me and a friend of mine exchanging our thoughts and feelings about it. Amazingly, the first time both I and he had felt the need for resetting after few minutes, something neither of us has ever done with another game. Eventually, he stated something that had not crossed my mind yet: this, he did say, was the best and sadly least possible future of videogames. I instantly knew he was right, and later years added unnecessary evidence of it. In the world of videogames, works as killer7 and Ico are still required to be followed by a Shadow of the Colossus or a No More Heroes.
Despite it being an elementary school, plenty of series and integrals are on the blackboards at Coburn. Yet not only. Somewhere it is possible to read: "Don't gain the world and lose your soul, wisdom is." Somewhere else, more visibly, "Change the wold": some decades can suffice to turn ideals seeming able to spin the world into aspirations as unlikely as to appear melancholically awkward even if written by kids. No, "The world won't change, all it does is turn. Now, let's dance!". There is no reason not to, I would say; may it be always Friday night.
I remember my conversation with Travis, that day. It concluded with him asking: "What you do, when the truth is all lies?". I haven't found an escape from that, Travis, but I'll do anything I can to have my answer, when we meet again at the hotel. Perhaps it will be: keep at it, don't give up; doubtless, Edo will be smiling impassively while hearing it. And there will be that caressing piano music one wishes would never end. And fireworks.