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Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (181654)
Written on  :  Sep 13, 2007
Platform  :  GameCube
Rating  :  3.14 Stars3.14 Stars3.14 Stars3.14 Stars3.14 Stars

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Seven ways to kill the fun

The Good

Killer7 is one of those strange Japanese games with a very unusual style and weird gameplay. The game's aesthetic value is undeniable: it is a celebration of the bizarre; it shocks you with strange themes and images, eerie sounds, quirky gameplay, and especially with its crazy dialogues and nearly incomprehensible story with plenty of symbolism the Japanese like so much. It's a game that you must accept in order to enjoy; not a game that does anything really well, but a game that does everything the way it likes to, without caring much whether you can accept it or not. It is an extravagant, pretentious game with a big ego, but in the end it is impossible to ignore the effort its creators have put into it.

Killer7 has stylish cel-shaded graphics and a very memorable, instantly recognizable soundtrack. I rarely pay attention to sound effects in games, but here, they build up the atmosphere almost all by themselves. The eerie laughter of the smiles, the enemies of the game, just gives you goosebumps. The mild, enigmatic guitar tune that plays every time you encounter a puzzle; the background music for locations differs drastically, including such refined pieces as the soft Latin music in the Dominican Republic level or Eric Satie's compositions in the Philadelphia hotel - the sound in Killer7 is something that can be enjoyed on its own, regardless of the game's other aspects.

The game has the most bizarre character cast. I think that the example of Susie, a severed head whom you find in most unexpected places throughout the game (like in a washing machine) and who talks about her own death in an incomprehensible language with subtitles and internet emoticons, would be enough to demonstrate the sheer insanity of the characters in Killer7. Or how about a boss battle against two dead politicians, during which you'll have to shoot the tie one of them wears, so that the other will turn and adjust the tie for his friend, who is incapable of doing that because half of his head was blown away by a bullet.

You'll be probably wondering what the whole thing was about after you complete the game. Killer7 has one of the most enigmatic and cryptically told stories in the history of video games. It has heavy symbolism, allusions to philosophical concepts, and enough careless Japanese mixture of real-world politics and pseudo-scientific, psychological stuff to satisfy both a hopeless otaku and a raving conspiracy nut. Its questions are not unanswered in the sense of requiring a sequel for explanations (Dreamfall, anyone?), but in the sense of: "this is the story, now you draw your own conclusions from it".

The mysterious "Smiths" you control in the game are all different as playable characters in a shooter, and the game is balanced enough to make sure that you won't be able just to breeze through it with one character, neglecting all the others. It is possible to choose one favorite character and to stick with him for the most part, but you'll still need to switch whenever you encounter an enemy this particular character can't handle. And the choice of such a "main" character will reflect your own strengths and weaknesses as a player, adding to replay value. For example, I tried to use and upgrade Kaede whenever I could, because I found her sniping ability the best cure for my bad aiming. Since I'm a careful player, I didn't mind much her long re-load times and her pitiful health. But other players would perhaps be bothered by that and go with another character.

There is also an interesting RPG-like angle in the game. If you eliminate the enemies the "right way", i.e. not through repeated shooting, but by sniping their weak points, you won't only kill the enemy in one hit, but also draw a certain amount of blood. The blood is of two types, thin and thick. Thin blood can be used to charge for special attacks by certain characters, and is also the only way to heal yourself (besides dying and getting resurrected by Garcian). The thick blood are the "experience points" of the game. You can distribute this blood to your characters and improve their stats, such as attack power, speed, waver, and critical shots.

The Bad

Were Killer7 a normal, straightforward, honest shooter, I wouldn't hesitate to proclaim it one of the most creative and interesting representatives of the genre. Instead, it ended up being a fiercely disappointing example of pretentious gameplay design largely consisting of pointless, totally unnecessary changes and restrictions.

Genres exist for a reason: their concepts were tried, tested, and carefully selected to serve as reference material for future generations. The best games take an existing genre concept and try to bring it to perfection, all the while respectfully abiding its canons. Dogmatism is only bad when it defends a bad dogma. Conservatism in design - in the sense of preserving, multiplying, and developing the best achievements of the past - brought us most of our beloved games. Only a handful of masterpieces truly transcend any genre-related boundaries with their own, original greatness - but even then, they never reduce, only expand. The designers of Killer7, on the other hand, opted for extravagance for the sake of extravagance - a kind of perceived originality that ended up being nothing but a bunch of stupid constraints and bad design choices.

The game's description speaks for itself: Killer7 is an on-rails arcade game with inane puzzles, disguised as a 3D shooter. There is no real navigation in the game. Seriously: you select a menu item in order to move. You click on a name of a direction and voila - your character begins to merrily run in a completely straight line. Press a button to keep him running, release to stop. This is essentially Myst with an optional third-person view. This kind of "navigation" angered even many adventure fans - can you imagine how terribly inappropriate it is for an action game?..

It is a common opinion that Japanese can't design 3D shooters, and Killer7 is a living proof of it. You can switch to first-person perspective at any time, at which point the game will suddenly look like a real FPS. That is, until you discover a tiny problem - you can't move. At all. Either you play around with sterile, antiquated quasi-adventure mechanics, or you stand in one place and shoot enemies - which, unlike you, are perfectly capable of walking and attacking at the same time.

All this idiocy is only further complicated by cumbersome, redundant elements that contribute to the general pompous clumsiness of the game. Most enemies are invisible, and you'll have to first press a special button to display them in color. In many areas they respawn ad infinitum. The small, artificial levels still manage to be confusing because of the fixed camera angles imposed on your barely existing navigation. Constant character switches are required to solve repetitive "puzzles" plaguing the stages with needless backtracking. Excessive cryptic dialogue with annoying recurrent characters popping up at every corner and a formulaic mission-based structure with repetitive gameplay segments complete the picture.

Should you endure all this for the sake of atmosphere and story? Not even, since the former is greatly damaged by the cardboard world, and the latter ends up shooting itself in the knee with its pretentiousness. The writers obviously enjoyed over-complicating the simplest plot points in the game and making all the characters weird and insane. This kind of arrogant approach to storytelling is as irksome as it is typically Japanese. The best Japanese storytellers knew such weirdos needed to be infused by warmth and emotions, resulting in those awkwardly sentimental, delusional Japanese plots some of us manage to enjoy. But Killer7 basks in its own haughty coldness: when its story stops fascinating you with its improbable doses of grotesque, there is nothing left but shrug your shoulders and leave with a hollow heart.

The Bottom Line

Killer7 seduces you with flair and shine, but neither its handicapped gameplay nor its frigid artistry can ever satisfy you. If you resist the initial temptation of following this sophistic tale to the end, you'll be mercifully exhausted from trying to wrestle with its self-imposed limitations, and turn to games that are actually fun to play.