This game would really have been better off not being a game at all.
I didn’t go into Killer7 expecting much, so what I found, with regard to its presentation, visual design, interface, and music, sort of smacked me upside the head and made me pay attention. Disregarding the actual gameplay elements, Killer7 is a multimedia animated presentation quite unlike anything I’ve seen yet.
It uses in-game realtime 3D cutscenes, traditional 2D animation, and still images to tell a story about American politics and the United States’ relationship with Japan – neither of which seem very accurate in execution, but then, I don’t think the creators really care. The early material I saw of the game, near the time of its announcement, painted it as being sort of obtuse and inaccessible…and that’s not entirely untrue, given the fractured way the story plays out.
But the blinding creativity and sheer “cool” factor shown in all aspects of its art design were easily enough to make me want to stick with the game through to its end. The music and design often reminded me of the Shin Megami Tensei series, which, coming from me, is extremely high praise. The environments, while sometimes intentionally mundane, are often quite beautiful. The episodic storyline is fairly nonlinear and rambles a bit, and it has some pretty disturbing themes here and there. I won’t claim to have tied all its plot threads together in my mind at this point (despite having finished the game this morning), but it’s detailed and meaty enough that I don’t think I’d mind playing the game again just to wrap my head around it better.
Thankfully, the English localization is one of the best I’ve ever seen out of Capcom, and it’s one that I really didn’t think they had in them. Every character is well-written, well-voiced (as long as the character actually has a “real” voice), and well-directed, and there’s lots of incidental detail – dialect, catchphrases, revealing hints about character – that show just how much work was put into the English script. (There was no credit for the voice direction or localization in the game’s end credits, though, which is a shame – I’d really like to know who was responsible.)
Killer7 is not much of a game, as it is. The player is limited to a single track – literally, a one-dimensional path – with branches. Enemies will often block the way; these can be dispatched by moving a cursor and pressing A to fire. The player is expected to connect several dots per level, to knock down some completely obligatory-feeling puzzles (Resident Evil is fine literature in comparison) and unlock some doors to advance. So often are “odd engravings” solutions to puzzles that I wondered now and again if the game was intended as a parody of the entire survival horror genre. There’s no ingenuity expected or required out of the player. Every puzzle has an obvious solution, and the cast of characters serves as a keyring for a specific set of locks. The game bends over backwards to make sure the player never gets stuck on a problem, even providing multiple sets of online help systems to this end.
The enemies can be knocked down as easily as the puzzles — though this is not entirely a bad thing. The combat system is so rudimentary and underdeveloped that the faster enemies are dispatched, the better. Most enemies in the game have a sparkling weak point, and hitting this will kill the enemy instantly. The Japanese version of Killer7 allows the player to lock on to this point at any time, making combat trivial. This was removed for the US version of the game, but the ability is still available as an upgrade. I would argue that the game would be better with the ability available from the beginning. The aiming cursor is slow and clumsy, and there are often situations in which the player can easily be overwhelmed if enemies aren’t offed in a quick, clean fashion. There’s no satisfaction to be gained by learning how to aim more quickly and precisely, and the game doesn’t lend itself well to allowing the player to do so. Thankfully, it’s possible to unlock the “critical lockon” ability just after the point at which things start to get really irritating.
Killer7′s presentation and structure – as well as its gameplay faults – are such that it would very nearly be more enjoyable as a pure adventure game, or not a game at all: something that can be jogged through without the bother of arbitrary obstacles that are there simply because somebody thought they should be. Still, it deserves to be experienced by anybody who wants to see the kind of creativity a major publisher is capable of (when paired with a completely insane developer like Grasshopper, that is) – just as long as the player is willing to stick with the game when it starts to impose.