Snatcher Review

Title: Snatcher
Alias: スナッチャー
Release date: 1988-11-26 (PC-88) (partial release)
1992-10-23 (PCE) (full release)
English release date: 1994-12-15 (Sega CD/Sega Mega-CD)
2003-12-22 (MSX)
Developer: KCET
English publisher: Konami (Sega CD/Sega Mega-CD)
Fudeba Software (MSX) (as a fan-standalone)

What happens if you take a bit of "The Terminator", a dash of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", pour on a good heaping of "Blade Runner" and sprinkle it with distinctly Japanese tropes? Well, I suppose that would be "Snatcher", unless you know of another Japanese game that fits the criteria.

"Snatcher" is an adventure game/visual novel created by Hideo Kojima of "Metal Gear" fame and initially released on PC-88 in an incomplete form, missing the last third chapter. The first time the game was released in a full complete form on PC Engine four years later. Incidentally PCE version is also considered the most canonic, as it was produced completely by Mr. Kojima with no outside interference (though it does contain one strange case of censorship not present in the English release). The game was later ported to PS1 and Sega Saturn in Japan, but these releases were even more censored than the English version.
It all looks so very scientific.
The game was released for Sega CD/Mega-CD console in US and Europe and is currently one of the most sought after and expensive games in the marked. Only 3000 copies were produced, and I have no idea if that number refers to North America only or includes EU too. The port is pretty faithful and is surprisingly not censored that much. The colouration of snatchers was changed in order to avoid James Cameron's ire, masquerade scene replaces Disney characters with Konami characters, Katrina's age was changed from 14 to 18, the discussion about her bust size was changed to that about her birthmark, and her shower scene was censored for nudity (as was another instance of nudity). Additionally, the animation was removed from a scene with death throes of an animal - the animal is still now. However, Sega CD release got a few new cutscenes not present in any Japanese release before that, and which help with fleshing out our characters better before we are plunged into the game. English voice acting is also surprisingly good and fitting for the characters (you will be surprised that Metal Gear is voiced by a female). Many later Japanese translations (even those from Konami) had much worse voice acting than "Snatcher" did.
And now you are just pulling my leg.
Actually, it wouldn't be fair not to mention that there is another English translation available - for MSX system. Sadly, I wouldn't suggest using that one. If you can suffer through painfully slow emulation and constant disk swapping, you will still be stumped by a bad Engrishy translation. The said translation was made by a native Japanese guy with the help from a Brazilian group, so do not expect quality. I tried the MSX version and dropped it pretty quickly.

"Snatcher" is a cyberpunk noir crime thriller and includes many of the tropes associated with the genre. It offers many sacrifices on the altar of "Blade Runner" and, in many cases, directly references the film. The opening video shows the buildings of Neo Kobe City belching fire, like they did in the intro of BR. Our protagonist wears a similar coat and in one instance inspects a bathtube, while his partner jokes about a snake scale. However, rather than ripping BR off, "Snatcher" is a loving homage made at the time when BR was not cool yet.
Your ex-wife is a hottie.
The plot goes something like this: a deadly viral weapon "Lucifer-Alpha" (sure, if I ever invent a deadly virus, I'm definitely naming it Satan or Lucifer, or something equally menacing) was released from a secret Russian lab in 1996.06.06 (three sixes... ominous). The virus killed half a world population; the game starts 50 years later. Our protagonist is one Gillian Seed. He and his wife Jamie were found a few years back in Siberia lacking any memories. Due to having no memories they can build their relationship on, their marriage fell apart. Eventually Gillian decided to join JUNKER, a police squad created specifically to battle Snatchers. Snatchers themselves appeared a few years back. They are robots capable of changing their appearance. Snatchers kill their victims and take their place - a process called "snatching" by the public. No one knows much about this menace and that lack of knowledge is the biggest danger to the public. Snatcher hunters are called "runners" (another "Blade Runner" reference).
Don't lose your head, Gibson.
At the start of the game another runner Gibson goes in to investigate an abandoned factory and is attacked; you are called in as his reinforcements, but upon arrival find Gibson dead. Starting with this, the game plays mostly like a detective story. You determine that Gibson most likely found some new information about the snatchers and thus was killed. It's your job to trace back his footsteps, apprehend his killers, and eventually remove the snatcher threat itself. The plot, while simple in its execution, is delightfully unpredictable and there are enough twists and turns I never saw coming, to satisfy jaded genre savvy players.

Gameplay consists of talking to the possible witnesses, gathering physical evidence, performing scientific analyses... and engaging in gun fights. Yes, there are action segments, and they work surprisingly well. You are occasionally attacked by snatchers and have to defend yourself. Those sequences can get heated and you will, in all probability, die, so save a lot (emulator savestates help, though the game contains a pretty good saving mechanism). The gameplay aspect is pretty solid for a game which is 80 % visual novel. It somehow does feel like a detective game rather then just another VN. In the game you have a partner - a navigator robot Metal Gear... It is told ingame that he is based on the famous war machine. Apparently, Kojima intended for "Snatcher" to be set in MG universe, but the idea was eventually abandoned.
Gillian is taking lessons from Konosora publishers.
The game is pretty serious - there is plenty of death and destruction going around. Nevertheless, the mood is alleviated through occasional humorous dialogue. Gillian is a letch and he makes it perfectly clear to anyone who spends any amount of time with him. At the same time, Metal Gear is really fond of breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the player. All the characters in the game are well realized and have distinct personalities. From a sleazy Chinese informer to a junkie airsurfer, to a cocky bounty hunter - everyone has something contribute to the plot and atmosphere.

Actually, speaking about the atmosphere, it is probably the most authentically "cyberpunk" thing about the game - shiny on the surface, but with a rotten core. Everyone is being constantly under surveillance by the government, though some people calling themselves "freemen" erased their data from the government databases and went to live a surveillance free homeless life. There are rogue artificial intelligence creatures running around and wrecking havoc. The city shines with neon while the black marked flourishes underground. One thing that wasn't touched upon was virtual reality and we don't know if it exists or not in the setting.
Not the only corpse you'll be investigating in the course of your game.
The game ties all the plot lines very neatly in the end, but there is enough place left for the sequel. Sadly, no sequel was ever made, but the game eventually got a spiritual successor in the shape of "Policenauts", and I fully intend to play that game one of these days.

There might not be a sequel, but there is a non-canonic prequel... in a shape of a radio drama. It is named "Sdatcher" and has been completely translated by the same fan group that did "Policenauts". Written by Suda51, "Sdatcher" is set four years before the events of "Snatcher" and puts us into the shoes of Jean Jack Gibson - the same guy who croaks it at the beginning of the game, and whose murder investigation kickstarts the whole plot. In the prequel drama Gibson, who just recently lost his wife, is meeting an informant, regarding a case of a strange Russian ship illegally docking in Neo Kobe. In a best Snatcher fashion, events soon spiral out of control. Some of the drama events clash with the established canon of the game, thus it is more of a "what if" story than an actual prequel to the game. Nonetheless, the drama sports a really strong voice acting (with Kojima himself voicing one of the main characters), coupled with awesome soundtrack. We also get to see hear some of the game characters like Lisa Nielsen way before the game started. I think it's really worth your time to sit down for 1:20 h and listen to this adventure.
In the end, "Snatcher" has a solid story, with a hard-boiled cop hunting rogue robots, a solid gameplay and solid characters. The only drawback is that it's pretty short and there is not much of a replay value. Natheless, those 7 or so hours you spend playing the game will not be wasted.
P.S. "Snatcher" emulates perfectly on pretty much any Sega CD emulator. I personally chose to use "Kega Fusion" for my playthrough.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Buy English Snatcher (Sega CD) for an exorbitant amount of money on eBay
Download English Snatcher for Sega CD
Download a Sega CD emulator: Kega Fusion, Gens, Gens/GS, Gens23 Surreal.
Download Sega CD bios
Download English Snatcher for MSX
Download MSX emulator: blueMSX.
Snatcher walkthrough
JunkerHQ website (info about the differences in the official English release)
Play Snatcher online
Official Japanese Sdatcher site
Sdatcher translation site
Buy Sdatcher on a CD at:, Yesasia, CDJapan.

Final Verdict: 80%

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2/11/14 08:06

    So, this is what Kojima was doing before MGS. Interesting read.