killer7 World Exclusive: Intrigue, Paranoia and a Whole Lot of Guns is an article covering the video game killer7, which appeared in Volume 190 of Nintendo Power two months before the game's release. The article, which occupied pages 26 through 33 of the issue, praised the game's "groundbreaking and revolutionary" sense of uniqueness, dubbing it "in essence, the very first video game art film." In addition to giving a rundown of the game's control scheme and storyline, the article also features interviews with director SUDA51 and producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi. The article also makes reference to several elements which appear in different forms or not at all in the final game (the Odd Engravings from the final game, for instance, are here referred to as Odd Moldings).
|“||It is my firm belief that video games are the most challenging form of artistic media we know.||”|
- –SUDA 51, Director, Killer 7
Clear your mind of everything you think you know about video games. Forget the clichéd storylines. Forget the profit-driven sequels that never take a risk. Forget the dozens upon dozens of titles that you've played over the years, enjoyed and then quickly let drop from your memory.
A new dawn is rising.
We are about to experience an event so radical that it may well change the very way people think about video games. Decades from now, when critics like us and players like you sit around the table and talk about our hobby, we are going to do so with a new frame of reference: Before Killer 7 and After Killer 7. And the reason for this is very simple:
Playing Killer 7 is unlike anything you have ever done before.
That isn't a statement that we make lightly, and we're not tossing it out there just to get your attention. Killer 7 is groundbreaking and revolutionary in almost every way. It will frustrate you. It will intrigue you. It will challenge your very notions of what a game can do, and even what it should do. It is, in essence, the very first video game art film, and it attempts things that no one else has ever dared. Does it succeed?
Perhaps, in the end, that will be for history to decide.
Breaking It Down
Ever since Capcom showed the first Killer 7 media in 2003, there has been one question on everyone's mind: What exactly is going on here? Well, after playing a preview build of the game for weeks and discussing it endlessly among the staff, Nintendo Power finally has some answers. Not all of the answers, mind you—the game is so crazy that we're still not sure we understand everything, and of course we don't want to give away spoilers months before the launch—but you'll certainly have a better grasp of the game once you finish reading this article.
We'll start with the basics. The bulk of the gameplay consists of running around locations, shooting monsters and solving puzzles. Movement is accomplished with the A Button. You press it to make the character (one of the seven assassins) run. People have speculated that the game moves on rails, and that's essentially true. You have no camera control and little choice in where you go, but you can backtrack or occasionally take a different route. When you reach a fork in the road, for example, you can choose your desired path with the Control Stick and keep running. When an enemy approaches, you switch to first-person perspective and take out your weapon by holding the R Button. Pressing B will let you lock on to the enemy, and tapping A will let you fire. If an enemy gets too close, it will explode and cause a significant amount of damage, or even kill you outright. If Garcian is eliminated, the game ends and you must restart from your last save point. If anyone else falls, he or she can be rescued and brought back to life by Garcian.
And then there are the puzzles. If you thought the ones in Resident Evil games were interesting, wait until you try your hand at these. Whether you're listening to audio clues from a handheld tape recorded or shoving a tanker truck to reveal a disembodied head (yup) with a ring inside, you'll be constantly scratching your head. The reward for solving most puzzles is a piece of Odd Molding—which is just what it sounds like. Molding. In an odd shape. You can then use the molding as solutions to additional puzzles. The aforementioned rings (which have names like Fire Ring, Water Ring, Stamina Ring and Time Ring) can be used to solve puzzles, and they sometimes prove helpful in other ways.
But breaking down the gameplay doesn't really do justice to Killer 7, because it ignores two of the most compelling reasons to play the title—story and mood.
Killer 7 is a game that sets a mood like never before, and it tackles some extremely disturbing subject matter. For that reason, chances are that people who normally take little interest in video games will be talking about this title in the coming months, so let's get something out of the way right now: this is not a game for children. Not in any way, shape or form. In fact, it's probably not a game for some adults. It's extremely violent, often profane, and deals with such topics as sex, cults, kidnapping, political assassinations, black-market organ sales and full-scale war. If you expect video games to stay separate from the real world, you're going to be surprised. (For an in-depth breakdown of the game's story, check the sidebar on the next page.)
It's also a game that is going to challenge even the most hard-core gamers, because it's quite difficult to get a handle on it. We spent our first hour with the title getting lost, being killed and trying to figure out why the crazy dude in the red suit kept calling us Master (see the sidebar below). But the game is addictive, and soon we were running and shooting like old pros, completely immersed in the nonstop sensory overload. And speaking of the senses, we can't speak further about the game without mentioning those aspects. They are, in a word, Killer.
Sound and Fury
One of the ways Killer 7 turns gaming on its head is through the use of graphics and sound. The cel-shaded look immediately sets it apart from other titles, and the unconventional movement system lets the designers use a bevy of very cool camera angles. You would think that having the camera mounted at the character's feet while he or she runs past it would cause you to miss an approaching enemy, but the truth is that you can't see the enemies. They're invisible. (They actually create a faint shimmer, but it's quite difficult to see.) The only way to make monsters appear is to go into first-person mode and scan them with the L Button. This means that you rely almost completely on sound to know when you're in danger. When you come within range of a monster, it will emit a high-pitched cackle. It's a bit creepy, to say the least, and it makes Killer 7 a game that you must play with the sound turned up. The other aural experiences are equally strange. When you come across a puzzle that you're not ready to solve, you'll hear a burst of off-key, jangling jazz guitar. When you do solve the puzzle, you'll get the same noise but with the added effect of someone sliding his hand all the way up the fretboard. (You'll hear a lot of the sounds on nintendo.com in the coming months, so keep your ears open.)
High pitched cackling? What kind of enemies are these? The answer lies in a smile.
Fighting the Good Fight
Your foes in Killer 7 are members of a terrorist group called Heaven's Smile. The Heaven Smiles you meet in the first level are vaguely human (although purple), but they become more and more bizarre as the game progresses. Before the end, you'll have fought hulking Giant Smiles that are over 10 feet tall, round Spiral Smiles that slowly roll toward you while making a tinkling bell noise, and Mithril Smiles that wear a suit of armor. Each mission ends with a boss fight of some kind—everything from a one-on-one duel with a fellow hit man to a shootout with an impossibly fast, machine gun-wielding girl who perkily announces her presence before attempting to blow you away. But as the enemies get tougher, the Smith Syndicate rises to the challenge by upgrading their skills.
Each time you eliminate a Heaven Smile, you'll receive blood. (Yeah, we know . . . unpleasant.) You can then take the blood to a save point (called Harman's Room, through there are multiple ones in each level) and access a television channel called the Blood Room. There a doctor will put the blood into a machine that transforms it into serum, which you can use to upgrade the seven personalities. (The only exception to the level-gaining system is Garcian, who cannot upgrade his stats). Each assassin is rated in four different categories, and as you upgrade you'll start to unlock new abilities such as Counter Attack, Head Lock-On and Enemy Slow.
The Curtain Rises
It's rare to discover something that has the possibility to be engaging and divisive at once, but Killer 7 delivers. This is not a game that was developed by putting a bunch of marketers in a room and trying to figure out what the 18-24 demographic would enjoy. It is a unique, singular vision; and one that shows what you can do when designers and producers like Mr. Kobayashi, Mr. Mikami and SUDA 51 are allowed to run wild. This June, Nintendo GameCube owners can see their handiwork for themselves.
Known alternatively as the Smith Syndicate, the Smith Alliance, and the Killer 7, the personalities of Harman Smith are a diverse and mysterious group—and learning how to use them is one of the game's key challenges. In early versions of the game, you could change personalities only by accessing a television, but now you can switch at any time. That freedom, combined with the ability to level up your characters in four different skills, gives you a host of ways to approach any situation.
"Look, I'm a cleaner. I can feel no remorse when seeing a dead body."
"Jeez, you still are an ugly fella. How's it been, huh?"
"I changed my makeup. Did you notice?"
"I have to do this or the anger inside won't go away."
Mask de Smith
"I'm not a monster. It's only a mask."
The stylish look of Killer 7 isn't limited to its cel-shaded graphics. The game also features almost 20 minutes of high-quality anime. And we're not talking about an intro à la Baten Kaitos—the anime in Killer 7 is integral to the story. The sequences in chapters two and five (titled Setting Sun and Body Double) were directed by Habara Hobuyoshi of XEBEC Studios—which has worked on a number of productions, including the D.N. Angel series. The sequences in chapter three (titled Cloud Man) were directed by Ben Hibbon of Unit 9—a British firm that has won multiple awards in the fields of animation and Web design.
An Interview with Suda 51
SUDA 51, the director of Killer 7, has made a name for himself in Japan by creating involving games with a distinct style. He sat down with Nintendo Power to talk personalities, art and all things Killer.
NP: Tell us about yourself.
SUDA 51: I am the president of Grasshopper Manufacture Inc., and also work as a director and scriptwriter. I was born in Nagano, Japan, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics. This is my 15th year in the game development business. The main projects I worked on have been The Silver (PlayStation) and Flower, Sun, and Rain (PlayStation 2). I am the director of Killer 7 and this is my first directorial project to be released in the US and Europe.
We find ourselves comparing Killer 7 to films such as Takashi Miike's Audition or David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. Did you set out to make it such a bizarre experience, or did the strangeness evolve during the design process?
I made Killer 7 the same way I have made all my past projects. Grasshopper games are known for their unique stories and visual presentation, which is one of the main things we focused on with Killer 7. Actually, it was my plan all along to give people an interesting experience (laughs). We always try to give our games a strong personality so they stand out in such a crowded market, but we don't want it to be bizarre just for the sake of it being bizarre. I really respect Mr. Lynch and Miike-san as directors, so it's an extreme honor to be compared to them.
Can you give us a basic synopsis of the plot?
The Smith Alliance, led by Harman Smith, is a group of assassins hired by the government. Harman has seven split personalities at this disposal and utilizes them to complete their assignment as they go up against the Heaven Smiles unleashed by Kun Lan.
How did you develop the personalities?
This actually came up during a conversation with [the producer] Mikami-san. He really encouraged me to have fun making a game that does not have standard mass-market appeal, and this sort of freethinking environment is what made Killer 7 possible.
Killer 7 makes a lot of very bold political statements, which is highly unusual for a video game. Why did you do this?
I didn't get many instructions from Mikami-san, but one of them was that I make this project with the US market in mind. This was a brand-new challenge for me. But at the same time, I wanted to take this opportunity to carry on the same drive that was there from all of my previous projects.
Is there a lot of symbolic meaning in the game, or are the players who find such meaning reading too deeply into it? (Heaven's Smile, for example, could represent any number of real-life terrorist organizations.)
Yes, there is a lot of symbolism to the game. I worked hard to make it so that in any single section or sequence of the game, the player could interpret things in any number of ways. But there are some intentional metaphors and unintentional coincidences mixed in together.
Are the Heaven Smiles people or monsters? Or something else?
The Heaven Smiles are people that Kun Lan makes into "violent followers." He implants tumors into his followers' internal organs and the aftereffects turn them into Heaven Smiles.
When does the game take place? Is it an alternate reality or just sometime in the future?
The Killer 7 world takes place in the near future of 2010.
Some people have said that video games will be the dominant art form of this century. Do you agree? How does Killer 7 fit into that theory?
I'm very glad to hear such a positive, dynamic opinion. It is my firm belief that video games are the most challenging form of artistic media we know.
I feel that especially in America and Europe, the view of video games as an art form is increasing. Unfortunately, the interest level in video games as an art form is currently very low in Japan. I am looking forward to seeing how gamers react to Killer 7 once they've played it. It would be absolutely great if it became the leader of a new "movement" of games being viewed as an art form.
To all the readers of Nintendo Power, I thank you for taking the time to read this article. Some of the questions were very hard to answer (laughs), but they were all great questions. I hope to continue to make original and unique games unlike anything anyone's seen before. So I hope you continue to support us, Grasshopper and Capcom, in our future endeavors as well.
In addition to the seven personalities and the multiple Heaven Smiles, you will meet a host of other people during your missions. Samantha has a split-personality disorder of her own, changing from a mild-mannered nurse to a crude street punk in the blink of an eye. Iwazaru is a servant who appears often to offer you gameplay hints . . . such as they are. And Travis is a Remnant Psyche (a ghost) and the first person the Smith Syndicate ever eliminated—a fact that he never lets you forget.
"Oh, I didn't notice you there. no need to be so reserved."
"Master. We're in a tight spot! It's a world of sin!"
"Let's be honest here. You think I'm a pain in the ass, don't you?"
The Plot (As We Understand It)
The year is 2010. In 1998, the major powers of the world signed a peace treaty that eliminated the specter of a large-scale war—leaving terrorism as the only remaining threat to world peace. In an effort to stop terrorism before it could start, air transportation was eliminated and massive freeways were constructed to connect the eastern and western sides of the world. All was going well until a terrorist group known as Heaven's Smile bombed a high-level UN meeting in 2003 and quickly gripped the world community with fear. In an effort to combat the faction, the United States government turned to the Smith Syndicate. Its job is to find Heaven's Smile, eliminate the group and restore peace and order to the world. But all is not as simple as it seems on the surface. Japan and the United States are involved in disagreements that could lead to the two countries declaring war on the other. And as the relationship between the two countries deteriorates, the Smith Syndicate finds itself involved in a scheme that goes far beyond its initial assignment—and involves such characters as a radical religious leader named Andrei Ulmeyda and a popular comic-book writer named Trevor Pearlharbor. The power struggle between east and west, the true nature of the Killer 7 and even the fate of the free world will come into place before the end credits roll.
An Interview with Hiroyuki Kobayashi
Mr. Kobayashi is one of the most respected video game producers the world. He's worked on such series as Resident Evil, Dino Crisis and Devil May Cry, and his latest project is Killer 7 (Mr. Mikami of Resident Evil fame is his coproducer). We were pleased that he took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to speak with us.
NP: SUDA 51 is unknown here in North America. What can you tell us about him?
Mr. Kobayashi: He's a genius! I'm amazed where he comes up with all the ideas. He has a wide range of interests including combat sport and flowers.
Did you set out to make Killer 7 a bizarre experience?
We weren't aiming for that per se. It's more like Suda-san bringing the world he created in his mind to life and having it evolve into Killer 7.
Today's video game market is often driven by sequels and "safe" titles. How did you convince Capcom to take a chance on a game like this?
It came about because I wanted to do a game with a really deep and profound story, and have Mikami-san partially involved with it. Then I met Suda-san, and it took off from there.
Much of Killer 7 doesn't make a lot of sense on the surface. Can you figure out the entire plot from playing the game, or are there aspects of the story that are purposely unsolvable?
Although the chapters in the game are more of a compilation rather than a start-to-end story, they are all connected in some way. When you make it to the end, the mysteries throughout the game will become clear.
Can you give us a basic synopsis of the plot?
As the player, you control Harman Smith, a hit man with seven personalities. You will have to use all the personalities, their unique skills and weapons to go up against Kun Lan. It's a story of revenge and a deeply complicated past between two men.
How did you come up with the personalities?
We first had designs for the seven characters. Later, we changed the premise to an old man in a wheelchair who brings them all together, changing personalities at will.
Killer 7 throws a lot of basic video game conventions (such as movement and camera control) out the window. Why did you approach the game in such a different way?
It was Suda-san's idea. He felt it would be boring as a "conventional game."
The game's cel-shaded art style is amazing. How did you decide to use such a look?
Suda-san had developed this art style for past titles, so I think Killer 7 is just a result of his effort into perfecting that style.
There is a gun called the Killer 7 in Resident Evil 4. Whose idea was that?
Mikami-san, the director of Resident Evil 4 and producer of Killer 7, did so when he decided on the names for the weapons for Resident Evil 4. It has no relation to any of the guns in Killer 7.
- Introduction appears on pages 26 and 27 of Nintendo Power volume 190 (April 2005).
- Breaking It Down and The 7 appear on pages 28 and 29 of Nintendo Power volume 190 (April 2005).
- Astounding Anime appears on page 29 of Nintendo Power volume 190 (April 2005).
- An Interview with Suda 51 appears on page 30 of Nintendo Power volume 190 (April 2005).
- Uncomfortably Numb, Sound and Fury and Supporting Players appear on page 31 of Nintendo Power volume 190 (April 2005).
- Fighting the Good Spirit and The Plot (As We Understand It) appear on page 32 of Nintendo Power volume 190 (April 2005).
- An Interview with Hiroyuki Kobayashi and The Curtain Rises appear on page 33 of Nintendo Power volume 190 (April 2005).