Suda 51 is renowned for his quirky gameplay styles and twisted sense of humor. He satirizes politics, TV, gaming and current affairs to deliver an often bizarre look at the world today with substance in his messages. You may know him for his work, such as No More Heroes, Black Knight Sword and Lollipop Chainsaw. These were all critical successes, but to me they’re subpar in comparison with one particular title of his. Many have not heard of it, but it’s considered Suda 51’s magnum opus and above all an important fragment of gaming history: Killer 7.
Killer 7 is one of gaming’s most notorious, but also unknown, cult classics to modern gaming. It was an odd blend of rails shooter, survival horror, and RPG with action elements. The story of Killer 7 is of a world that has finally reached a point of peace, until a new terrorist organization emerges where their operatives are invisible monsters that explode, making them the perfect suicide bombers. Their agenda is to cause as much mayhem as humanly possible while straining relations between Japan and the US. This, of course, unnerves the world and soon an elite task force known as Killer 7 is called in to track down the organization and take them out. The strangest thing, however, is that the Killer 7 is a collective of 7 different personalities all belonging to one wheelchair-bound assassin. He, with his six other personalities, makes the perfect assassin, and together each personality wields specialist skills and perks that are vital for any job.
Its complex noir-type story was highly controversial at the time, sparking a lot of debate on what gaming narratives should portray. At this point, not many games dared to explore themes on terrorism, child abuse, drug addiction and other upsetting themes/subject matters, making it most certainly not for the weak hearted. Killer 7 faced these issues head on with accompanying visuals visuals to match the tone. Extreme gore, sadistic violence and sexual content made this a rather compelling game to observe but also one that unnerved many.
Killer 7’s core gameplay sets up various open locations such as giant hotels, amusement parks and small outback towns that have been invested with Heaven’s Smiles. The Killer 7 must eliminate various targets that are associated with the Heaven’s Smile cult: comic artists who were using the media for propaganda, a brainwashing cult leader known as a the Rainmaker and one of gaming’s most vile villains who kidnapped, abused and murdered children to harvest their organs for the black market. Yeah, it’s dark stuff!
Gameplay involved on-rails mechanics where players would follow a path, or multiple paths, of their own choosing. This limited movement but helped in progressing tension when it came to combat. You could choose from the six killers at various points in the game as each one had an important skill that would tackle certain obstacles. Our collective of assassins consists of: Garcia, the lead; Dan, a ruthless gunslinger; KAEDE, a troubled and violent melee specialist; Kevin, a gloomy vampire type; Coyote, an aggressive sharpshooter; Con, an elegant gunsmith in the guise of a DJ; and a Mexican wrestler with heavy firepower, known as MASK de Smith. A strange bunch indeed!
All these assassins come with certain skills that would tackle problems the player would encounter. For example, Con was a small DJ-type character with fast automatic pistols and great flexibility. So he’d make a great contender for a shootout or to get through small spaces. KAEDE would see hidden secrets and reveal them by cutting open her wrists and letting her blood splatter dissolve any barriers. Levels consisted of exploration, combat and lateral thinking. You would explore the world to find clues that would lead you to your target while facing puzzle elements that require character skills or just simple deduction. While progressing through the level, players would come across the invisible foes that could be only seen when entering first-person view and scanning the environment, which would then reveal the hidden enemies. You would only know they’re around by their sinister laughter in the distance. If they got too close, it’s game over.
Once seen, players would have to locate weak points and spot them in order to kill them. This was a gripping and highly engaging concept, presenting a brutal new method of action/survival horror, both in first-and third-person view. Killer 7 was an innovative FPS title that was vastly different from anything seen at that time.
Surely you’ve realized that Killer 7 was compelling and very different from the games we saw back in its day, even by today’s standards. So the big question is, why didn’t people like it?
Well, firstly, it did suffer from some very standard faults seen in many other games. There were problems with the balance of characters, meaning you would use a select two or three more than the others. Hell, I remember playing the game and using Dan most of the time, while others such as Kevin and Con I used only once or twice, and even then only because the game required them to be used.
Con was useful during two moments; a cool boss fight that required rapid fire and one obstacle that involved a half-shut door. The game never made you want to use the characters evenly or to mix things up during your journey, but rather made certain characters more useful through the majority of the game. But there were a couple of moments when the game did make use of our entire cast. There’s a boss battle where the Killer 7 goes head to head with a group of Power Ranger rip-off super heroes. You use all the characters and battle one-on-one.
Sadly, though, other faults were presented. Many players weren’t keen on the control scheme, stating its approach to various mechanics were slow, contrived and the overall experience was labelled as too odd. Many slammed it rather harshly and these factors led it to be less than a success in sales. This could be linked to games such as Half Life 2 and Resident Evil 4 shaping modern gaming to more comfortable and attractive progression, whereas Killer 7 didn’t offer much to other designers to steal ideas. It was unique in many aspects.
Killer 7 encouraged simple puzzle elements that even a child could figure out, while other segments, including a boss fight or two, were so obscure that you could be there for hours figuring out what you had to do. It was, at times, one extreme of being either very simplistic or vastly overcomplicated.
So, why is Killer 7 a classic?
Between those two extremes are segments of genius and a game that’s so engrossing that you would be immersed until the bitter and mind-bending finale. It had a great, complex story with characters you would love or despise, and seeing them get killed off would just warm your heart. Trust me, that kid-organ harvester guy gets what he deserves. The control scheme was odd but highly dynamic, making for an intense survival/action experience that worked well for both small encounters and boss battles. Some bosses, sure, were lame but others, even the simple duels between two characters, were excellent. It had great pacing, a beautiful art style and featured many elements that, at the time, you wouldn’t see outside of an RPG but now most games incorporate progressive and skill building elements.
Its subject matter was hard hitting; its violence and sexual content had substance; the gameplay was vastly different from anything at the time; and the ending would melt your mind like a classic Korean thriller. In a way, it was a game changer but one that didn’t catch on like RE4 or Half Life 2. Sadly, most gamers won’t be able to play this game as Capcom have stated they have no interest in developing a remaster due to a lack of interest. It’s a massive shame as this game deserves it now more than ever. We need weird games that spark imagination and debates while offering something as thought-provoking and memorable as Killer 7.
Unfortunately most people are more interested in a remaster of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.