killer7 is many things, but one thing it’s not is similar to anything else. Published by Capcom and coming from the strange and skewed mind of notorious developer Suda51, killer7 is a game that defies both expectation and explanation in many ways. A striking and entirely unique package of action-adventure gameplay, the game is inarguably stripped down and minimalist, but at the same time splashing with flavor—Suda51 is known for his eccentricity and few of his games are as demonstrative of that as this one here. killer7‘s intensely stylish aesthetic and tight gameplay has garnered it a substantial amount of cult appeal, and the copious amounts of sex, blood, and F-bombs give its a serious edge to boot.
The game follows the bizarre chronicle of a group of super assassins known as the “killer7.” Set on an alternate version of Earth and hired by the US government to combat a virus-infected terrorist faction called the “Heaven Smile,” the killer7 are actually a collection of personae exhibited by the group’s leader, Harman Smith. Harman, an elderly wheelchair-bound assassin, has “Multifoliate Personae Phenomenon,” a unique condition that allows him to physically manifest the seven extensions of his personality. As a player, you cycle through that collection—the killer7—as you engage the game’s puzzles and enemies, using the different assassin’s unique strengths and abilities when necessary.
I liked just about all the killer7: Garcian, the dominant personality and liaison between Harman, the rest the personae, and the outside world; Dan, a Spike Spiegel lookalike whose all-around game makes him one of the best to play with; Kaede, who Suda made nightgown-sexy and suicide-weird all at once, is particularly useful for her distance-scoped pistol; Kevin, who never speaks but is one of the best in a scramble because his throwing knives are the only weapons that don’t need to be reloaded; Coyote, a hyper-athletic thief that carries a big revolver; Con, a blind teenager with enhanced hearing who’s superfast and wields dual automatic pistols; and Mask, a hulking luchador with double mini grenade launchers. Mask de Smith was possibly my favorite, which turned out to be kind of awesome since he happened to go through a few transformations (the only personality to do so) that eventually changed him from an almost uselessly slow guy with cool headgear to one of the most powerful personalities in battle.
The gameplay itself can be tough to describe. It’s an action/adventure game rooted in the principles of an on-rails shooter—you can move forward and backward across a level as you like, but only along predetermined paths. At its core the gameplay is actually quite simple, and at times can feel limiting—especially considering the game was released at a time when more open-ended adventures like Grand Theft Auto were reaching new heights in popularity. Despite the relative simplicity, there are still a few issues technically—specifically, hit recognition can be off at times, as enemies like the Backwards Smile (which require specific spots to be tagged) didn’t consistently respond as they were designed.
Each personality plays differently and can (for the most part) be switched to at anytime—Con Smith darts around really fast, Kaede can snipe away from afar, Coyote is the only one that can leap high enough to access certain places, etc. Garcian only has a low powered pistol to his name, but he’s arguably the most essential of the seven—if one of the other personalities is killed, Garcian can resurrect them. In addition to just sharp shooting, the levels demand a good amount of knowledge of the killer7’s unique skills and inventory of special items to progress on without getting stumped or stopped. The game does a solid job of implementing each persona’s special abilities throughout the levels often without feeling gimmicky or contrived.
Like pretty much every aspect of killer7, the gameplay is unique, experimental even, and despite some hiccups the effort is a success. The battles are exciting and largely remain so later in the game regardless of its repetitious, episodic structure. Still, the formulaic “fight, explore, fight, puzzle, explore, fight, collect, end-level Coliseum, boss” sequence for every single level did seem like a weird choice. On the one hand, it’s the one bit of structure in an otherwise very zany gameworld—on the other, though, the repetition was such that it was detractingly noticeable.
The stylistic impact of Suda51’s touch cannot be understated. Visually, the cel-shaded graphics and contrasting colors combine for something really unique—no other game looks like this. To put it simply, it looks “cool.” No better way to say it. The game’s striking visual look is complemented by a pumping and appropriately eclectic soundtrack, and between the two the game is at once aggressively artful and dastardly sinister in mood and appearance. Wrapping the unconventional gameplay and story with these aesthetic and audio components leaves us with a package dripping with creativity, violence and style, if not a bit of that “made in Japan” weirdness.
While certainly not beautifully written or engagingly accessible, the plot is oddly compelling. By the time things really jump off you have questions and care about the answers, all the while trying to wrap your mind around the dark, wacky, twisted tale of the bizarre and the supernatural. Harman is in a high-stakes, winner-take-all (metaphorical and literal) chess match with the mysterious and powerful Kun Lan, the central antagonist and possessor of the supernatural “Hand of God,” responsible for releasing the Heaven Smile virus. The purposes and goals behind their soul-snatching power plays eventually unveil themselves in gripping and jarring fashion, as do the dark details of the histories of the various killer7. Throughout it all, events are peppered with repeat appearances by remnant psyches of their past victims like the cryptic Travis Bell, the crews’ first victim, or the strange, bondage suit-wearing Iwazaru—the whole thing is appropriately strange but eventually reaches a satisfying conclusion with less loose ends than you’d expect.
killer7 is wildly stylish, atmospherically devious, eccentric in concept, and crisp in execution. That being said, despite being right up my alley in those regards I still noticed some small missteps in the minimalist gameplay and recognize that the graphic violence and sexuality might not be for everyone. In the end, the game is worthy of its cult acclaim and earns a score of 4 stars out of 5.