Snatcher: A Cyberpunk Adventure

Originally released on Japanese MSX2 and PC-8801 machines in 1988, Snatcher is a cyberpunk adventure, dripping in dark themes and dystopic style. In many ways, Snatcher is a classic Adventure game- but this one was designed and directed by Hideo Kojima, his second after Metal Gear.

The MSX Version shipped on floppy discs and an audio cartridge

Even more than that seminal release, Kojima infused his adventure with homages to his favorite Hollywood films. Heavily inspired by the films Blade Runner, The Terminator and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Snatcher tells the story of Gillian Seed three years after he and his wife Jamie are found in Siberia without any memory of their identity or their life until that moment. The dangerous Neo Kobe City has been invaded by a new cybernetic lifeform that kills its victims and steals their identity. To combat the menace, a new agency is formed to investigate and hunt  these Snatchers.  In an attempt to discover his mysterious connections with the Snatchers, Gillian becomes the newest of these ‘Junkers’.

The game itself plays similar to other games in the visual novel subgenre, with the primary difference between it and classic western adventure games being the means in which the player interacts with the world. Rather than using a mouse and pointer, everything is navigated through menu options. When not engaged in the many in-game cinematics, gameplay is from a first person perspective as Gillian interrogates characters and investigates the environments for clues. To help with this, Gillian is accompanied by the always good-natured Metal Gear mk. II who not only offers helpful recommendations as the narrative progresses but acts as a videophone to dial the many phone numbers spread around the world.

Grid-based shooting events

The handful of action sequences take place as a primitive shooting gallery.  Breaking the screen into nine squares, the player must move the reticle over enemies.  These shooting segments are smart for how they fit with the game’s menu based foundation. Since the engine was built for simple inputs, the player is only dealing with left/right, up/down or any combination of the two for diagonal. As each input defaults back to the center square, the action is fast and responsive without being exhausting. While basic, the game incorporated some interesting moments playing with the mechanic, including one where the Gillian has to shoot while using a mirror’s reflection as reference.

Due to the size limitations of floppy disks, the game only had two acts and its abrupt ending left fans on a pretty serious cliffhanger that didn’t address any of the large gaps of story. The answer to this came from a strange direction.

SD Snatcher battle screen

In 1990 Konami released SD Snatcher in Japan, a super deformed RPG exclusively for the MSX2. Seen from the top-down perspective of most JRPG’s of the era, players moved Gillian about the world, talking to NPC’s, exploring dungeons and buying weapons and items. Combat featured an innovative tactical battle system where individual body parts could be targeted, crippling various enemy stats in the process.

Even though the gameplay is absolutely the biggest departure from the original title, the story has been tweaked as well including expanding character roles and adding enemy variations. The game met with critical acclaim and has been voted very high in best MSX titles polls, SD Snatcher’s real legacy was to add Act 3 to properly conclude the story.

This ending was reworked and added to the PC Engine version, marking the first time it was made available for consoles. The larger capacity of the CD format allowed for a larger color palette, soundtrack and voice acting. This release marked the last time Snatcher would be handled by the original team including Kojima, who was, presumably, working on its spiritual successor, the cult classic Policenauts. This ‘complete’ version was also the only time that Snatcher was officially translated into English, arriving on the Sega CD  attachment in ’94 with added support for the ‘Justifier’ Light gun peripheral for Konami’s own Lethal Enforcers.

But aside from several more japan-only ports of this complete version to the Playstation and Saturn, the game went left undisturbed for fifteen years. We wouldn’t see another original Snatcher release until the rockstar of videogame design came along- Goichi Suda.

‘Inspired’ by Snatcher, SDATCHER is a prologue to Gillian’s story, telling the events that led Junker-extraordinaire Jean-Jack Gibson and his navigator Little John to discovering the Snatcher threat. But this is not a videogame, instead a seven act radio drama.

What’s so remarkable about the production are the big names behind it. Suda’s script was produced by Kojima who also voiced Little John, directed by his Metal Gear Solid co-writer and Zone of the Enders creator Shuyo Murota and set against music by famed Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka. The whole thing is very 80’s sci-fi drama that again feels like a celebration of the cyberpunk classics. Konami released Sdatcher onto two discs; one with the radio drama, one with the twenty five track music.

But it’s only available in Japanese with no official plans to translate it. Fortunately, this is another case of Kojima’s fans taking the responsibility for making one of Kojima’s efforts available for English speakers.  A joint project between Marc Laidlaw and Artemio Urbina, the entirety of the drama are being subtitled and translated into video files and made available for free on Sdatcher.net.

NOTES

-In 1993, a dutch group named Oasis created a translation patch for SD Snatcher,  notable as the first documented fan-translation project of its kind. While they admit that the project wasn’t perfect, the important story beats were been put into English. Even now, the group Melancholia is nearing completion on a new full translation patch that also addresses specific technical issues.

For his Retronauts Podcast on 1up.com, Jeremy Parish interviews Jeremy Blaustein, the man who translated the scripts for both Snatcher and Metal Gear Solid.

-Altemio Urbina’s passion for the series has resulted in one of the most comprehensive sites on the internet for the Snatcher series. Junker HQ has extensive information of every release of the Snatcher, including all versions, demo’s and merchandise, but his dedication extends to all Kojima’s titles. It’s a great resource and worth checking out.

Hardcore Gaming 101‘s inspiring research was another great resource for Snatcher but, really, has incredibly thorough coverage on many titles.

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