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Killer7’s bizarre, political plot is worth revisiting 13 years later

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Killer isn’t dead

killer7 screenshot Grasshopper Manufacture/Capcom

When I first played Killer7 back in 2005, I was struck by the game’s sharp visuals, eccentric cast of characters, and the unique style of hyper-violence that became the hallmark of Grasshopper Manufacture. But in 2018, I’m having a much different experience replaying the game’s PC remaster — especially as a more politically savvy adult. While the game’s visual polish is as good as it’s ever been, compared to today’s political climate, the complex and twisted plot struck a wholly different tone this time around.

First released on GameCube and PlayStation 2, Killer 7 was co-developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and Capcom’s Hiroyuki Kobayashi and Shinji Mikami of Resident Evil fame. The story follows Harman Smith, the supernatural leader of the titular assassination squad. What starts as a simple job to take out a new threat cascades into a violent, complex and politically-driven drama.

In Killer7’s alternate take on the 21st century, all the nations of the world have signed a peace treaty disarming all nuclear weapons, banning international flight and perhaps worst of all, shutting down the internet. While much of the world is at peace, a violent terrorist group appears between the fracturing relationship between the United States and Japan, pulling the strings of some of Japan’s world leaders.

Garcian Smith, one of the Killer7
Grasshopper Manufacture

The game’s take on political intrigue is intense and a bit confusing, but the basic plot doesn’t deviate too far from what you’d expect from political fiction. Throughout each of the game’s levels, which follow the threads leading to an assassination target, the Killer7 become pawns in a tug of war between the U.S. and Japan. In order to wrest power from other parties, everyone from business leaders to politicians end up getting a target on their back. As the game progresses, the tension mounts to a literally explosive finale.

Compared to modern political fiction, which toys with dark yet entirely plausible ideas, the story in Killer7 takes a different route, veering into absurdity the moment it gets going. What if in the midst of a world struggling to structure some sort of peace, two of the world’s superpowers began employing supernatural assassins and deadly viruses to tip the scales of power? What if all the secret agendas and conspiracies weren’t below the surface but out in the open? Killer7 envisions a world where tycoons can be exposed for the literal monsters they are and punished by a luchador with grenade launchers.

Iwazaru appears throughout the game as a ghostly helper
Grasshopper Manufacture

There’s no political plots that might mirror a reality we’re used to, like you’d find in a show like Scandal, but rather, Killer7 explores the most absurd ideas with a “business as usual” attitude. In a way, it’s jarring. But that’s what makes the game so worth revisiting today; its outlandishness is the norm now, and its political plot is one that a lesser vehicle might play relatively straight instead — especially back in 2005.

Killer7 sits in an incredibly small center of a Venn diagram: There’s the stylish noir aesthetic, the rogues’ gallery of colorful assassins, the political intrigue and the gameplay that makes it feel more like an interactive story than a full-on action title. There’s no question that the visuals are what grabbed me more than a decade ago, when I had played nothing else like it at the time. But it was always Killer7’s bizarre story that stayed with me through the years. Playing it again, contrasted against what the world is like today, has made the game feel new, even if other aspects are in desperate need of modernization. But while all the Dutch angles and clunky controls still frustrate, Killer7’s story has only gotten better.

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