Style, Substance, and Killer Is Dead

September 6th, 2013 by | Tags: , , ,

This is the first stage of Killer Is Dead, the new game directed by Hideyuki Shin, art direction by Takashi Kasahara, music direction by Akira Yamaoka, with story and executive production by Suda51. It’s called “Episode 1: The Man who Chose the Moon.” The video is about five minutes long.

I made a joke with a friend the other day about how if someone tried to create a Dogme 95-style movement for video games, their list of rules would essentially describe Suda51 games. Lollipop Chainsaw, No More Heroes, Killer Is Dead, all of these are basically the same game, gameplay-wise. One button to hit, one button to guard crush or secondary attack, another button to dodge/counter, and an optional jump button. Vaguely or explicitly annoying minigames. Gameplay that’s just good enough to be rewarding to a certain type of person, but not good enough to be A-list. I think of Suda51 as a dude who is really interested in making sure that the children of today still get to play Dreamcast games, and I appreciate that. All of his games are a solid B, maybe B+, but in terms of being interesting, in terms of being art, in terms of being experiences, Suda51’s games are A+ across the board. Shadows of the Damned and Black Knight Sword break the gameplay pattern, the latter being a throwback to a different genre than the other games and the former being more of a shooter than action/adventure game, but they’re both similarly obtuse and difficult, in terms of skill or patience.

“The Man who Chose the Moon” was my real introduction to Killer Is Dead. I watched a debut trailer, I think in Japanese, but I avoided any info on the game up until the day it came out and I decided to buy it. “The Man who Chose the Moon” is part-tutorial, part-cinema, and the blending of the two is what made it such a lightning strike for me. The only thing you do is walk forward, watch a cinema, and then press a button.

But what got me, what made me realize I was going to see the game through instead of getting bored as quickly as I usually do these days, was the moment you had to press and hold R1. Mondo Zappa, the main character, raises his sword, the screen changes, a voice says “Killer is dead,” and then you’re told to release R1, at which point the sword comes down and Tokio’s head comes off.

There was something about that moment, about a quicktime event being used in this fashion, as opposed to the normally annoying way they’re deployed now. (Do this on short notice, or repeat this section forever!) It felt cinematic and interesting in a way most QTEs don’t. It feels stylish. It blends story and gameplay into one thing, putting you directly into Mondo Zappa’s shoes.

Style is substance. I tend to think of substance as deep gameplay or a rewarding story, something along those lines. Something that takes time to digest, the concrete and quantifiable aspects of video game production. The Last of Us, for example, excelled at substance, even in the multiplayer. I like substance because it feels like I’m getting my money’s worth. Games are expensive, and if I’m dropping sixty on a disc or download, I need to be wowed. The most direct method is substance, but style’s just as good.

Style is harder to quantify. It’s not just visual style, or audio direction, or gameplay. It’s Mondo Zappa murdering people to finance sexual encounters, a grown man having a catchphrase, gameplay that continues to refine a blueprint established forever ago. Style is the aggregate of everything.

Killer Is Dead has style in spades, and the substance derives from that.

Further Reading:
I like this look at Killer Is Dead through the lens of Sigmund Freud’s pleasure principle and death drive concepts. It’s deeper than I went, but having played through the game a couple of times, it feels right.

Similar Posts:

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

3 comments to “Style, Substance, and Killer Is Dead”

  1. I would highly recommend No More Heroes or Killer7 if you ever get the chance as there isn’t really anything like either of them gameplay or storyline wise, although No More Heroes wears its Seijun Suzuki influence not just on its sleeve but as a full body tattoo.

    Shadows of the Damned I found to be a competent if not amazing Resident Evil 4 homage. Never finished it. Pretty standard fare for the era.

  2. The moment with the sword actually reminds me of Gungrave. I suppose this might be a spoiler, but seeing as the game is around ten years old at this point, it probably doesn’t matter. Basically, when you beat the final boss, you get a cutscene of your character putting a gun to the main villain’s head. However, nothing happens until you press a button. In other words, rather than just watching, you pull the trigger. I always thought that was pretty cool.

  3. Oh man, Dreamcast style. Few games really know what to do with cel-shading (tip: do not outline character models with black line), and Suda’s been carrying that jet-set-radio with shadows since his early days. I’m sure you already know, but one of Suda’s earliest works, Flower, Sun and Rain, is on the DS and wholly worth picking up. Contact is another lesser known project from his studio, a quirky RPG in the spirit of Earthbound. Killer is Dead definitely is the most Suda-like game he’s brought out in the time after NMH2, and I have to say it’s really something to feel a character’s presence just from the shading on their face, because Mondo is damn scary.