For me, and I’m sure many others, Killer7 was a revelatory experience. It was the first game I’d played where the goal was more than mere entertainment. Killer7 wanted you to enjoy yourself, but more than that, it wanted to take you out of your comfort zone and show you a world that defied expectation. In this, it was wildly successful- it could be as tense as a horror game, as curious to explore as an action adventure game, and more surreal than either. It was a hell of an introduction to Suda 51, Japanese auteur and surrealist who would come to be a major presence in the industry (artistically- not so much as a chart topping seller).
Since then, he’s been consistently putting out titles, ranging from the fairly successful No More Heroes to the tragically underappreciated Shadows of the Damned. His latest release is the PS3 action game Killer is Dead, and it is… troubling. The voice acting is bad, the writing is worse, the combat is mindless, and most disturbingly, the game is overtly sexist- rewarding you with upgrades for treating women like objects, and frequently dressing them and positioning them as little more than sex dolls. It’s a far cry from the surreal genius of Killer7, or even the tongue-in-cheek parody of No More Heroes. Suda has gone down a dark road of sexism, cliches, and general anime goofiness that corrupts the originality that we love so much.
The question of who’s to blame is fairly complicated. We consumers are for buying the games where Suda panders to low-brow interests. Suda is for caving to sales pressure over artistic vision. Games media are for hypocritically condemning bikini-clad women as pandering even though they never pass up the chance to use a half-naked woman as clickbait. There’s more than enough blame to go around, and no one comes out of it looking good. Ultimately, it doesn’t solve anything to simply argue whose fault it is.
So if pointing fingers is a waste of time, what is to be done? How do we fix this? Certainly, a perfect solution would just be for Suda to go full-on creatively wild, and be rewarded financially for this, but it’s a wholly unrealistic dream. Suda’s games were barely worth financing in the PS2 era, and costs for triple A games have skyrocketed since. The more money is involved in a budget, the fewer risks there is room to take. Playing it safe becomes the only logical move, and when Suda plays it safe, the result is a game not creative enough to satisfy those interested in art, and not mainstream enough to please the mass market.
The only solution I see is that Suda needs to start working on smaller projects. For several years now, smaller downloadable titles are where most of the innovation has been happening in the games industry. The kind of risks and unusual style that Suda does so well are only practical with a smaller team, smaller budget, and smaller risk. And indeed, in such a context games can be extremely profitable. No one would call games like Hotline Miami, Minecraft, or Bastion big budget, but they made more than enough money to let their teams work on whatever they wished, and build up a devoted fanbase, while staying true to what their vision was.
It would be a true shame to see a mind like Goichi Suda lost to the stale framework of triple A, and a sea of cliches. If Suda moved to a smaller scale, he could do everything he wanted to do without compromise, and the industry would be that much better for it. We’ve seen his mind watered down by tropes and rigid formulas for too long- unchain him, and show us the brilliance that made Killer7 so special. Maybe you wouldn’t pay sixty bucks for that anymore, but you’d be crazy not to pay twenty.