VGM Entry 56: Snatcher (part 1)
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)
At this point I think it’s safe to talk about Snatcher. Snatcher has quite a long history. Konami first released it on the PC-8801 in November 1988, following this up with an MSX2 port the following month. In 1992 it found its way to the PC-Engine, and in 1994 it got its first English translation via the Sega Mega-CD. It would go on to appear on the Playstation in February 1996 and the Sega Saturn in March before all was said and done.
Snatcher was a cyberpunk visual novel, which isn’t the sort of thing North American and European gamers are particularly familiar with. It also featured some graphic violence, partial nudity, and cultural references, which didn’t jive well with North America’s outrageous censorship and copyright laws. All of these factors contributed to the long delay of an English port, and it’s quite remarkable that Konami ended up making one at all. The market was not in fact ready for it, and Jeremy Blaustein, who oversaw the localization, admitted that the game “only sold a couple thousand units”. He provided the legitimate argument that this resulted from Konami’s decision to release a game on the rapidly tanking Sega CD, not any shortcomings of the game itself. Snatcher remained popular in Japan however, and by the sixth and final release in March 1996 it also boasted six different variations on the main soundtrack.
What’s great for our purposes is that liquidpolicenaut on youtube already did all the legwork for comparing them. In some cases, such as “Decadence Beat (Joy Division)”, the original PC-8801 and MSX2 versions survive every port on into the Sega Saturn, but more often the songs get replaced for the Sega CD or Playstation and retain their new forms the rest of the way.
It’s by no means immediately obvious which take on this song is best. As songs by themselves, displaced from any game, the MSX2 version stands out the most to me, but the comments by actual fans of the game seem to denounce the MSX2 version as out of touch with the atmosphere of the scene. “Joy Division” (censored to “Plato’s Cavern” for the US Sega CD port) was Snatcher‘s general store chain. As a cyberpunk game, it naturally ought to be a little bit sleazy, but since I never played it personally I can’t say just how far that should go. The Sega CD version sounds like a porn shop, and the PSX version sounds like the score to what the Sega CD store is selling. The Sega Saturn take, despite being practically identical to the PSX take in construction, comes off quite tasteful due to better quality instrument samples. The potential complaint, of course, is that it’s too tasteful to be wholly appropriate.
If the PC-8801 take is a bit too funky and the PC-Engine a bit too weird, I’m left with the MSX2 take. It has a very technological feel to it. This is music for the sort of store I’d go to to buy my cybernetic crack injection kits for sure. The visual helps it out too; the store clerk looks a lot more seedy and a lot less evil on the MSX2 and PC-8801 than in the other takes, and the emphasis on grey (the PC-8801 has a brown floor) makes the whole place seem a little metalic–a little more futuristic. Oh the MSX2 take wins for me hands-down. But I’m listening to this with nothing but a song, a single image, and a general idea of cyberpunk to go on. I never played the game. Maybe the MSX2’s atmosphere, while consistent in audio and imagery, is totally out of place in it. One of the great benefits of Snatcher and liquidpolicenaut’s comparison videos is to bring these finer aesthetic considerations to mind.
I mentioned that “Joy Division” was renamed “Plato’s Cavern” on the Sega CD. It’s one of many censorship issues that forced minor changes in detail as new ports were made. The left-hand mask on the wall behind the store clerk on the MSX2 and PC-8801 was Predator, and it vanishes starting with the PC Engine. Amazing what petty things billionaires will file lawsuits over…
The censorship on “Pursuer Part 4 (Endless Pursue)” is a little more obvious. (Supposedly the dog was twitching, still alive on the original versions, and this was removed before they took out the image altogether.) Musically, this is another instance where the same song was maintained for all six versions of the game. Here the differences aren’t nearly as extreme, either. Again the Playstation take comes off the worst to my ears, and this time the Saturn’s improved sound does not sufficiently redeem it–at least if this is meant to be the fairly tense, down to the wire scene that the track title and early versions imply.
I can’t think of any context in which the PSX and Saturn versions might sound appropriate to be quite honest. The PSX take kicks off like some progy jazz piece that completely fails to acknowledge any sort of distress, or anything remotely unsettling (we’re still staring at a dog with its guts spilled out mind you, even if it’s censored). The bass drum beat is made no less obnoxious in the Saturn version by actually sounding like a bass drum, and its pace is totally out of touch with the melody. No, the PSX and Saturn versions are bad–no getting around that.
If you go back to the MSX2 take, you’ll find that it’s far more imaginative anyway. Variations in the intensity of the drum beats give it a dimension lacking in the last two versions. The higher-pitched notes behind the main melody in the PC-8801 introduction carry the song much more effectively than their MSX2 equivalent, emphasizing the pace of events, and the variations in percussion intensity are retained, but the main melody is just a bit too clean. The MSX2 take has a more hollow, raspy sound. I suppose I would characterize the MSX2 and PC Engine versions as prioritizing an element of danger, while urgency dominates the PC-8801 and Sega CD takes.
I could go on like this for every track, but I fancy it’s already gotten old. Tomorrow I’ll tackle who exactly wrote it all.