IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a very dry, very boring editorial where I explain my thought process as I delve into the narratives written by Suda51. If it’s not something that particularly interests you, I would suggest moving on to more entertaining content.
In this article I will explain the general reasoning that I apply when analyzing the works of Suda51, in terms of story structure and themes, while also arguing why I believe it worthy of analysis in the first place.
I will preface this by saying that I will mostly focus on the early work of Suda on this website, namely his work spanning from 1996 to 2008. Some of you may not be aware, that after the release of the original NMH, Suda mostly took on a managerial role, delegating direction and scenario writing to his employees. Even when he did write a full scenario for some of the post-2008 games (namely Shadows of the Damned and Killer is Dead), said scenario was tampered with by producers to the point of being nigh unrecognizeable.
(The original scenarios for both games are included in the Suda51 Complete Book, though they remain untranslated at the time.)
Why do this to yourself?
As per why I find these games worth analyzing, I will say that the games of Suda Goichi remind me of the works of directors such as Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch, both directors known for encoding hidden narratives through symbolism in their movies.
While there is a huge amount of literature devoted to this practice in cinema, barely anything is said online about these games. Mostly because such a practice, is usually unheard of in gaming.
As such, Suda branded games are usually not inherently fun to play, because the game mechanics generally serve as a piece of the allegorical puzzle of each game, rather than being a tool for entertaining the player. Which undoubtedly contributed to the niche nature of his catalogue.
Plus, the themes explored in his games (geopolitics, socioeconomics, sociopathy, trauma) happen to coincide with my personal interests.
Why would Suda encode hidden messages in his games? Wouldn’t it be easier, to write a straighforward narrative?
This is speculation on my part, as per how Suda’s distinctive style came to be.
For once, regardless of intent, early videogame storylines were, by their very nature, abstract.
That is to say that before the rise of cinematic games, most videogames (save for RPGs and visual novels) never had much of a plot outside of the initial blurb on the manual, and they would tell their story visually through abstract sprites that rapresented the player character, enemies and the environment.
Suda51, being born in the 60s, would naturally have grown up during that era of gaming.
The Souls series, would be an example of that same philosophy applied to a modern videogames, in which details of the plot are mostly inferred by looking at the scenery and at enemy mobs, or even armors and weapons. A more relevant example, though I’d assume it to be more obscure for modern gamers,
would be the original metroid trilogy.
Here’s a tweet, reporting a quote from Suda in which he discusses his focus on minimalism when writing.
Secondly, videogames were always censored in some way or another, especially in the 90s. Though some examples of it are still prevalent to this day, such as censorship of mutilation in the japanese market (Resident Evil 4 had its decapitation scenes censored in its japanese release, and Metal Gear Rising had to be reworked so that all enemy combatants were cyborgs, in order to avoid human mutilations), censorship of content related to skeletons or the undead in the chinese market, and censorship of sexual content in the western import market.
Just to establish the timeframe, I will bring up this example of Kenji Eno having to covertly replace the master discs of his game D in order to sneak a theme of cannibalism past the censors.
(It is mentioned in the wikipedia article for the game, however all the sources seem to be dead at this point in time.)
D was a game meant for japanese home consoles that came out in 1995; Moonlight Syndrome and The Silver Case, the first two games in which Suda had a bigger measure of control over, came out respectively in 1997 and 1999, also for japanese home consoles.
That is to say, that Suda would be operating under a similar timeframe & similar platforms as Kenji Eno did.
As such, he would have had to deal with censorship, thus enforcing the decision of encoding the themes he wanted through subtext rather than outright stating them.
I actually found an interview in which Suda pretty much confirmed my suspicion:
That is to say that his oblique, obscure style was developed specifically while working in a situation in which he was unable to convey his themes openly.
Another proof of this, is this interview related to Flower, Sun and Rain, in which Suda mentioned that a specific plot point (namely the Sundance clan genocide) has not been shown due to it being “too intense”; therefore the theme of ethnic genocide is mostly hinted at by the context of the game.
For the life of me, I cannot find a source for the full interview and as such I can’t really corroborate it, but this translation is out there and it fits with my analysis.
How do you discern the themes? Are you sure you’re not just projecting your own meaning onto the game?
Suda is actually quite open about what the themes of his games are. Besides the interview I linked earlier, where he discussed that Silver Case was at least in part an analysis of what generates a “criminal”, here’s a couple more examples:
Suda discussing Zoroastrian themes in Moonlight Syndrome
Suda discussing the political themes of Killer7
In the past, Suda even gave an interview where he described No More Heroes as a social satyre, but that interview has been lost to time.
Moreover, obtuse narratives are obviously built that way to have you speculate about them. The themes are not expressed openly, specifically to get you thinking about them independently. This kind of narrative is not a fable, where you’re presented with a straightforward moral in the end: It is entirely up to you how you feel about the themes of the game. There are no heroes or villains, outside of the ones you create through your own perspective.
That is to say that if you’re the kind of person who gets upset at speculation, you’d be better off erasing this website from your memory forever. My personal perspective on things will occasionally transpire from my writing, I am not a machine and this is not a wiki.
What is your thought process, when decoding the storylines?
Once you get past the stylistic and thematic differences, you may notice that most Suda written games tend to follow the same template, when it comes to the main storyline. That template originated in The Silver Case.
That is to say that the main character, is often a man who has to ‘kill the past’ (hence the commonly accepted name for this metaseries) in order to move on with his life.
The traumatic events in his past, caused this main character to suppress his past self. Therefore, the identity of the main character is actually the central mistery of the game.
Through these games, you are absorbing information through the same lens as the player character. Therefore, that information will be tainted by propaganda, personal bias and simple mistakes.
Games such as Silver Case, or The 25th Ward have the benefit of including many POV characters, so you can match the info you get from every character and come up with a reasonable approximation of what actually happened. However, in most other games you are stuck in the shoes of a singular character.
My first suggestion, would be to actually replay the game after you’re aware of all the ending twists. As I mentioned before, this series is centered around characters who are unable to reconcile their past, with their current identity. How does their past trauma inform the way they see the world? Does that inform you, on how to break the conditioning and better decode the information you are given?
My second suggestion, is to question the sources that do provide you with information. What do they hope to accomplish, by providing you with a certain piece of information? This is actually a useful example in real life, as most news sources have an inherent bias that is usually driven by economics. The information you are given is a way to tell a story, and to get you to act a certain way.
Lastly, when I said most games actually follow the same story structure as The Silver Case, I meant that literally. Be forewarned that the next section will contain SPOILERS for the entire series. So if you haven’t done so already, GO PLAY THE FUCKING GAMES BEFORE YOU COME BACK! You dumb ass. You won’t even know what the hell I’m talking about.
The main character’s repressed trauma, is often connected to an incident (that is to say, a criminal act that was covered up) that happened decades before the beginning of the game. This applies to The Silver Case, Flower Sun & Rain, Killer7, No More Heroes, and even Killer is Dead though the final scenario for that game was not penned by Suda.
In The Silver Case, said characters are the player character and Tokio Morishima, whose lives were shaped by the Shelter Children program, Kamui MasPro (MASs PROduction). Both have forgotten their childhoods, due to the trauma of being raised in a Shelter. The Shelter Children program originated as a consequence of the eponymous Silver Case.
In Flower Sun & Rain, Sumio Mondo was also a victim of the Shelter program, through the Euro Maspro. The Euro Maspro being instated on Lospass Island was a direct consequence of the Sundance Genocide.
In Killer7, Emir Parkreiner has forgotten his past & identity, and concocted the delusion of being Garcian Smith in order to suppress the memories of the Killer7 Incident, in which he was responsible for killing the entire Smith Syndicate as a direct result of being raised as an Assassin in Coburn Elementary.
In No More Heroes, Travis Touchdown has repressed the memories of his parents being killed in front of him as a child.
In Killer is Dead, Mondo Zappa has also repressed the memories of his parents being killed in front of him as a child.
Each of these characters, has authority figures surrounding them who purposefully or not, prevent them from discovering the truth about themselves. These authority figures are later removed by an external force, and one of the layers of illusion is shattered.
In The Silver Case, there’s actually too many to count, but that wound include characters such as Enzawa, The Bat and Nakategawa who control things from behind the scenes and eventually get killed off. Tetsugoro Kusabi has to gun down several members of the HCU Unit, to allow the player character to reach the Shelter.
The illusion of the 24th Ward is shattered, and it is revealed as a testing ground for the Kamui & Ayame Maspro.
In Flower, Sun and Rain, that would be Edo Macallister. He is poisoned and disappears right before the game’s climax, when Sumio finally meets up with Sundance Ritz and Tokio Morishima. (Though he survives and eventually comes back.)
The illusion of Lospass Resort as a vacation spot is shattered, and it is revealed that it is actually a cover for the Euro Maspro.
In Killer7, these characters would be Christopher Mills & Samantha Sitbon. Though ironically Christopher Mills is murdered right as he was trying to tell Emir the truth. Christopher Mills’ murder is what allows Emir to meet up with Linda Vermillion, which in turn leads him to Coburn Elementary where he confronts his childhood training. Emir’s third eye begins to open, as he opens the safe that contained Harman’s body.
In No More Heroes, Sylvia Christel disappears from the game right after sleeping with Travis. (Though NMH2 later contradicts this, and implies they stopped at foreplay. It’s not even relevant.)
This is when Travis comes into contact with Sylvia’s mother, and the UAA is revealed as a complete scam. The UAA never existed, and Sylvia just tricked people into killing each other for her own monetary gain.
In Killer is Dead, Mondo Zappa is able to remember his past once Dolly, the girl who lives in his dreams and keeps his memories from him, is killed. That past being, that David is actually his twin brother who killed the rest of his family and mutilated Mondo.
Once that layer of illusion is shattered, the protagonist is able to find out the truth about the incident that is at the origin of their plight.
In The Silver Case, the eponymous Silver Case (the murder of several elderly members of the TRO and CCO parties) is revealed as being the origin of the Shelter Children Program, which in turn was a cover for the Kamui & Ayame Maspro programs.
In Flower, Sun & Rain, the Sundance Genocide perpetrated by Uminosuke Hachisuka is what led to the creation of the Euro Maspro, which in and of itself is just a way to recreate & repurpose Sundance technology and society.
In Killer7, the eponymous Killer7 incident is revealed to having been perpetrated by Emir Parkreiner himself, acting out his training as a political assassin. This is what led to the power shift, in which Emir Parkreiner became a pawn of the United States.
In No More Heroes, Travis’ final opponent is revealed as his ex-girlfriend, who is also his secret half sister, that killed his parents in revenge for being abused by Travis’ and her father.
(If this sounds stupid, don’t worry. No More Heroes is meant as a satyre of videogame narratives. Being overconvoluted & coincidental, is part of the joke.)
It is also revealed that Sylvia orchestrated the situation specifically, so that Travis would be forced to confront his past.
In Killer is Dead, the revelation is that David killed his own family as a part of a power play to take over the Moon from the Moon River clan. Mondo was given his artificial arm & was groomed specifically as David’s replacement, so that he could one day take out David, who acted as the state’s executioner before him.
Once the main character has confronted this past incident and seemingly unearthed the truth about his setting by going beyond the layers of conspiracy & falsehood, the game ends on a final WTF moment that reframes what you just experienced, and shatters one final layer of illusion.
In The Silver Case, that would be the epilogue, in which more crimes are attributed to Kamui implying that there was more to the Maspro program than it was discovered in the 24th ward. Said crime, would be the murder of Uminosuke Hachisuka by the hand of his own stepson, Tokio Morishima, who is reported as being Kamui Uehara.
The remaster even added an extra chapter, showing that Tokio is on his way to Lospass resort.
In Flower, Sun and Rain, Sumio Mondo is revealed as an alias of Sumio Kodai from The Silver Case. Peter Bockwinkle is actually Tetsugoro Kusabi wearing a muppet suit, who came to Lospass in order to pick up Sumio. Lospass Island was somehow a space separated from reality, and it ceased to exist once Sumio’s plane touched down in the real world (said real world being, The Silver Case). Much like a dream would cease to exist, once you wake up.
In Killer7, Emir is awakened as The Bloody Heartland (much like characters are awakened as Kamui Uehara in The Silver Case setting) and eradicates the Heaven Smiles once and for all. But, when confronting the Final Smile, Emir actually ends up back in his trailer house for the final showdown. The Final Smile, hidden deep within his basement (which trailer houses do not have), is in fact both his servant Iwazaru, and Kun-Lan.
In No More Heroes, Henry (Travis’ rival through the game) is revealed as being both Sylvia’s husband, and Travis’ super secret twin brother, which would also make him Jeanne’s half brother. Everyone starts breaking the fourth wall as the plot itself falls apart around them due to it being a dumb fucking videogame plot where everyone is related to each other.
(Once again. The original No More Heroes was meant as a parody/satyre of videogame storylines. This point has since been muddled by the fact that NMH turned into a sort of franchise with Travis as the flagship hero of the company. But I’m only taking the original into consideration here.)
In Killer is Dead, it is revealed that what drove David to insanity was actually the executioner’s job itself, which caused him to absorb too much dark matter, a physical rapresentation of evil. The same thing happens to Mondo, who realizes he’s been used by the people around him, cuts off his own arm and becomes the new ruler of the moon & the new execution target.
THIS IS ONLY THE MOST BAREBONES VERSION OF THE PLOT. Each of these games include several story arcs that are completely unrelated to this template. (For example, both TSC and K7 have an arc dedicated to a side character, confronting their own past.)
That is saying nothing about The 25th Ward, Kurayami Dance or Travis Strikes Again which don’t seem to follow this template as much as the games I’ve talked about here.
What I am saying is that, once you become aware of this story structure, it becomes easier to put events in order to help you figure out where everything else fits. I’m not parading this as some end all, be all explanation.
Also, I would like to point out that this is not me dunking on Suda for reusing plot points. I actually find it very impressive that each of his games are so different from one another, despite following a similar template.
I ain’t reading all that shit, just give it to me straight bro
For your convenience, I turned my ramblings into a simple scheme you can follow along with your lazy ass. Once again I reiterate, this is full of spoilers so you shouldn’t read this until you’re done playing the games.
- Inciting incident takes place during the MC’s childhood (Silver Case, Sundance Genocide, Killer7 incident, Touchdown murders, Zappa murders.)
- Said incident, leads the MC to go through a traumatic experience (Kamui Maspro, Euro Maspro, Emir creates the Garcian Smith persona, Travis retreats into the world of pop culture and suffers from depression, Mondo Zappa is mutilated and groomed into a replacement for his brother.)
- At the start of the game, the MC lives in a world of falsities where the reality of his setting & his identity have been twisted by the inciting incident. (Sumio Mondo is a searcher, the Killer7 are a team of supernatural elite assassins, Travis Touchdown is a nerd, Mondo Zappa is a professional who applied for a job.)
- Through the course of the game, the authority figures keeping the truth from the MC are killed off or removed one by one. (Various HCU, TRO & CCO members, Edo Macallister, Christopher & Samantha, Sylvia, Dolly)
- Which in turn allow the MC to meet with other characters, who point him to the truth about the ongoing conspiracy. (Tons of characters in TSC, Sundance Rits & Tokio Morishima, Linda Vermillion & Young Harman Smith, Sylvia’s mother, I guess David.)
- The truth about the inciting incident and how it affected the current setting is revealed. (The Silver Case leading to the creation of the 24th Ward and the Kamui Maspro, the Sundance genocide leading to the creation of Lospass and the Euro Maspro, the Killer7 incident being the birth of the Killer7 team of assassins, the Touchdown murders being the origin of Travis’ depression and sociopathy, the Zappa murders being a part of David’s moon takeover plan.)
- The MC’s true identity is then revealed. (The TSC MC is free to become whoever he wants to be, Sumio Mondo is actually Sumio Kodai & a part of the Euro Maspro program, Garcian Smith is actually Emir Parkreiner, Travis goes through the process of turning from a nerd sociopath into a full blown killer, Mondo Zappa turns into the next moon dictator.)
- The reality of the narrative is shattered one last time. (the Maspro program was not confined to the 24th ward, Lospass island is not “reality”, Iwazaru & Kun-Lan were one and the same, Travis is actually a character in a dumb videogame, Mondo Zappa was a patsy who was set up to absorb dark matter.)