Part 1: My first exposure
I usually try to keep my personal experiences out of my writing as much as possible because, contrary to many internet commentators, I don’t think it’s particularly interesting or worth reading about. However, considering this post is about explaining my personal preference in which games to cover, some biographical details are necessary.
As opposed to the greatest part of the fanbase, I was introduced to the work of Suda Goichi way back in 2006 through the game Killer7.
The focus on politics and DID is what drew me to the game, which eventually led me to research the older works of Suda, namely Moonlight Syndrome, The Silver Case and Flower, Sun and Rain, which were japanese exclusives back then.
Meanwhile, the first exposure to Suda’s writing for most westerners actually came later, with the original No More Heroes on the wii. One just needs to look at sales figures to realize that No More Heroes was, back in 2007/2008, the Grasshopper Manufacture game that has been in the hands of most people.
While I do enjoy the original NMH and I definetly recognize a certain level of depth in its storytelling, I get the impression that the greatest part of its audience was attracted by the crass humor, the ultraviolence and the focus on “geeky” pop culture, rather than any interest in whatever the game was trying to say about consumerism, sociopathy and escapism, and that’s what they came to expect from the company’s follow-up titles.
At the very least, that’s what the producers and publishers seemed to think, because the surface level aspects of No More Heroes became the template for most GHM releases for the following ten years.
Part 2: The corporate years
Some of you might not be aware of this, but after the release of the original No More Heroes in 2007, Suda Goichi mostly took on a managerial role within his company, Grasshopper Manufacture, for the following decade.
Suda51, however, took an active role in promoting these games and his name featured front and center in the credits and in promotional materials, further obfuscating his diminished role in the actual production.
These games include No More Heroes 2, Shadows of the Damned, Lollipop Chainsaw, Killer is Dead and Let it Die among many others.
As opposed to earlier outings of the company, such as the anime-licensed titles Blood+: One Night Kiss and Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked or games such as Michigan and Contact (which were both directed by Akira Ueda, an interesting personality on his own accord), these were advertised as main entires in the Suda51 catalog, likely in an attempt to bank on the cult success of Killer7 and more importantly, No More Heroes. Despite that, his actual credits are relegated to vague roles such as Executive Director, Executive Producer, Creative Director and so on.
While I don’t necessarily hate all of these games (in fact I have some good things to say about some of them in the Other GHM section), this is a fansite dedicated to Suda Goichi’s writing efforts. Seeing how he did not act as director nor writer for any game produced by his company between 2007 and 2019, I don’t think Grasshopper’s output during those years is relevant to understanding the man’s work.
As I mentioned before, the priority in the writing of these games is placed on being outrageous, violent, funny, likely in an effort to recapture the No More Heroes audience.
Which is completely fine for most videogames, most of which barely need a storyline anyway; It is not, however, what I had been looking for in Suda51 branded games, hence why my interest in the company plummeted for the next years.
Despite the advertisers’ best efforts, Suda’s absence from development was noticed and reported on even back then.
– I talked to four people that worked there [at Grasshopper] and they all say the same thing, y’know. That Suda does nothing. And they all hate Suda. Like, hate him, it’s not like, “oh, we disagree with some decisions he made”, it’s more like, uhh, “we want him to be dead”. But actually, you know, somebody said “You really, really want him to be dead, you want somebody to kill him, that’s how much you hate him?”. He said, “No, no, I actually… If somebody killed him, he would become more famous.” So they would prefer… that he doesn’t get killed.
– But what if he got hit by a bus, like, in accident?
– No, they say that would be bad. So I said, what if somebody assassinated him, like a special assassin, that would erase him from history, also, he would not only just kill him but completely erased him from history… and everybody agreed that that was a way to go.
I find that quote to be especially funny because it sounds exactly like something out of The Silver Case, that’s more or less what the Heinous Crimes Unit does.
I’m not trying to call out Suda51 here. Being a human being living in the real world, I understand the importance of securing one’s financial position, and while some people may not want to hear this, providing for one’s family is far more important than one’s artistic endavours. I’m just posting examples of how his lack of input in GHM’s growing catalog of games had been reported even back then. (This podcast came out in 2012, around the release of Lollipop Chainsaw and Diabolical Pitch.)
Game reviewer Yahtzee commenting on Suda’s name being used to advertise games he had little to do with in 2013:
Youtuber TheGamingBrit’s retrospective on Suda’s “fall from grace”:
Recent releases have given us more context on this decade of apparent inactivity. According to the Suda51 Official Complete Book, Suda Goichi did indeed write scenario drafts for both Shadows of the Damned and Killer is Dead, which were subsequently scrapped or tampered with by producers to the point of being nigh unrecognizeable.
This factoid explains THIS 2013 interview in which Suda Goichi claimed that the setting of Killer is Dead would deal with the assassination of Osama Bin Laden as part of the main character’s backstory.
Not only this is never once mentioned in the game, it is actually contradicted by the context of the game itself. The reason being that the actual storyline had been neutered and altered by the time Killer is Dead reached the shelves.
In The Art of Grasshopper Manufacture (which I would raccomend purchasing, but you can find an archived version on this VK page for quick consultation) we were told that Suda had to present no less than five drafts for Shadows of the Damned until the game was approved for release. Some of these drafts were eventually adapted in Black Knight Sword and Kurayami Dance.
We were also told that the focus on voluptuous females in Killer is Dead was actually mandated by Kadokawa, the company producing the game, in order to better market the game in Japan. While the Gigolo Missions themselves barely impact the main scenario of the game, if at all, it is indicative of the level of influence the producers had on the final product.
That is to say that while there is little evidence of Suda51 having much to do with the production of some of these games, Shadows of the Damned and Killer is Dead initially started off as passion projects that were neutered by their producers to the point of being unrecognizeable.
Shadows of the Damned was initially conceptualized as a completely different game called Kurayami.
The grinding simulator Let it Die, initially started development as an anime-inspired game called Lily Bergamo.
There was even some evidence that Lily Bergamo might have been initially conceptualized as a No More Heroes spin-off. (The character in this concept art might have been an older Shinobu Jacobs.)
I don’t want to drag down this opinion piece with this decade of games any more than I’ve already did. I will link to some videos at the end of the page if you want to delve more into their history.
Before moving on to Suda’s return to the directorial chair, however, I want to focus on No More Heroes 2, what it meant at the time and what it will mean moving forward.
Part 3: Desperate Struggle, Travis Touchdown and pandering
WARNING: I’m going to shit on No More Heroes 2 pretty hard in this section. I have some friends who absolutely love that game; for the life of me, I don’t understand it, but that’s not to say that I think any lesser of them. Considering I am not a psychopath who judges people due to their taste in videogames.
Within Suda’s original catalog of games, from 1995 to 2007, each game feels distinct and original, but one thing you won’t find in there is pandering to any specific audience.
The man kickstarted his writing career by creating the story mode for a wrestling game which ends in depression and suicide. He didn’t do that to pander to a subversive crowd or because he thought it would generate buzz on then non-existent social media platforms; He did that because the suicide ending was originally conceived as a bad ending, but he didn’t feel it made sense for the outcome of a wrestling match to have any impact on a man’s suicidal depression.
Creating characters that have a life of their own is especially hard to do in videogames, where the player character is generally meant to be an audience surrogate or at least a likeable lead that players can root for.
Garcian Smith, for example, is a character so detatched from reality that even the player guiding his hand within the game, is unaware of the fact that Garcian is actually Emir Parkreiner. Emir Parkreiner is not even his real name but one he was implanted with. We know next to nothing about the main protagonist of Killer7, and his life is so deranged and distant from anything the average gamer might encounter in his day to day life that I consider the idea that anyone would “self insert” as him to be very unlikely. (Note that relating to a character and “self inserting” as said character, are two completely different concepts.)
Main characters in these games are also very much expendable, sometimes even dying off screen uncerimoniously.
Compare that to most videogame franchises, centering their brand identity on the main playable characters. Mascots like Sonic or Mario, cool, larger than life characters such as Dante or Solid Snake.
With the surprising hit that was No More Heroes (a hit for a small sized company such as GHM obviously.) Travis Touchdown had, in fact, transfigured into the company’s mascot.
I will go into more detail about this in the No More Heroes section of the website, but for now it will suffice to say that I believe the original NMH to be, in part, a satire or parody of videogame storytelling stereotypes.
I don’t even think the game is subtle about it; By the end of it, everyone starts breaking the fourth wall and the storyline falls apart due to every character being connected to one another.
Travis even fast forwards through the overdramatic, overplayed backstory of his ex-lover and secret half-sister who murdered his parents in revenge. (Which sounds exactly like the backstory of a Metal Gear Solid villain.)
The story finally falls apart when Henry, Travis’ rival, is revealed as Sylvia’s husband and Travis’ super secret twin brother, after which Travis gives up on tying up the loose ends of the story. I mean that literally, as in, that’s what he states, breaking the fourth wall.
What I am getting at, is that the constant plot twists and absurd family drama, are not meant to be taken at face value. They’re lampooning the poor storytelling of other “cinematic” videogames.
That is the reason why it was such a disappointment for me to see its sequel, Desperate Struggle, wholeheartedly embracing the kind of storytelling that the original was making fun of.
While No More Heroes 2 is indeed a comedy game (or at least it tries to be. I can’t say that any of the jokes landed with me.), there is a complete tonal backlash when it comes to the way the story is presented.
The absurd interpersonal relationships that were outright dismissed with a fast-forward or with the characters breaking the fourth wall to point out how stupid they were in the original, are now played straight and a core element in the overall narrative. That is to say that you’re not only meant to take them seriously, you’re also supposed to be invested in these relationship to get anything out of the game’s storyline.
The plot is kickstarted by the death of Georgy Bishop (formerly Bishop Shidux) who is suddenly referred to as Travis’ best friend, “like a brother to him”, despite Travis barely interacting with him in the original game outside of renting VHS tapes or getting him to drive his bike for him.
He even referred to him as “the guy at the video store” in the original’s intro.
NMH2 goes through the motions of explaining Sylvia’s, Travis’ and Henry’s familial status, reintroducing Shinobu Jacobs as an apprentice figure for Travis, even reinstating the UAA as an actual organization within the canon rather than a scam ran by Sylvia, almost in an attempt to completely undo the original’s subversive climax which I can only assume was controversial among the fanbase, considering it has been ignored ever since and is consipicuously absent in every online analysis I ever came across.
The climax of No More Heroes 2 is a much more standard affair, where character relations are put front and center with the villain Jasper Bat (formerly Butt) taunting Travis with the deaths of his loved ones. Travis eventually discovers this to be a lie and enacts revenge for his “best friend” Bishop.
The character of Travis Touchdown underwent a similar revolution as the world surrounding him; The original rendition of Travis Touchdown was not meant to be the audience’s self insert, neither was he a hero to unilaterally root for. He was, in fact, the initiator of violence within the context of the game. His journey is ultimately selfish; He starts climbing the Assassin ranks to chase fortune and sex, and while the UAA is eventually revealed to be a scam by Sylvia, he goes through the final fight anyway, once again not to fulfill any kind of heroic mission, but because he needs to put his past traumas behind him. (In other words he needs to KILL the PAST.)
Travis even implied that he chased after fame, fortune and sex because he suffered from depression and wanted to ditch his day to day routine in order to escape to PARADISE during the Death Metal fight.
Said depression would have been caused by repressing the trauma of witnessing his parents’ murder. Which in turn is what led him to retreat in a world of escapism. (Which in this case would be geek/nerd culture, pro-wrestling, moe anime, videogames, so on and so forth.)
Travis’ development through the game could be roughly summed up with him learning to take his job as an assassin more seriously, first by coming to terms with the idea of murdering women as well as men, and secondly by learning to put his life on the line. The bulk of this development actually happens during the Holly Summer fight, where she berates Travis for being unable to kill women and for failing to understand that “Death is the only truth.”
By the end of the game Travis seems to have taken these lessons to heart; as he is able to kill several women (most importantly is ex-lover and secret half-sister responsible for his parents’ murder) and once faced with the reality of being trapped in an inescapable gameplay loop, he decides to finally put his life on the line while fighting his secret twin brother (as evidenced by their swords both being one moment away from cutting each other’s heads in the final moment before the credits start.) in an attempt to escape to Paradise.
It is also worth noting that Travis’ interest in Sylvia seems to be completely physical in the original game, as evidenced by his general lack of interest in her disappearence and his sexual taunting at her husband (who is also his secret twin brother in case you weren’t paying attention), as opposed to the bizzarre story of pure love presented in the following games.
In short, as it is obvious from the title of the game, Travis Touchdown is not a hero. His passion for pop culture is not a Scott Pilrgim-esque signalling meant to validate other pop culture fans, it is an integral aspect of the character’s psychology. Travis alienated himself into a world of fantasy to escape his trauma. His objective through the game is to trade one escapist reality (his alienation within an artificial world of pop culture) with another (the glamorous life of the ultra rich and famous). It is only by being tricked with a false promise of sex that Travis is finally able to KILL THE PAST and confront his trauma.
This is why the decision to turn Travis into a hero, and specifically an audience surrogate, is as baffling to me today as it was in 2010.
No More Heroes 2 seems to exist in a quite frankly bizzarre balance in which Travis’ escapist obsessions are both played for laughs but also celebrated. The story also goes out of its way to justify Travis’ murder sprees.
This can be seen clear as day in the very first fight in the game; Travis initially accepts to brutally butcher 50 people under the promise of a blowjob, but this motivation is quickly done away with and never mentioned again once the Skelter Helter reveals his plan of ruining Travis’ life by killing the video store clerk. The hit being ordered by none other than the first ranked assassin.
This isn’t the only example; This game conveniently omits the side missions in which Travis is hired as a hitman, to take other people’s lives for money; they are instead replaced with revenge missions in which Travis enacts righteous vengance against Bishop’s murderers.
Another weird aspect of the game, is how most characters in the story either want to fuck Travis or be bestowed the honor of being killed by Travis.
This is a complete reversal on the original game, where it was often pointed out (especially in the Doctor Peace and Bad Girl fights) that Travis is not any better than the people he is chopping to pieces. Their pasts are just as fucked up as Travis’; he just so happened to be the protagonist of this story.
In the sequel, Travis Touchdown is treated as a God, squarely framed as objectively and morally superior to everyone around him. The ones that he kills either deserve it (The gangster goons, Skelter Helter, Jasper Ass, and inhuman characters such as Matt Helms, Cloe Walsh and Doctor Letz Shake), are honored by and willing to get killed by him in a fight (Nathan Copeland, Charlie MacDonald, Ryuji, Margaret Moonlight and Alice Twilight) or are mercy kills (Captain Vladimir) completely exonerating the main character from any and all responsibility as the initiator of violence.
All of the female characters whom he does not kill, Sylvia, Shinobu and newcomer Kimmy, all lust after his dick like a buried fireman longs for an air pocket.
In a fan favourite scene which I can only describe as flabbergasting, Travis even goes out of his way to defend the rights of imaginary characters:
Now I am going to be completely honest and say that I have no fucking clue what the game is trying to tell me here, because living in the real world, I am quite certain that manga characters are not, in fact, alive. My educated guess would be that this is the game’s attempt at acknowledging the original’s fourth wall breaking nature, but it comes off as so random I can’t make heads or tails of it. If it’s trying to comment on the influence that violent media has on people, I would say that is an utterly misguided goal, considering this game revels in its violence much more than its predecessor (Travis even murders two black women randomly during one of the fights, just because they were thrown at him.)
Incidentally, the plot point about Travis tearing down the UAA is introduced in this scene and never brought up again.
Much like the storyline subverts the satire of the original game by ignoring and contradicting its ending, the framing of Travis as a main character is also a complete reversal of the original. His violence is framed as justified and righteous. Travis is just “One More Hero”, in other words, he is now framed the same exact way as the action game protagonists he was originally a parody of.
One might argue that this could be classified as offscreen character development, that Travis has changed his ways between the two games. That would be incorrect however. Travis is essentially the same exact character as the original game; what changed, is that he was written into a story tailor suited to justify his behaviour, to allow the audience to enjoy the ultraviolence and vulgar quips without having to think about any of those pesky themes.
His geeky antics cannot even be considered escapist anymore, as the man actually owns a giant robot with its own anime-style intro song and gets to fight specters and monsters.
Despite what you might think, I don’t necessarily consider this to be bad writing. It is, in fact, quite average for videogame cutscenes.
(Apologies for all readers but, I’m sorry to say, most videogames to ever feature an involved storyline happen to have dogshit writing.)
Which is why I am a lot more forgiving for games such as Shadows of the Damned or Lollipop Chainsaw, despite them having similar scripts to NMH2.
The issue at hand here, is that No More Heroes 2 just so happened to be a sequel to the original No More Heroes, a game that specifically poked fun and subverted gaming tropes in order to make several points about consummerism, social isolation, escapism and so on.
It doesen’t just undermine the point of the original game, it aggressively frames it as wrong. Videogame storytelling is worth celebrating; savage murderers can indeed be righteous heroes. I understand the need for streamlining such a narrative, when the ultimate aim is to turn your controversial MC into a company and brand mascot.
This paid off somewhat; while sales were a disappointment, I would put the blame on lack of advertisement rather than the lack of audience engagement. Most people who played this game seems to love it. Alas, it’s simply not for me. I acknowledge its fans and understand their tastes; I will raccomend some further opinion pieces that are a lot more positive about the game than I ever could be, but since I have nothing interesting or positive to say about the game, I just have no intention of covering it in-depth, which makes this entire paragraph a complete waste of time, both yours and mine.
Congratulations! We now share a pain, which makes us as close as brothers. Or at least, as close as a serial murderer and a video store clerk.
Part 4: A return to better things
Tired of corporate interference and inspired by the resurgence of indie gaming, Suda began the process of distancing himself from GungHo (by that point, GHM had become a subsidiary of theirs) and founded a new Grasshopper Manufacture with around 20 employees, therefore scaling down development to produce something closer in budget and scope to his older productions.
The first game to be released by this new GHM would be Travis Strikes Again, a title heralding both the return of Suda51 to the directorial chair and the return of Travis Touchdown as the game’s protagonist.
The writing in Travis Strikes Again is much closer to the company’s older outings; the game does its best to recontextualise the events of No More Heroes 2 in a way more consistent with the rest of the series, with Travis’ quest for revenge being framed as a mere rationalization for another murder spree. Minor inconsistencies, such as the UAA becoming a completely different thing between games, are explained away and the fourth wall breaking nature of the original NMH is acknowledged and weaved into the plot so that rather than trying to get the player invested in the surface level plot, the game throws linear logic out of the window completely to tell a more allegorical story. (The main plot involves Travis looking for six death balls, which are actually videogames, in order to summon a tiger god and have a wish granted.)
The game also acts as a celebration of Grasshopper’s 20th anniversary, featuring cameos from almost every single title in their catalog and using this chance to weave the No More Heroes series into the overall Kill The Past timeline. (I originally had a whole section detailing every cameo in the game; I eventually decided to spin it into its own separate article.)
In short, I consider Travis Strikes Again to be a much better sequel to the original No More Heroes than NMH2 ever was. So why am I not giving it the same attention that I reserve for Suda’s earlier games?
I have two main reasons. The first one being that there’s simply a much bigger fanbase for the No More Heroes games than there is for the games I like to cover; therefore, several commentators already delved into Travis Strikes Again, and I will raccomend some of them in the final section of this editorial. I would just end up repeating what other people have already said: pretty much everyone has already figured out the coded narrative of the game, or rather, the fact that the game is at least in part an allegory of Suda’s own career.
The only thing I haven’t heard anyone talk about, is how the Killer Marathon level seems to be a homage to Leiji Matsumoto’s work.
The intro video is drawn in a style that is clearly apeing Matsumoto’s:
With the flying locomotive being an obvious homage to Ginga Tetsudo 999, Matsumoto’s most famous work:
The western desert section right before the locomotive might be a homage to Matsumoto’s wild west manga, Gun Frontier, which happens to feature the first appearence of mainstays Harlock and Tochiro Oyama. Matsumoto’s coming-of-age manga, Otoko Oidon (I am a man) is also namedropped in the Golden Dragon GP level.
To my understanding, most of Matsumoto’s catalog remains untranslated in the anglosphere, hence why these connections would not be reported on.
My second reason for not writing about TSA, its upcoming follow up and most likely any future GHM production is a personal one.
I’ll cut to the chase; I think TSA is all right. While I don’t especially care for the main VN plotline, I am a fan of the game worlds explored within the game. I’m actually a lot more positive about the gameplay loop than most NMH fans are; in fact, I consider it the best gameplay ever featured in a GHM title. Or at the very least, I had fun getting perfect ranks on the boss fights and playing on higher difficulties, which is something I can’t say of most other games in their catalog.
However, being invested in TSA and in the upcoming No More Heroes 3, in which Travis will face off against space aliens in league with the director of EA, means being invested in the character of Travis Touchdown as a hero, and I simply am not. My interest in said character ended, along with his character arc, at the end of the original game.
Moreover, while TSA does a lot to undo No More Heroes 2, it still inherited its DNA as a celebration of nerd/geek culture. I actually consider TSA one of the better celebrations of gaming’s history, considering it takes the time to acknowledge several different eras including vector games and FMV games, even gaming magazines of olden times and the crazy gaming ads from the 80s and 90s get a mention. It’s certainly better than most “love letters to gaming”, which exclusively focus on sucking 8bit dicks.
That’s just a topic I am not interested in running a fansite about however. Someone else will take the time to catalog every single reference to every piece of gaming media that TSA delves into, and I wish them all the best. Someone else will likely find some hidden depth in the upcoming NMH3, which is shaping up to be a celebration of Tokusatsu and especially Kamen Rider, and post terabytes of videos about it on youtube. I’ll definetly play the game and most likely enjoy it, but I sincerely doubt I’ll have anything interesting to say about it considering I’m an old motherfucker, who is not immersed in current pop culture at all.
I’m not an idiot, I am aware that covering upcoming releases would garner me more views. I’m just not interested in any of that; I’ve made no secret of the fact that I plan to abandon the internet entirely as soon as I’m done working on this website. This is my personal pet project and if you happen to enjoy it, I’m happy for you. If you don’t, that’s also fine. While most of you are expecting No More Heroes 3, my interest in Suda is mostly related to the Flower, Sun and Rain remake he announced and a potential translation of Moonlight Syndrome. I hope we all have fun and enjoy our lives. As someone who ran a much better fansite than I ever will once said, I feel… asleep.
Part 5: Recommendations
This is the section you were all waiting for, the one where I suggest listening to people who aren’t me.
If you’re interested in the post-2007 era of Grasshopper Manufacture, here’s my personal raccomendations:
Hikikomori Media, and his Grasshopper B-sides series:
This guy made a well informed retrospective on every single minor GHM release. Hence the title, “B-sides”. My personal favourite series of his is the one on Shadows of the Damned, where he reported on the entire process that the Kurayami concept went through in order to turn into the third person shooter that is Shadows of the Damned.
GhenryPerez and his Deadly Individualism series:
GhenryPerez more or less takes the absolute opposite stance to what I just claimed. His series is specifically targeted at the games I don’t plan on covering, with the purpose of explaining how those games have value and are worth existing. I would especially raccomend his No More Heroes 2 video, specifically because he takes the completely opposite stance that I do, delving into what possible allegorical meanings that game might have had and what contribution Suda51 actually had to the script.
This is a channel I am personally a fan of; He barely covered Suda51 games compared to the greatest part of his content but I find his videos interesting, especially his analysis of Travis Strikes Again (coming from a legitimate Travis Touchdown fan, as opposed to myself) and his video about Blood+: One Night Kiss, a game I never really delved into after my initial playthroughs due to my lack of knowledge in regards to the japanese language.
Rain, Sun and Flower:
I’m not a reader of this blog, but whoever is running it wrote an opinion piece about Travis Strikes Again focusing specifically on the character of Travis Touchdown.