With No More Heroes 3 releasing in a few days, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the original No More Heroes from back in 2008. No More Heroes is a hack n’ slash game by punk video game auteur Suda51 for the Nintendo Wii. It’s also known for its sense of style, crude comedy, and copious amounts of gore.
But what’s most interesting about it is how No More Heroes acts as a satire or commentary about the very people playing it: the gamer and what it means to play video games as a whole.
The Way of The Assassin
No More Heroes stars Travis Touchdown, an otaku obsessed with anime, video games, and wrestling. Travis is unemployed, lives in a motel, and decides to use the last of his savings to buy a lightsabre, oh I’m sorry, a beam katana, at an online auction.
From there, he decides to become an assassin to get his money’s worth. But not just any assassin, he wants to climb the ranks of the United Assassins Association (UAA for short) to become the number one ranked hitman. All organized by the elusive organization head Silvia Crystal.
Travis is rude, slobby, and he loves killing. In fact, for him, killing is like a game. He quite poetically states many times that there is “nothing more gratifying” than “fighting your own kind”. As such he shows no remorse when hacking through the many droves of enemies encountered through the adventure. And why does Travis do all this? Well in his own words.
Even though “number 1” is a title, one that doesn’t really mean anything. In many ways, it feels a lot like someone trying to get a high score on a game, only here getting the high score just happens to involve cutting people in half. This is further emphasized by the fact that the UAA ranking system at the end of each level is an actual high scoreboard. So basically, by becoming number 1, Travis just wants to become the best murderer he can be and win the game.
And just to make this fairly obvious metaphor even spicier, there is one other reason why Travis wants to win
So yeah, he wants to get a high score and he wants to get with a hot girl. And did I mention that a core mechanic of the game is to charge your beam katana, you literally jerk off the Wii mote?
What the game is saying is pretty unsubtle. Most games try and justify their violence with noble or chivalrous motives like saving a princess or defeating a great evil, or at least a sympathetic revenge story but here, what Travis wants is both crude yet brutally honest. No More Heroes ultimately proposes that underneath all the romanticism and pretty words, much like Travis when playing actions games like No More Heroes, the player is also looking for nothing more than violence and anime tiddies under the guise of heroics. Basically, they’re getting themselves off.
Earning Your Entry Fee
This theme of false heroics is something entrenched throughout the entire game. A significant portion of the game in between the assassin fights is completing part-time jobs around the game’s overworld.
This is an often-criticized aspect of the game. The free-range overworld can be seen as boring. It’s a plain overly large American city with very little to do despite its size. It’s a dreary and repetitive slog to drive through and interact with. A far cry from the bombastic blood-soaked gameplay found in the assassin mission.
In addition to this, In order to get the money for your entry fee to the assassin fights, you have to take part-time jobs which take the form of motion control mini-games. You’ll collect fruit and flip burgers repeatedly and eventually make the cash you need to start the actual fun part of the game.
It’s here however that Suda shows some of the wittier aspects of the game. Here, you’re expected to grind through a bunch of boring jobs in your mundane town to purchase an overpriced entry fee which then allows you a few blissful hours of overly indulgent carnage only to return to your boring job to earn more money just so you can do it all over again. This gameplay loop is eerily familiar, isn’t it?
In the end, as repetitive as these part-time work sections are, we as the gamer come to understand why Travis enjoys the assassin rankings so much. He plays for the same reason many gamers play; he’s bored. There’s nothing to do in his dull town. His part-time jobs are a waste of time that he’d rather not do. The assassin’s missions are the only thing that really excites him with the promise of violence but ultimately; both Travis and the player are the one’s really being played.
The Garden of Madness
Near the end of the game, it is revealed that the entire Assassins Rankings were a lie. Sylvia was a con woman who created the UAA in order to swindle Travis out of his entry fee money. After all that effort and all that bloodshed all Travis did was to give millions of his hard-earned money to a shady business that doesn’t care about him in the slightest. The title of Number 1? The steamy trophy that is Sylvia herself? All bait to lure in a slobby otaku looking for excitement.
And while it does suck, it’s also hard to really feel sorry for Travis. He’s an otaku slob allured into glorified bloodsport by nothing but the appeal of violence and hot women. He’s willing to work these dead-end jobs to secure ludicrous amounts of payment for this twisted opportunity. And in the end, it’s doesn’t amount to anything. By the end of the game, Travis has accomplished nothing. He’s still a loser otaku living in a motel room with no goals, passion, or friends outside of one guy he barely knows at the video store, just like he was at the start of the game.
But of course, isn’t that all that we the player wants? Blood and anime tiddies? Isn’t that why most people would pick up a game like No More Heroes? To get away from the mundane boring world we live in. To pretend that we’re a badass, who can spout cool one-liners about death, cut up a hundred goons, and get the hot girl.
Travis and by extension the player gets neither and simply loses a lot of money to a corporation far smarter he is. It really makes you question, was it all worth it just to self-gratify that katana, again, something the game makes the player physically do as well.
Ultimately, gaming gives people a power fantasy, it makes us feel larger, more powerful than we really are but at the end of the day, perhaps this is basically all that gaming is. It’s what a lot of popular media is. Paying stupid amounts of money to experience gratuitous gore and boobs. Something that for the average person, gives us nothing in return, and No More Heroes mocks us for doing this. It mocks us for thinking video games can make us heroes.
Still Just a Bud
And despite all this, I still love Travis as a character.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a good human being, nor one whose actions should be replicated but he is funny, he exudes personality and there’s just something downright enduring about Travis Touchdown. He has a pure drive to peruse his goals, it’s almost admirable in how much he wants to get to the first rank despite how vague and pointless it is. It’s worth noting that Travis is even encouraged by other characters to finish the rankings as “a good man finishes what they start”.
I do also think a big part of this likability is the fact that Travis is a loser nerd. One of the most memorable scenes in the original game is after the fight with the 6th ranked assassin Holly Summers. At the start of the fight, Travis talks big about not fearing death, no remorse, no mercy. But at the end of the fight, he can’t kill her because she’s a woman. Summers then says this:
This is not mercy. You can’t kill a woman. Pathetic. If you can’t kill a woman you are less than a thug. You’ll never make it to the top.
That’s ok, I seem to have a thing for stupid pathetic men like you. I can accept defeat if it comes from your hand. I will let you in a secret, assassins must die when they lose. Open your eyes and never look back.
She then proceeds to blow her head off.
This scene alone more or less summarizes the entire point of the game. On one hand, she’s right. Sparing one attractive NPC when you have already killed hundreds is a pretty superficial attempt at chivalry. But she stills holds a soft spot for Tarvis. That’s because this false mercy also shows Travis for what he really is. He’s not truly malicious, he isn’t a complete psychopath he just doesn’t think about these things too hard (like he admits at the start of the match). It’s just a game to him and this fight serves as kind of a wake-up call. He really is just a try-hard idiot with an overinflated sense of grandeur who’s in way over his head.
I can imagine that a lot of people who play video games, myself included, want to be someone cooler than actually are, which is essentially what Travis wants. In a way, this makes him pretty relatable. When he makes crass retorts and dumb one-liners, even when he kills enemies, he does for the same reason most of us do; it’s cool and that’s understandable despite how messed up it actually is out of context.
I dare say, I think there’s a little bit of Travis in every gamer. Not the lecherous, rude parts, although that can apply to some people. Rather the part that drives you to keep going, to find the last collectible, to beat that hard as balls boss, to spend hours perfecting that one combo, swearing and reveling in violence the entire way through. The part of you that wants to be number 1, for no other reason than because you can. That part of you that wants to be a hero even if you really aren’t.
No More Heroes
So to clarify at this point, I don’t think No More Heroes is trying to make a moral argument that violent video games are bad or gamers are bad people for wanting to play violent video games or that gamers would behave like Travis in real life. No More Heroes is still a violent video game, it would be a bit hypocritical if it was trying to argue these things.
I think rather No More Heroes uses Travis to show the persona of a gamer at their most extreme and exaggerated with both the good and bad that comes with it. On one hand, it points out how messed up it is that games like itself glorify violence. How we use gaming as a fantasy to indulge in violence and titillation and pay stupidly high fees for it. But also presents an understanding as to why people like these things and how they are goals worthy of pursuing despite what little sense they make. It’s said that when you stare into the abyss, the abyss states back. Likewise, when playing No More Heroes, the game holds up a mirror, reflecting the presumable otaku gamer playing it.
No More Heroes would go on to have two sequels and a Spin-off. No More Heroes 2, which wasn’t directed by Suda51 noticeably strays from the themes of the previous games and plays a lot of its satire straight. Now there is an actual UAA and the game seems to actively want Tarvis to come off as cool. That being said it also furthers his development from the first game, showing him overcoming his flaws and becoming a better person, in his own unique way. Where No More Heroes 3 will go at this point is unknown but with Suda once again at the helm, I remain optimistic that Travis will be getting up to some serious trouble.
Suda51 said in a recent press presentation, “I believe that video gamers truly show the power of entertainment media. I sincerely believe that this power invigorates us and instills us with hope for tomorrow”. Suda himself has admitted to being a huge gamer and loves gaming as much as anyone else does.
Maybe that’s why he decided to make a game like No More Heroes. It’s his way of saying the next time we play our favorite violent action games, to really think about why we like them and what does it say about us. Perhaps we’re all a little more “fucked up” than we realize.
No More Heroes was originally released on the Nintendo Wii and has been re-released along with No More Heroes 2 on the Nintendo Switch and PC.
No More Heroes 3 will be releasing on August 27th for Nintendo Switch. If anything in this article interested you, consider picking it up.