Blood-soaked Soliloquies: No More Heroes

Sam Leach
16 min readApr 12, 2024

The heyday of the Wii was a magical time.

In 2006, the Wii swept the world. GameStop and Best Buy could barely keep them on the shelves as the cultural phenomenon spread far and wide, eventually winding up in the living rooms of almost every home. Everyone from toddlers to grandparents were playing on the Wii, the first console to ever successfully implement motion controls and reach the casual masses.

In addition to this unprecedented success, low development costs for Wii games resulted in a massive influx of third-party titles. While most were considered “shovelware”, this opened the doors for creative titles that may not have been feasible otherwise due to the costs of development.

One year into the Wii’s lifespan, an early adopter of the Wii’s unique style would hit the scene like a meteor and show that even a console designed for casual play could creative a moving and unique experience. This title: Grasshopper Manufacture’s No More Heroes.

No More Heroes is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, a love letter to all of its inspirations, and one of my favorite games of all time.

The cover art of No More Heroes.

No More Heroes was completely antithetical in design to the family-friendly Nintendo console. While the Wii had a handful of other rated M games, such as Madworld, it was definitely not the opportune place to launch a mature title.

This, however, would not be a problem for No More Heroes. No More Heroes is a game that completely eschews tradition. When Suda51, the game’s prolific creator, was clued into the motion controls of the Wii he completely restarted production on the game, which was originally slated for a more traditional console release, because he believed the Wii and its motion controls would be the perfect medium for this beam katana masterpiece.

The game’s protagonist, unemployed otaku Travis Touchdown. (Source)

No More Heroes is a game with a lot to say. So much so that it is difficult to tell where satire ends and earnestness begins, or if there is any intended deeper meaning at all. Many people who picked up the game in its original run and were charmed by the hack-and-slash gameplay and unique assassins would later come back to find a surprising amount of depth hidden within the game’s subtext.

This is part of the genius of the game. Deeply thematic material can oftentimes put off players who aren’t interested in a deeper experience, and No More Heroes does not punish the player for not understanding its satire. It is a perfectly enjoyable game at a completely surface level. Whether or not the player chooses to engage with the themes, writing, or characters, it does not disrupt the experience. This is an excellent way to do satire, and a loving homage to many of the sometimes self-satirical, pulpy, Western movies that inspired Suda51.

The entire game is tied together by Travis Touchdown, one of the greatest and most memorable protagonists of any game I’ve played.

Travis with the Pure White Lover Bizarre Jelly poster in his motel. (Source)

Travis is one of these moments where earnestness runs tantamount to critique, with many fans of the series pointing out that Travis is the embodiment of the “gamer”, while also standing on his own as an autonomous character and experiencing growth outside of this comparison.

Travis Touchdown, based loosely on Johnny Knoxville from Jackass, is a penniless 27 year-old otaku, living in a run-down motel, whose only skills or interests include film, pro wrestling, anime, and his cat, Jeane. Despite generally trying to mimic the solemn badasses from his favorite movies, Travis is a lovable idiot who is usually the butt of the joke, and his only motivation in life is trying to get laid, which actually spurs the events of the story. His sporadic moments of earnestness actually hold weight in the story because of how aloof he usually is, and this ends up being a testament to the strength of his character.

After meeting Sylvia Christel (an agent of the United Assassins Association, an organization that is in charge of all the assassins in Santa Destroy) Travis becomes enraptured with her, and wipes out the 11th ranked assassin to impress her. This action transfers ownership of the title to Travis, whether he likes it or not, and he decides to go all-in and shoot for the top. He asks Sylvia if she will sleep with him after he becomes #1, and she coyly suggests it’s a possibility, thus removing all uncertainty from his decision to wipe out the rest of the leaderboard.

“We have a deal, remember? So hurry up and go get them!” “Yes, Your Highness.” (Source)

While Travis is completely blind to the downsides of this lifestyle at first, as time goes on he meets more opponents who challenge his way of thinking, and this is one of No More Heroes’ strongest points. The assassins standing in the way of Travis’ coveted #1 spot are all very unique and memorable characters that really provide the backbone of the game. Some are unrepentant psychopaths, some are sympathetic figures, and some are simply mirrors providing a look into the end result of the life of an assassin.

Death Metal, Travis’ first opponent, serves as a narrative foil for him. Death Metal, who is one of the older assassins you face, seems to be almost in a state of retirement. Travis meets him sitting poolside in his mansion, where he attempts to discourage Travis from challenging him or the other assassins. It is implied that the mansion he is sitting outside of has been won by his success as an assassin, and his visible age as an assassin is a testament to his prowess.

Travis, ignorant to the veteran’s requests, can only observe the opulence surrounding Death Metal — the “dream” embodied in the physical world, a dream he wants for himself. Realizing he is unable to discourage Travis, Death Metal changes tactics and instead warns him about all the other “arrogant, crude, little shits” that come around who Death Metal has killed to maintain his title and all that comes with it. And with that, the first deathmatch of the series begins…

Death Metal, the 10th Ranked Assassin in No More Heroes. (Source)

I will not go into these characters too much because I think that they are the “meat” of the game and are genuinely best experienced firsthand, but I will say that they are some of the most incredible characters you will ever find in a video game. It is in these moments that No More Heroes reaches its highest highs. By making you complete odd jobs for cash (more later on this) in order to “earn” the right to challenge the next assassin, the tension is on once you step into the arena of each respective boss.

No More Heroes is less of an adventure game and more of a (technically open world) boss rush, but these moments are so important that it works for the game as a whole by condensing the experience into a fairly linear journey. Each fight feels more important than the last, with a great balance of barebones, solemn duels and off-the-wall encounters with genuinely hilarious villains.

This actually points to one of the great strengths of No More Heroes thematically, the seamless blending of humor and serious moments. I see a lot of similarities in No More Heroes and the prominence of earlier Tarantino movies like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. Namely, the ability to tell a compelling story with a serious message through the means of outlandish characters, settings, and violence, without forgetting the value of levity. No More Heroes is a love letter to this style in its purest form, mixing laughter and tragedy in each blood-soaked page of its story.

While the boss rush story serves as the main course of this game, there is plenty on the side to fill the spaces between the duels. For the most part, this consists of working odd jobs in order to pay the entry fee for these fights. Yes, I’m serious.

The Job Center, where Travis can find temporary work to earn money. (Source)

About half of the runtime of No More Heroes is spent running around the world of Santa Destroy as a temp agent doing bizarre things to earn the money for fight entry fees. Because Travis has no experience or training outside of the world of assassins, he has to take basically whatever is being offered that day. These odd jobs vary from simple things like mowing lawns to catching poisonous scorpions and clearing minefields on the beach.

While one can circumvent some of these mini-games by taking on optional combat missions, generally one will have to play at least a couple to earn cash in No More Heroes’ story. This is a problem for some people, it breaks the immersion of an otherwise high octane rampage through the assassin ranks. However, I would argue that the “downtime” of the game is integral to its experience, because this is intrinsic to both Travis Touchdown’s character and the world of No More Heroes.

No More Heroes is technically an open world game, but ends up being more of a parody of one. The giant city that the game takes place in is largely a ghost town, with a handful of non-interactive NPCs walking the empty streets. The only real stops in this world for Travis aside from his next duel are the motel you live at, odd jobs, and places to spend money. I think this is in part due to budgetary reasons, but also ties back into the sort of parody of capitalism that seems to run alongside No More Heroes’ story.

If we think back to the moment when Travis and Death Metal touch down, Travis’ financial motivations are made very clear inside of this moment. He sees the luxury that Death Metal has accumulated and he desires to have it for himself. The only method by which this seems attainable is climbing the ranks of the assassins, because the traditional route of making money with a job only seem to keep his head above water, financing the next entry fee before he is flat broke again.

Travis capturing lost kittens in one of the odd jobs. (Source)

In this way, the odd jobs are important, because I think they reinforce the banality of the capitalist system for most people. Trading one’s time and energy doing dumb shit for chump change. Collecting coconuts is not a skill that translates into upward mobility, this is what Travis has to look forward to for the rest of his life if he doesn’t keep moving up the ranks — the luxuries of life will never be his if he doesn’t participate in the deathmatches of the ranked battles.

While I came to some of the conclusions during my time with No More Heroes, I would highly recommend Joel Jordon’s essay about the subject, because they write about it much more eloquently and in-depth — with the minor caveat that this essay is best read after playing because otherwise it may spoil key moments of the story.

Aside from solely earning money to pay for fight entry fees, there are also a few other ways to spend money in No More Heroes. Travis can buy better versions of his beam katana from Dr. Naomi’s lab, or can buy customization options in the form of new clothes. The clothing store, Area 51, allows Travis to purchase a notably wide arrangement of t-shirts, belts, pants, jackets, and sunglasses, allowing the player to almost fully personalize Travis’ look.

Some of Travis’ alternate clothes in the wardrobe. (Source)

The plethora of options for Travis to wear really drive home one of the most important parts of No More Heroes’ ethos: style. No More Heroes pays homage to much of its inspirations through clothes. Some clothes are clear callbacks to iconic characters or motifs, while some are just representative of larger styles of clothing — usually a mixture of grungy, skater, punk ethos, with a few outliers like preppy, country, and cybergoth. No matter what Travis wears, he will stand out in a crowd. This is the point.

Style trumps even gameplay in No More Heroes, which is one of the things that separates it from most other games. Generally, when games become more focused on conscious thematic details than playability, it changes the conversation around a game. Instead of deciding whether a game is simply good or bad —usually judged by a personal metric of deriving fun from gameplay and its mechanics — games that focus primarily on cultivating creative experiences tend to get put into another category, somewhere that could best be described as “art-lite”.

Video games aren’t taken as seriously as traditional media like literature, film, and even music, despite usually being a synthesis of the three in many ways. In this sense, games with artistic purpose are often put into a strange place, not video game enough for gaming, but not artistic enough to be considered art.

To me, No More Heroes is a great example of a game that challenges this idea. While there is plenty of inspiration for the themes of No More Heroes, what differentiates No More Heroes from its inspirations in film particularly is that the player must actually “play” Travis. Instead of merely being passenger to a movie, the player (who Travis can also be considered a metaphor for — the “gamer”) must complete the game in order to finish the story.

Excerpt from Suda51’s interview for Eurogamer about No More Heroes.

People’s criticisms of No More Heroes usually boil down to understimulation. This is generally the primary conflict that ideas about video games being art run into — the idea that if a game isn’t “fun” enough then its storytelling can’t hold up the experience. This, in itself, is a point of serious contention among gamers across the spectrum.

While it is understandable to want to play games solely for fun — think, would we classify Super Mario as a plot-heavy title? — there is also a level of the medium that is completely omitted if one is unable to play games that aren’t designed solely to be entertaining through mechanics. The closest comparison I can think of in another medium would be in film, where some games are Avengers blockbusters and other games are French arthouse. This doesn’t inherently make one better than the other, but exploration of both is necessary if one is to truly explore the medium.

No More Heroes, directly inspired by Suda 51’s own love for movies, is essentially a movie that you play like a video game. All of its parts are integral to the experience, even the parts that aren’t outright fun. If we didn’t have to work odd jobs and walk around a ghost town city then important themes like desolation and Travis’ relationship to money wouldn’t be conveyed, themes that ultimately end up being an important part of the game’s story.

Death Metal himself states that things won’t be easy for Travis. (Source)

I think Suda 51 implemented all of these things for a specific reason, and to disregard the less exciting parts of the game is missing the point completely. And for this reason, I think No More Heroes is a game that shouldn’t be defined by its gameplay, and instead should be embraced as a multifaceted experience that tells a worthwhile story.

I would be remiss if I wrote about my love for No More Heroes and left out the music. The music, simply put, is a marvel of the power a soundtrack can lend to a game. Suda51 enlisted Masafumi Takada and longtime collaborator Jun Fukuda, who both worked on killer7, one of Grasshopper Manufacture’s previous titles.

The entire soundtrack is extremely well-done and true to the game’s core stylistic leanings. While drawing heavily from macho rock and punk motifs that run parallel to Travis’ ethos, there is also a strong electronic undercurrent, creating a dynamic synthesis of sound that stays enjoyable and varied throughout the game. The soundtrack is almost 3 hours long in its entirety, which is huge for a game that has a relatively short runtime — clocking in at roughly 12 hours for a complete playthrough.

The boss themes, however, are truly special. Heavily inspired by the then newer ventures of The Chemical Brothers, Takada put extra emphasis into the boss themes to make sure the important moments landed with full momentum, songs usually composed with a slow and steady build up culminating in explosive breaks. His efforts paid off, because while all of the boss themes are great, some are truly incredible and belong in the hall of fame:

Two of my personal favorite boss themes from No More Heroes.

Overall, the music is a major component of the genius of No More Heroes and almost exclusively enhances the experience. Would it still be a good game if the soundtrack wasn’t so great? Yes. But the soundtrack is really that great, so it makes for an even more incredible experience. I really cannot stress enough how Takada and Fukuda absolutely nailed the specific type of sound that perfectly complements the explosive and unorthodox nature of No More Heroes.

Finally, there is one subject I have to broach. The other games.

Based on the success and cult following of No More Heroes, the series was expanded with the release of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle in 2010, No More Heroes: Travis Strikes Again in 2019, and then the long-awaited No More Heroes III in 2021.

I have not played Travis Strikes Again yet, but the other two I have completed. My opinions on them are mixed.

Promo art for No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle.

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle was a game I was grinning from ear to ear while starting up, I was fiending for something that would hit me the way the first game did. There was a lot to enjoy in it, but by the time I had finished it I felt like it was missing some of the heart that the original game had won me over with.

The returning characters were great to see, but the new characters introduced in the form of bosses were mostly lackluster compared to the first game. Some of the bosses were just that: bosses, lacking any particular charm or characterization that made the first game stand out so much. The bosses that didn’t land really did just feel like a bump in the road instead of an important part of the story, and in what is the most egregious sin of the sequel, several of the top ten assassins are killed off-screen by a side character, essentially cutting what the player would assume to be hours of the game from the script.

The music, however, was once again incredible. The soundtrack was honestly just as good as the first one, and nowadays I find myself much more inclined to just listen to the score than to replay the game.

Despite my gripes, No More Heroes 2 is still a game I would recommend any fan of the first game play. Despite my personal gripes, it is still very true to Suda51 and his vision, and the emblematic style of No More Heroes shines through in almost every way — even if a bit dimmer in some places.

The third game, however…

Promo art for No More Heroes III.

I wanted to love No More Heroes III. Having to purchase the other two games from eBay in order to play them on my almost 20 year old Wii, I was really excited for a take on the franchise on a current-day console. And the game genuinely looks great, it feels very smooth to play. One area where I will absolutely give the third title its credit is in the combat, the game feels unencumbered by the sometimes clunky hack-and-slash style of the first two games and instead subtly innovates with a much more fluid, varied type of combat that doesn’t stray too far from the core of the series.

The third game has perhaps the most intentional overarching plot, but this is actually a sore spot for me because I don’t find it particularly captivating. Instead of fighting interesting human assassins, where we are faced with more complex clashes of personality and ethos, Travis instead is fighting off an alien invasion. The aliens are somewhat varied, but at the end of the day most of the nuance of morality is thrown out the window in favor of sheer spectacle.

The main issue I have with the third game is that while it’s fun to play, it doesn’t really feel much like the first two games. Suda51 was drawing heavy inspiration from the Marvel Cinematic Universe when it came to the scale of this game, and it is evident in a lot of the decisions made regarding the events of No More Heroes III. Characters from the first two games reappear almost uniformly, but behave in weird ways, either sidelined quickly or with complete top-to-bottom rewrites.

The best comparison I could make, keeping Suda51’s love of movies in mind, is that if No More Heroes is Paris, Texas, then No More Heroes III is The Avengers. I think that it feels almost targetted to a different audience, which is fine, but it just isn’t my cup of tea. It is the most positively regarded game in the franchise though, so I would still recommend fans play it for the complete experience.

Despite what I’ve said about the two follow-ups to No More Heroes, I still think the original game is without blemish. Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture put their heart and inspirations into every single detail of this game. Even if you never take another recommendation on games from me, I would request that you try this title.

It is not just incredibly dear to me, but also likely the most important game to release on a console that was otherwise meant solely for party games and Wii Sports. No More Heroes is a game that defies expectations with its bizarre story of love, envy, blood, and wrestling, and serves as an example that even the most dim-witted of us can occasionally stumble onto something profound.



Sam Leach

writer from alabama, currently living in salt lake city. website at