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SUDA 51 interview - No More Heroes III, what didn’t make the cut, and THAT ending

In our Suda 51 interview, we asked the acclaimed director all about his latest release, No More Heroes III

A headshot of developer SUDA 51 shows him stroking his chin pensively

To celebrate the launch of No More Heroes III, we got the opportunity to sit down with acclaimed game director Suda 51, to discuss his work on the series, his other projects, and how it felt to conclude a trilogy originally started on the Wii. No More Heroes was a moderate success on the Wii that garnered a cult following and a Wii sequel in No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. Outside of Travis Strikes Again, however, the series hadn’t returned in many years, but now No More Heroes III finally concludes the story of Travis Touchdown.

Suda 51 has been a game designer, writer, and director for decades, after founding the development studio Grasshopper Manufacture in 1998. His works so far include Killer 7, The 25th Ward: The Silver Case, Flower, Sun, and Rain, and the No More Heroes series. He has also collaborated with other developers on multiple projects such as Lollipop Chainsaw and Killer Is Dead.

No More Heroes III was released recently, and you can read our No More Heroes III review to find out why it’s a fantastic end to the madcap series and is among Suda’s finest works. This interview contains spoilers for the end of No More Heroes III, so if you haven’t completed it yet, maybe pop back when you’ve finally reached the end.

Pocket Tactics – Good morning, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me SUDA. I just want to say congratulations on the launch of No More Heroes III. I reviewed the game, I loved it, and it was nice to see the trilogy ended

Suda – Thanks a lot, it depends on the person obviously, how much they are able to enjoy it, or not enjoy it so much, but I really think that once you get in the zone, it really is a fun game

Travis Touchdown stands confidently with his arms wide open, he holds a beam katana in his right hands

I wonder how it felt returning to, not just Travis because of Travis Strikes Again, but the No More Heroes as a franchise after so many years?

Suda –  Well with Travis Strikes Again, I was sort of able to make another Travis Touchdown adventure without being tied down to the restraints of the numbered series, and try to do something totally different. So that was a good escape, that was great to do.

When it comes to No More Heroes III, I guess you could say the pressure was very extreme. Not only the pressure of knowing I was going back to the official numbered series, but also it’s been so long since the last game came out and expectations from the fans were really high. Even the expectations I put on myself were really high. I constantly had this pressure of… I have to go above and beyond No More Heroes 1 and 2, I’ve got to give the fans what they want, but I also have to be able to make the game I want to make. There was a lot of pressure making the game. It was pretty much a really long series of stacking ideas, on top of ideas, on top of ideas, seeing which ones mesh together and which ones didn’t, and finding the right balance of these different ideas that I wanted to put into the game.

So, until the game was actually finally released, to be honest, I was really scared of how people were going to react. And yeah, I’m really glad that I was finally able to get it out, I put a lot of work into it over several years, and there’s a whole load of ideas we managed to get into the game, and personally, I’m really happy with the way it turned out.

You can just see that there’s everything and the kitchen sink in this game. There’s so much fan service, and so much work has been put in, from previous gameplay elements and characters. I wonder, what could have been taken out? Is there anything you had to pull as it was too much to balance? 

Suda – Actually, yeah, there were a lot of things that I really wanted to put in the game, but just ended up not being able to for various reasons, many for scheduling and budget reasons, there were a lot of things. As for things that really stick out in my mind, there are a couple. The first one would be the playable characters, originally I had wanted to have the playable character be not only Travis, but have a total of six playable characters in the game. I mean obviously, that ended up not working out.

The other things that I really wanted, that I definitely planned on putting in, but ended up not being possible, were the weapons. For example, the beam katana. In the first two games, you were able to upgrade the beam katana and get new ones, but unfortunately, we had to get rid of that for No More Heroes III. Another element that I was kind of hopeful for that ended up not working out was the in-game anime. There’s an anime in the series that Travis is a big fan of called Bizarre Jelly, and I was really hoping to have the latest iteration of Bizarre Jelly appear in No More Heroes III, but unfortunately, the main creator who had been working on the Bizarre Jelly stuff, a guy named Okama, was just really busy and had a lot of stuff on his plate, and wasn’t really able to participate. So because of that, we weren’t able to include the Bizarre Jelly stuff in there because I didn’t want somebody else working on it.

There are actually too many things to list, I’m not even sure where I should start, but these three things are the main ones that stick out in my mind in terms of things I really wanted in the game, but ended up not being possible.

Travis slashes his beam katana wildly, leaving a trail of light in it's wake. He is attacking a tall alien opponent who looks to be knocked back

This game takes a huge sci-fi turn, and you pull from so much pop culture. There are allusions to the X Files and other sci-fi properties. I wondered if there were any particular sci-fi pop culture references you were pulling from for enemy designs, especially Fu? 

Suda – I’m struggling to try to think of a recent sci-fi movie that I’ve seen that I took some inspiration from, or incorporated in the game. It’s not a movie, and I’m not sure if it fully counts as sci-fi, but I’ve been really into Rick & Morty recently, as you can see with the toy I have (Suda holds up a figure of Mr Meeseeks). I’ve been enjoying the worldview they have, where pretty much anything goes. Watching that and going, “oh wow, so in these recent sci-fi based shows, these guys have a lot of freedom”, that’s really cool. They do all sorts of crazy stuff, they go all sorts of crazy spaces. There’s alternate dimensions, realities, and multiverses. 

Saying that, I’m not sure there’s anything in the game that is directly influenced by it, but I took a lot of inspiration from that. It helped me to realise I can be a bit freer with the game I make and the stuff I create, and I really felt a lot of passion coming from the creators of Rick and Morty, with how they are able to do whatever the hell they want. And they’re cool with that, and the fans are cool with that. I feel recently a lot of gamers, especially the younger gamers, tend to dig that kind of stuff.

I also felt that a lot of the gamers out there, especially fans of the series, were really looking forward to seeing some crazy-ass No More Heroes world, and seeing some of the crazy stuff Travis might be able to get into next. So watching stuff like Rick and Morty, really gave me the motivation and the courage to just get out there and go really wild. That’s definitely something that has in a way, influenced No More Heroes III

It feels like there are about seven different endings to the game, and so many things happen to Travis. Though this does feel like an end to the series, that ending feels like it could go anywhere. I know you’ve said you’re maybe done for now, but are you purposely leaving yourself room to come back and grow this world even bigger with the different elements that are seeded at the end? 

Suda – Actually yeah, I guess you could say there’s a possibility of taking the series or the character on [further] from now. I can’t remember exactly when in the series it was, but to give an example, like in Dragon Ball, I believe it’s right around when the character of Trunks showed up. Everybody watching the series at the time was like “dude, what the hell does this mean, this is crazy, in a good way, but this is crazy. How big is this world going to become, how far does this thing reach?” and I was really impressed by that. 

Travis Touchdown - wearing a Gundam-inspired mech suit- poses in a cool position with his beam katana in his right hand

I wanted to do something kind of similar for the ending of No More Heroes III as well, I mean the ending of the entire series. I guess you could say I did do that on purpose. I know I’ve said myself, and it says so in the game this is his final battle, this is the end of the series and everything, but realistically, when you look at the ending and you look at the story, thinking back on how the series and how the character has evolved, and the way they are, I feel that it really isn’t necessarily the very end.

Travis himself could come back at some point, the series itself could come back somehow at some point, Travis could be dead, he could be out fighting again, he could be battling someone else, he could be out on his own adventures, you really don’t know! I’m really glad about the way the ending turned out, because I really wanted to create the sort of ending that, I guess, could be taken in the way any specific viewer wants to take it.

And again, it’s said that this is the final battle, and this is the end of Travis, but we really don’t know what the future holds, and I myself have my own high expectations for the future of Travis and the series. I hope a lot of the fans out there do as well. Although I can’t say anything concrete right now, yeah, it’s definitely feasible and/or the series might return in some form, at some time in the future. And that’s kind of how I wanted people to take it.

I have to ask as well, I’ve always wanted Travis in Super Smash Bros, so that ending put a huge smile on my face. I wondered if you did that as a sort of, “OK, if Sakurai won’t give you Travis in Smash, I will!” and did you have Sakurai’s permission to make that Super Smash Bros homage? 

Suda – Actually, up to this point, Travis has appeared in Smash Bros in different ways, but just like a lot of the fans I personally feel that my endgame was having Travis appear in Smash Brothers as an actual fighter. So, that definitely was in my head as I made that ending. As far as whether or not I got express permission from Sakurai to make that ending? I did not. I didn’t bother to try, because to be honest Nintendo had told me that it was ok, and they also kind of told me “yeah, maybe don’t talk to Sakurai about this before you do it.” So I went ahead and did it, because if I actually contacted him and he said “you can’t do that” I couldn’t have made it, so here we are.

Luckily I’m pretty close with Sakurai, and I spoke to him a little while ago and he told me that he’d played No More Heroes III, and he’d cleared the game. So I kind of brought up that ending, and said “was that ok, what did you think about that?” and he said, “that ending was awesome, I really loved that. I really liked how you did all that super hard extra work just to create those assets for the ending. That’s totally fine, don’t worry about it”. So, to be honest, it was after the fact but I guess you could say, in a way, I did get permission from Sakurai for that. So it is what it is, and he apparently appreciates it, so I guess we’re cool there!

Travis Touchdown is furiously pushing his beam katana against the sword of an opponent, while an onscreen prompt tells players to twist the right analogue stick clockwise

That’s amazing. I also wanted to know, obviously you have worked with directors before, like James Gunn on Lollipop Chainsaw. I wondered if anybody was to make a No More Heroes movie, would you want James Gunn, or would you ask another director to take the reins? 

Suda – I mean, James Gunn is one guy, but another guy, this actually comes out in the game quite a lot, is a Japanese director Takashi Miiki. If Miiki made a No More Heroes movie it would be pretty awesome and interesting as well. As far as James Gunn goes, as you said we worked on Lollipop Chainsaw together, we had a great time working together, but since then, the dude has basically become a superstar director.

Gunn does both Marvel and DC movies. I’m pretty sure that at least for the next ten years his schedule is completely packed up. But, if I’m being honest, it’s actually sort of a personal dream of mine, for one day in the future –  if for example, we were to ever decide to make a movie of a 100% Grasshopper IP, maybe an IP we haven’t even created yet – James Gunn is definitely somebody who I would like to work on that movie. It’s always been a dream of mine to work with James on a movie version of an IP that I created and that Grasshopper owns itself. So that would indeed be amazing, the guy is a genuine director and I would really love to work with him on something like that one day.

Alright, so for my final question. In a series with so many elements, and so many crazy moments, do you have one moment, or one element, that you’re very proud you managed to make happen?

Suda – This is really difficult, please give me one minute. Actually, there’s so much stuff that we’ve put in the game, there’s so much I’ve done over the years, there’s actually a lot of things that I want to answer with. Especially with the most recent ones, obviously, No More Heroes III is the most recent and fresh in my memory, it would be an easy out to pick something from that game!

But, when I really dig deep, I think maybe there’s one scene in No More Heroes 1 where Travis kind of… He’s on his bike, and he smashes into something, and enters a building and screams “fuck-head!” There’s that part. But when I really think about it, the very first time in No More Heroes 1, when he charges the beam katana. You can’t see what I’m doing right now, but I’m doing the jerk-off motion. But this right here, this motion (Suda makes the jerk-off motion and laughs).

The first time this came out, I thought with this, No More Heroes has solidified its place in the video game pantheon.  Yeah, thinking back to all the different stuff we’ve done over the years, I’d have to say my proudest moment would probably be that first scene in No More Heroes, the one where he charges the beam katana. That’s got to be it. Also, I hope that’s a good enough answer!

Thank you, that’s amazing. Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it. And again, thank you so much for No More Heroes III and the series, I love it so dearly 

Suda – You’re welcome, thank you so much!

For even more on No More Heroes III, you can read our No More Heroes III review to find out why we described it as “the best the series has ever been.” Meanwhile, Switch owners can check out our guide to the very best October Switch games to find all the latest essential titles.