“You’re joking, right? I don’t care about titles or power. I just wanna be number one.”
—Travis Touchdown, No More Heroes
We are a culture obsessed with ranking. No multiplayer game worth its salt releases without having leader boards anymore (and even single player games have leader boards these days) so that we can all see who is the “best” at whatever game that we’re currently talking about. Suda 51’s No More Heroes takes the obsession with being number one into the world of assassination, presenting a world where the mysterious United Assassins’ Association has created a ranking system for assassins in which one can move up the ranks by killing those above him. For Travis Touchdown, the promise of being the top ranked assassin is enough. “I wanna be number one… Short and simple enough for you?” he asks the player in the introduction. This is the first step on a bloody path that comprises the game’s story, which darkly points out by the end that the rankings don’t mean anything. Travis’s battle has been in the service of nothing at all. It is a nihilistic message that lies hidden under the game’s constant pressure to move up the rankings and be the “best”. By the end of the game, the plot itself refuses to provide any sort of actual conclusion, as Travis seeks only to bail out of the plot, saying “You want me to tie up all these loose ends [in the plot]? I don’t think so”.
There is a hint at this lack of meaning after the very first fight, when Travis complains that “I’m not feeling the sense of accomplishment that I should”, which in turn leads to the promise (but not a guarantee) that if he reaches number one, Sylvia might “do it” with him. The motivation for making a run at the number one spot (the desire to be “the best”) changes once Travis realizes that the defeat of the former 10th ranked assassin is not half as satisfying as he hoped it would be. Apart from the promise of sex, the only other motivation he has is that defeating assassins pays the bills, but when one of those bills happens to be the fee for setting up the next fight, it all seems a bit self-defeating. This is also setting aside the number of perfectly legitimate jobs that can do the exact same thing for Travis—and in many cases the assassination jobs that Travis can pick up pay less than some of these more menial tasks—the gas pumping job can reap sizable rewards, as can a job cleaning up litter, although the game does provide at least one assassination mission that pays far better than most other jobs.