No More Heroes – Boredom as a Feature

So I’ve recently picked up No More Heroes on the Wii, and to say that I am impressed is a severe understatement.

For those of you not in the know, No More Heroes is a game that involves a seriously nerdy guy (Travis Touchdown) deciding that he is going to become an assassin after winning a “beam katana” (essentially a light saber) in an online auction. After working freelance for a bit, a mysterious woman approaches and informs him he is the 11th ranked assassin in Santa Destroy, and that he is going battle his way to the top.

No More Heroes and its creator, Goichi Suda (AKA Suda51), have seen a lot of discussion, so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, but essentially, the player (as Travis) basically goes around killing a massive amount of people, all in the name of  becoming #1.  And when I say massive, I mean it. It’s a lot of people. 

In fact, the game’s tutorial had me murdering people within the first 30 seconds, and I think I killed at least 20 bodyguards by the time the tutorial was over, 3 minutes later. Then it threw me right into a level and I slaughtered at least 50 more hapless security professionals before encountering the first boss. He had a gigantic sword, and it took me about 10 further minutes to kill him. It was excessive, it was fun, it was trying, and really just plain action movie exciting.

Then I went to Travis’ motel home, went to the bathroom, played with a cat, and looked at some trading cards. Then I drove around the city for a bit, looking for work. See, I needed the money to enter the next ranking battle. So I harvested some coconuts for a while, and got some cash.

It was mundane, tedious, repetitive and shallow. In a word, it was boring.

By the time it was over, I was itching to get back into the fight. And just before I got annoyed with the terrible driving mechanics and slow running speed, minutes before turning off the game out of sheer boredom, I had acquired enough money to begin the battle again. 

And so I went back to my motel and received a voice mail about the next ranking fight, and off I went.

I slaughtered at least 100 baseball bat wielding psychopaths, and fought a guy who shot exploding bullets. It took me a good 35 minutes total, at least 10 of which I spent battling the bullet-bomb guy. I felt exhausted and drained, and wanted nothing less than to…

Get back to the boring stuff? Wait, a game has never made me want to do the boring stuff!  What’s wrong with me?

But therein lies the beauty of the systems presented by No More Heroes. The fights are long and tiring, and just before I think I’m going to quit, they’re over. And so I relax, I carry some coconuts or mow some grass, easy stuff. But sooner or later, I want back into the fray. I just need to fight somebody, do something challenging.

Which is actually pretty much the same feelings that Travis expresses. He just wants to fight somebody as skilled as he is, because regular life is way too boring. Battle is his only thrill. But as soon as it’s over, he’s exhausted and seeks a return to the mundane. It’s a never-ending cycle, and one that mirrors what the player is supposed to feel as well.

There are lots of things I’ve taken from this game, such as a rebellion against the every-day, an adoration and simultaneous rejection of anime, action movies, and excess, a respect for those who have talents that are out of the ordinary, while still retaining an attitude that pokes fun at the current “power trip simulator” status of video games…but I’m not even sure if those are intended, or just me reading into something that doesn’t exist.

But I can tell you one thing for sure: Goichi Suda wants to bore you, and he wants you to appreciate it. And that’s a brave thing to do in a genre that thrives on body counts, excitement, and non-stop action.


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