No More Heroes 3 is finally available, bringing the trilogy that started that began nearly 14 years ago to a stunning close. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we were given the chance to sit down and chat with Goichi “Suda51” Suda, founder of Grasshopper Manufacture, the niche Japanese game developer with a relatively small but entirely dedicated cult following.
Suda51 is well known for No More Heroes, Killer 7, Shadows of the Damned, working on Lollipop Chainsaw alongside MCU director James Gunn, and the fans will know him for far more than that. Suda-san is a legend among fans of niche and experimental Japanese “indie” games, which is why our allotted 30-minute timeslot with Suda-san went over by a fair bit.
Sat in a Zoom call with another Grasshopper Manufacture producer and a translator, I barraged Suda-san with questions and poorly pronounced Japanese greetings, to which he always smiled. We focused on No More Heroes 3 and Travis Strikes Again primarily, but it’s far too tempted to delve into the wild “Grasshopperverse” that Suda-san has created - and that’s exactly what we did. Read on below for our full interview with the man himself.
What was it that made you and Grasshopper Manufacture want to return to No More Heroes with Travis Strikes Again?
[Goichi Suda] Back around when I was making Let It Die, we overhauled the entire Grasshopper team and making it basically the new Grasshopper. We started off with a really small team - including myself there were about four people. As we went along, we met up with some former Grasshopper staff who decided to come back, we also picked up some new veteran staff as well as some staff new to the game industry as well. From that point on, we were thinking 'okay, so what are we going to do next?' Right around then I was first introduced to the Switch by Nintendo, and when I first saw the JoyCon pop up off the side console I immediately felt 'Okay, this is perfect for No More Heroes.' I was really impressed by the motion controls and the way the whole system works, and I thought 'okay, this system, in particular these controls, is going to be perfect for bringing Travis back. We're gonna make this next game.' That's pretty much where TSA came from, and then of course that's where No More Heroes 3 also came from as well.
What inspired the different direction that Travis Strikes Again had when compared to the other games in the series?
[GS] As for TSA, as you mentioned earlier, when we put together the new Grasshopper with a really small team we were deciding what we were going to do next, and when I got introduced to the Switch and decided to make TSA, that's when we had to decide what kind of game we were going to make. Obviously, it's a No More Heroes game, but let's do something a bit different. There are obviously considerations, such as scheduling and, available budget at the time, but the biggest reason that TSA became the way it is is I decided to make something - not just indie, as in an indie style game - but do something that's also for the indie community, a homage to indie games and the indie community in general. So I thought, 'okay, I've got this smaller, compact team, we're a brand new team, we're trying some new stuff out. So let's take the characters and the plot from the old games, and try something new with this.' Paired with the scheduling and budget, it all fit together. And came together as the Travis Strikes Again we have now.
Was No More Heroes 3 planned at that time?
[GS] Yeah, while we were still in development for Travis Strikes Again, at the back end of the schedule, I started considering going back to the actual numbered series by making No More Heroes 3, and based on the work that we'd done with our new team on TSA, I decided 'Yep, this is the perfect team to go with. These are the guys that I want onboard for No More Heroes 3.' So around the end of development on TSA, we started researching what the foundation of the game would be. By the time TSA came out, we had basically started pre-production around that time. So when TSA first started, there were no concrete plans for the third game. But just before it came out, we made the decision that we were doing this now.
Was it difficult making such an ambitious game for Nintendo Switch? No More Heroes 3 is a little bit more complicated and detailed than the likes of Travis Strikes Again.
[GS] There were some things in No More Heroes 3 that, compared to TSA, were clearly a lot more complicated, and were more difficult to realise. There were also a lot of things that came a lot more easily. As far as programming and basic development itself goes, the team got used to the Switch during the development of TSA, so the actual game development and programming wasn't really such a challenge. The biggest challenge that we faced when creating No More Heroes 3 was the scale of the game. And the impact that it will have on the players. One thing that I felt was absolutely necessary for this game was to make sure that it exceeds whatever the players are going to be expecting from it. So on one hand I've got the game that I want to make and these ideas I want to put in the game, on the other hand, I've got fan expectations and fan requests, and things that the majority of fans are definitely gonna want in the game, and also the things that the fans are expecting. And so I have to reverse engineer in a way. Putting together things that I want to put together, but also imagining what the fans are wanting, expecting, and what the fans think is possible, and working backwards from there to meet in the middle, but at the same time, be sure to exceed fan expectations and imaginations. So that was actually by far the most difficult part of No More Heroes 3, making sure that it not only met my own expectations and my own wishes for my game, but met and exceeded those of the fans, and making sure that it wasn't too big and therefore be detrimental to other parts of the game while making sure it wasn't too small and didn't end too quickly either. The size and scale of the game, in terms of both actual gameplay and timelines, and fan expectations - that was probably the most difficult part to manage.
Is there anything that you wished to put in No More Heroes 3 that just wasn't viable?
[GS] Yeah, there were a lot of things that we had planned for the game that, due to various reasons, we weren't able to keep in the final product. A lot of them were entire scenarios that had to be cut back due to time constraints, budget constraints, and stuff like that. One of the major cutbacks was, once we had finally finished all of the cutscenes, we realised there were over three hours altogether. We were like, 'Okay, this is just way too much, we're gonna have to cut back on some of this.' And it took us a long time to figure out exactly what we could cut back without taking away from anything else. We ended up cutting about an hour of cutscenes. So it went from over three hours, and now there are about two hours of cutscenes in the game. As for the scenarios and stuff that we wanted to put in the game, there's one in particular that really sticks out in my memory. It's the fifth-ranked boss, her name is Midori Midorikawa. In the game, Travis fights her, moves on, and the game progresses.
NO MORE HEROES 3 SPOILERS IN THIS ANSWER
At the end of the game, Travis gets killed, and he ends up getting sent off to a place called Blackhole Prison, and in this prison, Travis meets another prisoner named Fleming. Fleming and Travis end up fighting, and after the battle, they talk things out, and it's revealed that Fleming is not only a character from the Shadows of the Damned, but he's also Midori Midorikawa's father. There was another entire scenario that was going to go over this, but due to time and budget constraints, we ended up having to cut out the entire thing. I'm really happy with the way the game shaped up in the end, but that's one of the things that I really would have liked to include - that particular scenario. There are a lot of other things that we had to cut from the game. A lot of these things had to do with other characters and storylines from past Grasshopper games. For example, there was more about the Fleming, there was there were some things connecting the story to The Silver Case, for example, the character of Kamui, that would delve a bit further into his roots, what kind of guy he is, what kind of guy he's become. Unfortunately, there were a lot of things that we weren't able to realise in the end. I'm still happy with the way it turned out. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I regret not putting this stuff in the game, but I think it would have been a lot of fun not only to work on this stuff, make it a reality but also to see how fans would react.
Many previous Grasshopper Manufacture characters appear in No More Heroes across the series, is No More Heroes and Santa Destroy at the centre of the Suda51 connected universe, or is it just one of many parts?
[GS] Santa Destroy is obviously Travis' hometown, his base of operations. But while it's Travis' territory, I wouldn't really say that it's the centre of like the Suda or Grasshopper universe. That particular universe, it's a really big and complicated thing. For example, the Blackhole Prison I just mentioned - that's off not only in deep space, but in a space between realities, or worlds. There are other places not just in the No More Heroes series, but in the other Grasshopper games as well. You've got like Santa Destroy, which is here on earth, and you've also got other places which, in my mind, they exist in a parallel universe, that itself is still part of this whole Grasshopper universe. But at this point, not just with the No More Heroes series, but all the games that we've done so far, there hasn't been any particular game or location that would serve as a centre of this Grasshopperverse. That's not to say that place doesn't exist, I've actually been considering a lot of this and possibly some time in the future, maybe the next game, or the one after that, there's a really high chance that we will touch on something like that. At some point in the future, there will be this location or game that really does officially serve as the centre of this Grasshopperverse. Travis Strikes Again - that was probably the game that had the most of these cameos and crossovers with other games we've worked on before. There was a reason for that, actually. That game was made as a commemorative game for Grasshoppers' 20th anniversary. For example, we received a lot of assistance from Capcom, who allowed us to use some of the Killer 7 characters in the game. We pulled in some characters from other games in the Grasshopper catalogue. Travis Strikes Again is so far definitely the game that has the most of these crossovers, but it's still not exactly a central point for that universe. So to reiterate again, it doesn't exist yet, but in the near future, something that does serve as the centre of the Grasshopperverse is pretty likely to come into existence.
Okay, so we should all hold on for the Grasshopperverse version of The Avengers?
[GS] Actually, 2028 is going to mark the 30th anniversary of Grasshopper Manufacture, and while I can't say anything concrete yet, we definitely want to do something really special for that. We really want to send up some fireworks for that. So while I can't say we're gonna be doing The Avengers of the Grasshopperverse, I definitely want everyone to look forward to 2028.
Can we expect to see No More Heroes 3 on other game platforms?
[GS] No plans at the moment, being a Nintendo Switch exclusive.
No More Heroes 3 is a very authentic action game, the action is more refined than previous games in the series and is more challenging. Was this a deliberate choice going in?
[GS] There's a guy named Toru Hironaka, he's one of the head programmers at Grasshopper, and he's been with Grasshopper since the first No More Heroes game. When he first joined up he was fresh out of college, and now he's basically an industry veteran. He's generally really good at action games, and he's always really loved to programme action games. But the one thing this guy is really good at in particular is boss fights. Hironaka, he's probably done more boss fights than anybody else in the industry. He has worked on the boss fights for pretty much every Grasshopper game since the first No More Heroes game, and a lot of the games that Grasshopper has put out since then, this guy has either completely or mostly done half or more of the boss fights for each of those games. He's just got years of experience doing nothing but programming action games, boss fights, battles. So over the years, he's really refined his skills, and when we were making TSA, he came to me and said, 'I want to do more action, I got some ideas, I really want to incorporate some of this stuff, here's some of the stuff that I'm thinking of.' And we had a lot of really long discussions about what he wanted to do, what was possible, and how these things would fit into the game. So for both Travis Strikes Again, and for No More Heroes 3, there was a lot riding on Hironaka himself. He really took the lead and really polished the hell out of all the different boss fights, and just the action in general. Hironaka would programme the boss fights, get everything set up, and then I and Ren Yamazaki would get into it, and we would go back and forth with Hironaka. We would go back and forth a whole bunch of times until each individual fight was as polished and as close to perfect as we could get it. I was actually thinking about this recently, and by the time we started working on TSA, Hironaka had already become just amazingly good at action in general and boss fights in particular, but between TSA and No More Heroes 3, Hironaka's skills shot up like exponentially, and I really feel that Hironaka should pretty much be the gold standard for the industry, as far as boss fights, action, and stuff like that. I'm super happy to have so many people tell me that they really liked the action, that they thought the action No More Heroes 3 was better than the previous games. We all put a lot of work into making sure that it was as refined and, most importantly, that it was as fun to play as possible. I really feel that one of my main goals with No More Heroes 3 was properly accomplished, as far as the action and the boss fights in particular.
There are lots of games in the Grasshopper library that people have a lot of love for, and you've already mentioned that you had to get permission from Capcom to include Killer 7 characters in TSA. So I'd like to ask what's the chances that we see sequels to some of the stranger Grasshopper games such as Killer 7 - maybe a Killer 8? - or maybe even Flower, Sun, and Rain?
[GS] As far as Killer 7 goes, that's unfortunately not Grasshoppers' IP, that belongs to Capcom, so there's not really much we can do with that. But actually, for Flower, Sun, And aain, in particular, that is our IP, and I have been thinking that I'd like to do something with that in the future. Before putting out a sequel or something, I'm thinking of doing either a remaster or a remake, to get people more aware of the game, because it's a bit old so a lot of people probably don't know about it. So what I'd like to do, at some point in the future, maybe, is do a remake of Flower, Sun, and Rain, and reintroduce the game, reintroduce a few elements that maybe didn't make it in the first time around. And as we discussed earlier, possibly even set up something that would incorporate something into the game that does serve as the central point to the Grasshopperverse. Again, there's nothing concrete that I can say, but it's definitely something that I'd really be interested in exploring and realising in the near future.
NetEase called it a bug, but others called it a feature.