*The following paragraph should be read in the voice of a grizzled war veteran*
The paradigm of heroics has shifted. It’s no longer the honorable hero that gets results. It’s not the ones that chain themselves to morality that win. It’s the one that’s willing to do what’s needed that has a chance of saving the day. Honor and courage gave way to cunning and cold intellect.
But who cares about all that when you have a beam katana?
Within the camp of heroes and anti-heroes there is one, Travis Touchdown, who’s a lot harder to define in terms of heroics, antithetical or not. That’s probably because more than anyone else this person’s existence represents a certain “emptiness.”A what-if amalgamation of your typical obsessed fanboy who watches wrestling, violent movies, plays games, and wanks off to anime but somehow retained all those needlessly violent skills and put them through a needlessly violent test. That’s Travis Touchdown in a nutshell. A needlessly excessive individual. An otaku.
It’s well known that he is a player avatar for the 21st century nerd. Plugged into violence and neon anime lights, he’s the deconstructed otaku’s protagonist. But Travis Touchdown’s transformation into a traditional hero is one of the most fascinating character studies in all of video games.
“I wanna be number one. How’s that? Short and simple enough for ya? It’s gonna to be a long, hard road. But who knows? Could kick ass. Could be dangerous. Could totally suck. Whaddaya say bro, join me: let’s see how far we can take this.”
– Travis Touchdown
It could suck. Trying to be number 1, I mean. What kind of slacker goal is that? Be number one. Be the best, but at what? What can a loser like Travis be number one at?
No More Heroes has the convenient plot of Travis trying to become the best assassin. With a beam katana won in an internet auction, roped in with the promise of sex, our “hero” Travis Touchdown must kill until he wins. Reading the plot is like reading the inane fantasies of a deluded psychopath. Kill as many people until they become the number one assassin and then have sex with a model. This isn’t a goal, it’s a fantasy and a pretty lame one at that. It’s the same sort of nothingness that makes up Travis’s existence, and just like him it’s needless.
But that’s the name of the game, I suppose. “No More Heroes” that is. There aren’t any heroes in Santa Destroy, not anymore, at least. And with the gallons of blood Travis spills, assassinating tired has-beens like Death Metal and Dr. Peace, it’s hard to argue whether he’s doing any good or not. But a transformation occurs and it happens during the fight with Rank 6 assassin Holly Summers.
See for all his destructive tendencies and remorseless violence Travis also follows a code of conduct. Only that code is as empty as he is. A bushido-lite code where he won’t kill women, even as an opponent. The same sort of code probably lifted from a B-movie samurai flick.* And Ms. Summers is offended. What she locked into was that it’s not a code of honor for Travis, not really. It’s weakness, and there is no heroism in that sort weakness. The sort of weakness that tries to disguise itself as strength is probably doubly offensive.
*One with a lousy voice dub
Travis’s character arc spans two games though and doesn’t conclude until the sequel. The first game’s (true) ending finished with a not-so-final boss battle with Travis’s brother Henry who mocks both Travis and the player by declaring that neither of them even knows why they’re still fighting. It’s true. The meta-narrative of Travis forces us to continue killing but we both know that as individuals who enjoyed the game it really didn’t matter. It was fun; it was a fun game. The boss fights were fun. And in the sequel there was a clear part when the fights became decidedly not-fun.
Towards the end of the second game there is a seemingly endless fight. One that drags on and on. There is no music; there is no excitement. It’s exhausting. It becomes gross. And as characters like Ryuji, Margaret, Vladimir, and Alice are killed, Travis and players are awakened to eye-opening revelations.
These were honorable, desperate characters that fell casualty to an ultimately empty cause. The closer they got towards number 1, the closer they were to freedom and it was that freedom more than the fame or the sex or revenge that drove them.
And then we’re still remained with Travis.
The meta narrative of No More Heroes is a wonderful piece of trashy pulp material attempting to overcome its roots and succeeding. Where sex and violence lead way to real characterization and if some were disappointed in Travis’s transformation into a more traditional role of hero, then consider where he began. The furthest from hero there could be.
Appropriately, Suda51 has said that although there might be future No More Heroes games, this would be the last one featuring Travis as a protagonist. It makes sense as to have him continue to kill would defeat the purpose of his characterization. Travis is a character, who in the span of two games, went from violent nobody, to the closest he’ll ever get to a classic hero, and then leaves. He doesn’t need to be a hero, not anymore.