Violence In No More Heroes - Blood-Free Japan

I finished No More Heroes a couple weeks ago, only a few months later than the rest of the world. It was really fun, enjoyable, albeit flawed experience. It was by no means perfect, but I really loved most of the time I spent in that world. Plenty has been written about No More Heroes already. What I think I can add to the rich dialogue is a look at the differences between the Japanese and U.S. version. See that screen shot at the top. I never could see anything like that while playing my version of the game. Since I live in Japan, I purchased the Japanese version, largely because the cut scenes still have English dialogue, just subtitled in Japanese.

More specifically, I wanted to briefly examine the differences in the portrayal of violence in these 2 versions. They are extremely different. The Japanese version of NMH is completely bloodless. Instead of defeated enemies exploding in a shower of coins and blood, in Japan enemies explode in a shower of coins and...some kind of weird black goo. I didn't think it looked that strange until I was reminded that the U.S. version was different. Then after watching a few YouTube videos, I believe that these 2 versions provide vastly different play experiences.

That being said, I think the key difference is in the boss battles, and the differences are apparent on 2 levels. On the first, most superficial level, your successful assassination of a boss in the Japanese version lacks the gravity of the U.S. version. And I know the presentation in this game is way over the top, but the deaths of most of the bosses carry a certain weight to them nonetheless. Take a look at this comparison of the first boss in the game, Death Metal.

In my version, I could barely even tell that Travis had cut off both his hands. The altered visuals made it difficult to tell what exactly had happened. Death Metal's death also loses some of its impact in that all that's left of him is an unidentifiable black pile of...something.

The second level of differences in the death scenes is on a more thematic level. During the final cut scene of that level in my version, Death Metal is gone. He's basically evaporated just like any other enemy in the game, except for a tiny black patch on the ground. But in the U.S. version, Death Metal's hand-less, head-less corpse is left in full view during the cut scene, as Sylvia's men clean up the mess. While Travis cares little for what he's doing in the beginning of the game, the effects of the carnage do change his attitude later in the game. The bodies of the departed are a reminder, to the player first and Travis later, that the assassin game is a messy business.

But the Japanese version completely loses these important ideas. As the bosses and their deaths grow more outlandish and complex, the Japanese version remains uncertain and, well, a little awkward. If the deaths of the bosses in NMH carry emotional weight and importance, what is their significance if they are altered nearly to the point of being unrecognizable? I'd say it makes for a vastly different, and inferior, game.

But it was still a blast to play through. I know just making the blood black and eliminating some of the more elaborate death animations was the quickest, cheapest way to alter the game for the Japanese market. But it would have been pretty cool, in my humble opinion, if Suda51 had kept with the retro themes in the game, and made the enemy deaths harken back to the games of yesterday. Enemies could explode into balls of light like Mega-Man, get squashed like goombas, or just explode into pixels and be reabsorbed into the game world from whence they came.

Even though No More Heroes is a somewhat different experience in Japan, there are still plenty of strange sexually-themed games here that would cause the U.S. to have a national heart attack. After all, I doubt U.S. gamers will ever get, or want, to massage metrosexualized high school boys a la Duel Love. Japan is a strange place sometimes. But then again, so is everywhere else.


Rayna said...

I absolutely in love with No More Heroes! I'm surprised to hear that the bloodless version is the ONLY version in Asia. When I was playing through I was asking myself why would they even offer the option to turn the blood off because that's part of what makes the game so awesome! It's just a silly and ridiculous amount of spurting blood:) It's just hilarious!

Anonymous said...

And is the ONLY version in Europe too XXD
But I still love NoMoreHeroes

Korey said...

Thanks for pointing out that No More Heores is also blood free in Europe. I failed to mention that.

@rayna - I'm not sure if this is what you meant, but in the Japan version, it's not an option to turn off the blood. That's the only way to play the game here. Just trying to be clear. I definitely want to re-buy the game when I get back to the U.S.

Thanks for your comments.

Michael Abbott said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this version of the game. I'm struck by the cultural distinctions highlighted by content in games released where you live and where I live (USA). I'm not the first person to note this, but I find it very interesting that we here in the states apparently have no problems whatsoever with depictions of violence - either stylized or hyper-realistic - but the very mention of a sex scene in Mass Effect or female breasts in Oblivion immediately send the ratings board people scurrying to re-label all the boxes.

Meanwhile where you live the blood and gore is toned down, but sexuality is explored in all sorts of ways that I find refreshing, but occasionally also a little fetishy. All things considered, I think I feel more comfortable with your aesthetic than ours, but I also believe in freedom of expression. Very complicated, isn't it? :-)

I also think it's worth noting that the American version of the Japanese-designed "Hot Shots Golf" replaced the white panties of the girl golfers with black biking shorts.

All these disparate cultural boundaries must keep social scientists working overtime. ;-)

Korey said...

Thanks Michael. I half on-purpose/half-accidentally left a discussion of cultural differences out of my post. I'm always intrigued by the differences between the U.S. and not just Japan, but also Europe and several other places. There's all kinds of weird (to my sensibilities) sexual/fetishistic games and movies. But, again, violence is more frowned upon. There are boy rubbing games, witch rubbing games, countless hentai games, and even an actor/personality known as Hard Gay. But I can't have blood in my No More Heroes.

Then again, America gets up in arms over just a small bit of nudity, so who's to say which is better.