What can you say about Suda51? The man toes a fine line between genius and insanity, and the end result is almost always marvelous. His collection of cult classics, ranging from the No More Heroes series and his most recent Lollipop Chainsaw, to his timeless Killer 7 and Shadow of the Damned, are known for turning the gaming genre on its head and producing some the most hallucination-inducing games of all time. Talking to Famitsu alongside Kadokawa Games boss Yoshimi Yasuda, the duo discuss their upcoming project Killer is Dead. What follows is a translated transcription of the interview in its entirety:
“The Return of the Killer Series
Yasuda recalls KID [Killer Is Dead] coming about at the end of 2009, during the development of Lollipop Chainsaw where Suda51 came up to him to present ideas on what to work on next together. Being a huge fan of Suda’s “Killer Series” [Killer 7, No More Heroes, and No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle], he really wanted to work on such a game, so it was an easy choice for him. For Suda, the idea of those games had been on his mind for a while previously, namely the desire to improve on them. Upon showing the idea to Yasuda, he realized that he wanted to compliment Lollipop Chainsaw’s “sunny” and joyful existence by making a dark, “shadowy” contrasting piece.
As with Lollipop Chainsaw, there’s a natural allocation and division of roles between the two guys, with Suda taking command of game planning, and Yasuda quality management. Regarding game content, Suda usually handles the game design and visuals, and Yasuda deals with the battle systems and event scenes.
As you are probably aware by now, the protagonist of the game, Mondo Zappa, is not your conventional professional killer. He’s an executioner — a man whose manner in which he kills his enemies has a nuance of someone waiting for their execution. In Suda’s words, he’s a ‘big-AAA international criminal-obliterating-businessman-type hero.’ He goes on to state he’s a big fan of the Japanese TV institution, the Hissatsu period drama series, and Hiroshi Hirata’s manga series ‘Kubidai Hikiukenin.’ Add the modernistic influences gained from being in a theater establishment called “America,” and that is how he was able to create the hero, Mondo Zappa.
Famitsu asked about whether Suda was conscious and concerned about the Western market, and whether it affected his decision making, such as trying to make macho protagonist that Western gamers would accept. Suda wondered why that machismo didn’t come about in Mondo’s character. He instead left that role to Mondo’s boss, the half-cyborg Brian Roses. Suda says that Mondo is a smart guy who’s uncomfortable about killing but has an on switch in his head that allows him to change instantaneously to do his job. He likens Mondo’s character to a one Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, particularly the separation of work and life, resulting in a man of emotional restraint.
Not just your average hard-boiled affair
Moving onto the nature of the story, the tone from the trailer suggests that KID might be a hard-boiled existence. Suda does agree that it has a serious tone, but Mondo is not a solitary hero here. Though he has an air of superiority and arrogance about him, he does have people who support him. Suda says the story thus becomes one of how Mondo grows as a professional, and hopes for not only a hard-boiled tale, but also a tale about an executioner’s solitude together with a glimpse into the bonds between comrades.
When Suda first announced the game back in April 2012, he teased that the game incorporates the ‘dark side of 007.’ He finally elaborated here by saying that though Bond is a secret government agent and goes deep underground to solve incidents, those incidents are typically public. Suda feels that there is a deep-seeded underworld that is separate and not at all visible to the public living on the surface, ‘like a red-light district.’ Never bringing themselves to the surface, Suda feels there are men who fight night and day within these confines, and him wanting to show that is what he meant by KID portraying the ‘dark side of 007.’
Mondo Zappa — Japanese Gigolo
Suda has portrayed romance in intriguing ways in his games, and KID is no different with ‘Gigolo Mode.’ Keeping with the Bond theme, all Suda could say for now is that it’s a mode where Mondo emulates the secret agent, having the opportunity to charm ladies of the world. He also jokes and deduces that the girls will probably come across as ‘Mondo Girls’ due to the reference.
Famitsu asked if this curious mode was a version of one of Suda’s hobbies to which he laughed and denied. He insisted was a decision made by everyone. It had small beginnings, but much like the stress felt by the development team as deadlines encroached closer and closer, they realized that this could be a mode where through its ridiculously wacky system of ‘light and easy bartering for women,’ you and Mondo can relax and enjoy yourselves here after each long, arduous fight to the death.
With women being from all over the world, this also means that you’ll also be fighting all over the world. But sadly it won’t be as much as you think, as though Bond has been to many parts of the world in his 23 films, the game had to be more limited and it just wasn’t possible. However, regarding the vast array of women on offer, Suda does advise players to be careful. Mess around too much then there can be some undesirable consequences, particularly from the two female leads, Vivian and Mika.
The first female lead Vivian is 25, and Mondo is 35, leading to an impression that she’s like his little sister. Suda heartily revealed that initially she was to be a 68-year-old plastic-surgery-laden ‘beautiful witch.’ Instead, she has a calm wisdom about her, and it is Mika who is in fact the contrasting junior character here, being the ‘charming pet’ younger sister Mondo never had.
Suda teased you would have to play to find out to see whether anything happens between Mondo and the two women, though he did say that it was never good to get involved with a co-worker and laughed, as if he was talking from experience. He did confirm that if Mondo’s the hero, then Vivian and Mika are definitely the heroines of KID.
Lights, Camera, and Action
From the trailer, many of you will have seen that Suda’s distinct visual style is back in full force. Suda was proud to introduce their new and unique tone shader, dubbed “High Contrast Shading.” It has enabled him to make some damn pretty pictures, and ones he feels are the best they’ve been able to achieve so far, and will allow people to be immediately able to say “‘that’s KID’.”
As you also may have noticed, KID does look visually reminiscent of Killer 7, and feels like a significant improvement. ‘With Killer 7, I feel what we produced was the best we could achieve at the time. However, upon looking back on it, no matter how you look at it, it does feel outdated,’ Suda reflects. However, this is what gave him the motivation to improve and arrive with the new visual techniques today.
Yasuda claims the development has resulted in really picturesque images. However, though realistic, Yasuda says they “strove more for stylistic beauty with the visuals.” He goes on to say that they are the most extraordinary feature of the game, and even claim that ‘it will express the delicate touch characteristic of Japan, in showing a world where the intent to kill and love is bared so.’
Onto the action, swords and guns are both present in this game, but the sword will always be the main weapon. Yasuda explains the gun in the left hand can be used to, among other things, to ‘break the enemy’s posture and eradicate the core parts of the enemy.’
Furthermore, you can exchange parts of your left hand weapon, which ‘will change its effects and prove useful, particularly in boss battles.’ It will also change the way you fight depending on the situation, and help expand the battle system.
This idea of weapon exchange was always part of the plan according to Suda, who wanted the left hand to be able to do numerous things, such as ‘becoming a fork for mealtime, or a drill to dismantle large, heavy mechanical enemies.’ When it comes to romancing, however, Suda laughs by saying it is only then you can’t turn your arm into a drill. So no luck for sadists.
Furthermore, Mondo’s left arm also has the ability to steal and absorb enemy’s blood, which is inspired by magical powers seen in RPGs. The blood is called “Dark Matter” and upon fusing with humans, ‘it embraces the evil within them and gives them energy’ to slay your enemies.
There’s also a growth system for Mondo, which by doing things such as using the same moves often, is pretty orthodox at its core. ‘For example, when you’re about to deliver the final blow to an enemy, you have a choice of various arts to perform, and depending on that choice the skills and abilities of the character will change,’ Suda explains. Thus there’s an emphasis on growth through action.
Moreover, upon defeating an enemy, mineral items are dropped and can be collected to power up your weapons. The amount you get per enemy depends on how effectively you kill them, and that’s another fun factor Suda wanted to add in. But rather than button mashing, Suda hopes you will enjoy playing the game with the thought of how you wish to see Mondo grow.
And Now For Something Completely Different
Another unique characteristic of a Suda51 game is presenting us with some crazy, extraordinary moments that we can never realistically experience. Famitsu asked if there would be any more of that in this game, and Suda initially laughs, saying that there were many ideas that he wasn’t able to include. One thing he was able to put in the game is the ‘Fight the tiger-riding yakuza’ situation. ‘Within the traditional scenery of Kyoto, a bike-riding Mondo fights a tiger-riding yakuza!’
Sadly there’s currently no image showing this ridiculously awesome moment. Instead, Suda points out that in fact there are other games that are fully loaded with moments we can never experience, but for him with KID, he just always had a ‘marvelous image’ of fighting in Kyoto. He guesses that it must’ve meant that he just wants to show foreign players the grandeur of Kyoto.
Right now, the game is around 70 percent complete, with a summer release scheduled. In the meantime, they are hard at work fine-tuning the balance and brushing up the game. In his final comments, Suda hopes that players will be able to appreciate KID’s beauty from just one frame and button press, and be able to say ‘that’s Japanese action!’ Yasuda reflects on a long and eventful journey the two have traveled together, and asks us to look forward to some exciting promotions that will be in the similar vein of the Lollipop Chainsaw’s ones.”
There’s a lot to love about the way Killer is Dead is shaping up. It seems a return to the classic Suda51 style of exaggerated violence and sexuality to an unparalleled degree. I mean, where else can you take down tiger-riding Yakuza? And seriously, a “Gigolo Mode”? Only Suda51 could get away with that kind of stuff, because you know it’s all in good fun and it will inevitably become a guilty pleasure whether you want to enjoy it or not.
So, knowing all this, what do you guys think about the Suda51’s latest project? Are you a fan of his previous work? Be sure to rank all of your favorite Suda games in order from least-to-most ridiculous in the comments below.