Artists go through phases in their careers. The Beatles had their psychedelic era that started with Rubber Soul and peaked with Magical Mystery Tour, a journey that saw the band redefine the studio recording process and break away from the skewed ‘50s pop and Motown covers that gave them their start. Pablo Picasso had his Blue Period, a three-year stretch of grim paintings wrought in ocean colors that eventually gave way to his more vibrant Rose Period.
It seems that Suda 51 of Grasshopper Manufacture is entering the sixth year of his Brawler Period. Lollipop Chainsaw isn’t even out yet and Suda has announced his next game, a sword fighting love story known as Killer is Dead.
Announced in a Weekly Famitsu (translated by Andriasang) interview with the self-described punk designer on Wednesday, Killer is Dead is the story of Executioner, an assassin in charge of hunting down “S level criminals.” (The Japanese typically place S above A in letter grading, a common trait noticeable in many games.) Suda said that love is the central theme of the game, and that he wants players to ask how far they are willing to go to protect someone. The designer also cryptically said that key words to describe the game are “moon and earth.”
Play details were slim, but Suda did say the game will have sword fighting similar to what’s in No More Heroes. Sword brawling won’t be all you do in the game though.
In the past six years, Grasshopper has made five sword fighting games, starting with anime tie-ins Blood+: One Night Kiss and Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked, then No More Heroes and its sequel, and this year’s Lollipop Chainsaw. (Yes, Juliet wields a chainsaw, but she wields it like a cleaver, not a machine with numerous delicate moving parts.) The games have been refined since those awkward PS2 beginnings, but they still don’t hang with the Devil May Crys of the genre.
Forget the swordplay though. What Killer is Dead really needs is a new tone. Lollipop Chainsaw feels like Suda phoning it in, a watered down version of the tongue-in-cheek, snide violence-and-humor mixture Grasshopper’s been trading in since No More Heroes. Watching clips of a boss toss the word “Cocksucker” in flaming giant letters at mini-skirt-wearing zombie killer Juliet isn’t funny or transgressive after we’ve been blitzed with the same type of fare in No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned. It’s just familiar. Punk may not be dead as Grasshopper’s motto proclaims, but it certainly feels like it’s taking a nap.
Just as the humor in No More Heroes was refreshing after the astringent surrealism of Killer 7 and Flower, Sun, and Rain, now’s the time for Suda to begin his next era. Hopefully Killer is Dead will be that fresh start.