Saints Row is a Wide Open Sandbox series of games by Volition. In the tradition of Grand Theft Auto, you portray a criminal, and proceed to commit countless acts of murder, grand theft auto, reckless driving, vandalism, arson, assault, insurance fraud, theft, possessing restricted firearms, treason, and yes, even jaywalking and public drunkenness. It has been described as the antithesis to the increasingly realistic and story driven Grand Theft Auto series. Saints Row doesn't want you to think about the realities of life in a modern street gang, it wants you to wear a hot dog suit as you run over old ladies with a golf cart.
Games in the series so far:
100% Completion: An odd case, as each game tracks your completion, but not all content counts toward your percentage. As a general rule, missions, strongholds, activities, and collectibles count toward 100% completion, but diversions, challenges, assassinations, vehicle thefts, stunt jumps, barnstorming, and property ownership do not.
Action Girl: Lin in the first game has her moments, and if your character in SR2 is female, then especially her. In SR3, Shaundi becomes one. In SR4 Kinzie becomes one in the simulation and Asha is one all the time.
A Crib Owner Is You: Every game in the series has this, but the way it is used varies from game to game. In Saints Row 1 all of the cribs are rewarded with story progression with most being unlocked after beating a rival gang. In Saints Row 2 a few cribs are unlocked at the start and the rest must be bought at different locations around the city. They can also be upgraded with different decorations that are bought from within the crib itself. In Saints Row The Third cribs are unlocked in a similar way as the first game along with a downgraded form of crib customization that only changes the exteriors of the buildings. Finally, in the most recent game cribs were removed from the sandbox in favor of a single spaceship hub outside of the main world.
A.K.A.-47: A couple are shoutouts, the others are clearly certain weapons with a different name.
Shogo Akuji comes across as one. Once his father arrives from Japan, his arrogant attitude feels like a complete facade to cover up his internal misery. After all, his father states outright, to Shogo's face, seemingly whenever possible, that he is actively and constantly ashamed of Shogo's very existence as a member of his family. Considering that his presumed death at the hands of Gat only comes when he confronts Gat and the Boss in a fit of rage after his father mourns not just the loss of his surrogate son (Shogo's second-in-command), but also the fact that all he's left with is Shogo. He says this. To Shogo's face. Left at a Despair Event Horizon, Shogo tries to kill the heads of the Saints, thinking them the cause of all his problems.
And Shogo's fate — being Buried Alive — is perhaps the best example of Shogo's Alas Poor Villain status. Also a Moral Event Horizon (strange as it sounds) for Johnny and Boss, although considering the entire mission happens because of Shogo himself crossing the horizon by interrupting Aisha's funeral, you can at least understand why exactly this was his fate rather than just being shot in the head or something.
A bit of an Ensemble Dark Horse for this category, but Maero can qualify as well. He tells Vogel that his reasons for wanting the Saints wiped out isn't because they're stealing from him, encroaching on his territory, etc, but because, "...they killed my girlfriend and crippled my best friend." This is after the Boss initiated the entire conflict by scarring Maero's face with toxic waste after Maero gave him a partnership offer he didn't like.
Alternate Continuity: The DLC campaign Enter the Dominatrix is framed with the Saints discussing and commenting on the cancelled project like a DVD extra, often joking about how crazy it is even by SRIV standards.
Art Evolution: There's a rather big change between the 2 and The Third designs.
Authority Equals Asskicking: Zigzagged. Some gang-bosses turn out to be powerful boss-characters, while others are just weak administrators dispatched with ease, or even executed in a cutscene. The player character himself can be said to be an embodiment of the trope from the second game onwards, but notably, he was kicking ass BEFORE he became the leader of the Saints, too. Meanwhile, Jules - the original leader - is killed in a cutscene, and rarely ever kicks any real ass, much as he talks the talk.
A one-person example of the zig-zag would have to be Phillipe Loren from the third game. Leader of a huge criminal syndicate called The Syndicate, he's able to kill Johnny Gat offscreen, and subsequently acquires an Eyepatch of Power... but then the tables gets turned, and you kill him more or less accidentally in a cutscene.
The apex example would be the Boss in Saints Row IV, where you're the superpowered president of the United States. President! Superpowers!! The only way to grant you more authority and more asskickery would be if Boss became the leader of the alien race and took control of their technology. And then he does just that.
Back Seats are Just for Show: Hardtop cars with two doors but four seats can't be used to carry more than two people, but the same seating arrangement for convertibles can be used since gang members hop over sides.
Badass Crew: You don't fuck with the Saints. By the third game, they've amassed enough power that, depending on player actions, they can openly challenge the United States military in a second Civil War. By the time the fourth game rolls around, the previous possibility is moot, because they are in charge of the United States military.
Bare Your Midriff: Lin and Tanya in the first game, and Shaundi and Jessica in the second. You can also dress the Playa like this, if you wish.
Bash Brothers: Johnny Gat is probably the only person in the world capable of keeping up with the Playa in terms of combat pragmatism and sheer kill totals. At the beginning of Saints Row 2, Gat is on trial for three hundred eighty seven murders. "I figure with the statute of limitations it really should be closer to two fifty." In cutscenes, the Boss and Gat can clear a room of mooks as fast as a bomb strike.
A fake interview with him (is there any other kind when it comes to fictional characters?) reveals his kill tally is actually around 16,000, at least according to him. But would you call him a liar?
The Boss could serve as this to Johnny if the player so chooses.
Berserk Button: Please do not fuck with Boss' crew, if you do it's likely that you'll end up in the trunk of a car about to be crushed...
Don't call Phillipe Loren French.
Killbane likes being called Eddie just as much as Phillipe Loren likes being called French.
The first game has gang leaders, Angelo Lopez, Benjamin King ( who has a Heel-Face Turn and is usurped by Tanya Winters) and Joseph Price, although his uncle Willaim Sharp is arguably the true mastermind of his operations. The overall Big Bad of that game is de-facto mayor of Stilwater, Richard Hughes, who comes in when the gang leaders are dealt with.
The second game has The General, Maero and Kazuo Akuji. In a format similar to the first game, once they are dealt with, Ultor executive Dane Vogel takes the stand, having manipulated two of the gangs throughout the story.
The third game has the Syndicate, which means the rival gangs are all working together. The Ensemble is with STAG and their leader Cyrus Temple. The Syndicate is led by Phillipe Loren but he's really a Disc One Final Boss and Killbane takes his seat as Syndicate leader.
Big Bad: In Saint's Row IV there is one main villain named Zinyak. He's an alien. And at least 10 feet tall.
One of the reasons for the Saints' huge popularity at the start of SR3 is Stilwater is much better off (arguably) without three warring gangs and a corrupt corporation scheming to Kill the Poor. In fact, the population expects a little hijinks from the Saints now, with SWAT officers asking Saints undertaking criminal activities to please put down their guns... after autographing them.
Black And Black Morality in the second game. At least the Saints in the first game were explicitly there to stop the other gangs from causing too much of a ruckus. The Boss is explicitly out for himself, especially when s/he kills Julius.
Back to Black and Grey Morality in the third game; the Saints can even be outright heroic at times, if the player so chooses.
Black Best Friend: The first game has Dex, who is the most level-headed of the Saints' inner circle. In the second and third games, there's Pierce, who gets no respect.
The fourth game has Pierce again, but also Kieth David (as Kieth David), and Benjamin "Motherfucking" King that are both on quite friendly social terms with The Boss.
Bling Bling Bang: In the original game, the special weapons, unlocked by completing the Hitman assignments, are a gold-plated large handgun, and a platinum plated shotgun, RPG-1, and riot shotgun. You only get one in the second game - a shotgun disguised as a pimp cane.
All of the special weapons in the second game, however, are distinctly better looking and very different from the average/normal guns. Not exactly bling, but some of them are pretty shiny.
The third game has customization options to all the weapons that add more bling to each gun (and the baseball bat too).
The fourth game takes this Up to Eleven and allows you to change the look of almost every weapon to bling to your personal taste.
Player him/herself does this over now being able to talk, as do others such as Lampshading his/her different looks by asking "Did you do something to your hair?"
Most of the fourth installment is set inside a simulation of Steelport. There are many references to everything being "a game".
Broken Bridge: Averted in every instance that "wide open" sandboxes have come to conventionally rely on them. The game illustrates how unnecessary cramping player freedom is to maintaining narrative flow. Each story arc still unfolds chronologically, at the player's own pace. And if you don't want to be driven by the story, you can go everywhere, and you'll find a Minigame Zone when you get there.
The third game plays with the trope. It's averted for the vast majority of the game. Near the end it appears to be played straight when the city is put under martial law but all that happens is several bridges are raised and blocked off to seal off Downtown. There's nothing at all to stop the player from swimming across the river, or flying over, or boating over, or just ramping a car across. Unlike other games that instantly give you a 5 star wanted level if you try to evade the bridge, this game only gives you a 1 star that is little more than a minor inconvenience..
The game takes the trope literally in the "Return To Stillwater" mission when the Luchadores blow up the Hughes Memorial Bridge."
Bullying a Dragon: Anytime people start talking shit to the Boss or try to confront the Saints, the end results are truly horrifying.
Butt Monkey: Donnie, from both games. Whenever he shows up, you can bet your bottom dollar that something bad will happen to him. The second game also has Pierce. He has ideas ripped off him mid-sentence and is never listened to.
At one point he calls you up to tell you that the Brotherhood are bringing in a bigass pile of guns on a boat. Shaundi calls up mid-way through that call to tell you the exact same thing before he does, and he told her in the first place!
The first Ronin mission has him trying to plan an elaborate Ocean's Eleven style robbery, only to have The Boss and Johnny tell him it's much more fun to bust in with guns.
Character Customization: You can customize nearly every aspect of your character. The system is so good (especially in the second game) that a lot of people have made celebrities and posted the formulas on message boards and YouTube.
Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Gang colors. To elaborate, the Saints use purple; the Vice Kings and Ronin use yellow; the Rollerz and the Deckers have blue; Los Carnales, the Brotherhood, and Morning Star all use red; and the Sons of Samedi and the Luchadores use green. This is also reflected in the color schemes of their vehicles.
Ironically, "Karma Chameleon" uses those colors, and sure enough, when you listen to the song on The Mix 107.77, as the song is ending the DJ will sometimes lampshade the colors mentioned in the song to the three gangs that took over Stilwater in absence of the Boss.
Ultor have a thing for black and orange in the second game. See the Masako "special-ops" teams in particular.
STAG in the third is primarily white with some splashes of orange here and there.
The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Inverted. Both weapons and vehicles controlled by the player are noticeably more durable than those controlled by NPCs, to the point that the player can use one tank to take out three other tanks without much trouble.
Cool Old Guy: Zimos, the oldest pimp in Steelport; he even has Auto-Tuned voice.
Corrupt Corporate Executive: Benjamin King is a little like one in the first one, but Ultor Corp. is this full stop in the second game, especially Dane Vogel.
Dane Vogel:"It's like my father said, if you're gonna build an ivory tower, you're gonna have to kill a few elephants."
Not to mention you can sometimes hear him calling The Mix and requesting Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World", calling it his theme song. This continues even after his demise!
In the fourth game there is a duet with The Boss and Pierce of Paula Abdul's Opposite's Attract with The Boss doing the Paula Abdul portions. And again later there is a second sing-a-long to Biz Markie's Just a Friend. Which Zinyak interrupts and "ruins" the song.
Darker and Edgier: While the first game had its moments , particularly the death of Lin despite arguably being funnier the second game goes further particularly the Ronin missions "Bleeding Out" and "Rest in Peace" and the Brotherhood Missions "Red Asphalt" and "Bank Error In Your Favor".
Denser and Wackier: The first game was more or less straight-up; the second game started introducing all sorts of strange, funny elements. The third game goes completely off the rails and the fourth doesn't even care (you're president of the US, you have superpowers, and an alien invasion is coming; need we elaborate?).
This is even lampshaded in the mission A Remote Chance:
Devil in Plain Sight: Most people on the street seem to know your character is the leader of the Saints (and many of your actions), yet no-one seems to care much (including rival gangs) unless you start stirring up trouble. In fact, as the game progresses, some pedestrians on the street compliment Playa on their actions.
Double Entendre: Oh so many. Friendly Fire (weapons), On the Rag (natural clothing store), Peep This (theater), Phuc Mi Phuc Yu (faux Asian food store, which sells Sum Yung Guy and Sum Old Guy), Sloppy Seconds (second-hand clothing), Rim Jobs (car mechanics), Mourning Wood Cemetery, and Freckle Bitch's menu and radio ad. There's also TNA Taxis' (and Big Willy's Cabs') phone response. Not to mention the phone numbers for the aforementioned taxi services, which are 555-455-8008 (ASS BOOB) and 555-819-8415 (BIG BALS) respectively.
Early-Installment Weirdness: It's actually kinda weird looking back at the first game and how seriously it took itself. Even the second didn't get too outlandish and, though tongue in cheek, kept it's feet on the ground. By the third game the developers cranked the silliness Up to Eleven and kept on rolling with it into the fourth game.
Enemy Chatter: Gang members will often talk amongst each other when not in combat.
Ronin Mook: Why are we called the Ronin? We 'have' a leader.
In 4 the chatter of the mooks in the Asha rescue mission is hilarious especially considering the context of the parody.
Escort Mission: Drug Trafficking, Escort, Snatch, and Heli Assault (in the second game). Along with a bunch of story missions.
Every Car Is a Pinto: And dammit, it's awesome. This is actually lampshaded in the second game. Sometimes pedestrians, when having their car stolen, yell, "I left my hydrogen tank in there!"
More than awesome, they're almost better than grenades, simply because the enemy so often supplies you with them and the blast is bigger. The only thing which makes them not better is that it takes three or four shotgun shots (at the beginning, at least) to make an enemy car explode.
It get's just odd in the third game. At one point you ride a human pony cart, don't ask, and get chased after by other human pony carts. When you shoot them enough they explode too.
Everything's Deader with Zombies: Zombie Lin in Saints Row, Zombie Carlos in Saints Row 2 and Zombie Gat in Saints Row: The Third. And in Saints 2, you can go to any of your cribs and play a fun little minigame called Zombie Uprising, which is pretty much the Saints Row world's answer to Dead Rising.
The Third also has a zombie voice option. After the mission "Zombie Attack", an island is permanently infested with zombies. There is also a cheat - 'brains' - causes ALL pedestrians to turn into stumbling, mindless, undead.
Evilis Cool: The back of the original Saints Row case says "Saints Row - Sinners Welcome". That should tell you all you need to know about this series, even though Saints 2 has a couple "You Bastard!" scenes, culminating when the player kills Julius, who calls out the player on their new evil murdering ways.
Evil vs. Evil: To paraphrase from Snatch, "Do you know what "nemesis" means? A righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent. Personified in this case by a horrible cunt... the Boss."
Exploding Barrels: Too many to count. Crucial to the Trail Blazing activity in Saints Row 2, where hitting them will cause huge explosions with your flaming ATV.
Face-Heel Turn: The second game shows you that Julius is responsible for the explosion that nearly killed you at the end of Saints Row, believing that the player wouldn't give up the life. He was right — and he gets murdered by the player. It can be argued that this is the point where the player character does a Face-Heel Turn and crosses the Moral Event Horizon. Dex also attempts to set the two of you up for execution by the Masako squad in the game's secret mission.
Troy is an interesting case. At first, he is one of the Saints, then it turns out that he is the reluctant undercover cop who doesn't want to sell out the gangs. The second game reveals him trying to do good, but is frustrated with the gangs and Ultor leaning on him, and trying to make amends with Julius. Gat mentions after Troy became Chief everyone who targeted him in prison left him alone, Troy keeps the Boss on life support after the bombing and can even be called out to help the reformed Saints, despite being more psychopathic and evil than the original Saints were.
Faceless Protagonist: Your character's voice, gender and appearance is completely dependent on what the player chooses in the character creation screen. During the intro missions for The Third and IV, you haven't had the chance to create your character yet, so you play as this during this one mission, by having the Boss wear an outfit that completely covers his body and either having him/her wear a voice changing mask (Third), or having the communicator malfunction (IV).
False Flag Operation: One Vice Kings mission in the first game involves you and Johnny dressing up in yellow (Vice Kings colors) and causing mayhem.
In the second game, the Boss and Shaundi disguise themselves as electrical repair technicians in order to sneak into the monitoring room in the Police HQ so they can tap into the CCTV network and track down The General's limo. Amusingly, the uniforms are purple so they can still represent the Row, even while undercover.
And of course, Troy, who was trying to bring down the gangs from the inside.
In the third this is taken to an extreme (just like the rest of the game) when you get a complete plastic surgery to look like Cyrus and infiltrate the STAG Airship. Even more over the top if you were playing as a female character since it goes beyond plastic surgery and into a sex change operation... just to do one mission!
Then the fourth game includes: A) The Boss becoming President of the United States, B) Aliens invading, and C) Said aliens putting the Boss in a simulation that gives them superpowers. Any trace of seriousness has officially been left behind, and with it a Broken Base has fully taken root.
Flopsy: The insurance fraud minigame requires you to jump on cars to collect money from insurance settlements. You still get money even if you ragdoll when there's no cars around.
After Carlos' death, the four main Saints. The Boss is VERY choleric, being a vicious psychopath. Johnny is sanguine, being the most cheerful of the four. Pierce is melancholic, being the smartest and a complainer. And Shaundi is phlegmatic, being the most agreeable of the four.
In the Third, the four main Saints. Pierce is now sanguine, being the most flamboyant. Shaundi is now choleric as the one who is perpetually angry. Oleg is melancholic and is the most down-to-earth of the four. And the Boss is now phlegmatic, who's just going along with the flow while still being a badass.
In IV the only real change from the Third is that Oleg's characterization is transferred over to pretty much any one of the other main Saint's (Keith David, Benjamin "Motherfucking" King, Kinzie even).
Foreshadowing: Those who learn about the history of the Vice Kings will notice that it practically reads like a Recycled Script for the history of the Saints - complete with equivalent characters - across both games: from their origin as a Well-Intentioned Extremist vigilante group by Benjamin King to clean up his section of the city from the onslaught of Los Carnales, down to their descent into corruption and Motive Decay until they became as bad as Los Carnales and the others. And just like the Kings, the Saints have their leader usurped by a depraved, power-hungry villain.
This has more foreshadowing of The Third than SR 2: the Vice Kings clambered to the top of their criminal empire, with their leader being a curb-stomping badass, but has also started "going legit" (Vice Kings with Kingdom Come Records, the Third Street with the Saints-Ultor Media Group). When another criminal organization threatens their livelihood, most of the lieutenants start complaining their leader is more into money than fighting, and that they should charge into battle head-first. The end of Benjamin King's story also has foreshadowing of BOTH of The Third's endings: either the fact he becomes a gangster In Name Only (and makes a movie about it) or he kills his lieutenants (technically, Warren and Tanya betrayed King, but the connection is still there).
From Nobody to Nightmare: The player character. The main character at the start of the first game is just some random pedestrian who gets caught in gangland crossfire and is adopted by the Saints. By the end of the second game, s/he's a full blown psychopath who's just taken over Stilwater, with eyes on the rest of the world. Goes a step further in Saints Row 3, in one ending the protagonist takes Steelport and secedes from the US.
Ultor too, since they were just a clothing store in the first game.
Full-Frontal Assault: The Boss is terrifying enough, however watching him shoot, maim or roast his enemies is only made worse when he does it totally naked. In the later three games, there's even a diversion and a corresponding challenge based on streaking.
There are specific missions in the Third and IV where the Boss is naked during the mission (notably, in the Third, he's also drugged, adding Interface Screw on top of this). And at least one side character in each game ends up naked for the majority of a mission as well.
Fun T-Shirt: The games offer these among the clothing options.
Gameplay and Story Segregation: In the in-engine cinematics, your character appears as dressed and customized, but can wield any weapon the scene calls for, even dual-wielding sword and gun, which can't be equipped together in gameplay.
Gender Is No Object: Men outnumber the women in the gangs, but otherwise nobody really cares one way or another. In Saints 2 this even applies to security guards and police officers. In the third, police and The Luchador gang are all-male while The Saints can be customized to have any proportion you choose.
Heroic Comedic Sociopath: Johnny Gat. When gangsters call you a gun-toting maniac, you may have to calm down a little. The man's favorite pastime is violence. Preferably against police. His solution to any problem is walk in the front door and start killing people... and somehow, he comes off as a complete and total badass instead of a bloodthirsty psychotic. Your main character also fits this trope to a T, for Saints 1 at least. In Saints 2, you drop the "heroic" bit and eventually this becomes your hat again in 3.
In the fourth game this is lampshaded in the scene that expains how Johnny Gat is Back. Zinyak used time travel to take him off the plane in the Third and stick him in his virtual prison to keep him out of the fight, because Zinyak thought Johnny Gat was one of the only people that could stop his plan!
Hide Your Children: While children's voices can be heard in some of the radio commercials, they're nowhere to be found in the city.
Promotional info for The Third reveals that a Stilwater City Ordnance prevents the public display of children and animals.
Averted in the third, since many of The Deckers are teens and Matt Miller himself is only 16. Still no one clearly before puberty though.
HUD: Shows you a route you can take to your next waypoint, said waypoint, mission-critical targets, and the car or hit you need to complete for the Chop Shop or Hitman activities. If you discover a short cut, e.g. go through someone's back garden, the game will send you down there next time you're going that way. In The Third, when you've set a waypoint and are driving to it, green arrows pointing in its direction are overlaid over roads that don't lead to it.
Hyperspace Arsenal: I'm sure he was carrying a machine gun and not an RPG-7 just a few seconds ago.
Idle Animation: You twirl your handgun or submachine gun if you're brandishing one.
Your character will also pull out a cigarette and smoke if left to their own devices, other areas (such as the prison yard) also have their own specific animations.
In the second game, left to their own devices, the Boss will make a number of comments, from musing that her father used to say you could never have enough guns to pondering why they can't write a book if King did.
Inescapable Ambush: Subverted a couple of times - you generally can or are expected to lose them, but also played straight in a couple of missions.
Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Donnie, especially in Saints Row 2. He's a nice fellow who never really got over losing a girl he cared about to the gang wars.
After being indirectly responsible for an important gang member's death? Generally, I don't blame Donnie, but the man's a jinx.
Matt Miller to some degree too. In the real world, he is extremely shy and careful; only in cyberspace is he powerful and even that gets destroyed by the Boss and Kinzie.
The Protagonist himself went from an ordinary henchman who does what his bosses of Street Saints tell him/her to do, to an insane individual who is only interested in taking the city and not liberating it for peace.
Johnny Gat didn't so much as to lose his sense of morality when it's revealed that his girlfriend, Aisha, was killed by a Ronin enforcer.
Left Hanging: Both of the DLC storylines from Saints Row 2 create Sequel Hooks that The Third completely ignored. IV sometimes takes the time to lampshade it.
The player character. This is taken to ridiculous extremes in the insurance fraud missions, where you throw yourself into traffic repeatedly and are scored based on how far you get sent flying, with bonuses for getting hit multiple times before hitting the ground. As long as you go limp, you're invulnerable.
Also Johnny Gat, considering how little getting impaled on a sword really slows him down.
Model Planning: Used to plan a casino heist in 2. Then Gat decides to ignore the carefully-crafted plan and just "shoot the motherfuckers that are between [them] and the money", a Take That to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, where a long series of quests are taken to plan and prepare a casino heist.
Saint's Row the Third. They are the Third Street Saints.
Motive Decay: The Vice Kings started out as a vigilante team formed to fight back against the atrocities Los Carnales inflicted upon their neighborhood and slowly started down the slippery slope to what they become in the game. EXACTLY like what happens to the Saints. And to make matters even worse, YOU are the main cause of that decay.
It's a bit more complicated than that. Julius saw that you would become that, and had the bomb on the boat in an effort to prevent it. Arguably, though, that action destroys the Saints, causing the Boss to rebuild them as he sees fit, leaving Julius to be Hoisted By His Own Petard.
By the time Saints Row 2 comes to pass, it's an aversion: the Boss knows why he wants the Saints back, and it isn't for much of anything nice. You can't decay good will that isn't there.
Returns later as an amusing aversion of Gameplay and Story Segregation: A Son of Samedi gang member ambushes you from behind and knocks you over with a a single hit. Exactly as it does in game
Neck Snap: While not present in the first game, the second one allows you to execute human shields like this (provided you're unarmed or holding a thrown weapon), and, in the Fight Club activity, this is the only way you can defeat your enemies (and vice versa).
In The Third, after the end of the mission "Trojan Whores," Kiki commits one act of insubordination too many, leading to Killbane grabbing her by the neck, and, with a twist of his hand, breaks it. This plays a role in Viola's later Heel-Face Turn. Oh, as an aside, it's also the only way to execute human shields (outside of throwing the victim off a roof), probably so you don't waste ammo on them.
Incidentally, in the Dark ending of The Third, you finish off Killbane with a neck snap of your own.
News Travels Fast: After completing a mission or activity, Jack Armstrong or, in the second and third games, Jane Valderrama might be commenting on your recent exploits.
Nitro Boost: You can purchase it for almost any car at the garage.
You can even install it on the Awesome Personnel Carrier in 2, 3, and 4. 2, 3, and 4 have a perk where every vehicle you drive suddenly gains nitro.
No Name Given: The Player Character is addressed as Playa by his homies, and pretty much nothing else - his name is never brought up, despite his eventual fame. Even in the newspaper clippings in the second game, he only shows up as "The leader of the Third Street Saints". His Fan Nickname is "Boss". Carlos tends to call him that as well.
Almost gets averted in the third game. In one of the Heli Assault missions, Kinzie mentions that she knows the Boss's real name, but (s)he will tell her to shut up before she says anything.
The boss asks Zimos for his real name, only to shut up when Zimos asks the Boss the same question.
In the fourth game it has most assuredly become Boss as everyone now refers to the player as Boss or The Boss.
Pimp Duds: A clothing option is the classic fur-trimmed pimp coat from The Seventies. In the original game, you have to earn it by completing Snatch missions, but in the second game, it's available for sale at Impressions right from the get-go. Zimos wears these in the third game.
Protagonist Without A Past: The history of the player character before the crossfire is never explained. However, in the first game, your character goes through quite a lot, which is referenced all over the shop in the second game, from him/her introducing Mr. Wong as the guy who had him/her kill guys in hot dog suits, to Monica Hughes commenting on being thankful they're not meeting on a boat.
Well, it's revealed in SR2 that the Boss frequented an Asian massage parlor during high school.
And that their family was into guns, so that could explain why the Boss is so good with guns.
And, at least for Saints Row: The Third's Female 2, The Boss had to fight their father's dogs for dinner.
And she also went to college.
Speaking of The Third, five out of the seven voice options say that the sex toys on "The Ho Boat" remind them of their freshman dorm. Think about that, and good luck sleeping tonight...
You can't customize many of the unique vehicles you earn. This isn't much of a problem as the unique vehicles are generally insanely fast, nigh impossible to wreck, or both.
For fun you can pimp out what is basically a golf cart and drive it around on the street, popping other people's tires, burning NOS, ramming them off the road.
Purple Is Powerful: The Saints main color, and boy are they powerful by the end of 2. They only get more powerful from there, too.
Rainbow Pimp Gear: Although it can be avoided if you can choose the color of any clothing you purchase. In the first game, choosing purple (the Saints' color) increases the amount of "Respect" you earn during activities if you're wearing it.
Also averted by the second game - bonuses are just for owning gear, not for wearing it, this time.
Really Gets Around: Shaundi. A running gag involves her getting near-constant info on rival gangs or Ultor from people she's had sex with.
Civilians will comment on it. Doctor NPCs you pass by will tell you to have Shaundi call them, because her blood test is probably more potent than HIV, cancer, and hydrochloric acid combined.
In a more villainous case, TanyaWinters used her, uh... "talent" to climb up the ranks of the Vice Kings and eventually take it over in a coup. To quote Johnny Gat: "Turns out Tanya's been fuckin' people in every sense of the word. Not only is she blowin' King's bodyguardBig Tony, but she's fuckin' Warren Williams, their numbers guy, whenever Tony ain't lookin'. Between Tony and Warren, the only person she isn't leading around by their cock is King."
In IV this can apply to The Boss due to the "romance" options (parodying Mass Effect) with each of the crew.
Red... er, Purpleshirt Army: You can recruit a party of up to three Saints off the street to help you out. They're useful for drawing enemy fire, but not much else.
In The Third, you can upgrade their health and weapons, making them harder to kill and more useful in combat. You can also increase the time it takes for them to die for real when you have them as homies.
Also, they will pick up dropped weapons if they're better than what they're using. If they stay alive long enough, left to their own devices they can and will pick up rocket launchers...for better or worse.
Retcon: The first game had a male Playa with no option to play as a female, but it is possible to play as a female in the second and third games. Sex changes can be performed at the in-game plastic surgeon.
Also the voice options changed in later games removing some and adding others. So if you were X accent in one game, in the next you might have to suddenly have a different accent.
Ring Inventory: Type 2, both for guns (selected with thumbstick) and healing items (selected with D-Pad)
Rule of Cool: Strictly speaking, half the stuff performed in the entire series wouldn't be possible if this rule wasn't in force. The first is rather tame but the second, third and fourth continually increase it.
The series also runs on Rule of Fun and Rule of Funny. Yeah, what the hell, your guy just jumped out of a plane and manages to kill about 50 enemies while falling, save his friend, let her go, fly back to the plane to deal with one more problem, then catch her again and open the chute without ever hitting the ground. No one bats an eye (she complains but only in an exasperated tone and not total and complete bewilderment at your superhuman skills).
Sexy Walk: In the second through fourth games, the lady models for the player avatar do this when walking the slowest speed.
And there are options to make a female character walk sexier depending on the choice you make during creation.
Shout-Out: McManus sniper rifles, the entire look of Freckle Bitch's, motorcycles named Tetsuo and Kaneda, and more. There's also plenty of references to Volition's Red Faction series, especially in the Ultor Exposed DLC pack. The name of Ultor's "private army" - the Masako - is also a RF reference.
Hell, the fact that the main gang is called the Saints and that their logo is a Fleur-de-lis is a pretty obvious shout out to the New Orleans Saints of the NFL (Might also be one towards the city of New Orleans itself, as it's the city's logo and also has three of them on the city flag).
In addition, Carlos is possibly a reference to the film The Butterfly Effect. They both wear a purple cap, have an accent, help the protagonist out in jail and later help them against "The Brotherhood".
There are several references on The Mix radio station (all 80's, all the time) to the movies of John Hughes. Occasionally a character named Claire will call in requesting Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me", and before playing The Psychedelic Furs' "Pretty in Pink", the DJ will call out "Ducky, this one's for you!"
I got the biggest balls in this whole city. That's right, I said it.
Unfortunately averted in the fourth game since the voice option was removed (and "replaced" with a french accent).
Spiteful A.I.: The one thing you can expect a panicking civilian car to do is run over you if you're on foot or force you off the road if you're in a vehicle, regardless of where you are and what's in the way. The police are even worse especially with a higher wanted meter. They'll keep smashing into concrete barricades in a bid to run you down, and if they miss they won't stop and get out, they' back up or turn around for another go. Seeing as it's usually a One-Hit Kill this gets rather annoying.
Sprint Meter: As you complete Tagging Activities, your Sprint Meter recovers faster. Complete all the tags, and you get infinite stamina.
In the second game, this is accomplished by completing a series of insurance fraud missions. In the third game, it's part of the respect bonuses. In the fourth game it is a bonus unlocked by completing specific challenges for a specific Homie.
Suicidal Overconfidence: Setting aside the usual issues with this trope, if you get your Notoriety level high enough, enemies will drive straight at you in their respective gang-vehicles at breakneck speeds. They will do this even if you're currently driving an Awesome Personnel Carrier which would shrug off the impact, which could potentially result in the driver of the enemy vehicle getting thrown through the windshield and killed.
Troperiffic: This series cranks up elements that GTA has been toning down.
True Companions: Though the protagonist is at best a hardened criminal, and at worst a total monster, the Boss will go to hell and back for any loyal Saint. And if you hurt them, then God have mercy, because the Boss won't]
Vice City: Stilwater. There is a stark contrast between the north side of the river and the south side.
Steelport. The Boss even comments that the city's mix of casinos and sex clubs make it a divorce lawyer's wet dream. Shaundi calls it "Bangkok's drunken, abusive step-father."
On the first game, the Lopez family (the leaders of Los Carnales) grows more aggressive and vengeful as the Saints kill them one by one, turning from directly attacking Saints Row, to outright trying to escape from the city.
Joseph Price, of the Rollerz, also seems to suffer one when the Protagonist screws up the Rollerz' plans for a shipment, when his Smug Uncle is killed, and after his car robbed by the Saints. It ends with him challenging the Playa to a showdown on the freeway.
In the second game, it's possible that the Ronin were also suffering one near the end of their arc, when the newspaper on one of the missions reads "RONIN BECOMING DESPERATE" after their failed assault against the Saints' hideout.
In the third game, Killbane beats the crap out of his own gang members in the ending cutscene for "Murderbrawl XXXI", regardless of whether you unmask him or not.
Averted in the fourth entry as Zinyak assumes he is going to win the entire time right up until The Boss rips his head out of his body with his spine still attached!
Villain Protagonist: In the first game, you're apparently destroying the other gangs to unite and clean up Stilwater. In the second though, during a confrontation with Julius, your character pretty much flat-out states they want nothing more than to be the undisputed Kingpin of the city, right before shooting Julius in the head.
Likewise, Troy is also a bit of a corrupt chief as when he acts as a homie, he tells Boss that Stilwater is his city occasionally. Apparently the Boss is fine with the arrangements of Troy running the legal side of things.
Wanted Meter: How much notoriety you have with a gang and the cops. Between one and two icons, they come after you if they're on screen; beyond that (up to five), they spawn randomly, trying to run you down/off the road. As cop notoriety increases, FBI vans spawn, SWAT vans block the roads, and a helicopter follows you. Also, the Respect meter allows you to do missions.
If you're in an Ultor controlled area they step it up a notch, with Ultor security doing what normal police do at one star rating higher. At 5 star rating (the maximum) they actually send SWAT APC's to hunt you down, where normal police would just have them block the roads.
This holds with the third game, except STAG throws firepower at you Ultor can only dream of. Before STAG arrives (and after the main game), the Steelport National Guard uses Ultor-level weapons, with the added joy of actual tanks in addition to the usual AP Cs.
In the 4th game this changes slightly in that there is a new 6th level where you take on a mini boss of sorts and then your wanted meter resets to zero. Otherwise, no major changes in the basic structure.
We Cannot Go On Without You: Apparently, only the Boss is allowed to carry the magic liquor bottle that can restore someone to the peak of health after being hit dead-on with an RPG round (or whatever).
What Could Have Been: The original Beta trailer for the first game depicted the Saints as wearing green. Word is that, following the release of San Andreas, they were switched to purple to avoid accusations of the Saints being imitations or ripoffs of the Grove Street Families.
Where The Hell Is Springfield?: Stilwater in the first game. We learn it's in Michigan, revealed in a developer interview. The city itself is based on cities like Chicago and Detroit.
The new city, Steelport, has some similarities to Pittsburgh.