Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Review
By: ChockrickBear | Jan. 31, 2021 | Views: 5 | Keywords: melee action politics
Visceral evisceration in a political battle of memes.
Back in my youth, I played the demo of Metal Gear Solid on PC a lot. I liked its cinematic directing and music combined with all of the high-tech talk and government intrigue. However, I never got around to getting the full version, and it was no longer available anywhere by the time I was old enough to venture out to stores on my own. When I developed an interest in watching playthroughs, I watched all of the Metal Gear Solid games from 1 to 4. They were particularly entertaining to watch considering how cutscene heavy they were, especially 4. That said, if you are new to the Metal Gear series, I recommend at least watching 4 for important context before jumping into Rising.
I particularly liked the cyborg ninjas because they were mysterious and dangerous with their badass high-frequency swords. I was particularly impressed by Raiden's acrobatic fighting style of wielding his sword with his cyborg feet. Raiden grew from being just a copy of the stealthy Snake, and was given his own distinct identity as a stylish frontal assault badass I wanted to see more of. When Metal Gear Rising came out, I had my sights set on it.
It has been a while since I first beat it, but what brought me back was the music. At first, the music did not evoke much emotion and seemed like generic metal action music, but the final boss theme was pretty catchy. After learning the lyrics and playing the song over and over in my head, I realized just how fitting the song was to the central theme of the game. It led me to learn the other songs, and I came to appreciate the music for what it is.
The music is really more about the lyrics than the instrumentals, although the game does not play the vocals until the last phase of most boss battles, and the songs just don't sound complete without the vocals. What makes music good isn't just how technically complex the sound is, but the human meaning behind it. Understanding the music led me to think about the final villain's motivations within the context of my new insights into political philosophy, and I have some worthwhile things to say.
This is a third-person hack-and-slash game of running through linear levels and cutting up numerous opposition to proceed. However, this game is more than just slashing at enemies until they die. You have to watch your opponents, defend against attacks, exploit openings, and make precision strikes. The combat is built around an execution system where you attack enemies until you stun them, and then push a button when prompted to perform a finishing move. You are invulnerable during the animation, which gives you a moment to breathe and a sense of catharsis from defeating your opponent. Not only does this pace the combat, it makes each kill clean rather than have you mindlessly swinging into the air the moment the enemy's health reaches zero.
You have two basic attacks: light and strong attacks. Light attacks are fast with quick recovery, making them good for getting the first hit and attacking on the move. If you are a short distance away from an enemy, the game's soft lock-on mechanic will cause you to automatically dash towards the enemy. While this avoids having you whiff because you are slightly too far away, it can lead to unintended movements and possibly put you in danger. You can also perform light attacks while sprinting (a.k.a. ninja running). Sprinting also makes you invulnerable to bullets because you automatically deflect them with your sword, and sprint-slashing allows you to attack while being protected so you can get some breathing room as you go after the enemies with guns.
Strong attacks are less flexible, but do more damage and lead into the combo system. The combos are designed as branching paths from the basic string of three strong attacks in a row. After any of the strong attacks, you can press light attack to branch off and then follow up with a strong attack to finish. For example, you can do SLS, SSLS, and SSSLS. You can also do four strong attacks in a row, which leads into flurry kicks that can be sustained by mashing the strong attack button until it reaches a hard limit.
The combo system is about doing the longest combo you have time for depending on how many enemies you face, how long it takes for the enemy to attack, and whether the enemy is soft stunned (i.e. immobilized, but not executable). The last strong attack in a branched combo does a lot of damage, more from a longer combo, but you might not have time to actually reach it before you are interrupted by enemy attacks, so you have to predict how much time you have and do the complete combo that fits in that time. Doing long combos without interruption is impossible under most circumstances, so you end up doing a lot of pokes and short combos before you have to block or evade to avoid getting hit. Flurry kicks in particular takes too long to both reach and sustain, making it only useful against a single tough enemy to rack up combo hits after rendering him defenseless. Even then, it is not that damaging compared to an SSSLS combo, which is faster.
The combo system is a bit overloaded as there are additional moves that rely on delaying input. This makes it possible to do the wrong move when you contemplate whether to continue with the next attack or stop to defend yourself. The moves themselves are not that useful, the delay needed to use them makes them impractical to attempt, and doing an unintended move creates an attack flow interruption, especially because one of them causes you to jump up into the air, which is why I believe they should be taken out altogether to keep the system streamlined.
Pulling off a complete combo feels satisfying and does a lot of damage, but you need enough time to do it. The red portion of the boss' health is how much she had before the combo, although boss health depends on difficulty level.
There is no dedicated block button. Instead, when an enemy attacks, you have to press the movement key towards the attacking enemy and the light attack button at the same time. It will interrupt your attack animations and respond instantly, so you can be aggressive with attacking and then block on demand for fast and responsive combat that does not feel like rock-paper-scissors in your choice to attack or defend. Enemy attacks give you plenty of time to see the them coming and react to them. However, you cannot block attacks from beside or behind you, so you still have to manage your positioning.
Some enemies have unblockable attacks marked by a yellow glow, which can only be avoided by running away, jumping high enough, or using the Defensive Offensive dodge skill. Also, don't let an enemy's size fool you. This game is over the top, so unless the attack is marked by a yellow glow, it can be blocked even though it would crush or blow you away in real life. MG Ray in the first chapter has no unblockable melee attacks despite its size, and blocking its attacks will trigger execution sequences that do a lot more damage than just attacking it normally.
Some enemies may attack multiple times in rapid succession, especially bosses, so you have to perform the input for every attack, which means you have to frantically mash the input to avoid getting hit. The game does not make it clear that you have to do this, so it can be a source of frustration for newcomers. However, these attacks are always a preset sequence that you can learn to expect and block consistently. On higher difficulties, multiple enemies can attack at the same time, which also requires block mashing to avoid getting hit. It is important to not get surrounded by kiting the enemies so they are all in front of you, but once you do, it is easy to block everything. Once you are comfortable with the controls and know the enemies' patterns, it is possible to take no damage.
You can also do perfect parries (a.k.a. parry counters) by blocking at the exact moment just before the enemy's hit connects. You will perform a counter attack that makes you invincible during the animation, does a lot of damage, and even stuns the enemy for an execution. However, perfect parries require precisely memorizing the timings of each of the enemies' attacks, which will take a lot of trial and error to learn. Even then, you will likely screw up often, which becomes frustrating because it can greatly affect your performance. But if you can pull it off with good consistency, it feels incredibly satisfying with its visual effects and sheer damage.
Not all enemies are susceptible to perfect parries because they will jump away or block, so going for them is not always the most effective strategy. However, the counter attack can hit multiple enemies in front of you for full damage and stun effect. Even if an enemy avoids your counter, you can still hit his friends and get instant executions. When facing an overwhelming crowd that does not give you any opportunity to attack back, you can mash block until you get a perfect parry by chance, which will give you executions that let you escape while picking off an enemy or two.
Perfect parries are marked by a distinct animation and automatic follow up attack. It is easy to do against basic enemies, but tricky against stronger ones that have attacks that hit suddenly.
Blocking this cartwheel of death is the secret over the top method of breezing through this section of the boss fight.
Blade mode and executions
Blade mode is a slow motion attack mode that lets you aim your blade and dismember any non-armoured enemy in a single slash, but it drains your energy bar while active. In addition, it highlights a square target in the torso of each non-armoured enemy that when cut through, allows you to perform a "zandatsu" execution that rips out the enemy's cyber spine to fully heal you and recharge your energy. However, it is difficult to aim for a zandatsu if the enemy is moving around, so you need to briefly stagger enemies with a normal attack to hold them still before activating blade mode. If you do not have enough energy for blade mode, simply attacking the enemy will slowly recharge your energy.
When you perform an execution, it always end in a prompt to enter blade mode, which gives you the opportunity to perform a zandatsu for a graceful and refreshing finish. However, even though you are invulnerable during execution animations, you are vulnerable immediately after. If an enemy has wound up an attack right when you perform the execution, it will be hard to block it in time, made worse by the camera not being under your control during these animations.
You can aim your blade mode attacks by panning the camera and rotating the reticle. Some executions have you moving vertically when you enter blade mode, so it is easier to get the zandatsu by orienting the reticle vertically. There are also certain boss fights that require careful aim or else you will take damage. The first attack lines up precisely to the reticle, but if you make successive attacks too soon, the attacks will be inaccurate to discourage mindless slashing, so you have to attack slowly if you miss the first attack. If you are lucky, you can line up multiple enemies in one strike, which will let you perform multiple zandatsus in a row. But if you miss the target too many times, you will destroy the spine and lose the zandatsu opportunity.
The energy system makes blade mode and executions a bit complicated. You have one main bar, and you can upgrade your energy to add additional small bars on top. Blade mode requires the main bar to be full to activate while executions require completely full energy to perform. If you exit blade mode with the main bar less than full, you cannot use the remaining energy to enter blade mode again until you fully recharge the main bar through normal attacks. The extra bars you get from upgrades give you leeway by letting you use some energy without compromising your ability to use blade mode at an opportune moment, which is why it is important to upgrade early.
Halfway through the game, you will unlock ripper mode. This is a berserk mode you can toggle that greatly increases your damage, but it uses energy while active and can only be activated with full energy. Your normal attacks will dismember unarmoured enemies and smash armour very quickly, which makes it useful for thinning out an overwhelming number of armoured enemies, especially with area of effect attacks. However, because it quickly dismembers enemies, it makes zandatsus harder to get. Against armoured enemies, you need to have enough attack discipline to just smash their armour to be able to get the zandatsu opportunity. You are also not invulnerable with ripper mode, so taking hits and being put on the defensive will waste your energy, so only activate it when you are in a position to be committed to attacking.
Cutting through an enemy's zandatsu point will allow you to steal his spine to heal yourself. Cleaving through multiple enemies will let you grab multiple spines one after the other. While you cannot save spines for later, zandatsus still contribute to the scoring system, so do them even if you don't need the health.
This boss fight involves a blade mode challenge that requires you to cut a lot of things. You can be easily overwhelmed, but here's a tip: Defensive Offensive can save you with its invincibility frames.
Scoring and unlockables
The game keeps score, and at the end of most encounters, you will be given a combat rating. Doing well in combat by killing the enemies quickly, landing many hits with minimal interruption (hacking away in blade mode also counts, so sustain it whenever possible), getting all zandatsus, and even taking no damage will not only give you a high rating, but also reward you with battle points (BP). BP can be spent to buy upgrades such as increased health, energy, weapon damage, new skills, and even different outfits. A lot of the outfits are just colour swaps, but there are a few unique ones like the business suit, Gray Fox, and Raiden's MGS4 appearance, although there is no trench coat variant.
Purchased upgrades are global, meaning once you buy them, you have them even when you replay an earlier chapter. However, not everything will be available for purchase right off the bat. Available upgrades are limited based on your progress through the game, so you cannot just grind BP and get everything. There are also customization options and powerful, cheaty weapons and items that are unlocked by completing certain challenges like collecting all of the intact left arms of certain enemies throughout the game by precisely cutting them off in blade mode.
The biggest problem with the upgrade system is that being able to upgrade weapon damage does not mesh well with being able to replay older chapters and at lower difficulty levels. Once you are fully upgraded, enemies die quickly unless you play on Very Hard or Revengeance. However, those difficulties add additional challenges, such as additional tough enemies and no limit to the number of enemies that can attack at once, which can lead to a rage-inducing clusterfuck that does not give you a chance to fight back. There are times I want a bit more casual experience, but Hard difficulty has enemies that die too quickly with a maxed out sword. I don't see the point of having a damage upgrade system when this game is more about finesse than stats. Having fixed damage and balancing enemy health around the combo system would make the combat more consistent across all chapters.
Some of the unlockable swords have special effects that make them practically cheating. Being able to shatter armour or stun for execution almost instantly trivializes a lot of enemies.
The unlockable skills require inputting movement combinations with an attack, such as back-forward or forward-forward and then light or strong attack. The problem with this is that the input takes time to do, which leads to awkward delay. It can also lead to accidentally performing them when you intended to do normal attacks because some enemies move around and you need to follow them with the movement controls. However, the game does let you start the input before the end of attack animations, so you can do a normal attack first to get a brief hit stagger and then transition to a skill quite smoothly.
Not all of the skills are useful, but some open up useful possibilities. I will just list the more noteworthy ones.
|Sky High||Allows you to quickly launch enemies into the air to isolate them from other enemies and get free hits in, which is particularly useful against the Armoured Cyborgs who are quite aggressive and not susceptible to perfect parries. If you can shatter a part of their armour in the air, you can use blade mode to dismember and cripple them, making them much easier to fight on the ground.|
|Lightning Strike||A dash attack that quickly covers distance and knocks down some enemies. It is particularly useful against the Fenrirs that like to keep their distance, and bosses that get knocked back by your combo attacks. It has a lengthy recovery animation, but it can be cancelled by toggling blade mode.|
|Falling Lightning||A flying kick that homes in on enemies, which is effective against flying enemies that would otherwise be hard to catch with jumping. Some bosses are hard coded to immediately counter this attack, so don't bother with it against them. It doesn't even do that much damage anyways.|
|Draw Attack||A stylish slash where you sheath your sword and charge up for a powerful attack that hits everything around you for high damage, making it good for spawn camping, waiting for a distant enemy to come to you, or wasting a tight crowd of enemies stunned by a grenade, especially when combined with ripper mode. However, it is not all that powerful in terms of DPS, and in the time it takes to charge up, you can do an SSSLS combo for more total damage against a single target.|
|Defensive Offensive||A dodge skill that slashes at the same time. It gives you brief invincibility the moment you do it, although it is very brief, so you can still be hit if you are slightly too early or if the enemy attacks multiple times. The timing is much stricter than simply blocking, but it is a bit easier than a perfect parry. While it takes a lot of practice to use, it is the best defense against unblockable attacks and the best strategy against enemies that are resistant to perfect parries. It also cancels out of most attack animations (except flurry kicks), which allows you to relentlessly attack without interruption and do more damage over time. Relentless attacks will also dizzy enemies for an execution, so it can actually be more effective than waiting for perfect parry opportunities.|
Defensive Offensive is particularly effective against the Mastiff because of it's slow attacks.
Sub weapons and items
You also have access to a number of utility weapons that you can use by equipping one and either tapping or holding down the button. Grenades can be thrown in front of you with soft locking on enemies by tapping the button, or aimed by holding down the button to let you throw them to the area you want. You are immune to your own explosives, so you can use them at point blank. However, using them has an animation that leaves you vulnerable, especially when aiming, so it is not practical to do when enemies are close, which is most of the time.
Grenades tend to bounce unpredictably, so aiming is unreliable anyways and seems like an underdeveloped feature. Rocket launchers have a lengthy reload animation after aim-firing, but it can be cancelled by activating blade mode. You can only carry up to five shots of each weapon and pickups are somewhat rare, so you should only use them in very opportune or difficult situations where there are too many enemies to deal with at once. You will usually find them conveniently before a situation where they might be useful, and there is even an unlockable item that gives you infinite grenades, but at the same time, using them feels like playing dirty. However, some fights on Very Hard are a nightmare without abusing grenades, such as when there are multiple Mastiffs.
You can also equip health packs, which will be automatically used if your health bar runs out, effectively making them extensions of your current health. You can even use them at any time to top up your health when there are more pickups than your capacity to hold them. There are also energy packs you can equip instead of health packs, which allow you to quickly recharge your energy if you need more time for blade mode or ripper mode. However, they are not automatically used when you run out of energy, except in the final boss where there are long blade mode challenges, so you generally won't be equipping them when health packs will save you from death. You can also use either of your packs from the paused safety of your inventory, although you will not be able to access your inventory during blade mode challenges, and accessing your inventory has a delay.
Smoke/EM Grenade + Draw Attack + Ripper Mode is a powerful combination for thinning overwhelming crowds.
There are a wide variety of enemies, each with their own variety of attacks and behaviours that make each of them different to deal with, and the presence of certain enemies can change the dynamic of an encounter. This makes for varied encounters that require strategy. Doing well requires you to prioritize weaker enemies, especially ones with guns or rocket launchers, so they don't interrupt you while you work on the tougher ones. Bullets don't do much damage and are easy to defend against by sprinting, but rockets will blow you away and enemies have no concept of friendly fire, so get rid of these enemies first.
Common enemies are simple to deal with by just slashing them once with a light attack to briefly stagger them, and then go into blade mode for the zandatsu. Armoured enemies need to have their armour broken off with normal attacks before you can cut them with blade mode, and you will need to defend yourself against their attacks while you work on them. Armour breaks off one limb at a time, and unprotected limbs highlighted in blue can be dismembered with blade mode to cripple your target to make them easier to fight. However, if you cut off most of their limbs while their torso is still protected, they will die with no chance for a zandatsu. If you run away from a crippled enemy, they will withdraw from battle, which also removes a zandatsu opportunity. Not killing everyone and getting all zandatsus will affect your combat rating, so should not stray too far from crippled enemies.
There are also "Desperado" variants of most enemies, marked by having a red and black theme to their appearances. These versions are immune to the sprint-slash attack as they will cause your sword to bounce off of them, which will briefly stagger you. You have to stop sprinting before using light attacks, but other than that, they fight pretty much identically to regular enemies. It is a rather contrived way to make the enemies more challenging because it interrupts the flow of combat in the hopes of getting a cheap hit on you rather than make you think and improvise.
Each of the boss fights are unique in that they each have different attacks and behaviours. They all follow the basic premise of hit them until they reach certain health thresholds, which will trigger different phases of the battle. Nevertheless, each boss has their own tricks that make each fight different and can take you by surprise. Some of the blade mode challenges in these fights have multiple parts that require you to keep the blade mode key held down or else you will fail the next part instantly.
One of the more frustrating aspects of the combat is the stun system. Not only does taking a hit stagger you, if you take multiple hits in a row, you will get stunned and have to do a quick time event to shake it off. In practice, you are not going to recover in time before the enemy attacks, which leads to taking even more hits. On Very Hard difficulty, it is possible to get stun locked with how aggressive enemies are and how easily you can get surrounded, which can cost you multiple health packs while you are unable to do anything. You have to know the best strategy for each encounter and play perfectly to not get locked into such a downward spiral, which means you are going to be either doing very well or very poorly.
Launching enemies into the air with Sky High is a great way to isolate an armoured cyborg and shatter some of his armour in safety. Following up with blade mode will let you cut off his arms.
Without arms, they have a hard time fighting back.
Very Hard difficulty adds additional enemies to complicate encounters. Pro tip: The one at the back is much weaker and can be killed much faster than the actual boss, especially with Ripper Mode.
While this is not a stealth game like its predecessors, there are levels where enemies are not aware of your presence, allowing you to back-stab or death-from-above them. You are never required to remain undetected, but stealth-killing enemies is a much safer method of eliminating them when facing overwhelming opposition, so you should go for them whenever possible. You have an augmented reality mode that lets you see enemies through walls, allowing you to time your movements to avoid being seen. Your movements don't make noise, but enemies may suddenly detect you if you sprint up behind them, so you have to approach enemies with normal movement only.
To help you sneak around, you can pick up cardboard boxes or drum cans as items in your inventory and put them on at any time. These allow you to position yourself and hide along enemy patrol routes to sneak attack them when they turn around. Enemies are dumb and will not notice a box sitting in the middle of the floor that wasn't there before, so sneaking around is quite simple. However, they will find you if they walk into you or if you move while in their line of sight, so choose your position carefully. You can look around while hiding in the box, but the camera will snap back to forward when an enemy is close for no apparent reason, which makes it annoying to keep track of enemies. The difference between the box and the can is that the can lets you roll around and knock down enemies with the sprint button, although doing it too long will cause Raiden to stop and vomit from motion sickness.
The grenade aiming mechanics and alert system make it seem like the developers wanted to include stealth as a viable option. However, it has apparently not been fully fleshed out, and you are given only a shell of a stealth system. Then again, making the game stealth-focused would be at odds with Raiden's new character as a stylish combat cyborg who can take on the fearsome gekkos head on.
As long as you stay still and are not in the path of the enemy, you will never be noticed. You can pounce as soon as he turns around.
Linear levels and VR missions
The levels are quite linear with invisible walls boxing you in. The focus of the game is fighting through a series of crafted encounters rather than exploring and grinding. However, there are a few out of the way areas with item boxes. One thing to note about the boxes is that orange boxes can be opened by just attacking them, while gray boxes need to be cut with blade mode, which is something that confused me at first. There are a few levels that are open-ended to let you play with the stealth mechanics. The story campaign isn't all that long, but at least it does not feel repetitive, although it does recycle one map.
In addition to the main story, there are also VR missions, which are challenging scenarios in hypothetical, but generic environments to test your skills. These missions have different win/lose conditions, and can range from simple to ridiculously hard. You have no upgrades other than access to the unlockable combat skills, some missions require you to remain undetected, and some missions are set to Revengeance difficulty where you can be killed in a single hit while perfect parries are devastating. For each mission, you get a rating based on completion time, and you will have to figure out the optimal strategy for each to get the gold time. If you gold rank all of the missions, you will be rewarded with the long sword (a nodachi to be precise), which is more of a trophy than a practical weapon since it attacks slower.
Horrendous camera system
While the game was originally designed for gamepad, you can use keyboard and mouse, and I do recommend the latter mainly because block spamming is much easier by just pressing two buttons. However, the camera system is awful to the point of interfering with the fast-paced gameplay. Mouse control suffers from negative acceleration, where the mouse becomes unresponsive if you move the mouse too fast, making it very difficult to keep track of particularly mobile enemies. This can be mitigated by increasing the camera speed, but doing so also reduces aiming precision in blade mode because the camera jumps more to move faster.
In addition, the camera has a tendency of moving on its own, which requires fighting against it. This is absolutely critical when blocking is direction based, and it can lead to taking cheap hits because the camera decided to change the direction of the enemy. This gets worse if you are cornered as the camera will shift to prevent clipping through the walls. Enemies that are in front of the camera will also be made invisible so they don't block the camera, yet they can still attack, which means you can be blindsided.
Another problem is that sweeping your mouse in blade mode causes you to attack. This is a shoddy and pointless attempt to turn your mouse into a motion controller. It is slower than just clicking and it introduces the risk of swinging when you didn't intend to when you are trying to rotate the blade reticle quickly. This is particularly important in the last boss fight where you have to be both fast and precise multiple times in a row against the countdown of your energy to avoid taking damage. If you are too fast, you may prematurely attack when you are not lined up and then you eat the hit.
I also dislike that in blade mode, you use your movement keys to look around while the mouse rotates the blade reticle. Targeting the zandatsu box often requires shifting your aim rather than rotating it, and using keys to aim is terribly imprecise. While it lets you pan and rotate simultaneously, I would rather have the mouse look around by default. Rotating the reticle could be accomplished by holding down the right mouse button, which is currently used for rapid vertical strikes. These vertical strikes are only useful in one boss fight to quickly hit objects on the vertical axis due to the slow panning speed of the movement keys. But if looking is done with a fast, responsive mouse, it should not be needed.
Beyond the camera, the button input is intuitive. Doing the combos do not require precise inputs as the game will only register the next input within a comfortable timing window at the end of each attack, so you can mash strong attack until you reach the move you want to branch off from, mash light attack during the move until you branch off, and then mash strong attack to finish. The attacks themselves feel absolutely vicious with the use of visual and sound effects, especially with the Murasama Blade.
The camera really sucks cyborg ass when backed against a wall.
The fast-paced gameplay combined with the wonky camera can lead to a lot of cheap situations that make the game unnecessarily frustrating, which is why I cannot give the gameplay a higher rating. But if you can work around it, you get a stylish and deep combat system that rewards mastery. Therefore, I give it a conditional recommendation.
Assassination and defeat
Raiden is a sword-wielding cyborg working as private security for African Prime Minister N'mani. N'mani established a rule of law in his country, but soon, that peace comes to an end when a hostile force of cyborgs ambush the prime minister's motorcade and kidnap him. Raiden fights through the attackers and pursues their leader in an attempt to save the prime minister. However, he ultimately fails as N'mani is murdered in front of him while another sword-wielder, Sam, stands in his way.
The leader escapes while Sam is left to deal with Raiden. Sam proves to be an exceptional fighter, and as they clash swords, Sam notices that Raiden is holding back. Raiden claims that his sword is a tool of justice, but this disappoints Sam who believes that a lust for violence is what makes one a strong fighter. Sam demonstrates his fiery resolve and incapacitates Raiden. Just as Sam is about to finish him off, Raiden's backup arrives and drives away Sam, while Raiden is left to reflect on his defeat.
You don't become a cyborg ninja to fix things.
Tracking down the killers
Raiden is equipped with a new and improved cyborg body. His next mission is to take out a terrorist group supplied by the same private military company behind the killing of N'mani, Desperado. As he proceeds through the cyborg controlled city, he encounters an AI robotic wolf who struggles with a conflict between the concept of freedom and its own programmed orders to kill. After fighting his way through to the terrorist leader, he encounters Mistral, a Desperado cyborg. She talks about her history of violence and her enjoyment of it, but she struggled to find purpose in life until she met someone who taught her to fight for an ideal. But unlike Raiden, Mistral does not fight to protect the weak and thinks he is naive for doing so. They fight and Raiden kills her.
Raiden's next mission involves investigating a sewer system in Mexico leaking toxic waste from an alleged Desperado facility. He also had the AI wolf rebuilt and reprogrammed to help him as a scout, and he now refers to it as Wolf. In the sewers, he encounters a kid named George being attacked by robots. He rescues George, who tells him about a brain harvesting operation that he escaped from. After infiltrating the facility, Raiden discovers countless brains of poor children to be used for cyborgs. Tapping into video footage of the facility reveals the involvement of American Senator Steven Armstrong, who is tied to a PMC called World Marshal in America.
Because of how high-profile Armstrong and World Marshal is combined with the corruption of the media to suppress sensitive news, there is no way to hold World Marshal accountable. Raiden is not willing to let the unjust operation go, so he decides to go rogue and infiltrate World Marshal as an independent actor, although his advisors understand where he is coming from and decide to help him off the record. On route to World Marshal, he is detected by the police and ambushed. He is not willing to let the police get in his way, so he cuts through them and continues his mission, leaving a path of destruction in his wake.
Hypocrisy of a hero
As he approaches World Marshal, Sam contacts him and comments on his violent rampage through the city and how he is killing an awful lot of people. Sam explains that all of the cyborgs have their emotions suppressed through nanomachines to make them more effective fighters, and he plays the suppressed thoughts to Raiden. The cyborgs are actually weak people who were pushed into their positions by their circumstances. Joining a PMC was their only shot at a better life, which triggers a massive cognitive dissonance in Raiden who believed in protecting the weak.
Raiden struggles his way to World Marshal only to succumb to his emotions as he meets Sam at the door. Raiden is soon surrounded and another Desperado mercenary appears, Monsoon. Confident in his position, Monsoon lectures to Raiden about how there is nothing morally pure in the world. Memes are ideas and behaviours people copy without thoroughly understanding them, and they allow people to convince themselves they are doing the right thing while satiating their inherently wicked desires. Raiden's belief in justice was just an excuse to kill people he deemed inferior to him and enjoy it.
Raiden admits all of it and realizes he was lying to himself about what he truly wanted. Deep down, he enjoyed killing as the real reason why he continued his job as a military cyborg when he could have pursued a peaceful life with his family. With this, he reawakens his past self as Jack the Ripper and cleaves through the soldiers around him. Monsoon sends Sam to pursue Desperado's next objective while he deals with Raiden. Raiden defeats Monsoon and then proceeds into World Marshal to finish what he started because he does not want any more people to become soldiers.
A lot of us enjoy killing, which is why we make and play violent video games. At the same time, the romance memes we were taught tell us we should also be the good guys to gain the approval of women. In reality, a lot of women find psychopathic traits attractive, so chop away Jack the Ripper!
A plan to make history
After reaching the top of World Marshal, he finds all of the children's brains plugged into VR training. He encounters Sundowner, who explains that war is something ingrained in everyone and is valuable as both entertainment and a business. Children are cruel, which is why they make the best candidates for war, and Sundowner is very much a child at heart who enjoys violence for the sake of it. He also mentions a grand plan to start a new war that will soon come into fruition and cause the demand for PMCs to skyrocket.
After defeating Sundowner, Raiden talks to his advisors and they deduce that the plan Sundowner mentioned involves intercepting the US president in Pakistan. He won't be able to get to Pakistan in time through normal flight, but one of his advisors suggests a reusable launch vehicle, which can travel at Mach 23. His advisors contact a nearby aerospace company that has one while Raiden escapes World Marshal and heads over there.
On his way to the launch site, he encounters Sam and Wolf. They know each other, but Wolf is unable to understand Sam's motivations. Sam knew Raiden was coming, yet he did not attack the facility Raiden was heading to, suggesting weak loyalty to Desperado. Sam parrots the concept of fighting for ideals, but even he doesn't seem to fully believe it himself. He wants to let history decide the winner, and Raiden has a score to settle with him anyways, so they duel and Raiden defeats him. Sam had a very well-made sword, but it is ID locked when Raiden picks it up. Wolf decides to hold onto it in memory of Sam.
Raiden and Wolf reach the base, meet up with a young friend in charge, and take the RLV to an airfield in Pakistan where the US president is expected to arrive. After infiltrating the airfield, Raiden finds Wolf incapacitated. Then a giant Metal Gear bursts out of the ground and Armstrong appears. Armstrong explains that Americans want a war against Pakistan because they are empty people who believe in materialism over principles, so going to war is the best way to bolster the economy. Armstrong needs to control the public narrative justifying everything and Raiden knows too much, so he gets into the Metal Gear and fights Raiden.
A clash of ideals
Raiden takes down the mech, but Armstrong isn't finished yet. Armstrong absorbs the power of the Metal Gear into himself and then overwhelms Raiden with inhuman strength and durability, even grabbing and breaking Raiden's sword with his hand. Armstrong explains his real motivation: He hates America for what it is. People are fighting and dying for other people's causes when they should be fighting for themselves and being in control of their own lives. Weak people are dominating the mainstream and deciding on behalf of others on what is right. His solution is to burn it all down and establish an unregulated system of survival of the fittest where the weak will be purged while the strong thrive.
Raiden rejects him for wanting to purge the weak because the weak who are poor and hungry never chose to be born into their circumstances and do not deserve it. Armstrong counters by pointing out that Raiden overcame his weakness through individual will and effort, that truly capable people rise out of their weakness on their own, but it doesn't convince him. They fight, but Armstrong's nanomachine-hardened body is impenetrable with Raiden's fists.
Armstrong is about to finish Raiden off, but then Wolf appears with Sam's sword and replays a message left by Sam before his duel with Raiden. Sam began to doubt whether working for Desperado was the right thing, so he decided that the best man should win and that the ID lock on his sword will disable a couple of hours after he dies, implying he will pass down his sword to Raiden. Armstrong kicks Wolf away, but not before Wolf throws Sam's sword to Raiden. Raiden and Armstrong have a final showdown and Raiden wins.
With his last words, Armstrong tells Raiden that nothing will change and war will continue as an institution where men fight for reasons they don't understand. However, Armstrong sees himself in Raiden, a man who chooses his own path and does not let laws and the loss of life get in his way, so Armstrong believes Raiden will make a worthy successor.
OMG! Metal Gear Rising is a pipeline to fringe far-right extremists that make up half of the country!
At its core, the story is a deconstruction of the superhero who fights for justice by beating up hordes of faceless bad guys. Raiden starts off believing he is the good guy fighting the bad guys, justifying to himself that all of the people he killed are just bad people who deserved it. But as he hears the stories of his opponents, he begins to realize that his enemies can be simultaneously aggressors and victims, that being victims led them to becoming aggressors to survive when there was no one to save them.
I remember when I first played this, I didn't understand many of the philosophical and political things said. I thought that the bosses were just making empty excuses to justify violence against the innocent, that their crimes discredited everything they said. It is only after studying real-life politics, writing long chains of connected ideas, and building up an honest and consistent view of morality, economics, and human nature that everything makes sense to me now. The story models this kind of personal growth, with Raiden learning and adopting the memes of his enemies to become a more sophisticated person.
The idea that soldiers are just ordinary people trying to live their lives is nothing more than shifting responsibility for systemic immorality while still trying to benefit from it. Remember, a leader is only as powerful as his subjects are willing to follow. If no one goes along with his ambitions, he has no power beyond what he can do alone. But if they carry out his will because they think it is the best option for themselves, they are just as guilty as the leader. If you think what they do is wrong, but you join them anyways and fail to bring about any meaningful change, you are simply contributing to their power and being complicit in their evil. To blame only the leader neglects the agency of the people who follow him.
Rising's portrayal of morality is more nuanced compared to a story that treats good and evil as distinct forces with good always prevailing, negating the point of evil. However, there is still a bias towards classical morality by separating good guys and bad guys using stereotypical personalities and appearances (i.e. good guys = pretty and gentle, bad guys = ugly and boisterous). It tells you that these people are of no value and can be hacked to pieces anyways, which undermines the point the story is trying to make.
Raiden's character development reflects the story of someone who grew up as a progressive believing in the fantasy of being a hero of justice saving the weak from the machinations of the strong. But when Sam and Monsoon point out the contradiction between his beliefs and actions, he begins to realize he is not the morally pure good guy he thinks he is. Evil is something emergent rather than something simply chosen for the sake of it because if good is so good, why would you be evil? Reality works under a sort of equivalent exchange, where to be a hero to certain people, you inevitably become a villain to others. Giving nice things to someone triggers jealousy in others, which forms the motivation behind communism. You don't choose to be evil, evil chooses you when you try to pursue your own good.
Parallel to communism
Monsoon's misanthropic views derive from the utter hypocrisy of the Cambodian communism he grew up in. Communism was very much an ideology of protecting the weak, but it killed off the strong, which ultimately killed the weak anyways due to shortages of goods produced by the strong. It was very much a case of memes in action, of people acting in ways they were told but don't fully understand. So blinded by their ideals that the communists became the villains they believed they were fighting, which is why Monsoon's history is so fitting for revealing the dark side of Raiden's justice.
Monsoon doesn't explicitly talk about communism, but his perspectives make sense in the context of communism's hypocrisy. However, if you do not have good background knowledge of communism and the human condition that enabled it, it will likely fly over your head. You will be like Raiden who thought Monsoon was just "full of shit", which is what you would expect from someone introduced to new ideas that run counter to his own. It starts off with denial, and only after processing it all does he begin to realize his own world view was based on lies to shield innocent minds from the true horror of reality.
But then you would have to make judgments of whose life is more valuable than others. Do you consider quantity or quality more important? Would you rather save one upstanding citizen or five terrorists holding him hostage?
Left versus right
Raiden's position is of communism, that no one should ever be born into poverty, that the weak are inherently good while the strong are inherently greedy, that the corrupt system is the result of the strong exploiting the weak, that "survival of the fittest" is an evil philosophy that no one needs, that inequality is an allocation problem rather than a scarcity problem, and that society can satisfy everyone as long as we put the right people in power while getting rid of the bad people. His vision of society is one where the weak can live as they desire by being unconditionally taken care of by the strong, that is, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."
On the other hand, Armstrong's position is of libertarianism, that every person is responsible for building their own life and becoming strong through their own will, that no one can overcome the rules of nature that force competition for limited resources, that the strong produce the resources that mitigate scarcity, that laws and bureaucracy are selfishly designed by the weak to take from and suppress the strong, and that the corrupt system is the result of putting the weak on a pedestal and squandering the strong's resources to protect them. His vision of society is one where the strong can work for their own success free from the never ending demands of the weak who do not understand the struggles of the strong.
Armstrong's message did not initially resonate with Raiden because it perpetuates the brutal competition that Raiden believes is wrong. While Raiden believes in the general idea of freedom, he does not seem to realize that freedom means freedom to put yourself over others, not freedom from having to deal with reality. Competition is not some arbitrary social construct for oppressing the weak, it is an intrinsic part of a scarce reality where it is not possible to give everyone everything. People fight because they desire their own success that is mutually exclusive to the success of others. At some point, someone has to concede, but it may leave nothing left for the loser to live for, which is why some people are willing to fight to the death.
The songs for each of the bosses are about the bosses themselves and are sung by singers who sound like the bosses. Basically, the bosses are singing to you to describe who they are and how they see the world. However, when it comes to Armstrong and the MG Excelsus fight, the lyrics of Collective Consciousness does not reflect Armstrong's beliefs at all. The singer does not even sound like Armstrong, and actually sounds closer to Raiden. The thing is, Raiden did not know what Armstrong's motivations were when they met. He was under the impression that Armstrong was just another greedy, self-righteous politician trying to seize power with violence. Collective Consciousness describes who Raiden thinks Armstrong is: An authoritarian ruler who believes he knows better than the people on how to run their lives and expects people to give up their individual will for the collective will.
But once Armstrong explains himself, Raiden's perspective is shattered. They are already living in the world Collective Consciousness describes. The good guys won a long time ago, and they have already built their utopia for the weak that is funded with the war economy. They have established an elegant system of control where people think they have free will as they proceed to make choices in accordance to what was taught to them as right. The establishment tells them what is good and evil, who is a credible source, and whose stories are heard over others, which shapes their understanding of the world in accordance to what benefits the establishment.
This is the whole idea of memes. Raiden's meme of protecting the weak was taught to him by a system run by the weak to motivate people like him into fighting against those who pose a threat to the weak, thus securing power for the weak. The "24/7 internet spew of trivia and celebrity bullshit" creates an illusion that life is more innocent than it actually is, and it keeps people distracted, ignorant, and vulnerable to political suggestion. Those who try to discredit the system are themselves discredited as "bat-shit insane" to protect the status quo. The weak make up the majority because it is easy to be weak, yet democracy assumes everyone is equal and gives the weak equal voting power to the strong, which allows them to overrule the strong and make weakness the new strength. The weak are given power they do not deserve, and too many people are led to believe that weakness is desirable while the strong have to suffer for it. This is what is meant when Armstrong said, "America is diseased. Rotten to the core."
Armstrong's only chance is to play by the system to seize the power needed to change anything, to use war as a business to end war as a business and make the weak pay for their complacency. Armstrong is not some generic psychopath who simply enjoys competition and killing, he believes that his violence is a lesser injustice to what the system is inflicting on a regular basis while pretending it does so out of compassion for the weak. He has plenty of compassion for those who are denied the right to themselves and are forced to fight against their own self-interests for the self-interests of the weak.
It Has To Be This Way
The final boss theme, It Has To Be This Way, is sung from the perspective of Raiden, which implies that it is actually Raiden who is the boss of this battle. Armstrong is the real underdog fighting against a system much stronger than him, and Raiden is a representative of that system impeding his progress.
Raiden did not believe Armstrong at first, but the post-credits scene shows that Raiden accepted Armstrong's memes and may very well be taking up Armstrong's fight against the system. Raiden realized that Armstrong is not some generic villain seeking money and power, but another would-be hero trying to make the world a better place through violence against those who perpetrate injustice. They both agree that the war economy perpetuates the cycle of violence, but no matter who wins, there will still be violence. New life will be born out of the resources seized by the winner only to continue the cycle once the resources run out and everyone goes hungry again.
Furthermore, this song is not just between Raiden and Armstrong, but between Raiden and all of the people he killed in pursuit of his objectives. All of those enemies were just like Raiden fighting for their own success, for their own friends and families, but they were unwittingly protecting a corrupt system exploiting children for the war economy. In pursuing their own success, they sacrificed the success of others, which leads to conflict and their ultimate demise at the hands of Raiden. When it is not possible for everyone to win, it has to be this way. The song and the boss fight itself is such a perfect culmination of the game's central themes that it is the best final boss theme I have ever heard.
When the weak control the system, it only makes sense to be full of hate. Those who stand against hate are only trying to silence your grievances to protect the establishment and tighten their grip on your life.
If you want to improve your situation, you have to put in your own effort and develop your own strength. Not everyone will become President of the United States, but you can still be President of your own life.
Who's to judge the right from wrong? Women, of course! After developing yourself, you still have to compete against others for popularity and pass down your genes and memes to the next generation. Women are the final arbiters of your continued relevance, but that means they control the system, and they are not necessarily wiser than men despite how they are often portrayed.
Over the top symbolism
Armstrong snapping Raiden's sword is not merely to show off how strong he is. Raiden sees his sword as a tool of justice, and Armstrong snapping it represents how Raiden's sense of justice is child's play compared to what Armstrong has seen. A society of the weak manipulating the strong to fight and die in pointless wars because of a meme that the weak should be protected is an injustice greater than Raiden's small-picture image of a rich tough guy beating on a poor little guy. Armstrong's resolve is so strong because he has unambiguous experience of the system's corruption, that it is precisely Raiden's ideals that led to this state of affairs, that not even Raiden's cyborg speed can break his nanomachine-hardened will.
The game isn't over the top just for fun, it is symbolic of the themes presented. Raiden unloading his minigun punches on Armstrong and barely making a dent represents how Raiden's best arguments don't even faze Armstrong because Armstrong heard it all before and knows pretentious heroes like Raiden won't change a damn thing. Size differences between you and the enemy doesn't matter because physical power is just one kind of strength that can be overcome with a different kind of strength. The zandatsu represents how all living things survive and prosper, by cutting from the environment and taking the energy to recharge, doing it over and over to keep on living and getting rich off of it.
Limited government versus anarchy
All that said, I cannot really get behind Armstrong's intentions. While he knows that the system is corrupt, he does not appear to know the exact cause, so his solution is to just burn it all down and start over from scratch with no plan on how he is going to prevent it from happening again. What mechanism is there to stop people from organizing and forming a new system of control? Collective organization is a form of strength that can be wielded over disorganized individuals, so the strongest do thrive, just not according to Armstrong's individualist perspective. The problem with pure libertarianism is that it creates a power vacuum that will inevitably be filled by an overconfident leader who can convince the ignorant masses he can fix reality.
A healthy society requires a bare minimum rule of law, imposed boundaries on individual behaviour to ensure every person can live without interference from others so they can focus on developing their own strengths. Property rights are needed to define the lines by which each individual shall not be infringed. Public roads and city planning are needed to prevent private property from being boxed in or cut off. Garbage and pollution need to be regulated to prevent spillover infringement of property. Fraudulent behaviour needs to be prevented because it undermines consent to property. A neutral police force and court system is needed to enforce all of it without bias. Taxes are needed to prevent people from getting a free ride on things that they will use, are difficult to control access to, and would create conflicts between payers and non-payers.
There needs to be a core set of laws that cannot change to suit the individual because people are not omniscient of the consequences of their actions, and even then, cannot be trusted to respect the freedom of others. Violence is not something you can just apologize away if you turned out to be wrong, which is why it has to be avoided as much as possible. Allowing people to start their own wars and doing nothing to curb the cycle of violence as it spills over to others is not freedom, it just hands the power of control to the violent mob. It also stunts economic progress as people have to repeatedly waste limited time and resources rebuilding what was destroyed.
The need for a sequel
The correct response to an extreme system is not to go to the opposite extreme; binary thinking is the very definition of extremism. Raiden's opposition to Armstrong while accepting Armstrong's truth about the system is indicative of a reasoned moderate who is willing to change his beliefs in the face of strong counter-arguments. However, to the unenlightened masses who lack background knowledge in politics, creating an association between libertarianism and an angry, dog-kicking villain who expects everyone to kill each other is counterproductive to a nuanced discussion about political philosophy. Only through impartially engaging with opposition views that you realize that the final battle isn't a battle of good versus evil, but of two men who have witnessed grave injustices rooted in each other's beliefs, fighting with all of their soul for what they believe is right.
The problem with writing is that when you decide who the good guys and bad guys are, you are implicitly telling the audience what is right and wrong. You have to be careful of how you portray villains so as to not create a straw man that tells the audience that anyone who believes anything similar to what the villain believes is automatically wrong. However, if you create a villain that makes too much sense, it makes no sense to kill him. Armstrong has to be vague enough so that Raiden does not understand where Armstrong is coming from, extreme enough that stopping him is still the moral choice, and bigoted enough so that there is actually a fight to escalate to. The realization that Armstrong was right all along has to come later when Raiden had time to process everything and see the world for what it really is. This is why this game needs a sequel that delves into the things Armstrong talked about and makes you realize he had a point.
I imagine Metal Gear Rising 2 would involve fighting against Armstrong's polar opposites, leftist authoritarians who represent the logical outcome of Raiden's former ideals. They publicly believe in protecting the weak to look like the good guys, but behind the scenes, they leverage the power of the deep state to humiliate and eliminate their competition while getting away with it. But unlike Raiden, they have no sense of their own hypocrisy because everything they say is just a tool to inflate their social image in pursuit of their real objective: power.
On the surface, it seems like a typical leftist story of fighting the evil corporation exploiting the vulnerable for profit. But when you dig into the narratives it presents, especially in the music, it reveals a surprisingly good understanding of rightist perspectives. It is the reason why the villains can say the things they do, and why Raiden evolves from being a hero of justice to a fighter of his own war, instead of just being someone intrinsically different and better than the villains so that there is no reason to grow like Kirito from Sword Art Online.