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March 11, 2013

Let’s discuss Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (Part 2).

You know, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my brother a couple of weeks ago.  He was really excited about the then-upcoming release of Revengeance; knowing that I tended to keep a pulse on game reviews, he asked me if I thought it would get good scores -- especially in comparison to the fresh-on-the-market DmC.  I gave him my prediction.  “No, it probably won’t get good reviews.  There’s no denying that it’ll be good, but the scores won’t be as high as DmC’s.  People will probably say the story is stupid, or confusing, or something.  Or some other flaw.”

And then the scores started popping up.  And indeed, it has seen some favorable reviews -- not enough to put its Metacritic score over DmC’s, but it is a close race.  That length seems to be a major sticking point.

But if there’s one thing that I’m starting to learn as of late, it’s that reviews are merely a suggestion of quality, not a confirmation of it.  Maybe my standards have just become annoyingly high in the last few years, but the sheer number of nines and tens from the gaming press seem to be less and less likely to translate into a “great game, great experience”, at least in my eyes.  I’m the kind of guy who READS the reviews, not just glances at the score.  And when I read about issues with the new Tomb Raider and issues with the new God of War, I’m starting to fear that I need to start magnifying those problems to figure out if a game is right for me.  Maybe I need to be doubly-negative.  If reviewers won’t be critical, I guess I’ll have to.

Which brings us back to Raiden’s Ass Kicking Jamboree.

WARNING: You are in for a crap-ton of spoilers if you read carelessly, so if you’re looking to play the game first with a fresh perspective, do so immediately.  Also, don’t do what I did and forget that the Select button lets you access the Codec and plenty of conversations with your pals.  Cripes, I’m terrible at Metal Gear games…

This game’s story is…well…I like it.  I like it a lot.  But honestly, I’m surprised I like it as much as I do.

Remember, I was expecting reviewers to tear into the story, calling it either “immature” or “convoluted” or something along those lines -- and by that logic, I would have to double the negative points.  And even if they were positive, I expected either backhand comments about how the story is passable, or find it inoffensive (at best) on my own once the game was in my hands.

I guess I underestimated the input of Hideo Kojima.  I know a lot of people take issue with his storytelling, and I’ll admit I can see both their point of view and the flaws of the Metal Gear-Father’s style; I’ve yet to forget falling asleep during MGS4’s hour long cutscene.  On the other hand, I like MGS3 a lot -- especially the relationship between Snake and The Boss.  Or just The Boss in general; she had a commanding presence, plenty of impact on the plot, an interesting tale, and an almost palpable bond with Snake.  To say nothing of the last boss fight against her, and the ending that follows.

Not being one for politics or the military, I can’t say for sure how much Kojima’s works are credible (though I’m assuming he and his cohorts have done their research).  But to be more precise, I can’t say for sure how wise or effective it is to throw so many concepts at us gamers.  For the most part it’s easy enough to follow along, and I’ll admit that there are plenty of interesting and enlightening points.  On the other hand, sometimes it feels like the camera is being jerked to the left so we can have a discussion about war and soldiers and such.  It’s not a game-breaker, but it is something I’ve come to expect of the franchise.  Same goes for the sheer immensity of each cutscene, let alone game; you’d think that the guy would try keeping things succinct and manageable, instead of reveling in his ability to throw thousands and thousands of words at an audience with no choice but to tolerate his long-windedness.  And -- wait a minute…did I just describe myself?  Or at least some time-displaced Japanese counterpart?

Anyway, it’s easy to spot elements of Kojima’s style, even if you aren’t fully-immersed in the lore or his works in general.  In fact, during the demo when a few of the characters started going off about the political climate, a part of me started getting a little unenthusiastic.  Complex discussions about the nature of war seem a little ill-fit for an action game starring a one-eyed cyborg ninja. 

And to my surprise, the full game seemed to agree with me.  There are some discussions, of course, but there are three important caveats that prevent them from getting too unwieldy.  First off, the military-industrial complex junk is there, but it’s kept under control -- it adds flavor without overpowering the rest of the meal, because it’s wisely regulated.  Second, the game manages a good balance of its elements; it remembers that even if this is a game featuring transhumanism and child soldiers (and worse), it remembers that it’s still a game featuring giant robots, soldiers sanctioned to swing around hammers, and purposeful shots of several characters’ CHEEKS OF JUSTICE.  Third -- and maybe most important of all -- is that this is Raiden’s story.

I know that I’m starting to sound like a broken record on this, but I’ll keep on repeating it for as long as I need to.  In my eyes, if the main character is bad, the story is bad.  No exceptions.  They’re more than just our perspective in the worlds we visit; they’re the defining factor of the story’s themes and ideas, and the chief mover-and-shaker vis a vis the plot. That much should be obvious, even for a greenhorn -- but that just makes the many, many, many times there have been failures all the more baffling.  Then again, that makes the successes all the more gratifying.

And Raiden is indeed a success.  It isn’t just a matter of his story being passable, or not getting in the way of the slice-and-dice action.  No, you are actually rewarded for clearing a level or boss, as you should.  His story, and everything surrounding it, is a genuinely intriguing and entertaining story, one that -- much like the rest of the game -- cuts off the fat to be a lean but tasty meal.

I’ll get into this more in a little bit, but here’s an example that shows what’s on display here.  Late in the game, Raiden manages to take down a boss that’s been giving him trouble since the opening hour.  It’s a tough fight for sure (both for the character and the player), but one that’s ultimately manageable.  As I cleared the fight, my brother -- who was watching at the time -- was quick to note that unlike the other bosses, this one didn’t end with Raiden slashing him to pieces.  Why?  “He has to give his dramatic monologue”, I said jokingly, but still preparing for a lengthy death speech.

Except he didn’t give a lengthy death speech.  He wasn’t exactly silent, but we didn’t spend minutes at a time going over the minutiae.  He just…died.  It came as a surprise, but it makes sense in the grand scheme of things -- Raiden was in the midst of a race against time, and this guy was just a roadblock.  (You could make the argument that there was absolutely no reason for him to engage in a sunset duel on the highway, but then again he probably wouldn’t have let you pass if you didn’t.)  What’s even more interesting is that he actually doesn’t engage in much ideological mud-slinging with Raiden -- he even goes out of his way to say something like “Haven’t we done enough philosophy talk?”  It’s bizarre, but only because it’s such a foreign concept.  Like, that’s just how these things go: two guys meet, do a little (i.e. a lot of) arguing, and then fight.  The absence of it, while probably the more ideal, is still a strange turn.  A strange turn, but one that puts the audience’s status above grandstanding atop a soapbox.

But it makes sense.  This is Raiden’s story, and Raiden’s journey.  And indeed, that’s probably the best way to describe it -- along with what’s best for the game.

When I was thinking about what I wanted to say for this post, one night (while eating some hot dogs, natch) I had an epiphany.  I ended up coming up with something called “The Yo-Yo Dichotomy”, and I hope to be able to keep it in mind for the future.  See, I’ve been working on a story for a while, and it has the potential to be either great or terrible.  It all depends on how good of a job I do with the main character -- someone who skirts several thin lines between good and bad.  In the context of what I’ve been saying for months now -- and even before that, I’d wager -- creating a “badass” is tricky business.  It goes beyond more than just being powerful or doing lots of cool moves, and it certainly goes beyond having the possibility of a crusty sponge.  But with my new idea in mind, maybe the reason I’m so hard on badasses is because they’re not only sure to provide diminishing returns if you screw up; maybe it’s because I’m dangerously close to writing a bad one myself.

There’s a scene early on when the main character is in school, and everyone’s got a little time to goof off.  While he’s talking with his girlfriend, someone in the background loses control of the yo-yo he’s been playing with, and it ends up flying toward the MC.  Now here’s where things get interesting: in the earlier drafts of the story, the MC (in spite of barely paying attention), manages to snatch the yo-yo out of the air with ease.  In the most recent drafts, however, the MC gets hit by the yo-yo.  That’s a really minor detail, right?  Nothing to boast about, especially if he screws up.  But here’s the thing: there’s a difference between a badass who’s constantly trying to be badass, and a badass who’s allowed to look like a goof.  A good badass isn’t allowed to shrug off everything and everyone, and can never, ever be in complete control of any situation.  That’s defeating the purpose.  Fallibility is a strength, not a weakness.  It’s a matter of making the high-octane moments all the more potent when it’s time, rather than making every moment a chance to show how cool a character is.  It just makes the whole thing bland instead of always-awesome.  There needs to be an element of humanity and levity, so that when your hero inevitably has his punch-up with the lord of the dead, it makes the fight a lot more meaningful.

I’m kind of thankful that the impetus for this train of thought was a fictional yo-yo, because it just has so many implications.  Think about it: in order for a yo-yo (i.e. a badass) to work, there have to be ups and downs.  Multiple levels; multiple statuses.  You have to know when to add force, and when to let it ride.  There’s a difference between one badass and the next…but the most important distinction is that the creator isn’t allowed to designate (or design) their character JUST to be badass.  The creator’s job is to put their characters through situations of both high and low tension, and have him succeed or fail as needed.  The only ones with the right to decide who is a badass is the audience.  That’s all there is to it.

DmC Dante is the shining example of how not to do it.  It’s bad enough that his highest-octane moments come down to running on stuff, jumping off stuff, and being a pissant.  It’s even worse when you consider that he doesn’t struggle against anything, or get told off, or question himself outside of one incredibly forced conflict near the end.  (You could argue that his development was extremely subtle, but given that I named a good fifty plot issues -- some of which pop up in THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES OF THE GAME -- I’m not too keen on giving the developers any credit.)  Yet the most he’s allowed to alternate between is undeserved smugness and generic empathy.  He’s not even remotely dynamic, either through his words or his actions.

Raiden, meanwhile, has much more -- for lack of a better word -- “range”.  On one hand, this is a guy who’ll fling a mech the size of a school a hundred feet in the air, then run along its limbs to continue his assault.  On the other hand, he’ll decide that the best way to begin a sneaking mission in Mexico is to don a sombrero and poncho…and then abandon both as soon as he finds a way into the sewers.  On one hand, this is a guy who’ll commandeer an unmanned jet by jumping from a helicopter and start steering it by ramming his sword through its brain.  On the other hand, he’ll start stuttering when his operator’s strong accent makes him think he’ll have to take a dump.  They’re little things, but they’re incredibly important both for the character and the story.

But The Yo-Yo Dichotomy isn’t just about squeezing in a few laughs and making Raiden look like a doofus.  There’s at least one other potential element to it, one that Raiden has and DmC Dante doesn’t.

Raiden gets his ass kicked.

In the opening minutes of the game, Raiden starts out in a good place.  He’s part of a band of do-gooders -- Maverick Security Consulting, a benevolent PMC -- currently tasked with protecting an African prime minister.  He’s calm, he’s cordial, he’s decked out in a nice suit, and he’s actually capable of cracking smiles and jokes.  When it’s time to fight, though, you’d better believe he’ll fight -- good to know, considering that (as these things tend to go) the Prime Minister gets captured and eventually killed.  The culprits?  While they’re not the absolute masterminds, there’s still a lot of blame to heap on Desperado Enforcement LLC., a none-too-pleasant PMC out to spread war and strife for their (and to a lesser extent, the world’s) benefit and profit.  Naturally, Raiden ain’t havin’ that shit, so his adventure begins.

And it almost ends before it starts.  After the prime minister’s death, Raiden engages in a train-top duel with a Desperado supporter, Jetstream Sam.  It doesn’t go very well.  In the midst, Raiden claims that his sword is a tool of justice, while Sam scoffs at the idea and tells him he’s just in it for the fighting and killing -- or at least that he SHOULD be in it for the killing.  Raiden intends to prove him wrong, of course, but…well…

Sam is a reality check in more ways than one.  It’s an immediate slap in the face for the player, the person who’s most likely to be riding high after judo-throwing a Gundam.  But of course, it’s a way to spark Raiden’s story arc.  Everything he’s believed in, and the creed he’s based his life upon?  Pfft.  Waste of time; all that nobility and resolve won’t save you from getting your eye and your arm slashed.  So what’s an agent of justice to do?  Easy. 


Raiden comes back hardier than ever, making sure to leave his carved-out eye missing, presumably as a reminder of the damage that’s been done (or to make him a dead ringer for Snake/Big Boss; the fact that the real game starts after Raiden blows the first mission is a dead-ringer for MGS3).  His buddies operating as mission control note that Raiden’s sounding a bit colder and angrier than usual, and while that’s true every now and then, he’s still far from a battle maniac.  He’s out to carve out a win in this fight, this game, and this arc, but it’s as much a struggle to stop Desperado as it is a search for his own truths.

It’s an inherently simple story and setup, and one that’s no doubt been done before.  It’s done fairly well in MGR -- again, it’s a very lean game -- but it is still interesting to see Raiden struggle as a result of internal and external stimuli.  If you weren’t aware, MGR is quick to remind you that Raiden is a former child soldier, and even beyond that has had one brutal childhood…to say nothing of what he went through in the games proper. 

The events of MGR hit a little too close to home for him, reopening old wounds and making him want to fight that much harder for justice -- or at least what he perceives as justice.  As a Maverick, he’s more than willing to bend the rules -- or even paint himself as an enemy of the country -- if it means stopping the bad guys.  He’ll do what no other man will…because failing to do so means that the organs of children will continue to be harvested and made into a new wave of cyborg soldiers following rigorous brainwashing/programming.

Yeah.  That’s a pretty big part of the baddies’ plan, by the way.  Not the only part, mind, but a big part all the same.  You can’t really blame Raiden for going a little berserk.

But in order for Raiden’s story arc to come to a close, he has to reconcile his nobility with his ferocity.  He has to figure out where he stands; is it really true that he’s not fighting for justice, but to retroactively take out his anger on those who’ll commit the same wrongs as those done to him?  Is everything he’s believed about his opponents a lie, or just excuses he’s created to excuse himself from guilt?  Would he willingly sacrifice his humanity just for a chance to play the hero -- and a bloody one, at that?  Is he even a hero?  (Side note: his wife and son are, to my knowledge, only mentioned in passing.  Talk about Father of the Year...though he could be a lot worse.)

There’s a moment around the middle-ish area of the game when Raiden starts carving his way through Denver to put an end to the madness.  Before he can make it to enemy HQ, Sam’s face pops up over a slew of monitors in a plaza, each one declaring in perfect sync that Raiden’s resolve and reasoning are hollow.  Raiden has believed up to this point that the people he’s cut down are just soldiers that have made their choice, but are willing to die for what they believe in.  Sam is eager to point out just how wrong he is, though.  Many of the people Raiden’s been fighting -- up to and including Denver policemen who just happen to be cyborgs -- are not only people who have become cyborg soldiers because of their own horrible lots in life, but are entirely aware of the fact that they’re going to die by Raiden’s hand.  Worse yet, they’re going to die, but they can’t do a thing about it; their bodies might move on their own and their words may say otherwise, but once Raiden turns on his sensors he can immediately hear the panicked thoughts of those he fights. 

My knee-jerk reaction to that sequence was, “Come on, Raiden.  Are you kidding me?  You should know that you’ve been fighting humans this whole time.”  But as the scene progressed, I kept on thinking about it, and came to my own conclusions.  The obvious one is that Raiden’s forcibly been covering his ears this whole time (and his eyes on occasion, thanks to that visor built into his face), treating his opponents as sandbags.  When the illusion is shattered, he has to own up to what he’s done, and decide what to do from there.  He finds some semblance of an answer…with this being one of its chief tenets.

But you know what?  I suddenly realized something -- something that makes MGR’s story more credible, thoughtful, and satisfying than what is on the surface.  This isn’t just Raiden’s story, and Raiden coming to grips with his nature as a killer.  It’s your story, too.

Let’s be real here.  If you live in the States, you probably know that in light of some relatively recent events and tragedies, people are starting to look at video games in a more critical light.  There are outsiders looking in who are blaming video games for warping people’s minds, making them more violent and eager to kill, or at the very least desensitized to violence.  There are, of course, others who are willing to give games a fair shake, and use (admittedly slow and inconclusive) scientific evidence to figure out what games do to their players.  Plenty of gamers have gotten pretty furious about the mud-slinging, given that Mortal Kombat has yet to result in anyone eager to punch out spines and turn into dragons.  But lately, gamers -- people up and down the industry rungs -- have been wondering something: what if video games ARE too violent?  What if they DO have an effect on us?

You could make the argument that not every game has to be (or even is) a non-stop stream of violence and gore.  And you could make the argument that games are more beneficial than detractors would suggest; some think that games could make you a better surgeon (good thing I’m such an ace at Trauma Team).  But what I say next, I say as someone that loves the medium: have you seen some of the shit they’re putting out these days?  Conan O’Brien found out the hard way that Lara in the new Tomb Raider could have her head run through with a spike if you screw up a set piece.  Gears of War: Judgment’s promotional materials feature our “heroes” clubbing enemies to death with a sniper rifle, which I’m pretty sure defeats the purpose of a sniper rifle, let alone any given gun.  I don’t even want to imagine what Kratos does in the new God of War.  And just when I think things aren’t going to get any worse, here comes MGR with its defining gameplay mechanic being the ability to tear enemies into blood-spewing chunks.  Great work lending the medium some credibility, Platinum Games.

But believe it or not I think Platinum Games actually offers a perspective on the discussion -- not an answer, but at least items to digest.  There’s no denying that even if the game is extremely violent, it’s also extremely fun.  You’re killing off goons like a bikini-bottomed tornado of steel, and the game rewards you every step of the way with awesome cutscenes and points, and a ranking system that wants you to kill more efficiently -- and of course, the positive reinforcement from the audiovisuals (the effects of a successful Zandatsu being a prime example).  You’re meant to be a killer.  The people in your way aren’t living, breathing people as much as they are notches on your gamer’s belt -- or rather, masses of polygons and AI protocols.  You haven’t been feeling any sympathy for them, or thinking of them as anything but a chance to show off and cut loose.

Raiden’s realization (or reaffirmation) of his targets’ humanity is supposed to be a shock to both the character and the player…BUT there’s a distinction.  The thrust of the story is not violence is bad, or that you’re a terrible person for indulging in violence; that would just make the entire game a hypocritical mess.  The thrust is that you’re supposed to be aware of your actions and consequences, not stop them entirely.  You’re a killer, yes, and it would be great if you didn’t slaughter your way to justice, but the important thing is keeping in mind what you’re fighting for.  It’s a question of “does the end justify the means?” and lets you come up with your own conclusions; indeed, Raiden likely comes up with his own by game’s end.

But there’s more to it than that.  The game asks you questions -- many of which have been asked before -- but offer the potential for the player to come up with his own answers.  “Does the end justify the means?” the game asks.  And in my case, my answer is “No, not entirely -- but it definitely makes a difference in the long run.”  “Is fighting inherently wrong?” the game asks.  “Well, no, it isn’t.  But pretending like it’s all a game and the people you’re fighting are just drones are doing everyone a disservice.”  And “Is it wrong to enjoy a good fight, even if -- especially if -- it gets violent?”  And I say “No, of course not; video games or otherwise, conflict and combat are ideas deeply entrenched in our minds.  What’s important is being able to control those violent impulses, and doing the right thing however and whenever you can.”  There’s a level of intelligence here that’s palpable; in the same sense that South Park is a lot savvier than its felt fabric aesthetic suggest, so too does MGR offer platforms of thought underneath its cyborg showdowns.

And on that note, let’s talk about the boss battles for a bit.

They really are the highlight of the game.  They’re fast, they’re furious, and they rely on whatever skill and savvy you can muster.  Still, I’m positive that the reason they’re so fondly looked upon is because of the music that plays during them -- songs designed to get your heart pumping, especially considering that the lyrics only kick in when you’ve done enough damage.  (Side note: the game’s composer, Jamie Christopherson, is also responsible for the music of Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, which not only has some fantastic music in its own right, but one of my favorite video game songs ever.)  It’s very easy to assume that the lyrics are supposed to represent the boss’ thoughts and voices, and in many respects that’s the case.  But even so, I have my own theory.

Once he tunes into their frequency, Raiden can hear the thoughts of cyborgs he’s about to cut down.  So what if during their duels, he ends up hearing the bosses’ thoughts and having them mix with his own?  What if their feelings and ideas are being forced inside his mind by virtue of them trading blows -- two fighting spirits and wills melded into one another? 

Now, hear me out on this.  I like the music in this game, but there’s a part of me that feels like the tracks are a little…well, juvenile.  Like they’re the kind of roaring declarations of freedom/rebellion you’d hear from Linkin Park or any number of songs used in the average Naruto AMV.  It skirts a dangerous line, but I think it’s a smart move; Raiden’s loss against Sam has pretty much knocked him into a state of internal flux, so it’s only natural that he tries to figure out who he is once more.  So in one sense, you can argue that the developers -- and Christopherson -- knew their audience.  In another, you could argue that the chaotic nature of these songs represents the clash.  Just listen carefully to the songs; in this case, let’s go with Mistral’s theme.

It’s a reflection of her nature, of course, and as you’d expect it has vocals spearheaded by a female vocalist.  But if you think about it, couldn’t these lyrics apply to Raiden just as well as Mistral?  If MGS4 is to be believed, Raiden could have stepped off the battlefield and lived with his wife and son in (relative) peace.  But he came back to fight and slash his way from one corner of the world to the next.  Why?  Because, arguably, “he finally found what he was looking for -- a place where he can be without remorse.”  There’s an undeniable state of flux to each song, because he’s coming to grips with the fact that he’s not so different from the Desperado cyborgs.  In fact, the one time when the music is at its “calmest” is the final boss theme.  You’re more likely to perceive the song as something sung by Raiden instead of the burly last boss.  As for the lyrics…well…just listen for yourself.

I suspect that one of the greatest strengths of the game is its ability to stay memorable (fitting, considering the scoffed at micro-discussion on memes).  The moment-to-moment encounters are striking enough, especially when you meet a new enemy type for the first time and have to figure out how to beat it.  The boss battles are even more memorable, with the music just serving as the icing on the cake.  I won’t soon forget cutting a frozen Mistral, and accidentally leaving nothing but a pair of legs standing in place.  Nor will I forget parrying Monsoon’s smoke screen assault, one rapid blow after another.  Nor will I forget being able to break through Sundowner’s armor with some well-placed cuts, and slashing the big boss to pieces as he flew towards me.  Nor will I forget hitting Sam with my palm blasts, and realizing that in order to parry some of his attacks, I had to wait longer to input the command than usual. 

And then there’s Senator Armstrong. 

Who’s Armstrong, you ask, o spoiler-loving reader?  Well, he’s the main baddie of the game -- one who’s used all the turmoil up to this point (and more) to engineer a conflict and secure himself a spot as the new president.   Admittedly, it’s kind of a shaky plan -- it almost feels like Armstrong’s borrowing from the Resident Evil school of thought where he’ll further his political goals by causing a global catastrophe -- but it is defensible, in that he’s trying and somewhat succeeds in altering the American mindset.  Still, what people are going to remember is A) his “alpha-male” approach to life, B) the savage beatdown he gives Raiden, C) the insane boss fight that looks like it’s taking place in hell, D) NANOMACHINES, SON, or E) all of the above.  Indeed, Armstrong has a marked presence on the end game, and his presence alone is enough to elevate MGR to a whole new level.  He’s a thematic fit in terms of gameplay (he relies solely on his technology and brute force to win, versus Raiden’s battle-honed skill) and in terms of story (he wants a world where the strong rule unchecked, and Raiden -- in spite of fighting for the weak -- is a worthy successor and kindred spirit).  But in spite of all that, there’s a bit of a problem with Armstrong. 

And indeed, there are a few problems with the story in general.  Such as…

1) Who the hell is this guy?
It’s telegraphed relatively early that Armstrong is going to be the last boss -- and even without the hints you can intuit that he’s the main villain, because videogames.  But in spite of his bombastic finish, he’s removed from a huge chunk of the action.  If this is what he’s like at the end of the game, can you imagine what would have been gained if he was there from the start?  I feel like the story would have been better served if Evil Mike Haggar Armstrong had a stronger presence…or at the very least, added a bit more allusion to the fact that he had his own giant hexapedal tank.  There is a counter to this, but then again it just highlights another potential problem.

2) Sam could have been the last boss.
This should be obvious.  Sam is the one who shakes Raiden from the outset.  Sam is the one who continues messing with Raiden’s head and calling him out at opportune points.  There’s bad blood between them, and while they do get their grudge match later on, Sam could have served as a great endgame challenge; after all, he is something of an anti-Raiden (more than any other character, arguably, though the others do get to make the connection).  It just feels like a missed opportunity.

3) Raiden’s world tour bonanza!
My understanding of the Metal Gear franchise is that -- barring MGS4 -- they tend to take place in a single location and have most, if not all of their events take place there.  MGR opts instead to have Raiden travel all over the world, with his jump from A to B becoming a plot point later on.  It’s not exactly a full-on fault, but the movement from one location to another is a bit frenetic.  We’re in Africa!  Now we’re in Mexico!  Now we’re in Denver!  I know the game is set up in an arcade-esque strong of fights, but it feels like a disservice to gloss over locales so quickly.

4) Uhhhhhh…
Uhhhh…that’s all I’ve got, really.  I mean, there are minor complaints that I could make, and issues I’ll notice in another playthrough, but as it stands I’m VERY satisfied with the finished product.  In fact, I feel like I have to debate a certain point raised by comments and reviews. 

-1) We don’t know the Desperado bosses intimately…and that’s a good thing.
People have argued that these bosses come out of nowhere, are poorly explained, and vanish without as much as a pre-death monologue.  And there is some merit to that argument…buuuuuuuuut I think that in the grand scheme of things, it’s better this way.  Let’s set aside the fact that it’d add some unneeded fat to this very lean game.  Remember, these are soldiers meeting on the battlefield; there’s only a certain -- maybe even superficial -- level of sympathy we’re allowed to have for our enemies.  We’re right, they’re wrong, and our cause is the only one that matters.  Given that, isn’t it more appropriate to avoid dredging up too much information?

But there’s another reason: sometimes less is more.  We don’t know a damn thing about Jetstream Sam when we meet him, and when don’t know a damn thing about him when he dies.  We can reason things about him, but everything else about him is shrouded in mystery.  So why is that a bad thing?  I say it’s good to have this enigmatic soldier who loves to fight standing in our way.  Once more, he highlights the difference between himself and Raiden, and serves the latter’s arc all the more; it’s the age-old struggle of will versus reason.  In this case (and with the other bosses to a lesser extent) there’s no reason to weigh that mystery down with backstory that’s ultimately pointless.  They’re going to be cut down, and what happened to them in the past won’t change anything.  And on that note…

-2) Bladewolf is awesome.
…Actually, this doesn’t have anything to do with it.  I just figured I’d be doing wrong if I didn’t mention this guy.  And while we’re at it, thank you Platinum Games for making a black character who isn’t a wacky sidekick or a fight-happy wall of muscle.

And with all that said…

-3) This is a good game.
And more specifically, it’s a power fantasy.

There really is no way around it.  The fact that you’re playing as a one-eyed, feather-haired, super-strong cyborg ninja who at one point drifts his way through a city street should be an obvious tip-off.  And indeed, you are playing as an ultra-skilled badass who takes on several other ultra-skilled badasses in fights that wouldn’t be out of place in Shonen Jump.

But the reason why I like this game as much as I do is because it’s a GOOD power fantasy.  There are multiple levels of thought running underneath the surface, asking you to consider your actions and beliefs.  Raiden may be a radical cyborg, but he’s also a father who’s globetrotting the world instead of spending time with his son, occasionally indulging in his violent impulses and only just now realizing how much harm he’s done to the people who’ve stood in his way…and then continuing to fight because he knows he needs to carry on as much as the world needs a maverick ninja.  There are things that are being said and left unsaid, spoken and thought, that make this game more than just a chance to show off some flashy moves or peddle some dime-store philosophy.  This game -- its writers, its developers, et al -- had something to say, and communicated that with the means available to them with gusto.  It’s a game that you can not only enjoy on multiple levels, but find merit and satisfaction no matter how deep you feel like diving in. 

There’s an extremely telling moment in the last few minutes of the game.  Even though Raiden has beaten Armstrong, Desperado, and put a damper on the baddies’ plans, he’s still out there fighting for what he believes in -- even if it does make him a killer.  He knows that the job isn’t done; he knows that beating the bad guy isn’t the be-all and end-all to a conspiracy that involved the harvesting of children’s brains.  He knows he has to keep on fighting.  He knows that there are going to be consequences, both because of what happened throughout the game and his own righteous kills.  He knows that it’s not over -- as the song goes, “violence breeds violence, but in the end it has to be this way.”  In a sense, he’s growing up.  And that’s really all I could ask for out of games. 

And I’ve gotten it.  I ask for challenging, impactful gameplay, and I got it.  I ask for thoughtful, meaningful scenarios, and I got it.  I ask for a tale that manages to weave in smarts and simplicity, spectacle and substance, savvy and spirit, and I got it.  And amidst it all, there’s no shortage of laughs to be had.  No shortage of joy, wonder, amazement, and genuinely good times, all wrapped into a short-but-sweet package.

So to that -- all that and more -- I say thank you.  Thank you, Kojima and pals.  Thank you, Platinum Games.  Thank you, Raiden.  Thank you, Metal Gear.  Thank you all for doing the one thing that any game, no matter what the style, no matter what the genre, should do.

You’ve made me happy.  Very, very happy.


  1. Excellent coverage! I'm still playing through the game myself, it probably doesn't help that I have a meticulous playstyle and try to search for absolutely everything before I continue on, but it's been a blast so far. Those water striders in level three are a giant pain in the ass though.

  2. I was actually thinking about mentioning those guys, but I had a brain fart and couldn't think of what animal they were based on. So I left them off. (Though come to think of it, what sort of evolutionary track and habitat could create such a creature? Nature's weird sometimes...)

    In any case, good to hear you're having fun. It really is a trip -- and if I hadn't let a buddy borrow the game, I'd probably be playing it right now. Guess I'll just have to make due with the withdrawal symptoms. Like pretending my remote is the hilt of a HF Blade.

  3. Just beat the game on normal. It took a while because I wanted to get all the collectables on the first playthrough, so I was replaying levels a lot. I have to say that it was a great experience. The only fight I really had trouble with was Armstrong, and even then it was the Blade Mode part (I found an admittedly cheesy way around it). I'm looking forward to unlocking more and just dicking around. The VR-Missions are incredibly difficult though. I'm not sure I have the willpower to grind out golds in all twenty of the original ones, let alone the fifty dlc ones.

  4. Oh, I figure that you may also enjoy this playlist: the extended versions of a lot of the tracks: rather well made.

  5. Yeah, I have to give the VR missions -- and the DLC, by extension -- a shot as soon as I'm able. Can't say I have any intention of getting high ranks in any of them, so long as I manage to complete them. I'm not one of those mastery-type gamers, after all...and even if I was, my turtle-speed reflexes wouldn't be too beneficial.

    Anyway, great to hear that your experience was...well, great. It really is a fantastic game, and just what I needed after a string of disappointments. It may be asking for a lot, but I hope that other developers can take lessons from MGR and work them into their own games, one way or another. Either that, or the game itself gets enough momentum to warrant a MGR2. I wouldn't mind that, like, at all.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to YouTube. "Red Sun" beckons.