WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Metal Gear Solid 4.
When Metal Gear Rising switched hands from Kojima Productions to Platinum Games and gained the subtitle Revengeance, my heart sank. This news meant much more than a new direction for this most anticipated of games; suddenly, Raiden, a character I had grown to sympathize with and respect, had become a comic book antihero. It wasn’t the violence that disheartened me — that’s to be expected when gameplay centers around swordplay — it was Raiden’s perverse satisfaction.
For months, I was confused and offended. In an instant, my most anticipated game had become a bastardization of its former self. How dare Platinum turn my favorite game series into a ridiculous Bayonetta-style freak show? These were characters I had a deep respect for, not amped up anime characters who growled out lines like, “I think it’s time for Jack to let ‘er rip!”
Okay, so that line still makes me cringe, but having finally played Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, I can say with confidence that, while the game is very much a different beast, it still possesses the soul of a Metal Gear title.
Revengeance: Peace vs. Justice
The Metal Gear Solid series has always centered around conflict, but its message has consistently been one of peace. How, then, could a game bearing the title of Metal Gear expect to get away with flaunting violent killing as something we should cheer for? The answer is complicated, but in essence amounts to a simple difference in philosophy.
“One sword keeps another in the sheath,” Raiden quotes, and his sword is a “tool of justice.”
Straight out of Raiden’s mouth during the game’s introduction, these two statements provide us with two distinctions separating Rising from Solid. Firstly, Revengeance‘s approach to conflict resolution centers around a necessary evil: eliminating the strong when they perpetrate injustices against the weak. This leads to my second point, which is that Revengeance, much like Raiden himself, focuses not on peace, like Solid Snake and Metal Gear Solid, but justice. These distinctions serve to both compliment the game’s “Lightning Bolt Action” paradigm and to create an experience unique to Raiden as a character.
Platinum did a fine job of making Revengeance their own, but when they took over production they made it clear the game was to take place after Metal Gear Solid 4, not before, as was Kojima’s original idea. This change served to better facilitate the advanced technology present in Revengeance, but fans of the series grew concerned that the inherent violence of the gameplay wouldn’t line up with how Raiden developed as a character in Metal Gear Solid 4.
For context, let’s briefly explore Raiden’s character up to the beginning of Revengeance.
Burdened by the past
As an orphan, Raiden was raised a child soldier and forced to commit all manner of atrocities, a lifestyle at which he excelled. As he grew up and the war he had been absorbed into ended, Raiden rejected his past and hated himself for it. After the events of Metal Gear Solid 2, Raiden came to fully realize the scope of the horrors he had both experienced and committed himself.
Leading up to Metal Gear Solid 4, Raiden took it upon himself to travel the globe undermining the Patriots, a shadowy organization responsible for his own horrific childhood. On the surface, his motivation was to prevent the Patriots from ruining more lives, but the events of Metal Gear Solid 4 made it clear that Raiden was also running away from a life with his girlfriend Rose, something he didn’t believe a monster like himself deserved.
By the end of Metal Gear Solid 4, with some help from Solid Snake, Raiden came to accept himself and realized he was no longer the manipulated child he once was, which led him to tell Rose that he was done running. He met his son for the first time, and together with his loving family, Raiden took his first step towards a normal life unburdened by his hellish past.
Burdened by the present
How, then, did Raiden end up half a world away from his family, elbow deep in a foreign conflict under the employment of a PMC? Well, it turns out that having a normal life when most of your body is made up of cybernetic enhancements and replacements is easier said than done. Unable to find work anywhere else, Raiden was forced to turn to private security work for high-profile clients. To his credit, Raiden chose Maverick Security Consulting, Inc., a PMC operated by people he could trust to support just causes. Unfortunately for him, working protection for world figures was bound to land him in hot water sooner or later.
This brings us to Metal Gear Rising. When we’re first reintroduced to Raiden, he’s overseeing the protection of a foreign dignitary, prime minister N’Mani, who has been hard at work to rebuild an unnamed war-torn African nation. Despite Raiden’s best efforts, however, the prime minister is assassinated by a PMC known as Desperado Enforcement LLC. This violent act sets Raiden, who had tremendous respect for N’Mani and his cause, on a dark path, one of both vengeance for the death of a good man, and revenge against those responsible for his death.
The events of Revengeance place Raiden in a series of amoral situations that break him down until he becomes a raw nerve. He and Maverick uncover a plan to harvest the organs of thousands of street children from around the world and turn them into an army of cyborg soldiers, trained under the same nightmarish program that turned him into Jack the Ripper as a child. Even his justification for killing (he’ll do what it takes to stop atrocities from happening) falls on shaky ground when he’s forced to hear the thoughts of his enemies as he slaughters them. Unable to cope, Raiden’s psyche falls back on a version of itself capable of doing what must be done. He once again becomes Jack the Ripper.
“Wind blows, rain falls, and the strong prey upon the weak.”
One of Raiden’s enemies this time around, Monsoon, argues that his organization’s actions are a matter of nature, that preying upon the weak is the natural order of things. He chides Raiden for believing himself above the predator-prey dichotomy, and refutes Raiden’s protestations with a litany of nihilistic rebukes. This interaction is pivotal to Raiden’s character in Revengeance; not only does it mark the instant Raiden sheds his principles and his Jack the Ripper persona takes over, but it’s also the core of the game’s theme. We’re grabbing the reins of a psychotic breakdown, resulting in Raiden becoming the strong that preys upon the weak.
Let’s face it, Raiden isn’t a legend like Solid Snake, and that suits him just fine. Raiden has been warped from a lifetime of manipulation, violence, and injustice; it’s unrealistic to expect idealism from him. There aren’t any “no kill” runs of Revengeance because Raiden operates on a different level from Solid Snake. Where Snake strives for peace and avoids needless death, Raiden knows no world without death, and strives only to ensure that today’s children don’t fall victim to injustices like he endured. Convinced he is a monster, Raiden uses monstrousness to prevent the creation of more like himself, and God help anyone in his way.
In the end, we’re not supposed to look up to Raiden like we do Solid Snake, because, frankly, he’s frightening. He’s a nearly unstoppable force, and his purpose is one of retribution — a cause not known for being reasonable. Sure, Raiden’s head is generally in the right place and his cybernetic enhancements provide him the tools to realize his goals, but he wields these with the ferocity of a rabid animal.
In the words of the original cyber ninja, “A cornered fox is more dangerous than a jackal.”