I would not consider myself a Metal Gear fan. I’ve never delved particularly deep into the main series, I haven’t played any of the games for more than a few hours. Unlike a lot of people, I liked what I played of 2019’s Death Stranding, but even that game receded into the depths of my backlog. While I appreciate Hideo Kojima’s authentic brand of absurdity, little of what he’s worked on has particularly clicked with me.
Somehow, in spite of all of this, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is one of my favorite games of all time. Maybe it’s because it has noting to do with any of those other games. It’s a spinoff developed by Platinum Games instead of Kojima Productions. Even Kojima himself had little to do with the project compared to past Metal Gear installments. However, I’ve never been a huge fan of Platinum’s games either.
Still, perhaps what drew me to this game was its recent meme-fueled return to the spotlight. It certainly seems to be a source of intrigue for many others. Or maybe it’s because the messages of this game, ham-fisted as they are, have proven increasingly prescient as the years have gone on. Whatever the case may be, something about Metal Gear Rising really seems to pull people in, myself included.
So what is Metal Gear Rising anyway? To say it’s just an action game would be a significant understatement. It’s a lightning bolt of adrenaline that injects itself straight into your bloodstream. Its mechanics foster a powerful flow of energy between player and game, in which the action rarely stops. It has inescapable commentary on the modern geopolitical landscape. Of course, it’s also full of memes, in more ways than one.
It’s a game with every dial cranked up to the max and then some. Almost humble in its lavishness, the game manages to leverage its sincere ridiculousness as a tool of endearment. That very same sincerity is part of Revengeance’s core identity, essential to its enduring appeal.
Jack the Ripper’s character arc is about admitting that, beneath his moral crusade, he really is in it for the violence. In a way, the player is on the same page. By matching the motivations of the player and the main character, the game is able to have its cake and eat it, too.
This bending of the fourth wall could be part of the key to why Rising is as compelling as it is. Memes, ones that that stood the test of time, were responsible for its meteoric rise from what could’ve been irrelevance. It sounds like a joke, but the game is all about memes. Monsoon, one of the major villains of the game, bases his entire ideology around them. Even the game itself is a meme, in both senses of the word. Not only is it a joke on the internet, it’s an idea that’s been passed down over the years, well past the usual window of popularity.
An Unforgettable Experience
The aforementioned Monsoon is only one of many icons of Metal Gear Rising. Who could forget the countless other figures in the game’s story? Jetstream Sam, the pompous rival, the bizarre scientist, Doktor, and of course the arrogant wannabe dictator, Senator Armstrong. Those and many more are practically household names in some circles.
All of them are characters so rock-solid and defined that they practically carry the game on their shoulders. Of course, Raiden is there too, acting as the dead-serious vehicle for all of the absurdity that goes on over the course of the plot.
That plot itself contributes to the overall memorability of the game. Story beats are punctuated by dazzling setpiece after dazzling setpiece, the same thing never goes on for long enough to get boring. In that way, the story is a lot like the combat, almost never showing signs of stopping. It’s an absolute theme park ride of a game, with all the sights, sounds, and spectacle that accompany that.
There Will Be Bloodshed
Combat is perhaps the central pillar of Metal Gear Rising, as essential to its enduring success as any other element. Every part of it, even the parrying, is highlighted by aggression. Constant, unrelenting attacks are thrown your way, only for you to throw your own barrage right back in their direction. There’s a synergy between attack and defense that other games have yet to replicate.
Nothing reflects this synergy more clearly than the boss fights. Particularly, the dramatic sword duel against Jetstream Sam is a masterclass in striking this balance. Sam is one of the only enemies in the entire game who is able to attack as fast as the Raiden, putting you and the boss on an even playing field. Rival battles, in which the enemy is matched in ability by the boss, are a classic gaming trope, and Jetstream Sam is an excellent execution of it.
I also couldn’t write an article about Metal Gear Rising without talking about Blade Mode. One of the main gimmicks of the game is Blade Mode, the ability to cut any enemy into dozens of pieces in slow motion. What’s special about this mode, separating it from being a cool novelty and nothing more, is the Zandatsu system. This mechanic allows Raiden to completely heal himself as he cuts certain parts of enemies, which generates a neverending string of executions in which the player is constantly being rewarded.
The Revival of Revengeance
Ultimately, it’s incredible that a game like this is so evergreen. Most games of a similar caliber would be remembered only as good examples of their genre. Revengeance, on the other hand, is seen as a legendary masterpiece. What, in particular enabled this game to reach that status?
Sure, the game spawned a megalith of memes, it’s very popular online. However, as we’ve recently seen with the re-release of the ironic meme titan Morbius, ironic enjoyment alone can’t carry a piece of media. It needs something that goes beyond just being a funny joke. One-note novelties tend not to stand the test of time. More importantly than anything else, even the most crowd-pleasing game needs quality to be successful.
The Right Lessons
The secret to Metal Gear Rising’s timeless status, in essence, is sincerity. It’s not “so bad it’s good,” it doesn’t use humor to create an illusion of quality. Way deep down, at it’s core, it’s just a fantastic action game. It works so well because it’s backed by a great foundation. In a time when so much media feels the need to be smarter than its audience, something that meets said audience on their own level is sorely sought after.
Of course, all of that is obvious. People love the game because it’s good! Why then, would I write an entire article about it? Well, inevitably, people will look back on Metal Gear Rising years from now and wonder, “What was up with that game?” Game companies might even try, likely in vain, to replicate that lightning in a bottle.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in art is copying something without understanding what made it work. Cheap imitations never go over well, and, in extreme cases, can set the industry back by years. I want the takeaway from Rising to be that, above all else, before you hit on all those specific points, making a good game is most important.