My story with Platinum Games’ Metal Gear Rising is coated with dense layers of excitement and frustration. Alas, I was far from being impressed by Raiden’s solo outing on last-generation hardware back in the day. At first sight, something just did not click with me. In hindsight, it is easy to lay out Rising’s biggest flaw – af least for a diehard Metal Gear and Kojima fan like yours truly – the game is lacking the series’ sharp social and political commentary whilst aiming for a more laid-back, if self-conscious approach. Suffice it to say I can now see that is exactly where Metal Gear Rising draws its greatest strength.
I am confident the world would be a better place if videogames had more android ninjas sporting Mexican sombreros.
How did Rising rise up to become one of the finest slash-em-ups around, then? Simply put, its elegant gameplay and sheer mechanical prowess elevated this title to a modern classic. Now, before we go any further it is important you know I began playing through Raiden’s adventure on the game’s hardest difficulty setting. I had beaten Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta and felt like taking on a challenge, just cruising through the game’s story would not do. That decision ended up costing me a week’s worth of chipping away at the last boss, endlessly trying to get his attack pattern down while navigating through the enemy’s battle choreography. My own personal cyborg ninja massively underupgraded – I did not collect all power-ups on my way there – my hands shaking from failing to kill the boss off time and time again.
But it was my fault.
Rising is fair, the game punishes you only when you fail to follow the rhythm it demands. Unlike other titles in the genre, this Metal Gear spin-off not only allows you to dance around your opponents whilst countering their strikes – it pretty much asks you to do so. ‘Zandatsu’, a Japanese word used to describe the art of slicing stuff up, is embedded in Raiden’s very own gameplay DNA. There’s an unmatched kinetic feel to every cut and every combo you are able to pull off throughout your time with Rising. This is perhaps Platinum Games’ most satisfying experience yet. It is tough yet almost indescribably fun. So yes, Hideki Kamiya’s studio has achieved a kind of mechanical nirvana with Rising, and from the developers behind Bayonetta and Okami that’s saying a lot.
Oh, and there is the soundtrack, too! The tunes Raiden dances to in Rising are an integral part of the experience. All heavy metal songs in the disc permeate an high-octane kick to the whole thing effectively putting you on the battlefield. What a great ride this is. I have not had so much fun by simply listening to a game’s metal-infused soundtrack since Heavy Metal Geomatrix on the Dreamcast. Every song in the game sounds like it was specifically designed with a certain boss character in mind, their beats and lyrics extraordinarily aligned with said personas’ ambitions and overall gameplay structure and patterns. At the end of the day, Rising is both an unforgiving slash-em-up and a relentless rhythm game. Yes, really. The game is essentially a perfectly orchestrated dance routine in which you are challenged to follow every swing of the sword by emulating the soundtrack’s rhythmic, if synergistic beats. None of the game’s iconic adversaries would be so unforgettable should their theme songs not be as striking.
That is how I ended up beating Senator Armstrong, Rising’s final boss by the way – I listened.
By my 10th or 12th try I was truly in-sync with game, as if my Dualshock 3 served as a figurative yet sharp katakana which sole purpose was to end one of the greatest battles in all my years in gaming. I did it. The fiend was no more, my heart regained its usual calmness while all slashes and beats remain engraved in my brain. There is no going back – Metal Gear Rising is the finest action game in the past decade and you should absolutely give it a chance.
It is never too late to learn how to dance, anyway.