I’m a big fan of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, counting Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots among my all-time favourite video games. Yes the overarching story is very convoluted and loopy, but the stories in the individual games are amongst the best in gaming. Equally importantly, the gameplay is very fun, free and humorous, giving you the sorts of options that no other game series can get away with.
That said, the series isn’t perfect. There has been much ink and fanboy rage spilled over the issue, but upon the release of Metal Gear Solid 2 there was a lot of criticism leveled at the protagonist, Raiden. The flowing blonde hair, the whiny attitude and annoying girlfriend were all starkly at odds with the series’ regular hero, Solid Snake. Of course, most Raiden apologists have clung to this notion, saying that people simply don’t like him because he is not Solid Snake, and for no other reason than that. As a result of the criticism, series creator Hideo Kojima gave him a major makeover in Metal Gear Solid 4, turning him into a sword-wielding cyborg ninja. The makeover seemed to work, as many peoples’ opinions turned around and suddenly people wanted to play as Raiden again. That wish is finally coming true soon, as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is going to be released in the coming weeks. It looks like Raiden has finally redeemed himself…
…actually, no. He really hasn’t.
Put simply: Raiden still sucks. “Why’s that?” I hear the fanboys crying, demanding blood. Well let me enlighten you through 5 reasonable points…
Note, I unfortunately haven’t played MGS2 in quite some time, although I have played through MGS4 recently. This might affect my views on MGS2 somewhat, although I’ve made sure that my reasoning doesn’t hinge on that game too much. Also MAJOR FREAKING SPOILERS!!!
5) Whiny as all hell
Watch this video. Within the first couple seconds Raiden’s bitching about not having the card key he needs. Then skip to about 0:45 and see how long it takes you to throw up in disgust…
Maybe it’s just me, but it’s not a flattering appraisal when your action hero’s most consistent character trait is that he’s very whiny and angst-ridden. It makes it incredibly difficult for me to empathize with a character who refuses to help himself, but this is basically Raiden’s defining feature. In MGS2 Raiden spends much of the game uncertain of himself, whining about his situation to his girlfriend over the Codec whenever you try to save. Basically the only reason why he gets through the game is because “Iroquois Plisskin” motivates him to do so. In the process Raiden actually begins to develop as a character. By the time he got ahold of the ninja sword near the end, it was time to nut up or shut up, and I actually found myself enjoying Raiden finally. Ok, so they laid the groundwork for the character here, getting the painful origin out of the way so we can have a badass sword-wielding dude in the future…
…except no, this bright future kind of got thrown to the wayside in MGS4. Raiden believes that his girlfriend has a miscarriage and runs away from home because he’s so sad, becoming a cyborg ninja in the process. So clearly Raiden hasn’t learned his lesson – if anything, he’s even whinier and angst-filled than ever. Seriously, half of his dialogue in MGS4 is in the vein of “You wouldn’t understand…” and “I have no future…“. Kojima gave Raiden a ton of power, but Raiden just doesn’t care and it really robs his character of any real essence. I mean, he looks cool when he’s battling a dozen Gekkos, but it’s really a superficial fight – there isn’t a lot of narrative weight behind it because Raiden just doesn’t care. Worst of all, when he reunites with his family at the end of the game, Raiden doesn’t even acknowledge Rosemary – clearly he still wants to run away from his problems, and it’s exceptionally grating.
Now with Revengeance on the way, the question is – is this element going to continue into the future? And if not, is the character still going to feel like Raiden?
Remember what I said about the ends of MGS2 and how all Raiden’s character development got thrown away? What are the chances that this is going to happen again in MGR:R? Pretty damn strong I’d say. At the end of MGS4 Raiden became human again, putting aside his cyborg ninja get-up to live with his wife and son. Once again he finally seemed to have some sort of happy future ahead of him, but MGR:R looks like it’s giving Raiden another make-over.
This reminds me of the (terrible) Resident Evil movies. Its main character, Alice, is very badly defined, and in every single movie in the series they have been rewriting her in an attempt to make her interesting. Of course, this creates a jarring tonal shift between each movie, but it’s painfully obvious that their attempts at revisionism are hurting any chance of establishing a character identity for the series’ freaking protagonist (for example, Alice went from an everyday security guard, to experimental warrior, to superhero, to badass bitch and now she’s a Ripley-wannabe). Similarly, the constant revision of Raiden is making the character arcs of the previous game worthless. Ideally, each narrative should build upon the next and give us some development. Despite all my criticism, Raiden has a great backstory which can be mined for material with ease. With any luck, MGR:R will do so and finally give us a consistent story for Raiden.
3) God Mode
When I first saw Raiden destroy a half dozen Gekkos and Vamp in his introduction in MGS4, I almost shit myself in amazement. In the back of my mind there was something niggling me, saying “this is totally ridiculous” but it was also really, really cool. Suddenly everyone wanted to play as Raiden again if he could pull off moves like that. However, it soon becomes apparent that Raiden is retardedly unkillable. He nearly dies from stab wounds from Vamp, but later he gets crushed by a giant battleship and somehow suffers even less damage. Even then he’s able to continue fighting despite missing both of his arms. Unlike Snake, whose death it seems is inevitable and very possible at any given moment, Raiden is basically invulnerable and overpowered in MGS4, making him a rather boring character (and making his whininess even more grating). One of the best moments in MGS2 was when you controlled naked Raiden through Arsenal Gear – he was very vulnerable at this time but it was one of those moments that endeared you to the character.
2) “Badass” to the detriment of the story
This one is related to the previous point. Remember the part about Raiden getting crushed by a battleship? I’m not done with that yet. Just watch this:
While I’ll admit that the ending of that sequence is very sad and incredibly well directed, this is probably my least-favourite sequence in all of Metal Gear. It’s just so stupid and makes absolutely no sense. “Well wait,” you might say, “you’re arguing about sense in Metal Gear? This is a series where psychic connections are made with severed arms (amongst other things)!” While that is the case (and, I might add, most of the retarded plot points in the series come from MGS2…), this one just takes the cake in my opinion. Just watch it again… Raiden somehow stops a massive, speeding battleship… by standing in front of it… on flat ground… which is breaking up (and has had no trouble breaking up until that point I might add)… and somehow stabbing himself in the foot makes the ship stay in place longer… the idiocy of the whole situation is just head-smackingly terrible. It literally is one of the main reasons why MGS4 isn’t my favourite entry in the series. Here, Kojima overcompensated to make people like Raiden, and did so to the detriment of the game (and considering how important story is to any Metal Gear game, that’s pretty bad). If he had died it might have made this a little less criminal, but the fact that he lives with nary a scratch (somehow he lost another arm?) means that this whole sequence was horrendously unnecessary.
1) He’s not Snake
Ok, I made fun of this argument at the start of the article, but in all honesty it really does boil back down to it… although not in the way that a defender of Raiden would hope it to. A Raiden-fanboy would argue that people hate Raiden simply because he is not as badass as Solid Snake is. However, I believe the real case is that Raiden is simply a worse character overall. Look at MGS4 again – Solid Snake is an old war veteran, fighting his last battle and racing against time to kill his arch-nemesis before he dies. He’s frail, beyond his prime, and fighting on anyway. All that matters to him now is completing the mission and ending his father’s legacy. Solid Snake is badass, but it’s because his character has been defined as such, and he earns the distinction. Similarly, Big Boss (Snakes father/genetic progenitor) earns his distinction as a badass through his character development, rather than because he looks like Snake… in fact, Big Boss is easily my favourite character in the entire series simply because he has such a great character arc. Unfortunately, Raiden isn’t nearly as compelling as either character, in part because they insist on rebooting him in each subsequent game.
That said, there’s plenty of room for improvement – as I said earlier, Raiden has a great backstory as a child soldier and the effects this has had on him provide the perfect material for a great character. Sadly it has been wasted thus far, but I can always hope that they actually go somewhere with him in the future.
BONUS: MGS2 Commentary
I, like many MGS fans, was rather disappointed with MGS2… not because of Raiden (I knew about the twist by the time I played), but because of the ridiculously convoluted plot, which was dense and incomprehensible even by Metal Gear standards. In recent times, people have been defending this, saying that Kojima intentionally was creating the first post-modern video game. To that I say… yeah, you’re right. It was damn impressive in that sense. At the same time, I have hated most of the post-modern fiction I have read. I might appreciate them on a technical level, but they typically refuse to be enjoyable. MGS2 suffers from this by having plot twists invalidating plot twists that had been revealed 5 minutes earlier, logic that was tenuous by the series’ standards (the psychic arm…) and confusion piled on top of confusion. In a sense… the story is a total mess, and in a game where the story is as important as the gameplay, that really hurts.
In addition, I have a lot of difficulty going back and playing MGS2 now… I had fun with it when I played the first time (I fondly remember disarming the bombs on the struts still), but now the controls are exceptionally clunky. Compared to MGS3, which struck a balance between complex controls and player freedom (not to mention the free camera in Subsistence, MGS2 feels ancient. I dunno… at some point I’ll try my hand at it again, but I honestly had an easier time going back to MGS (or even the first 2 Metal Gear games for that matter).