Phil’s Story Corner: Jack the Ripper is Metal Gear Rising’s True Hero
Phil Owen takes a close look at Raiden’s alter-ego in Metal Gear Rising.
Note: This editorial contains some spoilers for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
We live in a strange world. Most of the games we play are quite violent, and yet most of those violent titles attempt to avoid glorifying their violence. They fail at that, usually, because the appeal of violent games is usually that the violence is awesome and fun to deal out. Because most games are violent, it's not a stretch that a lot of the people who play games enjoy them specifically because they are violent. Until major studios spend way more money on non-violent games, it'll be hard to tell.
In any case, it is not uncommon for these violent games to act as if the ultimate goal of their characters's violence is so that they can not be violent later. They do "bad things" now, and hopefully that will prevent them from doing bad things later. And the games try to paint them as people who are not lusting for violence.
Enter Metal Gear Rising. At the beginning of the game, Raiden works for a private military company that is helping an African nation train its military so as to prevent civil war from breaking out and tearing the country apart, as has become a common tale in the real world. Raiden is doing a good thing by doing his soldier act. He is working to create peace.
He tells himself, like so many other violent video game characters do, that he is acting as a military figure because he must, and because he is able. He does not want to be violent, but because he grew up a fighter in Liberia thanks to the war there, he has a skill for violence and is using it for the benefit of the innocent people around him.
When Raiden, in his battles with Desperado PMC, discovers a facility built to harvest brains from children in order to turn them into cyborg soldiers, he is outraged, because he doesn't want other kids to have to go through what he did when he was young. In the back of his mind, though, he realizes what he is really worried about is these kids turning into the kind of person he has become.
What Raiden has become is made clear when he faces off against a Desperado leader named Monsoon, who forces him to confront his true nature. As Raiden fights Monsoon, he unleashes Jack the Ripper, that little boy who fought and killed not just because he had to, but because he enjoyed it and could never sate his hunger for death.
Raiden thought he had Jack under control, but he was just lying to himself the whole time. Really, all Raiden ever wanted to do was kill, and all he had done as an adult was come up with a way to justify all the death he had dealt.
Interestingly, Metal Gear Rising is not about Raiden trying to overcome that nature. Instead, it's about how he must make use of it to do what needs to be done. Raiden is a tragic figure; war is all he knows, and he is condemned to a life of combat. If the world was ever truly at peace, Raiden would become a villain.
But the world is not peaceful, and so Raiden's desire to kill as many people as he can certainly has a place. That being the case, Jack the Ripper also has a role to play. After Raiden fights Monsoon, it sort of appears that Jack goes back into hiding, as Raiden is no longer glowing red, but you can hear in his voice that Jack isn't gone. And it's good that Jack is still there, because the subtext is that letting Jack loose, while the Raiden part of him guides his motivations, is what makes it possible for him to take down Desperado and end their plan for all-out global war.
See, Raiden is, believe it or not, less powerful than his enemies in Revengeance. At the beginning of the game, he absolutely gets his ass kicked by Jetstream Sam, who is subordinate to Monsoon and a couple of the other bosses you fight. Sure, he didn't have all his cyborg enhancements in that fight, but it wasn't even close, and Sam mocks his fighting style. And it turns out that Sam doesn't even have much in the way of artificial enhancements.
But with Jack the Ripper on the surface, Raiden gets it done. He goes from being just another cyborg who is in over his head to a truly powerful force. And it is all because he realizes that in order to make any headway toward his goal of protecting the weak and innocent that he has to allow himself to take joy in killing. Without that joy, he can never live up to his full potential.
Metal Gear Rising makes a statement about its hero: Raiden is a killer, and that's all he's good for. But even gleeful killers can serve the people. Even a person who lives for death and destruction, or especially such a person, can be an effective tool against evil.