How Memes And An Immortal Soundtrack Have Revived Metal Gear Rising

Rules of nature, for a new generation.


Almost a decade after it first launched, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance recently found a new audience for its unique blend of over-the-top action, fast-paced soundtrack, and its legacy for spawning memes. As subtle as a napalm strike and sharper than Jetstream Sam's Masamune blade, people are once again experiencing what vengeance with a side of revenge feels like.

According to the NPD Group's executive director for games, Mat Piscatella, Twitch viewership for the game has reached the highest levels seen since January 10, 2015, and the recent Steam peak concurrent user count is higher than it has been at any point since December 20, 2014. "Sales started noticeably rising in December 2021, and since then January through April sales in 2022 are higher than the comparable months in any year other than the game's 2013 launch window," Piscatella told GameSpot last week.

Data analysis group PlayTracker recently provided a chart showing how Metal Gear Rising's concurrent player count has climbed 1,000% since last April, with that surge in popularity largely being attributed to one meme in particular.

Jetstream Sam, stroking his chin and pondering… something, has become a viral image online, with people on imageboards attributing the character to a false story of a Japanese ambassador pledging his sword to the nation of Ukraine when Russia launched its invasion.

That report of a politician geared up in Samurai armor is based on a photo of the Ukrainian ambassador to Japan, Sergiy Korsunsky, but in the context of Metal Gear Rising's story about misinformation and genocidal US senators, it's actually quite fitting.

Metal Gear is no stranger to memes, of course, as that idea cropped up in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and in Revengeance the villain Monsoon spends time discussing them as "the DNA of the soul" before he squares off against Raiden. Metal Gear Rising leans hard into this idea, and even if it was inadvertent, the game's absurd storyline, deliciously evil villains, and cheesy dialogue have made it a favorite amongst Metal Gear and Platinum Games fans.

On YouTube, Metal Gear Rising has been the subject of numerous videos praising just how ahead of its time it was and, considering its rocky development at Kojima Productions, how it's a miracle that it even exists. Beginning as a spin-off project as an in-house Kojima Productions project, Metal Gear Rising was eventually handed to Platinum Games, with the collaboration officially confirmed by Kojima at the 2011 Spike Video Game Awards.

Raiden was back with a revengeance.
Raiden was back with a revengeance.

The end result was a game that was short, enjoyable, and wasted no time in introducing players to its core hack-and-slash gameplay. Combined with Metal Gear's signature storytelling and some light--but ultimately pointless--stealth elements, Metal Gear Rising felt like a genuine collaboration between two distinct studios. Lifetime sales on PS3 and PC via Steam account for more than 1.2 million units sold as of 2018, though the game was also available on Xbox 360. Backwards compatibility on Xbox One and Xbox Series X has also likely pushed sales up, although exact figures are hard to come by.

You don't need to look much further than the game's opening mission for a prime example of how Metal Gear Rising quickly hits top gear and never slows down, as you're thrown into a boss fight against the titanic Metal Gear Ray mech within mere minutes. The second that you start a quick-time event against the titanic behemoth and hear the song “Rules of Nature” roar to life, you know that Metal Gear Rising has firmly established its tone.

Having earned a reputation for unrelenting action in previous games such as Bayonetta and Vanquish, Metal Gear Rising's gameplay elevated Platinum's power fantasy formula to a new level. Defense requires throwing an attack at an attack, parrying offense with offense. From there, the action dials up to 11 as Raiden slices his way through the opposition, engages in a Judo match with Metal Gear Ray, and even has a sword fight with another Metal Gear that's designed to single-handedly win a war. It's both stupefyingly bold and outrageously fun when you don't think too hard about these moments.

Beyond backwards compatibility, however, Metal Gear Rising has experienced a rebirth thanks in part to efforts from YouTubers. Max0r--creator of Incorrect Summary videos--has spawned a new generation of memes using the game as a foundation, and Jacob Geller's video essay on the game highlights how its adrenaline-charged action that trades defense for stylish parries has become even better with time.

Only a Metal Gear game could get away with lines like this.
Only a Metal Gear game could get away with lines like this.

The game has also benefited from a substantial number of tweaks over the years from the modding community, pushing the visuals of Metal Gear Rising to a new level with 4K upgrades, stylish filters, and edits to the UI that are designed to streamline the HUD. While it's unlikely that Konami will ever release a remaster of Metal Gear Rising, on PC the work has been done by a dedicated community and has helped Metal Gear Rising keep up with the times.

The soundtrack, composed by Jamie Christopherson and featuring the talents of Jason C. Miller, Logan Mader, and several other musicians, has been a fixture on various video game music charts. On YouTube, it's not uncommon to see a single track crack a high view count, and numerous remixes of the score have been uploaded over the years.

Want to hear Jetstream Sam's theme mixed with Scatman John and wonder how two diametrically-opposed genres of music can merge so well together? There's a video for that, and numerous other mashups online.

That level of fandom has kept the soundtrack in circulation through online spaces, and it's something that Christopherson himself appreciates.

"I like the remixes, but what I really love is hearing how people interpret the music and make it completely their own with new versions of the song covers. Whether it is with a full metal band or an acoustic cover, it's fun to hear the different styles and how well the songs seem to work across genres and cultures," Christopherson told us.

The best defense is offense in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
The best defense is offense in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.

Another key aspect in the sound of Metal Gear Rising that has resonated well with fans has been how it augments the power fantasy experience, as the game's intense level of action has been an "adrenaline shot" for some people according to Christopherson.

"I think a lot of that has to do with the music speed and intensity, but more importantly how it is implemented into the gameplay. When the 'Rules of Nature' kicks in at the end of the Metal Gear Ray battle, there is no question how much that amps things up."

Games come and go, but only a few select titles manage to carve out a place for themselves in an increasingly competitive landscape. Amidst giants and genre-defining masterpieces, Metal Gear Rising still slugs it out as one of the best-kept secrets in gaming. It's a scrappy underdog with plenty of bite, charm, and razor-sharp commentary wrapped up in a cybernetic shell of explosive action.

Even if its sequel appears to be nothing more than a devilish tease, Metal Gear Rising lives on as a one-and-done showcase of exciting swordplay and some of the best boss battles of the 2010s. It's a well-deserved comeback, one that's reintroducing a whole new generation to memes and nanomachines, son.

Darryn Bonthuys on Google+

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