Zan-Datsu – a term that’s been hammered into our heads ever since the E3 2010 reveal of the original Metal Gear Rising. It means to cut and take, and we certainly saw Raiden do that in the debut trailer. At the time, the concept of slicing through anything in any way you see fit seemed like a fantastic innovation. But it wasn’t until a demo of the new version of the game (found here) was shown off at this year’s E3 that I realised the much darker and completely unnecessary implications of this system.
The idea of zan-datsu is still present in the new, Platinum Games-developed version of Rising, if indeed a little scaled back. You’re still able to chop enemies into pieces at your own will, even (literally) disarming them if you’d prefer not to take a life.
But despite all the blood-soaked violence that the first five minutes of the demo displayed, nothing had prepared me for what the player did to one enemy. Raiden stumbles upon a cardboard box, a nod back to Metal Gears of past. But as he cuts it open, he manages to slice off the hand of an enemy soldier. The shocked soldier gasps in agony and grabs his hand, bowing his head in submission. However, instead of leaving the helpless enemy alone, the player chose to brutal behead this pain-stricken man, detaching his neck from his shoulders in one swift slice.
Videogame violence rarely surprises or offends me, but in the context of one of my favourite gaming franchises, (let alone one that so obviously prides itself on anti-war themes) I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. Past Metal Gear games have allowed you to toy with the enemy so to speak, shooting arms and legs, but that was of strategic importance, allowing you to prevent enemies from running away or using larger weapons. Here the brutal act was met with a cheer and laughter from the audience in a sort of Grand Theft Auto-style of violent joy.
I’ve long defended Rising’s different take on a long-running franchise, but this was a move that made the game feel more distant from its predecessors than ever before. Would the Raiden I know, that I’ve spent two games with, really perform such a horrible and needless action? I know for a fact that he wouldn’t, especially after his peaceful resolution in Guns of the Patriots. Suddenly I got this sickening feeling in my stomach that my confidence in Platinum Games to handle the franchise with respect (despite the exaggerated action) was ill-placed.
There have been hints that Rising’s story will instil a sense of insanity in its protagonist, revisiting his trauma as a child soldier and how he came to be known as ‘Jack the Ripper’, but that can’t excuse such actions when the players themselves are in control of him.
Perhaps, then, zan-datsu isn’t a perfect fit for the Metal Gear franchise, or at least not in this context. Raiden is a hero that’s fought as much of an internal battle in this series as he has a literal one. I can’t accept the idea that he’d so effortlessly take a life in such a disgusting and needless way; it simply isn’t within the character to do so.
It’s the first real cause for concern I’ve seen in a series that I’m fully willing to let take risks. It was a shocking momentary loss of identity, and it has me thinking that maybe one of my most anticipated games could potentially turn into one of the most offensive in recent memory.