On MGR at the Highest Level of Play (Pt. 1)

A chapter-by-chapter analysis of S-ranking the Revengeance difficulty of MGR, and how the design of MGR holds up when you demand the game's vision of nigh-perfection, and as well how we can see this critically.

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  1. Special note: I used the Murasama for the entirety of this run. This is for two reasons, generally speaking:

    1) I'm a vanilla motherfucker who would rather use a nice sword than some gigantic double-sided dildo, electrified knives, or oversized gardening sheers.

    2) I am a videogame critc and often make the concerted effort to play them critically, which, for me, means paying just as much attention to elements of thematic or aesthetic worth as well as taking note of the craft in the design. This is the most prescriptive part of my work, admittedly. Generally speaking, I would agree that one of the rules any good action game should follow is that it should be possible, perhaps even Not Difficult to complete a game with only its most basic weaponry. I doubt this idea has a surefire origin, but the first person I remember hearing say it was John Romero, who noted that he always made sure that when he designed levels in Doom that he would make sure he could beat them with just the pistol.

    Let's begin.
  2. R-00: Guard Duty

  3. If you weren't sure what you were stepping into, the game makes it perfectly clear here with the introductory fight sequence: three regular guards and a GEKKO unit is the first combat encounter in Revengeance, and familiarity is assumed. This fight represents a special challenge that makes sure you've the stomach for the task you've undertaken, in that you must defeat all of these enemies without the extra moves you've likely purchased that you've gotten used to using, or the assistance of the instant-execution "Zandatsu" mechanic or the Ripper Mode that will comprise much of the strategy for this run. As a result, your perfect parries need to be really on point here because they'll be the easiest way to kill the guards and give you time to focus on the GEKKO.

    Thankfully, this special challenge introduction is not graded. Neither is the proceeding open highway section, which is thankful given the rocket launcher-equipped guards and LQ-04 units that spawn in.
  4. MGR's Fight Grading System

  5. Before we talk about the first graded fight, let's talk about how MGR actually does its grading. I'll try to keep this as simple as possible. To S-rank a fight, you must get a certain amount of points. In most fights, it is 5000 points.

    There are five graded categories, each worth an equal portion of the total points: Time, BP, Zandatsu, Longest Combo, and Kills, and two big bonuses: the No Damage bonus, and the No Kills bonus.

    You might ask: "Austin, wouldn't you have to kill all the enemies to end a graded fight anyway?" Not necessarily! In MGR you can take out enemies non lethally by cutting their arms off, and eventually they will fade away non-lethally. This makes something resembling a pacifist run possible, but it's impossible to overlap a pacifist run with an S-rank run because of the need for Zandatsus which always count as kills. Thus, for our purposes here, the No-Kills bonus is basically irrelevant.

    BP, Zandatsu, Longest combo, and Kills overlap pretty heavily.

    The best way to earn BP is by Zandatsuing enemies (100 points each when the BP requirement is usually 1000) and doing long combos. (1 point each for every hit after the first in a combo. In other words: an 86-hit combo is worth 85 points.)

    The best way to kill enemies is using Zandatsu quickly. Most lower level enemies can be Zandatsu'd even without hitting them first, so the most effective way of fighting them is to hit a heavy attack to put them in hit stun and then Blade Mode -> Zandatsu, or perfect parry their opening attack and Blade Mode -> Zandatsu. The best way of killing enemies that cannot be instantly zandatsu'd is to use Ripper Mode, which consumes blade mode fuel, to soften them up for a Blade Mode -> Zandatsu, which then instantly refills your fuel guage.

    Not every fight requires you to Zandatsu every enemy to get the maximum points, but they will definitely require you zandatsu most of them, (3/4, 4/5, etc.) and doing so, as already described, makes hitting the requirements for other factors easier anyway, so most strategies should revolve around using Zandatsu.

    A long enough combo to hit most fight's requirements is fairly easy given that, given the speed with which enemies die, your combo should be more or less continuous throughout most of the graded fights in the game with rare exception, and you can always correct last minute if you need to by using blade mode on the last enemy in the fight to add some extra "unnecessary" hits, which is fun and climactic anyway, though you won't need to most of the time.

    Time is the only truly restrictive element as a result, but most fights in the game have a fairly lenient time requirement given that MGR is designed as a far more defensive game based on dodges and parrying in comparison to previous character-action classics like DMC3 or Platinum's own Bayonetta.

    But Fuck That Shit, Here Comes The No-Damage Bonus!

    What S-ranking in MGR is all about is the No-Damage Bonus. Let me explain: first of all, it's very difficult in most fights to meet every requirement absolutely perfectly, but it is much, much less difficult to do everything to make 80 %or 90% of the requirement. The No-Damage Bonus in any fight is worth an entire category's worth of point. For example; let's imagine a graded fight where the total was 5000 points, you only needed one kill, one zandatsu, a two hit combo, and 100 BP, but the time requirement was literally 0:00:00 and it was thus impossible to make the time requirement and could only get 4000/5000 points and thus could only B-rank the fight. As long as you did that fight without getting hit once, you would get the No-Damage bonus which is worth a free 1000 points towards the total.. As a result, for most fights in the game, you can shoot for as weak as a B-level performance in every single category, but the points you have missing from those categories will be made up for by the No-Damage bonus. The game makes its priorities pretty clear that, in contrast to a game like DMC3 where Damage is only another graded component that you can do less than perfectly and not be judged too harshly for it, that taking no damage is so strongly prioritized here that one should prioritize it as a goal above all others. This makes S-ranking this game, in my opinion, quite a bit easier than DMC3 as a result because you can focus your efforts to one end. And in my opinion, the rare occasions where the game asks you to break from that focus is when the game is its most tedious.
  6. Graded Fight #1: Metal Gear RAY

  7. Requirements
    Time: 3:00
    BP: n/a
    Zandatsu: n/a
    Longest Combo: n/a
    Kills: n/a

    The inherent lack of requirements here makes this a really easy S-rank even if you go over the 3-minute limit.

    Like anything done over and over, MGR's introductory RAY fight is less fun the more and more you do it, and actually thanks to RAY's maneuverability it can be quite tedious to chase it down and do damage to it, but this fight really does a great job of introducing the game's major design concepts in a basically forgiving way. The hail of machine gun fire and long runs to chase RAY down introduce the Ninja Run's bullet deflection that is key to avoiding chip damage*, the mouth laser attack makes a similar attack from Metal Gear Excelsus feel much more familiar down the line, and the slow, exaggerate animations, plus the lack of a need to do the "perfect" parry makes it feel comfortable to try parrying here. As well, the size of RAY establishes a precedent of non-realism that the vast majority of the game will follow: you can parry almost anything in this game as on as you input the move correctly. All this, plus the spectacle of it make it a great opening to a great game.

    * If you accidentally took damage, just restart the fight. Unlike deaths, these restarted attempts are not autosaved towards the total time to complete the fight, and thus allow you to preserve your time counter and no-damage bonus. More on this coming up.
  8. Graded Fight #2: Metal Gear RAY (Reprise)

  9. Requirements
    Time: 3:00
    BP: n/a
    Zandatsu: n/a
    Longest Combo: n/a
    Kills: 1

    Surprise, motherfucker! There was no kill requirement in the first graded fight because you didn't kill this fucker yet! That said, this fight might actually be easier because the 3-minute time limit is really easy to make, and the kill that you need is just the boss itself. As a result, beating RAY in 2:59 even if you took a hit will result in an S-rank.

    This fight re-emphasizes the laser avoidance and ninja-running to avoid bullet damage in a tighter space, which makes it even closer to how Metal Gear Exelcus uses big lasers later on. As well, it subtly introduces one of the few things in this game that never really adds up: using blade mode to attack oncoming projectiles. Here it is basically functional because there is no precise aiming, but when we see this come up again with Monsoon, Sundowner, Sam, and finally Armstrong, it ends up being one of the games bigger flaws.

    This fight also introduces us to easily the worst thing about how the game's grading system works: auto-saving! Many fights will have checkpoints in the middle of them, and as well, the game autosaves after every death. The result of this is that the time you took in your earlier attempts leading to death are added to your total when the fight is graded later, which also automatically makes the No-damage bonus null and void. The first example of how this can be really annoying is first introduced here when the game creates a checkpoint right before the Ninja-Running setpieces where you jump on the missiles and then run down the clocktower. If you mess up either of those sections, it will be a death and time counted towards your grade.

    Here's how you can work around this: whenever a checkpoint happens in a boss fight, pause the game, and go to the title screen, and back up your save by copying your save to one of the other two slots. If you die, you can just go played the copied save from before your death was saved into. This is especially important because if you get a death saved into your attempt to S-rank a boss from after a checkpoint was saved, you won't be able to start the entire boss over, so you won't be able to S-rank the boss, and you'll have to restart the entire chapter. Back up your saves to prevent this, and more generally, make sure you've got the extra health packs equipped to automatically restore Raiden's health when he takes damage past 100%, because starting as early as next chapter, there will be hits that do more than 100% damage.
  10. And Everything Else, Plus Today's Conclusions

  11. None of the rest of the chapter is graded, so don't worry about it. What's notable here is that when you're focused on S-ranking you've inherently already played the game a few times to earn the Revengeance difficulty itself, and to beef up Raiden for such a run, so you're probably not calling people on the codec and you're skipping the cutscenes. But you can't skip this interaction with Sam where he taunts Raiden. "Self-taught, and not half bad. Yet still . . . " Even without the cutscenes we're reminded of the narrative arc of this game where we begin by controlling "Raiden" and by the end we control "Jack, The Ripper." This might be largely coincidental, but it's always nice for a game to assert itself as an artistic object even when, as a game with a high skill ceiling, we eventually approach it more and more as a purely ludic object, especially given that I wouldn't've had such an interest in playing this game well if it were not for its impressive narrative that largely stays true to the ideas of Metal Gear as a series, something I talked about in my notes on the game when I first played it and Heather Alexandra's recent, more extensive analysis, Rules of Nature.
  12. Over the next week or so, I'm going to be doing a chapter or so of this game every day, so make sure to check my twitter for updates, and if you'd like to support me you can do so here.
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