Let’s review Senator Armstrong’s plan. Become the secret head of the world’s most powerful private military corporation. Do some evil PMC things for a while, like destabilize war torn African countries and monopolize urban security. Fake an assassination attempt on the president to kickstart war in the Middle East. Something something become president, something something reshape America into an objectivist utopia.
Armstrong appears briefly appears early on in Metal Gear Rising, but only really shows up at the very end. Despite that, he’s definitely the one that left the most profound impression on people. Despite how hammy his scenes and indeed the entire game is, he delivers with a passion and sincerity that are hard to find unappealing. Also a lot of people legitimately agree with him which… we really won’t get into. But to me, there’s something that just works about Armstrong in the context of Metal Gear Rising’s story and themes. Yeah, you heard me. Themes. In this game. Armstrong is a character of extreme significance both in the progression of these themes and in the progression of the main character, Raiden, and these three are so intertwined that I can’t talk about one without the other two. So, for my second attempt in as many videos to pilot a potential new series, let’s take some time to analyze the character of Senator Steven Armstrong, and what he means in the story of Metal Gear Rising. To start, let’s look at his three major dialogue scenes: before the Excelsus fight, before the final boss, and after the final boss.
“Every man, woman and child… we’re all sons of the Patriots now!”
One of the things that makes Armstrong tricky to analyze is that he doesn’t have a song. Every other boss in Metal Gear Rising has a boss theme that gives some insight into their motivations and personalities. But I hear you say, “Rycluse, how could you say such a thing? Armstrong doesn’t just have a boss song, he has two!” And that’s where you’re wrong, you unenlightened masses. Take a listen to Collective Consciousness, the song that plays during the fight with Armstrong’s Metal Gear Excelsus. “Live in ignorance and purchase your happiness. When blood and sweat is the real cost, thinking ceases, the truth is lost.” Knowing what we know now, that’s essentially the opposite of Armstrong’s ideology. It could be interpreted as how Raiden views him, but also as what Armstrong seeks to destroy. The final boss theme also isn’t about Armstrong directly, but more on that later.
Even though we find out later that this speech isn’t Armstrong’s true ideology, it’s still clearly composed of things that he believes to be true, and by extension can be considered to be things that are more or less true about the world of Metal Gear Rising. It’s actually a lot like Collective Consciousness in this way, especially the nihilism that leads to the ultimate conclusion that economic strength is the only real goal to work towards.
This gives us a more detailed look at what Armstrong later describes only as “using war as a business to get elected”. It’s a cynical view of war somehow even more disheartening than Sundowner’s childish fascination with the concept, but a fitting one. Metal Gear Rising is a story all about conflict and the reasons people choose to go to war. Raiden meets and rejects the reasons presented by various villains, be it twisted philosophy, abject nihilism, glorification of conflict, or a simple desire for self-betterment over all other values. It only makes sense, then, that the final boss of such a game is also a sort of “final boss” of this thematic conflict. When talking about the reasons for war in the modern age, you can’t really avoid war as a business. So just with that, we’ve got a decent ending on our hands. But then, Metal Gear Rising turns this all on its head.
“Don’t fuck with this senator!”
The next part of this dialogue starts with Raiden essentially calling out Armstrong for being the trope I just described. He rightfully points out that Armstrong’s spiel glorifying the military industrial complex for the betterment of America is a hollow shell that conceals a typical self-serving politician. This prompts Armstrong to open up about the reality of his intentions, which is that his plan of using war to reinvigorate the American economy and spirit was the means, rather than the end. His true plan is to use the military industrial complex to accrue power, both by becoming president and by doing all stuff his PMC Desperado has been doing up to this point, creating child soldiers and monopolizing security, all that jazz. From there, he intends to fundamentally reshape America, grinding it down and reforming it into a world without the very powers he used to get to his position. It’s… not exactly clear how this part works, but damn if it isn’t convincing the way he says it.
“Well, I don’t write my own speeches.”
You should try it, Armstrong, buddy. You’re pretty good at speaking from the heart.
Raiden’s first response to this is understandable confusion, then falling back on what could be considered his original reason for fighting from the beginning of the game – protect the weak. He accuses Armstrong of viewing the entire thing from the top down, with no understanding of those that have to struggle to survive. What’s interesting about the rest of this exchange is that neither party has a really strong rebuttal to the other. Armstrong is clearly distressed by Raiden’s rejection and tries to argue that Raiden himself is one of the strong and that others should follow his example. That’s perhaps true, but kind of avoids the brunt of the accusation. Raiden, meanwhile, returns to the old classic of “guess I’ll have to beat you up then.” Take note of this part, we’ll be coming back to it later.
Before moving onto the last speech, let’s take a brief intermission on this part with Wolf. His recording of Sam saying that a “battle of fate” would essentially decide whether he or Raiden is in the right could be considered an indirect statement on the fight that’s happening right now. That’s generally how fights in stories work anyway, but it’s more important than you think. Once again, more on that later. More directly, Wolf’s arrival is also validation that Raiden’s ideals do have value. Raiden has been a very adrift character in this game’s central narrative about the reasons we go to war. His stock line about protecting the weak has been repeatedly portrayed as hollow and he’s never laid anything more substantial down on the line. But Wolf’s rewriting of his prime directive (or in regular human speak, changing his mind) is evidence that Raiden isn’t completely out of this conflict. In a way, that moment is the ideological equivalent of him receiving Sam’s sword – it shows us that there’s still some fight left in him.
“But at least I’ll leave a worthy successor… you, Jack.”
This all leads us to the single most important thing about Senator Armstrong: he wins. Yeah, he gets his heart ripped out of his chest, but Armstrong is a guy that keeps his ideals. He’s in this for the long haul, and he’s willing to lay down his own life if his ideology is carried on, and that’s exactly what happens. Even as Raiden is gripping Armstrong’s heart inside his chest, he reiterates the core of his philosophy, but with a decidedly different tone, as more of an appeal that a declaration. He then does something that the Jetstream Sam DLC reveals is apparently something of a pattern of behavior for him: he concludes, apropos of nothing spoken, that his opponent in battle has seen the truth in what he says and is ready to join his side. Oooookaay… not sure how that works, but he must be a remarkably perceptive guy, because he’s right both times. It makes a little more sense in here than in the DLC, but there are a lot of things about the DLC’s story that aren’t exactly first-rate.
With this, Armstrong’s short-lived presence in the story is concluded, but the effects of his presence are far-reaching. On the implied level, everything that he’s done is sure to cause a major upheaval. Oh yeah, you thought all the bloodthirst he caused with the fake assassination attempt will just go away now that he’s gone? But on a more direct level, Armstrong predicts that this war machine will go on for a time, but most definitively does not say forever. And in the epilogue scene, we hear a line of dialogue from Raiden echoing Armstrong’s sentiments, confirming that he really is taking up Armstrong’s fight. And this, my friends, is Raiden’s battle that is continued in the sequel. Right?
Anyway, let’s go back to that brief exchange before the boss fight proper, because I don’t think the main hero adopting the villain’s ideology is something you can just gloss over. The last thing I want to talk about is this: if Raiden ends up agreeing with Armstrong, why does he kill Armstrong anyway?
“I carve my own path, you follow your wrath, but maybe we’re both the same. The world has turned, so many have burned, but nobody is to blame. Yet staring across this barren wasted land I feel new life will be born beneath the blood stained sand.”
That little exchange where Armstrong and Raiden both shoot weak comebacks at each other is our clue as to why Armstrong has to die. And I’m going to spoil it for you: it’s because Armstrong is wrong. Yeah, you heard me. I realize that statement sounds stupid on multiple levels, both because obviously, yeah, he’s a murdering monster, but also because I’ve been making a case for why he’s right for this entire video, but hear me out. What Raiden does here but doesn’t quite follow through on is expose the core hypocrisy of Armstrong’s ideology, which you might have caught if you were paying attention. He’s manipulating for his own benefit the system that he’s claiming to be working to destroy. He fights it, yet he perpetuates it. We can infer that after the events of the game, his actions just made everything worse. Furthermore, Raiden also reveals how polarizing the definition of “the weak” can be, and how Armstrong’s perspective doesn’t help at all. To Armstrong, the weak could embody the diseased part of American culture – the self-absorbed and materialistic whose collective consciousness (heh) is what keeps the war economy running. But to Raiden, the weak are everyone who is trodden on, and we suddenly see his old mantra of protecting the weak carry some merit.
But we’re going in circles again. If there are such clear flaws in what Armstrong says, why does he ultimately go with it? Let’s go back to the final boss theme, It Has to Be This Way, or to call it by its proper name, Standing Here. Most people realize by now that the song is sung by Raiden, confirmed by Armstrong’s later line “you carved your own path”. It’s a lament that their two paths led them to fight when deep down they both know that they’re both trying to better the world. But the most critical line is what I played earlier: “I feel new life will be born beneath the blood stained sand”. Remember what I said about that scene with Wolf, where Sam’s lines allude to this being a battle of fate? This is what that was ultimately leading to. The idea implies that whoever wins the fight is the ethically right one, and while that’s silly on the surface, it makes sense when you consider that they’ve each inadvertently exposed the flaws in their philosophies to each other, while also seeing some truth in what the other said. I don’t think it’s completely unreasonable to say that Armstrong would have been changed by this encounter if he had won. Maybe not a lot, but it would definitely give him something to think about on the definition of “weak”. Raiden, on the other hand, has much more ground to give. Having been adrift for the entire game, he arrives at a hybrid philosophy between himself and Armstrong that he can dedicate himself to. And that idea, plus bringing down Armstrong for his own crimes, are not mutually exclusive.
So that was Senator Armstrong, a big shouty man from a big stupid game. He likes football hates the war economy and is kind of a hypocrite when you get right down to it. But what really makes him great is that he comes from what’s for the most part such a silly game. A lot of people like Armstrong for his charisma, and how fun his boss fight is, and the memes, never really thinking about it more than that, and that’s fine. But at the same time, a nerd like me is able to dissect what he means in the story for ten minutes, because for some of us, that’s what we want. Maybe that’s what you want. If deep-dive character analyses like this seem like your kind of thing, do the things that youtubers always tell you to do and let me know what you thought of this video in the comments, as well as what you might like to see in the future. I’ve been Rycluse, and I managed to get through this whole video without making a single nanomachine joke. Thanks for watching.