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30th Anniversary Retrospective: The ‘Metal Gear’ Series’ Uniquely Self-Aware Journey

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Metal Gear is a name that, by now, is permanently etched not only into the history of video games, but outside culture at large, unlike any other multimedia franchise before or since.

The series had its humble start in Japan on July 13th, 1987 with Metal Gear for the MSX (not to be confused with the shoddy Metal Gear NES port/remake Konami put out in late 1987), as the first officially released game by then fledgling game developer, Hideo Kojima, for the gaming giant, Konami. It was successful enough, in a very roundabout way, to warrant a sequel for the MSX2, titled Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (MG2), in 1990, which then, nearly a decade after, led to the immensely successful and groundbreaking Metal Gear Solid (MGS1) for the original Sony PlayStation. Skyrocketing from there, the series grew and grew into the tour de force it is remembered as today. Thirty years since the release of the first Metal Gear, after eight mainline games and numerous spin-off titles, it’s influence can be seen far and wide across all boards.

Snake vs. TX-55 Metal Gear, from the original MSX release of ‘Metal Gear’ (1987)

It takes more than simply playing the Metal Gear games to get a good grasp on what the series is all about and what it conveys to its audience. The most important lesson to appreciate the series can be summarized as: “in order to love something, you must also learn to hate it”. For those looking in, the series does not travel in any comprehensible path, but is laid out in more of a broken argyle pattern, subject to the ever-evolving interests and moods of its creator, Hideo Kojima.

This is not entirely a fault, but partly a choice by design. Despite the large body of work established within the Metal Gear world, Kojima has little interest in a precise, all-encompassing series canon; a canon which limits what he wants to communicate via his games. The story/timeline of the series is at times nothing more than a rough draft from which Kojima tangents off depending on the themes of each release, and what he wants to say to his audience at that particular moment in his life, or what is happening in the world in regard to societal views and, of course, war. This meta nature of the Metal Gear series is tied into the very themes the games tackle, including socio-political and philosophical concepts regarding memetics, genetics, identity, individuality, pacifism and war.

‘Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake’ (1990)

Of course, these serious topics are tackled against a silly military/espionage sci-fi backdrop: a backdrop which includes the eponymous nuke-shooting bipedal dinosaur robot things, super soldier clones of the ultimate soldier, cardboard boxes as legit espionage equipment, and more. Featured, also, are protagonists with goofy names like Solid Snake and Big Boss, as well as other colorfully named supporting characters and baddies like Liquid Snake, Solidus Snake, Gray Fox, Otacon, Revolver Ocelot, Master Miller, Fatman, The End, Running Man, Dr. Strangelove, Skull Face and more.

Ironically, over the years, the looser canon has created a conflict amongst fans, with some trying to tie all loose ends of the larger story into a whole with great futility, and others adhering more to an appreciation of Kojima’s storytelling via conceptual constructs laid on top of silly, fun, stealth action.

‘Metal Gear Solid’ (1998)

Since the original MSX releases of the first two games only came out in Japan, my story with the series began at the end of the 90s, like it did for many others around the globe. As if everything was in the right place for its arrival, Metal Gear Solid (MGS1) for the original PlayStation was an experience that can never be replicated. MGS1 captured my interest like no other game truly had before then. To this day, nearly twenty years after its release, the uniquely beautiful atmosphere, as you sneak through the adventure with Solid Snake, stands on its own as a timeless classic.

The stealth gameplay, combined with novel storytelling methods to video games of the time via lengthy cut-scenes and radio drama-like Codec dialogs, helped legitimize what would become iconic staples for every Metal Gear title to follow thereafter. The games quirky way of breaking the fourth wall and communicating directly with the player, making the player experience part of the experience of the game’s characters, was a meta leap that helped establish what was to follow through to the rest of the series.

‘Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty’ (2001)

The peak of the meta communication with fans, however, came to full fruition with the now infamously brilliant release of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. While other creators would have looked at the success of a game and tried to faithfully follow up with a sequel that met fan expectations, Kojima decided to throw all of that out the window. This was done in favor of a revelation-like post-modern take on how gamers consume media, the nature of self-identity, memetics vs. genetics, as well as a commentary on our personal role in helping give up our own personal liberties in return for comfort (albeit a message delivered via possibly the worst English script translation in the series).

As a well-meaning slight against those who simply loved “being” Solid Snake in the MGS1, expertly killing enemies and expecting to do the same in a sequel, the main protagonist was switched to a bish?nen rookie soldier by the name of Raiden; someone, who like the aforementioned real-life gamer, wanted to emulate the very masculine badass Solid Snake. This bait-and-switch was something that was a secret until the day of the game’s release, something many saw as a punishment they were beguiled to endure; it only drove in MGS2‘s themes further. In hindsight, I hope it is realized by those same gamers just how effective Kojima’s attempted message was, as it only grows more relevant with each passing year.

Various promotional and conceptual artworks by series art director, Yoji Shinkawa. It’s easy to see how his influence gave the series its signature look and feel. (Click for bigger image)

As the series grew from a niche following to a worldwide phenomenon, with the meta-ness of the series established, it’s as though anything that came after MGS2 was made with an all-bets-are-off mindset. The follow-up, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (MGS3), removed from the then-current timeline, instead focusing on a completely different story featuring series anti-hero Big Boss as the protagonist, set many years before the events of the rest of the series. In MGS2’s wake, Kojima also helped produce a number of spin-off MG titles including the underrated Metal Gear AC!D RPG series, new games like Boktai: The Sun Is in Your Hand and Zone of the Enders: 2nd Runner (sequel to 2001’s Zone of the Enders), as well as an utterly misguided, laughably bad remake of MGS1 titled Twin Snakes. Kojima appeared to have let go of what he wanted to do with the series, using MGS2 as an excuse to open the flood gates for his endless ideas. It was almost like MGS2 was the logical cathartic end for what started in 1987, and Kojima was now allowed to fully explore all possible ends to his visions.

It also became clear to longtime fans of the series that Kojima had become tired of Metal Gear and wanted to break away from it, to dive into new, more exciting territories but, for better or for worse, was forced into continuing the series owing to its unexpected critical and financial success, and fan demand. The amalgamation of having to do things due to demand ultimately resulted in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, which I consider to be the worst point in the series. But, this too ties well into the meta nature of the series, as the game features an overly convoluted story that tries to take all the abstract ideas from previous games and make them physically incarnate. Subtle themes take a backseat to an action-oriented set-piece-to-set-piece experience, with gameplay that focuses on combat instead of stealth. Hell, it’s a machinist’s wet dream, with all manner of guns and bombs available to purchase via a menu at any point during the game.

Possibly unintentionally, MGS4 acknowledges MGS2‘s meta by offering those who simply wanted to be Solid Snake again a chance to do just that, one last time to get it out of their system.

‘Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’ (2015)

Still, as much as I dislike MGS4, I am more than happy that it exists, as it served its purpose by being one more message Kojima wanted to convey. His constant communication through his art is the whole foundation of what Metal Gear came to be about. MGS4 was another release that lead to more new beginnings, and truly gave Kojima a freedom to disregard the burden of a canon he had long overgrown. The “Big Boss trilogy” that followed (MGS: Peace Walker, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and MGSV: Phantom Pain) tore itself apart to forge a new identity, letting go of any preconceived notion as to how things should be, much like how it was in 1987 when Kojima first created Metal Gear, and in 2001, after the impact of MGS2.

True to the meta world of Metal Gear, Kojima’s unceremonious and weird departure from Konami and Metal Gear (as well as then upcoming Silent Hills, insanely anticipated as the result of a playable teaser known as PT, and a possible Zone of the Enders 3) served, bittersweetly, to free Kojima even further. With Kojima now working independently on his next big project, Death Stranding, it is the same as it was when Metal Gear was first created. Even if I don’t like what he comes up with next, I know that, just like Metal Gear, it will be, uncompromisingly, “a Hideo Kojima game”—and that’s what it’s all really about.

Immensely fascinated by the arts and interactive media, Maxwell N's views and opinions are backed by a vast knowledge of and passion for film, music, literature and video game history. His other endeavors and hobbies include fiction writing, creating experimental soundscapes, and photography. A Los Angeles, CA local, he currently lives with his wife and two pet potatoes/parrots in Austin, TX. He can mostly be found hanging around Twitter as @maxn_

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‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

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It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…

I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.

Coffee Talk
Some of the subject matter can be pretty serious in nature…

Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.

Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.

The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.

Coffee Talk
Appearances can often be deceiving in this game.

Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.


Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.

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The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child

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Magic of Nintendo

Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.

The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.

The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.

 Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.

Super Mario Odyssey Wooden Kingdom

Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.

When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.

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‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.

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Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.

It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.

In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.

Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.

Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.

Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.

I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.

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