Hideo Kojima, the mastermind behind the Metal Gear series, once said: “as a creator, I always want to betray fans’ expectations.” Throughout his hallmark series, Kojima has done this in many ways. From playing as Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, to surviving a jungle by hunting and performing first aid in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, to redefining the utility of an open world in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Kojima takes the expectations of all video game fans, and subverts them.
This is best portrayed in the series’ highlights: its boss battles. They are not your standard fodder with a fresh coat of paint, bigger in size, more aggressive and with a bigger health bar. These battles shake up Metal Gear Solid games to the point that new strategies need to arise from the given situation. They change from one to the next so that the player not only feels like a stranger if they are familiar with typical game bosses, they feel out of their element even if they are Metal Gear Solid fans.
*** Spoilers for the Metal Gear Solid series ahead***
The most cliché example to bring up here from the original game is the Psycho Mantis fight, where the enemy breaks the fourth wall by reading save data off of the player’s PSX memory card. To this end, the mind reading opponent comments on the Konami games that the player has played. In addition, to defeat Psycho Mantis, the player has to plug their controller into the second port. This novel technique shocked players at the time, and few games have done anything similar since.
In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the player is met with some of the best boss battles ever put on a disc. The most noteworthy of these encounters is The End, an old soldier who fights with a rifle and carries a parrot on his shoulder. While the player can use thermal goggles to track down The End and get a few shots in, what’s best about the character is the multiple ways to defeat him. In battle, the player can kill The End’s parrot making him more aggressive and less accurate. Beyond that, the player can save their game during the fight, then wait for over a week (or change the PS2’s internal clock) and The End will die of old age. Another way to defeat him is by sniping him early on in the game, when most players would miss the opportunity entirely.
Also in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is the less mechanically ground breaking and more narratively novel battle with The Boss, Snake’s mentor. For convoluted story reasons, Snake must reluctantly end his mentor’s life in vast field of flowers with close quarters combat. Visually stunning, emotionally heavy, and narratively significant to the series as a whole, taking down The Boss is one of the most memorable moments in all of gaming.
The last Metal Gear Solid game Kojima made (to date, anyways (optimism engaged)) Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, caps off the series with equally impressive boss fights, the standout being Quiet. The enemy, later turned companion, fights with a sniper at long distances. The fight occurs suddenly mid mission, and the player is thrown into a protracted battle of counter-sniping and location spotting.
The Metal Gear series boss battles standout because of their originality, their flexibility, and their narrative impact on a level that few other triple-A games can reach. Will Death Stranding have bosses to surpass Metal Gear? It has yet to be seen if Kojima can continue his legacy of great boss encounters outside his famed series. His upcoming project Death Stranding has big shoes to fill, but one thing is certain: Kojima has said that he will always strive to shatter gaming conventions, and he has yet to disappoint.