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‘Not so Final Fantasy’ – Unpacking ‘FFVIII’s’ Most Fascinating Fan Theory

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Not so Final Fantasy is a tri-weekly column dedicated to all things Final Fantasy; from specific aspects of specific titles, to the universal features that set Square Enix’s inimitable JRPG series apart from the rest.

Final Fantasy VIII is without a doubt my second favourite game in the series, but I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not exactly what you’d call a typical JPRG.

Over the course of their adventure, protagonist Squall and company witness a chain of events that stretch the credulity of the series’ usual blend of science-fiction and fantasy to breaking point, threatening to jump the shark on more than one occasion. Amid amnesia-inducing Guardian Forces (summon monsters) and sporadic, subconscious journeys into the past are such things as a flying military academy and the Lunar Cry: a spectacular moment roughly three quarters of the way through the game during which a torrent of monsters rain down to the planet’s surface… from the Moon.

It’s perfectly understandable, then, that efforts to explain away some of the more ludicrous features of Final Fantasy VIII’s plot have been made over the years since its release.

The most prominent of these – titled, rather evocatively, ‘Squall is Dead’ – revolves around the idea that Squall is fatally wounded during the climactic battle at the end of disc one, rendering everything that happens thereafter an illusion generated by his dying mind.

I’ve never been convinced of the veracity of this particular fan theory myself, but it’s an intriguing prospect nonetheless, boasting some intriguing concepts that deserve a closer look – if only to disprove them.

Naturally, what follows is heavily laden with spoilers, so I’d advise not reading any further unless you’re already familiar with Final Fantasy VIII.

As I mentioned a few short lines ago, the theory doesn’t actually begin to diverge from the standard interpretation until the very final scene of disc one, specifically, at the moment Squall is impaled on a huge spear of ice magic cast by apparent villain Edea following SeeD’s abortive attempt to assassinate this increasingly powerful sorceress.

Knocked unconscious by the attack, Squall awakes sometime later trapped in a desert prison. Still somewhat disorientated, as you would be having so recently occupied the role of meat in a human kebab, the taciturn hero’s first thought is “where’s my wound”? A good question and one that kicks off the ‘Squall is Dead’ theory in earnest.

Squall pierced by Edea's ice magic at the end of Final Fantasy VIII disc one

How could such a brutal attack leave no mark whatsoever on Squall’s body, the theory asks? Surely neither Edea nor the Galbadian Army would bother healing him only to execute him later on? After all, he presents a very real threat to their plans. The answer, according to Duckroll (online alias of the individual who first conceived of the concept), is that, from here on out, everything we see is a figment of Squall’s imagination; a coma fantasy; an extended version of the concept of life flashing before one’s eyes immediately preceding death. The key difference is that, in Squall’s case, his failing brain takes it one step further and, rather than simply reminiscing on his past life, actually fabricates an idealized future in which he finally learns the answers to the questions he’s not had the opportunity to ask. Questions such as what are Edea’s motives? Who are Laguna, Kiros, and Ward, and what do they have to do with Squall? And, most importantly of all, where does the protagonist himself come from?

This explains why the story takes such a fantastical turn from this point onward. His subconscious is now free to conjure any scenario it deems necessary to answer these questions, unfettered by the laws of physics and probability, which includes placing Squall at the centre of events despite his relative inexperience (more on that later).

Returning to the problem at hand, i.e., Squall’s miraculous recovery, I think Duckroll’s solution is completely superfluous. Is a deathbed fever dream really a better explanation than the obvious? That Edea has indeed healed Squall’s wounds, not out of any residual kindness or as part of some convoluted scheme, but to ensure he’s 100% fit and conscious for the ensuing examination-by-torture. Choosing to interrogate Squall rather than Quistis (an experienced member of the Garden hierarchy and therefore more knowledgeable of its inner workings than Squall at this point) because true main antagonist Ultimecia, via her ensorcelled proxy Edea, is instictively aware even now of the crucial role Squall will play in her fated demise.

Not through something as banal as intuition, but through the paradoxical, time-warping cycle of events that binds them so inextricably. Edea’s powers stem from Ultimecia who travelled back in time to pass them on after her defeat at the hands of Squall; the man whose destiny it was, is, and will be to confront Ultimecia because it was his future self that warned pre-sorceress Edea of Ultimecia’s rise to power and, crucially, tasked her with founding both Garden and SeeD. And because headmaster Cid, it transpires, is married to Edea, he patiently awaits Squall’s arrival, grooming him for leadership and offering whatever assistance he can in the fight against Ultimecia when he eventually finds his way to Garden as a young orphan.

Okay, so the plot is as confusing as The Matrix sequels, more or less, but once you’ve got your head around the different time-lines, it starts to make sense in a weird kind of way. Not only that, but with so many competing narrative threads and esoteric concepts to factor in, it doesn’t require any great leap of the imagination to see any loose threads present in the final release as unintentional if natural consequences of the writer’s attempts to create a story that leans more towards science-fiction than the traditional medieval fantasy of previous Final Fantasy titles.

Between here and the final confrontation with Ultimecia, evidence supporting the ‘Squall is Dead’ argument fluctuates in believability, taking the form of various isolated incidents rather than any coherent theme connected to the main narrative.

I’m not going to address all of them in detail, of course. I mean, there’s not much to say about the floating Garden, Lunar Cry, or the presence of Moombas in their defense, other than these are surely pretty typical of a series that’s never exactly shied away from such flights of fancy. Exhibit A) Suplexing a ghost train in Final Fantasy VI. Two of the more compelling points deserve a mention, however, beginning with the sudden upswing in the careers of Squall and Seifer, and how this ties into the overarching theme of fate.

Squall and bitter rival Seifer duel during the introduction to Final Fantasy VIII

As a newly minted member of SeeD, Squall’s ascendancy to squad leader and, later, commander of Balamb Garden as a whole does seem a bit precipitous when you think about it. Prior to his sudden rise, Squall is very much a loner who only tolerates the company of others because his habitual professionalism and loyalty to Garden dictates he must; he certainly has no wish to form any personal bonds with his comrades. Seifer, meanwhile, though of dubious morality in the early stages of the game and similarly unsociable, has always demonstrated a comparable degree of loyalty toward Garden, making his sudden shift in allegiance and personality from an abrasive, antagonistic heel to someone overtly evil just as difficult to account for. Unless this was all a product of Squall’s fading subconscious.

If this was the case, their sudden upturn in fortunes doesn’t seem quite so out of place. You can easily imagine Squall projecting an idealized version of himself as the selfless savior of the world, the indomitable warrior who gets the girl and learns the value of friendship, while his rival, Seifer, becomes nothing more than another disposable stooge of the heinous villain.

Or is it simply fate? We’ve already established that Squall is central to SeeD’s plans by virtue of his time-spanning relationship with Edea and Ultimecia, and, though neither headmaster Cid nor Edea are able to explicitly inform Squall of his destiny (I assume because it’d create a paradox, though this is never stated), it’s only natural that the weight of responsibility gradually placed on his shoulders as the story progresses in order to prepare him for the battles to come begin to change his personality; especially in respect to the people he commands. Seifer, meanwhile, has always viewed Squall as something of a rival; perhaps because he sees much of himself in Squall along with a few key differences. Seifer thus feels he has to constantly prove himself to others, to show them he’s every bit as good as Squall, triggering the violent encounter between the two at the very beginning of the game and placing a very large chip on his shoulder which leaves him vulnerable to the manipulative powers of Ultimecia.

And this is far from the only time fate, in one guise or another, is addressed prior to the seminal confrontation at the end of disc one. Throughout the first few hours of Final Fantasy VIII, the story is punctuated by sporadic dream sequences in which Squall’s (and his two chosen companion’s) consciousness is sent back in time, by a mysterious woman named Ellone, to inhabit the bodies of three unusual and apparently random Galbadian soldiers. Not to change the past; Ellone realizes that’s impossible. But to teach Squall to embrace his destiny, prepare him for the challenges that lie ahead, and help him grow as a leader.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say fate accounts for the equally abrupt development of Squall and Rinoa’s relationship from thinly veiled hostility to all-consuming love. But nor do I think the quick turn around in their feelings serves as evidence for the ‘Squall is Dead’ theory.

Squall’s lack of interest in Selphie and Quistis as potential love interests for one thing, a sticking point for proponents, is hardly surprising when you consider the differences in their personalities. Selphie is bubbly and gregarious – the polar opposite of the laconic, aloof Squall Leonhart and therefore hardly a suitable match. Serious and a little bit bossy, Squall has always viewed Quistis, meanwhile, as a mentor; despite the fact she’s only a year older than him.

Rinoa, by comparison, falls somewhere between the two. She’s kind-hearted and sweet like Selphie, but not quite as animated. And, while she undoubtedly possesses a great deal of inner strength and determination, neither is she as straight-laced as Quistis. For her part, in Squall, Rinoa sees all the qualities she thought she loved about Seifer (martial prowess, hidden depth, faithfulness, nobility) along with a handful of others unique to Squall: integrity and a greater capacity for affection among them.

Her personality complements Squall’s in a way that neither of the other two’s can. She’s self-assured and tough enough to give as good as she gets whenever Squall falls into one of his frequent bouts of severe introspection, yet possesses the requisite warmth of character to melt his outwardly chilly disposition. When viewed from this perspective, it’s hardly surprising their relationship blossoms so rapidly once they’ve spent some time together and begun to understand what really makes one another tick.

Squall and Rinoa reunited - Final Fantasy VIII

As far as I’m concerned, it’s not until the last hour or so of Final Fantasy VIII that any really thought-provoking arguments in support of the ‘Squall is Dead’ theory come to light. Beginning with Ultimecia’s nihilistic monologue on the inexorable movement of time’s arrow in the build-up to the final, multi-stage boss battle.

According to the theory, Ultimecia represents Squall’s subconscious during this scene, as it tries to convince him to embrace his impending death. To give up his futile struggle to cling onto a life and reality that is fast slipping through his fingers.

I must say, when I first considered her words, I was little unsettled. They do seem a little out of context when you consider her reasons for compressing time are to protect herself from SeeD by creating a world in which she alone can exist. Humanity is simply collateral damage, not the target; unlike Kefka or Sephiroth’s plans. I was unsettled that is, until I dug a deeper and discovered the sentiments conveyed during this exchange differ quite drastically in the original Japanese version, wherein Ultimecia talks specifically about childhood feelings, and how the linear motion of time makes any attempt to hold on to the memories and experiences of our younger days pointless; a subtle shot at Squall’s newfound appreciation for his friends and their shared past in the seaside orphanage. Any deeper existential concepts are nowhere to be found.

It’s harder to dismiss the theory’s interpretation of the post-boss cut-scene. The sheer number of distorted images that flood the screen upon Ultimecia’s defeat alone makes it a difficult sequence to parse, let alone the recurrent image of Edea piercing Squall’s body with her magic.

If this was indeed the last thing he ever saw in the waking world, as the theory suggests, it would make perfect sense for this event to replay over and over in his mind as he wanders a featureless subconscious abyss, trying desperately to organize the disparate memories of his recent past and his place within them. The increasingly blurred nature of these visions symbolizing the deteriorating state of his mind and body.

Compelling as it undeniably is, there are still holes in this argument, however, that, when considered alongside the standard interpretation of everything that’s gone before, leave me ultimately unconvinced.

To begin with, later events appear as part of this vignette that, if the theory is to be believed, would have to have happened after Squall became comatose: most notably, the moment he and Rinoa reuinite in space shortly after Adel is released from her celestial prison and returns to Earth amongst the monsters of the Lunar Cry. If the theory is correct and only moments from his life race through his mind at this point, how is this possible?

Which brings me on to my second and most crucial point. Although the image of Edea’s near-lethal attack on the parade float recurs time and again, it isn’t because this signals the end of Squall’s corporeal existence, but because, as he plummeted to the ground and looked up into Rinoa’s panic-stricken face, this was the moment he realized the true depth of his feelings for her.

So, when he finds himself stranded in the infinite abyss caused by Ellone’s time magic – a place where past, present, and future blur into one confusing, homogeneous mass – Squall realizes his only chance of getting home is to use the strength of his attachment to Rinoa as his focal point; to orient himself in time. Thus he summons forth images of their first meeting at the graduation dance, his zero-G rescue mission, and even that infamous moment on the parade float; these images distorted by the extreme conditions, of course, and the nagging self-doubts and uncertainty that plague Squall.

Squall adrift in Final Fantasy VIII's climactic cut-scene

With precious little evidence supporting key points, I don’t think I’m being overly harsh when I say the ‘Squall is Dead’ interpretation of Final Fantasy VIII doesn’t have a lot going for it.

Aside from the counter arguments raised here and by various other fans who take the game at face value, director Yoshinori Kitase himself debunked the theory as hokum in a 2017 interview with Kotaku. Discussing the seminal encounter at the end of disc one that begun this whole discussion, Kitase said “I think he (Squall) was actually stabbed around the shoulder area, so he was not dead”. A pretty definitive response, I think we can all agree.

However, in the same interview, Kitase later conceded the ‘Squall is Dead’ concept presents “a very interesting idea” going on to say “if we ever do make a remake of Final Fantasy VIII, I might go along with that story in mind”. Perhaps there’s still hope for this intriguing idea after all, just not in the way adherents might have hoped.

Counting Final Fantasy VII, The Last of Us, the original Mass Effect trilogy, and The Witcher 3 amongst his favourite games, John enjoys anything that promises to take up an absurdly large amount of his free time. When he’s not gaming, chances are you’ll find him engrossed in a science fiction or fantasy novel; basically, John’s happiest when his attention is as far from the real world as possible.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Izsak Barnette

    May 7, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    Great article, John. I always thought this particular fan theory was very interesting, especially considering the game’s insanely complex ending.

    • John Websell

      May 8, 2018 at 4:06 am

      Completely agree – the final few scenes are like something out of an M. Night Shyamalan film!

  2. John Cal McCormick

    May 8, 2018 at 6:17 am

    I’ve never actually heard this fan theory, and naturally when I read the title here I assumed this would be about the Rinoa/Ultimecia fan theory. This one is entertaining too. I always liked VIII.

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‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.

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max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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15 Years Later: ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ Is Kojima’s Espionage Love Letter

On November 17th, 2004, ‘Metal Gear Solid 3’ was released, marking the first entry in what would become a major part of the Metal Gear Saga.

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Metal Gear Solid 3

“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two — East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”

On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released in North America and Japan marking the first entry in what would later become a line of prequel games within the Metal Gear Saga. Big Boss’s story would finally be expanded upon in the Hollywood action game that forever changed the course of video game storytelling.

The legendary mercenary’s journey began in Kojima’s espionage love letter to the ’60s that broke the primordial gaming standards of both interactive design and visual storytelling through immeasurable gameplay depth piled onto a mind-boggling top-notch origin story. Snake Eater was only the beginning of a tale of how one of gaming’s greatest heroes descended into a villain through what is not only arguably the most compact and well-executed Metal Gear story, but Kojima Productions story ever conjured up to date.

Taking the Narrative Back

Metal Gear Solid 3
“Snake, try and remember some of the basics of CQC.”

Snake Eater ditched Solid Snake and Raiden’s current predicaments in a postmodern world to provide audiences with background knowledge and explanations for the previous chapters that came before it in what was intended to be Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear game at the time. Cold War political fiction and espionage thrillers from the game’s time period such as the Sean Connery and Roger Moore James Bond 007 films became the foundation for this entry’s story and tone; a balance of both goofiness and seriousness that is simply unmatched when compared to the rest of the series.

Metal Gear Solid 3 marked the beginning of a prequel series of games that would later proceed to continue after Solid Snake’s story had concluded in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the PatriotsSnake Eater threw players back in time to tackle the story of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake villain Big Boss, who was formerly referred to as three different names being John, Jack, and of course the iconic codename Naked Snake — the first character to take on the reptilian infiltration name.

Revolver Ocelot’s gun-slinging pre-boss cutscene was completely animated through motion capture footage.

Whereas Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty questioned the fantasy aspects of the story, Snake Eater fully embraced the campiness that it provided. A gun-slinging, cat-growling GRU Major or a man who is able to manipulate bees are never questioned by the game’s characters. Nothing feels out of place due to how accepting everyone is of what is going on in their interpretation of history. The first fantasy aspect that players encounter is during the opening 5 minutes of the game when Naked Snake makes the HALO jump. The location the game takes place, Tselinoyarsk, is not the actual name of the location and isn’t an area of the world that has jungles.

Political fiction often comes into play during the story by incorporating real figures and the game’s characters into events that actually happened during the height of the Cold War. For example, Eva and Ocelot are depicted as the two NSA codebreakers, Martin and Mitchell, who defected to the Soviet Union. Weapons and designs featured in the game such as the hybrid screw-propelled metal gear, the Shagohod, are based on real blueprints for military weapons of the time period. While the story incorporates science fiction and fantasy aspects, the story still remains grounded and has its own limits even in gameplay.

A Whole New Meaning to Survival

When Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa saw the 1987 movie Predator, one concept from the film that stuck with them was how the technologically advanced alien Predator used camouflage within the jungle setting to stealthily take out a military rescue team lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Camouflage became part of the foundation for Snake Eater‘s gameplay that delved into the realism and campy side of the series. Players could swap outfits and face paints at any given moment to adapt to their current surroundings. The top right-hand corner has a camouflage index that constantly keeps track of how well-hidden you are in the environment.

Just as gadgets are a critical part of James Bond’s arsenal of weapons, Snake Eater saw the Metal Gear Solid series expand on the variety and utilization of items. The number of different ways to tackle standard environmental obstacles and boss battles was exponentially increased due to how many ways one could actually use their equipment. Grenades, lethal firearms, night-vision goggles, cigarettes, and even cardboard boxes all inherited a multi-functional philosophy that most players would never even discover unless they had experimented during their playthrough or were told to do a specific action. Even food became a weapon of war that could be used to poison and distract guards if it had gone spoiled.

On the topic of food, alongside the standard health bar, Snake has a stamina meter that must be ministered to constantly by eating foods found on-site and administering proper medical treatment. Animals, fruit, medicinal items, and various packaged resources must be collected and watched over throughout the game. All food items ran on a real-time clock leaving food to go unsanitary and rotten after a matter of real-time days.

The Beginning of Product Placement

Fun Fact: Kojima has gone on record saying that Naked Snake’s favorite CalorieMate Block is the chocolate-flavored line (rightfully for promotional reasons!).

The Metal Gear Solid series kickstarted Hideo Kojima’s constant usage of product placements within his games that are still ongoing today. These products include but are certainly not limited to clothing, accessories, toys, household items, and of course, food. Snake Eater began a trend of future Kojima Production games featuring real-life items that are purchasable in many small scale and large retail stores throughout Japan through the brand of nutritional energy bars and gels, CalorieMate.

The chocolate-flavored CalorieMate Block appeared in the original version of Snake Eater, while the maple-flavored kind replaced it in the HD Collection due to it being the latest flavor release at the time. Advertisements for CalorieMate during the game’s release showed Naked Snake holding a chocolate-flavored Block saying “If you wanna survive in the jungle, your going to need one of these.”

When initiating a Codec call with Paramedic after eating a CalorieMate Block, the character will question the legitimacy of the food. In reality, CalorieMate first released in 1983, contradicting the 1960’s setting of the story, therefore, making its placement in the game an anachronism; an object or person that is displaced in time.

A Legacy Worthy of The Big Boss Rank

At the time of Snake Eater’s release, although the game garnered a completely positive reception from critics with a 91 Metacritic score, it was highly debated whether the sequel-prequel was superior to the entries that came before it. Critics commonly praised the graphics and cinematics the game had to offer but questioned whether the gameplay was too complex for its own good. Snake Eater also had to ride the coattails of unsatisfied audiences originating from the previous entry’s lack of Solid Snake being the protagonist which ultimately lead to sales of the game being significantly lower than the previous Solid entries.

Over time, Snake Eater became the fan-favorite entry of the series and would go on to receive the most re-releases out of all the Metal Gear games to date. Most notably, in 2006 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence expanded upon the online mode in the game and added a completely new third-person controlled camera system that enhanced the overall experience and became the right analog stick standard for future entries. Buyers of this version were also treated with the original two MSX Metal Gear games found on the main menu- the first time the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had ever been localized outside of Japan.

Snake Eater 3D Limited Edition Bundle included a ‘Snake Skin’ themed standard 3DS (only released in Japan).

2011 saw the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collectiona compilation title that included an updated version of Subsistence — arguably the best way to play Snake Eater today. In 2012 the game also saw a release on the Nintendo 3DS dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater which included a new real-life camera camouflage system and multiple gameplay changes inherited from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to accommodate the 3DS’s lack of dual analog sticks.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a true patriot that definitively holds its ground against the rest of the series today due to its creative liberties that the series never quite revisited in complete depth. Hideo Kojima and his team of masterminds behind Kojima Productions are well deserved of a salute for the tremendous efforts they put into creating a groundbreaking title that forever changed what it meant to be a cinematic video game. From its action-packed plot to its cinematic orchestra inspired-score, even after 15 years the pure indigenous nature of creativity from the studio never ceases to amaze audiences.

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