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‘Legend of Mana’: A Mess of a Masterpiece

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“Cherish what you encounter in life.”
Legend of Mana (1999)

Legend of Mana is a convoluted game. One that throws its audience into the deep end and leaves them there. From there, it’s on the onus of the player to understand Legend of Mana. Which is an almost unreasonable request, admittedly. Legend of Mana is an action RPG with: interactive world building, a week system, nonlinear progression, multiple story arcs, crafting, monster raising, and not a single tutorial that ends up fleshing out the title’s many mechanics. The game simply expects the player to take their time and learn through trial and error. Legend of Mana wants players to cherish every little detail, for better and for worse. 

Legend of Mana feels very bold in that regard. It wears its eccentricities with pride, putting its oddest elements forward. The player’s first real act is creating a part of the world, not combat. That alone sets the tone well for the rest of the game. The title’s priority isn’t in action, but in meditation. This isn’t to say combat doesn’t play an active role, but that Legend of Mana is more intent on creating a living, breathing world than it is offering audiences yet another Seiken Densetsu experience. 

For as great as Trials of Mana is, it also marked the third time in a row that the franchise had: told a story centered on the Sword of Mana, ended with the destruction of the Mana Tree, and left players feeling like they ultimately failed in their goals. Which isn’t necessarily a bad approach in a genre where the heroes are more often than not guaranteed to win, but it’s an approach that surely would not work a fourth time in a row. Which is why Legend of Mana intelligently goes the opposite direction altogether. 

The Sword of Mana plays an important role, but only at the very end of the game and never explicitly. The Mana Tree is already destroyed by the time the story begins, and the player’s goal is not to protect Mana, but to usher it back into the world. More importantly, Legend of Mana finally gives the franchise’s world a name: Fa’diel. It’s fitting then that the first game to name Fa’diel is also the only game to emphasize literal world building over combat. 

Legend of Mana
Fa’diel in all its glory.

While the prospect of giving the player a world to create isn’t necessarily unique, Legend of Mana posits a fairly cruel twist early on: the main character is only imagining the world. This ends up being one of the more interesting ways Legend of Mana ends up commenting on what was becoming Seiken Densetsu’s frankly rigid structure. More specifically, humanity’s lust for Mana. All three previous games ended with the Mana Tree’s destruction, and Mana leaving the world due to mankind’s actions. Taking place centuries after the last time the Mana Tree burnt down, Legend’s world is long over and the goal is not to truly rebuild, but to revisit Fa’diel’s memories. 

It should be noted that Legend of Mana is not an abandonment of Seiken Densetsu’s core concepts by any means. While it takes a far more inspired approach to the franchise than its predecessors, its design is very much rooted in the direction the series was going in. With each passing game, more focus was placed on nonlinear progression. Legend of Mana simply brings that philosophy to its zenith, allowing players to whatever they want whenever they want so long as they have the means to do so. 

Naturally, this results in an RPG that can feel aimlessly overwhelming at times. As previously mentioned, the player’s first act is creating Fa’diel itself, but the task itself is anything but simple. Players are made to a select a 6×6 grid on a massive map where they’ll then be spending the rest of the story mode gradually building up Fa’diel. Where a new location is placed ends up playing a major role as each area has their own set of Mana that can affect the areas around them. Quests, shops, droppable items, and enemy levels are only directly affected by the map system. Something Legend of Mana does not make clear. 

At the same time, there’s a very clear reason why Legend of Mana keeps mum on this information: it’s not the point. The map system is meant to reward players who take the time to learn how the Mana system works, how different areas affect one another. The intent is to make the player immerse themselves in the role as a grand creator, to the point where audiences are bound to forget that the game is just in their imagination. Although logic dictates that conveying information clearly should be every developer’s firstmost priority, Legend of Mana is so committed to its central premise that it refuses to stray the course, even for convenience purpose. 

Such an approach can be naturally damning— and in some respects it is— but Legend of Mana is designed around its deliberate lack of information. To say this approach works in the title’s favor might seem bold, but it’s the honest to goodness truth. Legend of Mana would lose much of its personal flavor if it were any clearer with information. This, of course, leads to an RPG that’ll be hard to digest for most audiences, but it also lends itself to a richer experience overall. 

There’s value in slowly understanding the inner workings of Legend of Mana, especially when coupled with the idea that Fa’diel as the player creates is only a dead world’s last lingering memories. With this in mind, it’s only natural the player need to discover everything on their own accord. Legend of Mana also makes use a New Game Plus system where the difficulty can (and should) be raised upon a new cycle. In truth, the game takes after titles like Devil May Cry when it comes to difficulty. The experience really isn’t over until No Future mode is over and done with. By that point, however, players should have naturally built up a better understanding of Legend of Mana’s mechanical and narrative concepts. 

All things considered, it’s a rather jarring approach to a series that always opted for more character driven plots. Legend of Mana is more conceptual, more thematic. At the same time, characters are far more fleshed out than they’ve ever been. It’s not unusual for even the smallest of characters to have some degree of depth or nuance to them. The more open ended approach to progression means that multiple characters have their own isolated story arcs or side quests where they’re the main focus. In a plot driven game like Secret of Mana, this approach might be awkward, but Legend of Mana thrives off it. 

Specifically through its three major story arcs: the Faerie arc, the Dragon Emperor arc, and the Jumi arc. Trials of Mana played with the idea of multiple story arcs in a single game, but its approach meant that players could only experience on arc per playthrough. Legend of Mana not only allows players to play through all three arcs in a single game cycle, they can be completed in any order whatsoever. Better yet, while the three major arcs are self contained plot-wise, they’re all thematically relevant to the game as a whole. 

Legend of Mana

Despite being the first game in the series to feature a silent protagonist, Legend of Mana has a far stronger story than any other entry in the franchise. Cleverly recontextualized as the embodiment of love, the Mana Tree is finally given its raison d’etre. Where previous games used Mana as a mystical force of energy, Legend of Mana twists Mana into something tangible and clearly understandable. More importantly, love as a concept is intelligently expanded on within each arc. The Faerie arc focuses on romantic love, the Dragon Emperor arc focuses on familial love, and the Jumi arc focuses on platonic love. As a result, audiences are shown a more nuanced understanding of love without being bogged down by a script that runs itself in circles. 

Just about every side quest focused on a different side of love, whether it be a family’s love, a partner’s love, the pursuit of love, or the complete absence of love. As far as love goes, Legend of Mana is one of the most thematically cohesive video games of all time. It certainly helps that the script is far and away the series’ best, both in terms of general writing and localization. Similarly to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Legend of Mana places an emphasis on NPC’s lives. With a silent protagonist leading the way, it’s important for the side characters to fill the void and develop meaningfully. While some characters end up more fleshed out than others, all the story arc relevant characters come out as some of Seiken Densetsu’s best. 

Escad may be a hero trying to get revenge on the demon Irwin, but he’s also a blatant racist who can’t comprehend that a human might love a demon. Elazul is presented as almost manipulative and cruel, but it’s made clear that his interpretation of love is keeping the people he cares for safe even at the expense of their individuality. Larc positions himself as a proud warrior in control of his destiny, but it’s ultimately revealed that he’s not only insecure about his own abilities, he’s seemingly been living in his sister’s shadow for ages. Legend of Mana takes its time to ensure that the main cast is anything but flat. Even the most minor of NPCs end up having some layer of depth to their character.

That said, for as strong the story and character writing is, it is difficult to actually make progress at times. This can result in Legend of Mana feeling needlessly obtuse, especially in the midst of a story arc. There’s nothing like spinning the wheels of a story arc only to realize that reaching the next step is much more time consuming than it initially seems. This method to story progression has likely, and understandably, halted many the playthrough. 

Of course, in a generation where information is readily available at all times, it’s by no means unreasonable to consult a guide for Legend of Mana. It’s a very complicated RPG, after all, and most players will naturally be eager to not only make progress but to dive into the title’s richer mechanics. Weapon/armor forging and tempering in particular are incredibly difficult to understand at first, but with a guide to lead the way the workshop very quickly becomes one of the most engaging areas in-game. In fact, weapon forging and tempering becomes downright necessary for the higher difficulties. Should a player transition into No Future without understanding how the system works, they’ll be forced to check a guide just to stay alive. 

That said, it is worth mentioning that this free for all approach to game design does make Legend of Mana one of the best RPGs to just adventure in. Every area is designed to have a clear, distinct purpose. While players may not find a new quest at every turn, they’ll either better understand Fa’diel’s rich lore or acquire some new item or monster. Casually adventuring is one of the best ways to take advantage of the game’s Pet mechanic, a system which allows players to find eggs, hatch them, and raise monsters to battle alongside them. 

This is to say nothing of how well Yoko Shimomura’s soundtrack meshes with Shinichi Kameoka’s art design. Legend of Mana’s hand painted backgrounds are simply sublime with Kameoka taking an almost watercolor approach to the game’s aesthetics. The art ensures that each location has a clear visual identity. While the track placement does end up falling back on a few go-to songs, Legend of Mana is arguably Shimomura’s best work, eclipsing her work on the Kingdom Hearts franchise. Shimomura’s score feels fresh, inspired, and at times even unsettling— perfect for a game as fresh and unsettling as Legend of Mana

If there’s one flaw that sticks out like a sore thumb, it’s Legend of Mana’s difficulty. A big reason why No Future feels necessary for the experience as a whole is because of how pitifully easy Normal mode can be. While it starts promising enough, the difficulty curve is basically non-existent in Normal, likely to ensure that players don’t make the game too hard on themselves due to faulty map placements. On one hand, that’s a very thoughtful consideration to make in a title that’s otherwise fairly unhelpful. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be possible to kill the final boss in a single hit. 

Legend of Mana

That said, the higher difficulties really do help Legend of Mana’s combat shine as it has arguably the best battle system in the franchise. A side scrolling action RPG with a Y-axis, getting used to moving around and attacking efficiently takes some time, but the core battle mechanics are incredibly fun to play around with. While the main character can’t pick their stats ala Final Fantasy Adventure or Trials of Mana, weapons actively influence stat growth per level. Paired with the return of multiple weapon types from Secret of Mana, and there’s a lot of build variety to experiment with. 

Abilities also play a role, allowing the play character to actually block and dodge mid-battle. If that weren’t enough, players can learn new abilities by pairing them together. By using Defend and Lunge, players can learn Defensive Lunge, an ability which allows them to dodge while also defending enemy attacks. Weapons have their own techniques as well, and new techniques can be learned by pairing certain abilities with certain weapon types. Using a sword with the crouch ability, players can learn the Rising Sun technique. Every single weapon has at least ten different learnable techniques, giving players an endless amount of variety in combat. 

No Future helps the combat shine in a way that Normal doesn’t. Since enemies have insanely high health pools in this mode, the player has to really dive into the core battle mechanics. It’s important to learn how to weave in and out of battle while also cutting combos short in order to fill up the special meter for more techniques. High level play ends up surprisingly fast and in-depth as a result. Bosses that were mindless on Normal pose genuine challenges on No Future. That said, even No Future can’t save Legend of Mana from its most glaring flaw: the level design. 

When it comes down to it, getting lost in Legend of Mana isn’t a possibility— it’s a given. For as beautifully realized as the world visually is, this does result in dungeons that end up difficult to traverse. While each screen has their own set of landmarks, it’s easy to get disoriented in a single location. Fa’diel’s emphasis on realistic world building means that stages are perhaps too cohesive for their own good. Multiple screens realistically blend in and out of one another, potentially tricking players into believing they aren’t making any progress. This is especially frustrating to deal with in Gato Grottoes’ cavern dungeon where every room looks frustratingly similar. 

Legend of Mana

However, it’s this very approach that best exemplifies Legend of Mana’s best qualities. It commits to its concepts in spite of itself. Legend of Mana is content in being an at times frustrating experience if it means Fa’diel ends up more cohesive as a result. Similarly, Legend of Mana is willing to keep players in the dark so that the essence of discovery is never lost. The gaming medium has a level of interactivity exclusive to itself. All art can make its audiences feel, but only a game can give audiences the feeling of control and the emotions that come with it. 

Legend of Mana is a game about being in control at all times. It’s a game about allowing the player the freedom to do whatever they want, even if it means abandoning Fa’diel mid-dream. Legend of Mana understands its medium to a fault. In embracing those faults, however, Seiken Densetsu is able to pivot into one of the most eclectic and meaningful titles to release on the original PlayStation. After three games of refining the same concepts over and over again, Legend of Mana offers a fresher approach to not only the franchise, but the genre. It is at times messy, but always beautifully so. 

As strange as it might sound, there is value in playing a video game so overtly flawed. What value is there in playing an RPG that leaves audiences frustrated and confused? The value of creating a world without any guidance. The value of exploring a world without any direction. The value of meeting the incomprehensible on its own terms. It all links back to how the game presents love. One can’t be guided towards love. Love is directionless and incomprehensible. At the same time, meeting love on its own terms will naturally allow someone to better understand what it means to love. For better and for worse, every aspect of Legend of Mana’s design is tied around the same core principals: love, freedom, and freedom of love. 

Legend of Mana wants its audience to cherish what they encounter, not just in the game, but in life. Fa’diel is a reflection of the real world. It has dozens of races because Earth has dozens of races. Love is depicted maturely because love is a mature concept that deserves more than just a secondhand mention. The game can feel aimless because life itself is often aimless. It’s an RPG that’s almost painfully difficult to understand at times, messy to a fault. In many respects, Legend of Mana is a mess; but it’s also a beautiful, somber RPG about not just love, but life. Legend of Mana breaks some of the simplest rules of game design, but it does so knowing that even a masterpiece can, and sometimes should, be a mess. Imperfection is the essence of expression, and few games are as meaningfully expressive as Legend of Mana

Legend of Mana

An avid-lover of all things Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry, and pretentious French lit, Renan spends most of his time passionately raving about Dragon Ball on the internet and thinking about how to apply Marxist theory to whatever video game he's currently playing.

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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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