There’s been a lot of talk lately about how Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain‘s story stacks up against other entries in the series. It’s not difficult to see why. As possibly the final Metal Gear Solid game, and certainly the final one by its creator and mastermind, Hideo Kojima, MGSV bears the significant weight of being the last true game in a series which has the prescience of being one of the first to offer mature and involving storylines in gaming.
Back in 1998, there weren’t a lot of places you could go in this industry that might even give you believable characterizations or a well-realized narrative. The original Metal Gear Solid managed to accomplish both, even as it wove together a story of political intrigue, personal drama, science fiction technology, anime tropes, and pacifist philosophy into an enthralling and engrossing tale, one thats reputation has only grown as the years have passed.
Though the sequels have gone a lot of wild and dissident directions over the years, including a fat man on roller skates, a weird computer government, a guy who uses electricity to punch bullets, a kind-of vampire, three cyborgs, a lot of scientists literally pissing themselves, and at least 5 nuclear-equipped walking battle tanks, the majority of fans remained steadfastly invested in the unique and ridiculous mythology of Metal Gear Solid.
With that kind of weight and legacy behind it, the pressure for Hideo Kojima to deliver a fitting end to his saga, one that would wrap up and connect all of his many disparate story threads into a cohesive whole, was, of course, palpable. While the success of the plot in MGSV remains debatable, many of its detractors have been seizing upon a single thread that they believe ruins the narrative structure altogether but there’s something about it that they might be missing: namely that it’s Kojima’s most personal and important message of the entire series. In essence, it’s his way of saying goodbye to the player.
The ending in question is something that is teased right from the outset. The games jaw-dropping opening sequence follows Snake/Big Boss as he awakens from a 9 year coma and is lead out of a hospital under siege by a fellow patient whose face and identity remain hidden. The controversial final twist ties in directly to this lingering question as the game wraps up by forcing the player to revisit this mission, with small changes throughout opening the player’s eyes to what really happened, and what has been happening since.
The truth is that the player has not been playing as the Boss’ successor at all but as a fallen soldier and medic who also happened to be on that fateful helicopter ride 9 years previous during Ground Zeroes, MGSV‘s opening act. The character, known only as Venom Snake, is meant as a proxy and surrogate to divert attention from the real Big Boss as he goes about his war with the Patriots and his dream of a world built for soldiers simultaneously.
It’s a twist that heavily changes the trajectory of the series, leaving a lasting effect on the mythology while altering the way you look back at everything that has occurred since initially opening your eyes in the comatose sections first-person beginnings. As such, it isn’t difficult to see what makes this left turn so divisive but what a lot of players may be missing is what the creator is actually saying with this plot choice. Hideo Kojima is a man famous for many things but chief among them are his layered and multi-faceted storytelling and his methods of breaking the fourth wall in order to address the player directly. With that in mind, it’s important to consider what Kojima was attempting to communicate with that ending, and it’s tantamount to the arduous emotional journey that all Metal Gear Solid fans have shared with this series.
Consider what Ocelot says to Big Boss before he leaves this tale for good: “From now on he’s Snake. Don’t worry, he can handle it.” Here Kojima is addressing the fan directly and personally. He’s telling you that yes, this is it. Yes, Metal Gear Solid is over. He’s telling you that he regrets saying goodbye to the series but it’s something he’s been trying to do for a long time. And finally, he’s telling you that you, the player, are as much Snake and Big Boss as the real thing. He’s saying this is your story now.
Conversely, as the real Big Boss revs up that motorbike and rides off to new adventures, ones that we might only imagine and never see, the true Big Boss mirrors Kojima’s journey to leave this series behind for parts unknown. Where he’s going and what he’s doing we won’t know but as the screen goes black, our hearts go with him.
Later, when we return to Venom he plays the tape titled: “From the Man Who Sold the World”. On it Big Boss thanks you for letting him go before explaining that you’ve written your own history. “You’re your own man.” he says as Venom sees two different reflections interchanging in the mirror. “I’m Big Boss, and you are too. No, he’s the two of us together. I am you and you are me, carry that with you wherever you go. Thank you my friend. From here on out, you’re Big Boss.”
It’s a powerful message, and one that deserves more respect and recognition than it’s been getting in the heat following the games release in early September. You may not like the way the plot of the Metal Gear Solid series wrapped itself up and that’s fine, art is entirely subjective after all. However to suggest that the way that MGSV goes out is anything but the essence of Kojima at his most clever and subversive is nuclear, and the fallout stops here.
This post originally appeared at www.soundonsight.org–it has been reprinted here with the permission of the author.