PROLOGUE: GROUND ZEROES
Discussing Metal Gear Solid V without discussing Ground Zeroes is akin to discussing Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty without touching upon the Tanker chapter. It’s certainly possible, but the Tanker chapter directly sets up the events, arcs, and themes of the Plant chapter. Simply analyzing the latter ignored all the crucial context found in the former. The same can, and should, be said for Ground Zeroes’ relationship with The Phantom Pain. GZ is undeniably an important piece in understanding TPP’s puzzle. While it isn’t handled with nearly as much grace as it should have been, arcs, themes, and characters are all introduced in the prologue that aren’t necessarily reiterated in main game. The Phantom Pain’s narrative absolutely expected its audience to have played through Ground Zeroes. There are issues with this expectation, however; most notably, The Phantom Pain’s apparent lack of interest with everything that occurred in Ground Zeroes.
Recognizing and analyzing Ground Zeroes isn’t so much important to understanding The Phantom Pain’s story as it is important to understanding how The Phantom Pain’s story is told. Narratively, Metal Gear Solid V is the simplest game in the franchise, perhaps to a fault. There are few actual twists; the script tends to be fairly straightforward with intentions and motivations; and many of the game’s arcs and themes tend to just exist in their own bubble without interacting with one another in a cohesive manner. Aside from The Phantom Pain’s signature twist, Metal Gear Solid V lacks that Metal Gear “punch” present in the rest of the series. At least, it seems to. Where MGSV lacks in actual narrative, it attempts to make up for in storytelling; and Ground Zeroes plays a big role in that.
To put it bluntly, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is the last time players take control of Big Boss and that’s an incredibly important face for Metal Gear Solid V’s overall narrative, especially since it’s so understated. The twist at the end of The Phantom Pain focuses primarily on the fact that Venom Snake was the playable character and not Big Boss, but it doesn’t touch upon the fact that Big Boss’s last canonical adventure was GZ. This gives the prologue an added sense of mysticism in hindsight and greatly adds to that feeling of “phantom pain” Kojima tries to inject into the story. Phantom pain is the psychological sensation of feeling pain in a limb that has already been amputated. Control of Big Boss is effectively amputated from the hands of the players at the end of Ground Zeroes and, while they don’t know that Venom isn’t Big Boss, the dichotomy between Venom Snake and what fans would remember from Big Boss creates a sort of pseudo-reverse phantom pain where the loss of Big Boss can be felt even though he’s supposedly there when in reality he truly is gone, but replaced with a body double to give the illusion that he never left at all.
It’s an ambitious concept to say the least, but it’s one that works in Metal Gear Solid V’s favor. The plot itself so simple that it needs complexity elsewhere to stand out. The only real issue with Ground Zeroes being Big Boss’ last game playing a role in The Phantom Pain’s narrative is the fact that Ground Zeroes isn’t literally mandatory to playing The Phantom Pain. For a first playthrough, someone can skip GZ on account of it being released independently of TPP and the latter is written, to an extent, with that absence mind. Metal Gear Solid V, in all respects, is the story of Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain working collaboratively, but, as mentioned earlier, the latter seems rather against mentioning the former outright, only referencing what is absolutely necessary and leaving most of what Ground Zeroes established behind.
Tonally and thematically, Ground Zeroes is a very different game from The Phantom Pain. Perhaps it’s because the former stars Big Boss and the latter doesn’t, but there is a massive shift going from the prologue to the main game. Nothing in TPP ever gets as remotely dark as Skull Face forcing Chico to rape and beat Paz, and this incredibly overwhelming detail is completely overlooked after Ground Zeroes. By the time The Phantom Pain rolls around, that overbearing darkness is missing altogether. There are dark moments, but nothing darker than what’s typical for Metal Gear, and they might be even lighter, all things considered. Skull Face is also softened up between games with much of his vitriol and downright diabolical personality toned down. Visually, TPP adds a mask to his design, making him look far less menacing. At times, it’s hard to believe that Skull Face isn’t the character who got replaced between games considering how little his two representations reflect one another.
Perhaps the last major thread noting in regards to Ground Zeroes’ relationship to The Phantom Pain is its antithetical nature towards Metal Gear Solid 2. Like MGS2, Metal Gear Solid V features a prologue with a different, familiar, playable character. Unlike MGS2, Metal Gear Solid V’s prologue isn’t meant to make audiences reflect on the loss of familiarity when transitioning into The Phantom Pain. That feeling is still there, but it’s so understated that it’s missable. This isn’t a mistake or an oversight on Kojima’s part, but a deliberation meant to contrast Sons of Liberty. Metal Gear Solid 2 was partially about demonizing the audience’s desire to be Solid Snake. They can be crafted into Solid Snake, but Raiden’s arc shows that it is in no way worth it, and any given individual is better off forging their own path. Metal Gear Solid V, on the other hand, glorifies the idea of becoming Big Boss to the point that not actually being Big Boss hardly matters. Ground Zeroes is the last time players take control of the original Big Boss, but Venom, in a way, is still Big Boss. It isn’t dwelt upon because it doesn’t matter to MGSV’s narrative, and it’s that philosophy that carries on into the rest of The Phantom Pain. For better or for worse.
CHAPTER 1: REVENGE
Without a doubt, The Phantom Pain features the single strongest opening act in the series on a conceptual level, to the point where it almost justifies separating Metal Gear Solid V into two separate games. Opening up to Midge Ure’s cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” is a cinematically appropriate introduction that foreshadows Venom’s identity, both through the content of the song and the fact that a cover is playing instead of the original, while building anticipation for the game proper to begin. Once control is given to the player, what follows is a genuinely tense escape mission where Venom has to break out of the hospital he’s being held in with only the help of the enigmatic Ishmael by his side. The mission itself is long and meticulous, but it works in setting up the world of The Phantom Pain, especially in the wake of Ground Zeroes. It’s oppressive, hostile, and features a fair amount of foreshadowing in regards to Venom’s nature as Big Boss’ body double. As far as The Phantom Pain goes, this was as good an introduction we were going to get after MGSV was split in two.
Unfortunately, since there always tends to be an “unfortunately” when discussing Metal Gear Solid V, The Phantom Pain’s introductory mission suffers from the same fate as Ground Zeroes: it simply doesn’t matter in the long run. Key details from it end up playing a role later on, but the actual events of the mission, and the game that preceded it, exist almost in a bubble of their own. The only reason there’s a connecting thread between Ground Zeroes, the hospital prologue, and The Phantom Pain is because the game explicitly says there is one. In terms of storytelling, these three events do not naturally tie into one another. Ground Zeroes and the hospital prologue feel tonally similar, but nothing that occurred at the end of GZ, save for Big Boss’ coma, is touched upon. The hospital prologue and The Phantom Pain share some thematic similarities, but they’re tonally worlds apart and the events that occur within the hospital really only work in service toward Venom’s and Quiet’s character arcs, and even then it’s more in favor of making the twists feel a bit more clever than it is to give them narrative or emotional significance.
In its own bubble, the hospital introduction works tremendously well. At times, it almost feels like the start of a survival horror game where death looms around any corner. That feeling doesn’t translate into the rest of Metal Gear Solid V, though, and that’s a problem. The Phantom Pain brings with it a massive narrative disconnect where arcs, themes, and story beats barely attach themselves to one another. It’s at its most jarring during the game’s first chapter, “REVENGE.” Given the title of the chapter, its contents are rather easy to assume: Venom wants revenge against Skull Face in the wake of MSF’s complete annihilation and Skull Face wants revenge against imperialism by wiping out the English language. As far as motivations go, Skull Face’s is actually rather solid for a revenge story. There are some implications that Skull Face resents Big Boss for their respective roles in Operation Snake Eater, Big Boss serving as the main operative and thus getting all the recognition for killing The Boss while Skull Face acted as his behind-the-scenes clean-up crew, but the focus is on his desire to wipe out the English language to effectively put an end to a history of imperialism.
It’s right up there in terms of literary merit with Metal Gear Solid 2’s existentialist and postmodernist themes, but it doesn’t land with as much impact as it should in large part due to the inconsistencies, and downright lack of quality, found in Skull Face’s characterization. In Ground Zeroes, Skull Face is a deranged, yet composed, monster of a man who forces characters to rape one another, kills without remorse, and orchestrates the destruction of a private army players spent dozens of hours building in Peace Walker. All this is done to form a personal connection to Skull Face where audiences will naturally come to hate him and want to get revenge themselves. Conceptually, this is all great as it takes the theme of revenge that would be seen in TPP and extends it outside of the game. The revenge isn’t just personal for Big Boss/Venom, it’s personal for the player. This is a concept that only works if the villain is truly irredeemable, and Ground Zeroes does an excellent job at making Skull Face unlikable without making him a bad character. In fact, GZ Skull Face is one of the most disturbingly compelling villains in the franchise. Come The Phantom Pain, however, and Skull Face is given quite a bit of material to make him more sympathetic.
With any well written revenge story, it’s a given that the antagonist will have motivations that make them believe they’re in the right for their actions. Doubly so considering this is Metal Gear Solid where villains often end up coming off rather sympathetic either through their characterization or ultimate intentions. The problem is, Skull Face is introduced too far off the deep end to be reeled back in. This is a man who forced a child to rape a woman. This is a man who wants to commit legitimate mass genocide. Villains in the series have always wanted to use nukes for their own gains, but they were never so uncomfortably personal in their motivations. It’s not a bad thing to write an antagonist with uncomfortable motivations, but it is a bad thing to do so and then ignore those facets of their character in favor of making them come off a bit more sympathetic.
Skull Face wants to wipe out the English language as an act of revenge because imperialism took his home, language, and culture. In wiping out the English language, Skull Face can fire back at the people who effectively erased him from existence. That is a compelling, uncomfortable motivation that makes him a sympathetic figure in a bubble. In his mind, killing anyone who speaks English will save other cultures and languages from undergoing what he went through. Skull Face’s portrayal in The Phantom Pain cannot be separated from Ground Zeroes, however. Given the nature of Metal Gear as a series, TPP wants players to sympathize and see Skull Face’s point of view, but it wants them to do so without acknowledging the atrocities he committed in GZ. The destruction of MSF is one that’ll always be looming over the player, especially since much of the game is spent rebuilding it under the moniker “Diamond Dogs,” but the player is never expected to think back on what Skull Face did to Paz and Chico.
It certainly doesn’t help that Skull Face is far more affable and friendly in The Phantom Pain than he ever was in Ground Zeroes. His rapport with Venom is downright amicable at times. This is not the same character between two games, and it’s made all the more frustrating because both interpretations are great in their own right, but incompatible together. GZ Skull Face is a purely evil villain the series has never had before. There is nothing redeemable about him, but his sinister presence makes him a foe worth conquering. TPP Skull Face lost his culture and wants to put an end to the very real consequences of imperialism by any means necessary. His actions are extreme, but his motivation is uncomfortably understandable. At the same time, despite some implied resentment, he holds nothing against Venom personally and engages him in conversation whenever possible. One is a monster, the other is a man, and they don’t make a character with more depth when brought together. Rather, they just make Skull Face feel disjointed.
This is to say nothing about the antithetical implications of Skull Face’s character in relation to Venom, specifically regarding nuclear deterrence. Through Sahelanthropus, Skull Face could instill a fear of nukes back into the world. All militaries, in turn, would arm themselves with nuclear weapons. Since every nation would have nuclear weapons, however, no government would actually make use of their nukes out of fear of retaliation. In response, Venom is heavily anti-nuke to the point where The Phantom Pain rewards players for invading others’ bases in order to dismantle any nukes. Making Skull Face an almost shadow to Big Boss works conceptually, but the execution is sorely lacking, especially since Skull Face is neither dealing with the real Big Boss or interested in doing so. Rather, his goal is to get back at Zero who was introduced as the series’ overarching antagonist at the end of Metal Gear Solid 4.
There’s something to be said about the nature of phantom pain in this regard, especially since Skull Face effectively spends all of the first chapter accomplishing nothing. He’s not actually going head-to-head with Big Boss, meaning he can’t get revenge on Zero by hurting Venom; Big Boss and Zero aren’t even on speaking terms at this point, so getting revenge through Big Boss was already pointless; and Zero is already on his way to his deathbed, utterly demeaning Skull Face’s desire for revenge. On a thematic level, it all works, and revenge’s relationship with The Phantom Pain’s relationship with phantom pain stands out as one of the few things Metal Gear Solid V’s narrative does truly well. It’s hammered in all the more at the end of the chapter when Huey kills Skull Face in the name of revenge after Venom leaves him alive to suffer, thus robbing Venom and the player of all agency. It’s an unsatisfying conclusion that perfectly captures the futility of revenge and the essence of phantom pain. It’s just unfortunately tied to an inconsistently written villain.
In many ways, the first chapter is very much its own game with a proper beginning, middle, and game. It isn’t a particularly impressive one on the narrative side of things considering how little actually happens in the story, but it feels complete from a plot and thematic standpoint. All things considered, it might even feel more complete than the game’s actual ending. While the second chapter does tie up Venom’s and Quiet’s loose ends, everything else ends in an incohesive manner that may as well have been a cliffhanger. Chapter one doesn’t serve as a final conclusion to the series, but neither does chapter two. Metal Gear Solid V is a game destined to fail at bringing the series full circle, so why not end it at a point where the story at least feels complete in a literary sense? Regardless, The Phantom Pain was obviously never going to end with just one chapter.
It was going to end with two.
CHAPTER 2: RACE
For all its faults in characterizing Skull Face, tonal dissonance with Ground Zeroes, and a generally simplistic plot, The Phantom Pain’s first chapter was at least thematically cohesive. The theme of revenge is handled in an unsatisfyingly satisfying way that caps off the chapter appropriately. Come chapter two, “RACE,” however, and all that thematic cohesion is lost. Simply put, there is no central unifying theme of race in chapter two. If anything, REVENGE focused more on the concept of race considering Skull Face’s background, his desire to wipe out the English language, and the fact his ashen skin made it impossible to tell what “race” he was at first glance. The chapter actually named after race, on the other hand, does nothing with the idea. There is the Kikongo infection storyline that ends with Venom needing to execute his soldiers to prevent the parasite from wiping out his whole base, but that’s only very thinly connected to the concept of race.
Since chapter two’s title cannot be referring to racial relations, what else can “race” stand for? If it’s referring to the arms race then, once again, the concept is more at home with chapter one than chapter two as that’s the chapter which actually features nuclear weapons prominently. If not racial relations or the arms race, only a race to the finish line is left. That’s most likely not the intent behind the title, but it’s the only meaning that fits. Chapter two is mostly just filler. With the exception of Quiet’s character arc coming to an end and the resolution of the Kikongo infection, nothing narratively major happens in chapter two. In fact, it’s also significantly shorter than chapter one. In many ways, it feels like a literal race to the credits. At the very least, they’ll be scrolling rather quickly after starting the chapter.
So with no central theme or plot thread to unify the events of chapter two, how does it all feel? Disjointed, to say the least. Chapter two is a narrative low point for Metal Gear Solid as a whole. Much of the game is formatted in a pseudo-television structure where each mission acts as an almost “episode,” but this ends up hurting the game’s story since missions rarely ever connect into one another. There are exceptions, and they do stand out as particularly strong, but the end result is most of the game’s plot feeling like filler. RACE isn’t all bad with both main story lines having some interesting gameplay consequences associated with them, but the actual story is painfully bogged down by a lack of themes and quality.
In the case of the Kikongo infection, the emotions are all where they need to be. Forcing players into gunning down soldiers they personally recruited, and possibly even played as, is an appropriately cruel way of adding weight to the infection. It’s perhaps built up for far too long with some annoying gameplay consequences early on, but the payoff is emotionally phenomenal and serves as the only real piece of organic development Venom gets all game. It’s clear that killing his own men shakes him to his core, and this personal attachment to his soldiers separates him from Big Boss. The original leads from a distance and shows no remorse in losing MSF or forcing one of his soldiers to undergo a personality death in order to become his doppelganger, but the duplicate cares for his men like a family. This is an important distinction that needed to be made for Venom to stand out as his own character. It’s only a shame the actual infection has little thematic relevance and is so disconnected from everything else happening in the story.
As for Quiet, her ending doesn’t do much to salvage the disaster of a character she is. She wants revenge on Big Boss for burning her alive, tying into the themes of revenge found in chapter one, but she also falls in love with Venom adding an interesting spin to the concept of revenge. The man she wants to kill is now the man she loves. It’s perhaps a bit cliched, but it’s something that hasn’t been done in Metal Gear before. That’s where that concepts stops, though. For the majority of the game, Quiet does almost nothing to act on her vengeance. She even rejects the Wolbachia treatment later on out of her desire to infect Big Boss with the English parasite and wipe out Diamond Dogs, but that thread ultimately goes nowhere. All this is done so that, when Quiet finally speaks to Venom at the end of her arc in chapter two, she has to disappear before the parasites hatch and infect him.
Quiet’s arc is surprisingly inorganic for a character whose scenes stand out as some of the most organic in Metal Gear Solid V. Her introduction is sudden and tense, and her character defining moments come up seemingly at random, yet naturally, after landing on Mother Base. The progression of her arc, however, is virtually non-existent. Quiet grows to love Venom, but that’s really the extent of her character outside of wanting revenge on him, as well. Quiet is an underwritten love interest which is not a problem the Metal Gear series has had before. Meryl has an incredible arc in MGS whether she lives or dies; Rosemary has depth and her relationship with Raiden is dynamically real; EVA is working against Big Boss during the entirety of Snake Eater, but she still clearly has feelings for him and her relationship with The Boss adds layers to their relationship. Quiet has nothing to offer Venom, and Venom has nothing to offer her. Kojima went on record and said that audiences would feel “ashamed of [their] words and deeds” upon realizing the truth behind Quiet’s design, but there’s nothing to be ashamed of, at least from an audience perspective. What’s shameful is how poorly written her character and arc are compared to the series’ rather strong track record of female love interests. Quiet is a love interest first, a gameplay device second, and a character third.
Without a central unifying theme, chapter two suffers considerably. Focus is put onto a character who has no character and the Kikongo infection, while emotional, lacks any meaningful thematic connection to the rest of the game. There are other plot threads at play like Huey’s banishment from Mother Base and Eli hijacking Sahelanthropus, but the latter storyline goes absolutely nowhere. Quite literally, too, since the mission that would have resolved Eli’s robbery was cut from the final game. As is, Eli floats off in the world’s most advanced Metal Gear with a young Psycho Mantis and the two are never seen or heard from again. It’s not as if the first chapter didn’t have its disconnected story lines. The Man on Fire’s role feels more like fan service than anything else, but it could at least be tied back to Skull Face somehow. Chapter two’s events have no center that they can call back to.
Chapter one already felt disjointed thanks to the tonal dissonance between Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain, but chapter two takes it to an extreme. Skull Face is but a memory, Ground Zeroes’ themes and tones are non-existent, and the only narrative thread that ties chapter two to the rest of Metal Gear Solid V is the formal reveal that Venom was not Big Boss all along. Even then, chapter two sort of just happens and ends out of the blue. The final mission comes out of nowhere, it isn’t actually a brand new mission, instead forcing players into redoing the hospital prologue, and it ends with Big Boss informing Venom that the two of them are both Big Boss. Although there’s foreshadowing to the reveal throughout the whole game, there’s no real build up to it. Chapter two comes and goes without leaving any real impact on the series or Metal Gear Solid V as its own entity. It’s also doubtful this is a case of phantom pain considering how bare bones chapter two feels in comparison to the first. There’s almost no new content. That’s not a feature, that’s a lack of time. Chapter two will ultimately go down as the disappointing last third of Metal Gear Solid V. One has to wonder why Kojima even bothered separating the game into chapters if there were only going to be two.
Except there were actually meant to be three.
CHAPTER 3: PEACE
Call it cut content, phantom pain, or an impossible incentive, but “PEACE” is easily the most baffling aspect of The Phantom Pain. Literally disconnected from the rest of the game, TPP’s third chapter will apparently only trigger when all the nukes in the game have been dismantled. It’s an idea that goes hand-in-hand with Metal Gear Solid’s anti-nuke messages, but it’s also an impossibility. There is simply no way players will ever stop building nukes online and, with the advent of hackers, there is no way all those nukes will get destroyed, if even for a brief moment to trigger chapter three. On top of that, there’s no proof chapter three would bring with it any content. In fact, all evidence points to the idea that chapter three would bring nothing with it but a new cutscene where it’s revealed the last nuke has been decommissioned. PEACE means nothing in the long run because nothing can actually occur under the moniker of PEACE. Except for one stowed away storyline.
Hidden to a fault, Venom can bump into Paz on Mother Base during chapter two. In doing the missions associated with her character, Venom will slowly come to the realization that Paz isn’t real. It almost feels like a shame this piece of story is tossed so haphazardly into chapter two, but where else could it go in a game without a third chapter? Metal Gear Solid V is unfinished. That’s not speculation, that is a fact. It is clearly incomplete on a gameplay and narrative level which required shuffling. It’s entirely possible Paz was meant to be shoved into chapter three were there more time. Perhaps not as the main feature, but as side content. After all, PEACE is Paz’s namesake. It’s only natural Venom would have to come to terms with Paz’s death in a chapter inherently associated her.
Regardless of where Paz’s subplot was meant to be placed, the concept behind Venom needing to accept her death through hallucinations he’s been having is an important one that ties into Ground Zeroes in a big way. Venom clearly feels guilt over what happened on Camp Omega to the point where his psyche creates a version of Paz that’s alive so he won’t have to deal with the consequences of missing the second bomb. This is made all the more impactful with the revelation that Venom is actually the medic who performed Paz’s surgery, bringing with it the question of how much of himself was Venom allowed to keep.
On one hand, he’s fine to accept himself as Big Boss at the end of the game. On the other hand, Big Boss isn’t the type of character who would feel a particular amount of guilt over Paz. His goal in going to Camp Omega wasn’t even primarily to save her. Rather, the guilt feels more in-line with Venom and serves to separate the two characters further. In placing Paz’s subplot into chapter three, the title “PEACE” takes on a new meaning: peace of mind. Accepting Paz’s death and his role in her death is important for Venom as a character even if the audience never gets to see the result of such a development. Venom believes himself to be Big Boss, but Paz is proof that the medic is still alive within him, allowing both characters to exist in their own right.
ENDING: THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD
Without a doubt, The Phantom Pain features the single worst ending act in the series on a conceptual level, to the point where it in no way justifies separating Metal Gear Solid V into two separate games. In forcing players to replay the incredibly long opening mission, MGSV takes one of its best aspects and turns it into tedium. The idea of reusing the beginning of the game as the ending is an interesting one, and it almost makes sense given the nature of the game, but it just goes to show how little content chapter two really had. It’s all style, no substance, and that just doesn’t fly for Metal Gear Solid at this point. Replaying the opening is horrifically boring and adds nothing new to the experience other than a few scenes with Big Boss. The only real reason to endure the mission is to get to the twist and watch the credits roll one last time.
Although the build up to the twist and ending is as awful as it could be possibly be, the actual revelation is perhaps Metal Gear Solid V’s strongest moment. Completely antithetical to MGS2’s message that Raiden should not want to be like Solid Snake, MGSV embraces the idea of making the audience Big Boss. Venom wasn’t the real Big Boss all along, but he was, because he thought he was Big Boss. Players were never really Big Boss, just playing as him, but playing as him was enough to be Big Boss. Venom is a message to the audience that they deserve to be Big Boss and they were Big Boss all along. In the same way time was kind to Raiden, time will likely be kind to Venom. He is a well realized character who separates himself from his origin while embracing it head on once he learns the truth. At the end of the day, Metal Gear Solid V is about embracing one’s role as a legend.
Which is a problem in and of itself, because the point of Big Boss’ saga was to chronicle his downfall, not glorify him to the point of allowing players to call themselves Big Boss. The twist itself is great, and one of the best in the entire franchise on a conceptual level, but it goes against the entire notion of Big Boss’ downfall. It can be argued that Big Boss forcing a medic to undergo a personality death for his own selfish means was the real turning point, but it should not be argued because Metal Gear Solid V is in no way subtle enough for that to be the case. That idea could work in the pre-Peace Walker games, but by no means post. Kojima’s writing simply got simpler after Metal Gear Solid 4. That doesn’t mean Peace Walker and Metal Gear Solid V are lacking in nuance, but they in no way match up to the level of quality and coherence found in the earlier games.
The lack of Big Boss’ downfall is especially frustrating considering every game starring him after Snake Eater, with the exception of Ground Zeroes, simply repeated his character arc from MGS3. Big Boss’ entire saga essentially builds up to him going into a coma and control being given to Venom. The Phantom Pain technically isn’t even a Big Boss game since Venom’s arc is very much specific to him. As a result, Big Boss’ arc is left incomplete by the end of the game and, by extension, the series. This is to say nothing about the fact that his character arc was actually finished by the end of Snake Eater, but Kojima decided to push it even further effectively meaning Big Boss’ arc concluded, was rendered incomplete by Portable Ops and Peace Walker, and then ended incomplete with The Phantom Pain. The tragedy of Big Boss isn’t his downfall. It’s the fact his arc ended perfectly in Snake Eater, but was forced to arbitrarily keep going.
Big Boss aside, The Man Who Sold the World is a bad ending not because of the twist, but because of everything around the twist. There is no build up, there is no pay off, and the final mission does nothing to connect the player into the ending. Metal Gear Solid had a sense of genuine finality; Metal Gear Solid 2 outright told players to turn off their PS2s; Metal Gear Solid 3 forced the player to kill The Boss; and Metal Gear Solid 4 featured one final torture mission with the microwave that really embodied Snake’s pain and then immediately transitioned into one of the greatest final boss fights in gaming. Portable Ops and Peace Walker, while not on the same level, at least had engaging set pieces for their endings. Metal Gear Solid V simply reuses the tutorial mission without changing the gameplay. It’s blatant padding and a disgraceful conclusion to the game’s own twist.
What’s saddest about Metal Gear Solid V’s conclusion is that it genuinely feels like very little has happened. Big Boss’ character arc hasn’t advanced; Big Boss hasn’t turned into the villain he was promised to turn into; Venom has no real impact on the series’ legacy as a character; and MGSV brought up more questions than it answered. As the final missing link to Metal Gear’s puzzle, it’s hard to accept that this is the series’ true finale. Konami might develop more games with the Metal Gear title as evidenced by Survive, but they won’t be directed by Kojima. The latter few games certainly lacked in comparison to the first few, but they were still stories told by the original author. Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid is over, and it ends with Venom Snake walking off to his death. Perhaps that’s a fitting conclusion to end the franchise on in its own right. After being given the title of Big Boss, players have to watch their surrogate march off only to be killed by the series’ original protagonist. Metal Gear Solid V ends up meaning nothing in the long run since Solid Snake never discovers Venom’s identity; Big Boss never seems to care about his body double; and Zero ends up trying to make amends with Venom instead of Big Boss, ensuring no closure is given to their relationship. Intentional or not, for better or for worse, The Phantom Pain leaves only a phantom pain.
‘Pokémon Gold and Silver’ Remain the Greatest Pokémon Games
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 22, 2017.
At last estimate, there were 802 pokémon in the Pokémon World, with Marshadow the latest to be discovered. Back when Pokémon Gold and Silver were released, there was a measly 251 pokémon; an additional 100 pokémon were added for generation two. With so many new dynamics added to the latest Pokémon games, it might be surprising to find that Pokémon Gold and Silver remain the strongest titles in the series, and even more astonishingly, how the successors were influenced more by Pokémon Gold and Silver than they were Pokémon Red and Blue.
It wouldn’t take much convincing to believe that Pokémon Red and Blue was the greatest generation, the original that sparked a highly successful franchise. Indeed, much of what gives Pokémon a strong pay day was soft boiled in generation one. The mascot, after some serious slimming alterations, remains Pikachu, and even the poster boy of the animé, Ash Ketchum, is based on Red from Pokémon Red and Blue. However, when you run from your nostalgia, you’ll find that Pokémon Red and Blue were largely broken.
Pokémon has become a seriously complicated strategy game, that relies on so many complex variables, that becoming a Pokémon Master has never been so difficult. Currently, it remains fairly well-balanced, but it never used to be. Pokémon Red and Blue were terribly flawed when it came to strategy. The Psychic type was ridiculously overpowered, with only weaknesses to Ghost and Bug types, both lacking a strong movepool. The only Ghost moves were Lick and Night Shade, both comparatively weak to your Psychic selection; Bug moves aren’t even worth mentioning. Alakazam became the strongest non-legendary pokémon in the game, something that would cause confusion to the latter addition of pokémon fans.
The Psychic type was controlled in two ways in Pokémon Gold and Silver, a new type and some new moves. No dynamic has balanced competitive play more than the introduction of the Dark type. Suddenly, Alakazam was frail. Umbreon and Tyranitar gave Alakazam some problems it never faced in the previous generation, creating a reluctance to use the iconic Psychic pokémon. Secondly, and most importantly, there were now moves that could do serious damage to Psychic types. Shadow Ball became a new Ghost move that finally did decent damage, Megahorn was introduced as a strong Bug type Move, and Crunch remains a much used Dark type move. To top that off, the split of the Special stat into Special Attack and Special Defence really paralyzed Alakazam into a lightweight pokémon.
It wasn’t just Psychic types that took a hit either, the Dragon type finally had a nemesis with other Dragon pokémon. The reason why Gyarados was never a dragon type was purely down to the balance of the types. A Water/Dragon type in generation one would have only have had a weakness to Dragon, in which the only Dragon move was Dragon Rage which always does 40HP damage regardless of type. The introduction of the move Dragonbreath gave Dragons an actual weakness to the Dragon type, even if the move was relatively moderate in strength. This in return, allowed a Water/Dragon type to be introduced, Kingdra, which is the evolution to the generation one pokémon Seadra.
Kingdra was obtained by trading a Seadra holding a Dragon Scale. This new way of evolving certain pokémon by trade whilst holding an item opened up new evolutions for some generation one pokémon. Onix became Steelix, Scyther became Scizor, Porygon became Porygon2, and Poliwhirl could become Politoed. Two of these were inspired by the introduction of the Steel type, allowing a defensive strategy to blossom in competitive play. Indeed, it’s hard to find a competitive team without a Steel type, with Scizor remaining one of the most widely used.
The pokémon introduced in Pokémon Gold and Silver are some of the most adeptly created designs out of the full 802 pokémon so far discovered. It’s hard to find any seriously awful designs in the generation. The Unowns maybe, but they inspired some differentiation in the same species of pokémon that would end up with Alolan forms in Pokémon Sun and Moon. Baby pokémon were a rather dull, and a particularly needless addition. However, they inspired the most complex dynamic in competitive play to this day, pokémon breeding.
The complexity of pokémon breeding came much later, but the concept remains leech seeded to Pokémon Gold and Silver. Nature and ability, two values that would come in Pokémon Sapphire and Ruby, would spore from the pokémon breeding concept of generation two. Whilst it started as a small gesture to the pokédex to obtain some baby pokémon, it would soon become a pokémon producing factory, often with a Ditto at the center of it, to develop pokémon with the perfect nature and ability for competitive play.
The complexities didn’t end there. Some breeding partners would be able to pass on a move to its offspring that it shouldn’t be able to learn. For example, if a male Dragonite knows Outrage and a female Charizard knows Fire Blitz, the resulting Charmander will know Outrage and Fire Blitz. This could result in a chain effect, whereby a move could be passed on from generation to generation of different species. This helps to give your pokémon a competitive edge by learning a move it wouldn’t be able to learn by normal means.
Pokémon breeding ultimately turned the Pokémon series into very different games. Whilst in Pokémon Red and Blue you had to catch them all, from Pokémon Gold and Silver it started to focus on breeding them all. Filling your pokédex wasn’t just throwing balls and trading, but more complex situations in which your pokémon reacted to the environment. One such change that happened in Pokémon Gold and Silver was the introduction of a night and day cycle. This would continue to feature in every Pokémon generation after that, and Pokémon Black and White would even attempt different seasons. The night and day cycle would be the exact same as the night and day cycle in real life, meaning you had to play Pokémon Gold and Silver at different times of the day to encounter all the pokémon.
This would be further bolstered by certain evolutions only occurring during the day or at night. The most famous, of course, is Eevee into either Espeon or Umbreon. The creation of time and place becoming a factor into the development of your pokémon, plus the divergence of possible evolutions, such as Poliwhirl becoming either Poliwrath or Politoed, gave much more flexibility to how you develop your own team. The evolution of Espeon and Umbreon wasn’t just a time restraint either, but an invisible happiness meter would also play a role. This invisible meter meant for certain pokémon, you just had no idea when they would evolve, you’d only know how to encourage it. This happiness meter would eventually inspire the affection meter in Pokémon X and Y, modeled by another Eevee evolution, Sylveon.
These invisible stats meant, at least for a while, you had to treat your pokémon as if they were a living, breathing creature. Unfortunately, most pokémon that evolve through happiness are baby pokémon, which are incredibly weak. Fainting drops the happiness meter down, so an Exp. Share remains the best way to level it up, should you believe its happiness is high enough for the evolution.
The mathematics hidden beneath each pokémon also created a candy so rare that pokémon fans sought them to this day; shiny pokémon. Not really adding anything to the gameplay other than a different color to your pokémon, some of them look truly amazing. The most sought at the time was always a shiny Charizard, which becomes a beautiful, black dragon. The most famous in the game, however, was the red Gyarados which was part of the storyline.
The storyline itself carried on from Pokémon Red and Blue, something that didn’t really happen in the other generations. In many ways, this made Pokémon Gold and Silver a 90s equivalent to a DLC rather than an entirely new game. This is further shown in the post-game when you can take the S.S Aqua to Kanto and battle the original eight gym leaders to increase your badge total to sixteen. Pokémon Gold and Silver remain the only Pokémon games where you can visit two regions, something that probably won’t happen again.
The intertwined natures of generation one and two are further tied by the animé. In the very first episode of the animé, the legendary bird Ho-Oh is seen flying above Ash. Ho-Oh wouldn’t be seen in the games until Pokémon Gold and Silver, the mascot for Pokémon Gold itself. Likewise, Togepi was seen in the animé well before the release of generation two, hinting at the concept of pokémon breeding by first appearing as an egg. Much of Pokémon Gold and Silver was created in conjunction with Pokémon Red and Blue, creating a natural path to follow on your Pokémon adventure. Since then, the path has become more erratic, with no clear direction. They usually just pick a part of the world for inspiration and create its Pokémon equivalent. The Japanese inspired regions were gone after Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, and way before then, the storyline had lost any kind of direction from one game to the next.
What made Pokémon Gold and Silver so special was it continued the journey already started in Pokémon Red and Blue, and then added the balance that was much-needed competitively. More importantly, it sowed the seeds for future Pokémon games to come, beginning the dynamics we’ve all become accustomed to all the way up to Pokémon Sun and Moon. Pokémon Gold and Silver is the greatest Pokémon generation because it’s the true origins of the Pokémon games we see today, contrary to the original Pokémon Red and Blue.
‘Bee Simulator’ Review: Pleasantly Droning On
Unless a typical bee’s day involves a lot of clunky wasp fights, high-speed chases, and dancing for directions, it’s doubtful many players will walk away from Bee Simulator feeling like they’ve really been given a glimpse into the apian way of life. Sure, there’s plenty of the typical pollen collecting and human annoying here, but odd tasks like hauling glowing mushrooms for ants, helping baby squirrels find their mom, and stinging some little brat who’s stomping all your flowers (hopefully he doesn’t have an allergy) are also on the agenda. That’s not exactly keepin’ it real, but regardless, the variety is actually more simple and less silly than it sounds; it turns out that even doing weird bee stuff quickly becomes repetitive. Still, this family-friendly look at a bug’s life is bolstered by a sincere love of nature, as well as some smooth flight mechanics and a surprisingly large open world for younger gamers to explore.
Set in a Central Park-like expanse, Bee Simulator definitely takes on a more edutainment vibe right off the bat (Goat Simulator this ain’t) with a prologue that offers up some info on the ecological importance of bees to the planet. That protective attitude is a constant throughout the game’s short campaign and side quests, as the well-being of these hive heroes is constantly under threat by those goonish wasps, the bitter cold of winter, and of course, oblivious humans. Players take control of a newly hatched worker bee (sorry, drone lovers) who dreams of a role more important than being relegated to merely buzzing by flowers, and consequently sets out to save the day. However, these crises are portrayed in the thinnest terms possible, resolved quickly, and summarily forgotten, leaving little of narrative interest.
So then, it’s up to the gameplay to keep players engaged, and in this area Bee Simulator is a bit of a mixed bag. On the good side, flying works really well, and gives a nice sense of scale to being a little bee in the great, big world. Winging it close to the ground offers a zippy sense of speed, as flowers and blades of grass rush by in colorful streaks. A rise in elevation makes travel seem slower, but provides a fantastic view of the park, showcasing a lakeside boathouse,a zoo filled with exotic creatures, as well as various restaurants, playgrounds, picnics, pedestrians, and street vendors scattered about. Precision is rarely a must outside chases that require threading through glowing rings (a tired flying sim staple) or navigating nooks and crannies, but the multi-axis controls are pretty much up to the task, and make getting around a pleasure.
However, that sense of flowing freedom doesn’t quite apply to the limited list of other activities. Though the world is large, the amount of different ways to interact with it is very small, revolving around a few basic concepts: fighting, racing, dancing, retrieving, and collecting. And with the exception of the latter, these actions can only be performed at specifically marked spots that initiate the challenge; most of Bee Simulator exists purely for the view. It’s somewhat understandable in its predictability — how many different things can a bee actually do, after all? — but the gameplay is still a bit disappointing in its shallowness. Fighting plays out like a turn-based rhythm mini-game, those aforementioned races follow uninspired routes, dancing is simply a short bout of Simon, and collecting pollen employs a ‘bee vision’ that does nothing more than verify that players know their colors.
It’s very basic stuff that can’t really sustain motivation for those used to more creativity. The roughly 3-hour campaign seems to support this idea; Bee Simulator knows it doesn’t have much going on for veteran gamers. However, as a visual playground for younger kids to fly around in, free from any real danger, there is something a bit magical about the world presented. There are loads of little vignettes to happen upon, such as a family BBQ, a small amusement park, and a bustling kitchen. What exactly are those lonely row-boaters thinking about out on the lake by themselves? Where is the flower lady going in such a hurry? Discovering new places — like a lush, sprawling terrarium — creates the impression of a massive world with plenty going on regardless of whether the player sees it or not, and can serve to spark the imagination.
In addition to racking up that pollen for the winter, info on various flora and fauna can also be be collected and stored in the hive’s library, where 3-D models can also be purchased with ‘knowledge’ points earned through completing quests. These texts detail some interesting facts about brave bees and their relation to the environment, and can definitely be a fun teaching tool for wee gamers.
Grizzled fans of the open-world genre may want to buzz clear, however, as well as those hoping for some zaniness. Though Bee Simulator offers some solid soaring in an attractive environment, it’s a sincere, straightforward attempt to promote bee kind that doesn’t offer much more than a relaxing atmosphere and repetitive actions.
20 Years Later: ‘Pokémon Gold and Silver’ Took the Franchise’s Next Evolutionary Step
The legacy of Johto lives on in what was Game Freak’s next evolutionary step in the world of Pokémon.
Two regions to explore, 16 gym badges to collect, two Elite Four runs to conquer, a battle tower to climb, a previous champion to best at your own game, and 251 pocket monsters to capture. There is no denying that the Johto region of Pokémon Gold and Silver had- and still may contain- the most amount of content to dig into for any player when it comes to everything outside of filling up all the entries of Sword and Shield’s Pokédex.
Pokémon Gold and Silver released in Japan 20 years ago today on November 21st, 1999. The Johto region still stands as not only one of the most renowned Pokémon games in the franchise but a contender for one of the top Game Boy and Game Boy Color games to be released on the handheld systems. No matter which entry is your favorite, there is no denying that Pokémon Gold and Silver was the next evolutionary step on Game Freak’s stairway to fame in what is now currently the largest franchise in history.
A Daunting Next Step
Pokémon Gold and Silver’s development was greenlit immediately after Red and Green had launched in Japan. The untitled sequels at the time were slated for release for the holiday season of 1998. However, during this time frame, Game Freak had also been working on a multitude of Pokémon projects including the Nintendo 64 game Pokémon Stadium and a rebranded companion version to Red that would replace Green for the overseas release of the games. The majority of the small staff team of programmers had already been occupied once the development of Gold and Silver truly began.
What was originally intended to be one year of development slowly turned into three and a half due to a lack of on-hand resources and major programming difficulties that inevitably delayed what was to be the company’s most ambitious release yet. Game Freak found themselves in a troubling situation as the independent company had to balance out time for overseeing the entire Pokémon brand that had expanded into an anime, cards, toys, and even soon to be movies. The worldwide phenomenon was continuing to expand faster than Game Freak could keep up with.
Late into Gold and Silver’s development, Game Freak’s team of programmers called upon star-man of the industry Satoru Iwata as the developers were having trouble with various coding bugs and fitting all the game assets onto the small memory storage of the Game Boy’s cartridges. Iwata stepped in immediately and saved yet another second-party Nintendo project from disaster. At the beginning of Gold and Silver’s development, Iwata had single-handedly recreated the entire battle system code for Pokémon Stadium by just simply playing the games and analyzing some internal coding. Iwata’s trustworthy knowledge instantly skyrocketed him to become one of the company’s most valuable informants. Nintendo’s future president returned to his all-star team of programmers working at HAL Laboratory to create graphical compression tools for Game Freak to use. This allowed the company to combine both the Johto and Kanto regions onto a single 1-megabyte Game Boy cartridge and meet their latest home territory release deadline.
The Next Phase of Evolution
Gold and Silver continued to build off of Red and Green by introducing the next region in the Pokémon world that would naturally set trends for the series going forward. One of these trends was the reoccurring introduction of a new region inspired by a different area of the world for each game.
Johto was the western half of a landmass shared by the previous game’s location. While Kanto had been based on the Kantō region of Honshu, Japan, the nearby Kansai region would become Johto’s core source of inspiration for its landscape as seen through not only its general location on the map but its architectural features. For example, the sharp shapings of rooftops and gateway entrances to towns known as torii are littered everywhere throughout Johto; some of Kansai’s most common building aesthetics.
Gold and Silver gained several new features that would ultimately become some of the most crucial and missed aspects of the mainline games. For starters, one important new feature that would solidify its place in future entries was the inclusion of a real-time clock. Multiple in-game events, visuals, and even Pokémon variety in the wild areas would alter depending on the time and day of the week. For example, the psychic owl species of Pokémon, Hoothoot and Noctowl, would only appear in the wild starting in the late afternoon. Eevee could only evolve into Umbreon at night, while the Bug Catching Contest was exclusively available at certain hours on weekdays.
Suicune, Entei, and Raikou became the first trio of legendary creatures to start what is now known as “roaming Pokémon.” Rather than traditionally entering a dungeon-like area, players would randomly encounter these three minor legendaries in the wild grass areas of the game after they had witnessed them book it from the Burned Tower of Ecruteak City during the story. When in battle, the Pokémon will attempt to flee immediately on its first turn. If any of the three are killed in battle, the beast will never be able to appear again on your save file.
The competitive scene for the series would begin to take its modern shape because of the introduction of both breeding and the move deleter. Breeding opened a new floodgate of multiplayer strategies by allowing specific Pokémon to obtain moves they would naturally not be able to learn through technical machines and evolution. Meanwhile, the move deleter finally allowed Pokémon to be rid of their HM moves that previously could not be overwritten, allowing players to freshly design their move-sets at any given time.
The most notable feature, however, would never see a return in a future game. Being able to journey across two different regions is by far Gold and Silver’s most proclaimed component. As stated before, Kanto and Johto share an extremely close geographical connection. Because of this, players can explore the entirety of Kanto after defeating the elite four- more than doubling the amount of content the game had to offer. Outside of the Johto games, this feature has never once returned to another Pokémon game.
The Legacy of Johto Lives On
At the time of its release, Gold and Silver received a highly positive reception from both audiences and critics. The most notable features praised by critics in reviews were the inclusions of more mechanics and typings that deepened the battle system along with the designs of the lineup of new Pokémon receiving all-around praise. During its lifetime on store shelves, the two versions nearly recreated the success of their predecessors as both combined with the sales of their later third enhanced entry Pokémon Crystal sold a total of 23 million copies. Today, Pokémon Gold and Silver are still regarded as some of the best Pokémon games, but not in their original form.
In 2010, trainers had the opportunity to return to the Johto region for the third time in the tenth anniversary generation two remakes Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver for the Nintendo DS. Following in the footsteps of Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen, the generation two remakes not only attempted to streamline and fix the problems found in the original Game Boy entries of the series but they added a hefty new amount of content for both retuning veterans and newcomers on top of a gorgeous graphical overhaul.
Building off of the engine used for Pokémon Platinum, the enhanced remakes envisioned what is arguably the greatest interpretation yet of the Johto region by continuing to build off what the other DS games had already successfully established. HeartGold and SoulSilver contained nearly every feature found in a Pokémon game up until that point. It sought to continually expand upon modernizing the series through making needed accessibility changes and improving on the Nintendo Wi-Fi connectivity abilities that Diamond and Pearl had a rather shaky start with. Several lost features from previous games outside of Gold and Silver even managed to return for the remake. The beloved idea of having an interactive Pokémon partner to journey around the world with from Yellow, for example, made a comeback but this time any Pokémon could follow you as long as they had been placed in the first party slot.
While still being one of the Nintendo DS’s most commercially successful games, HeartGold and SoulSilver were not able to reach half the amount of sales their original incarnations had achieved. However, the games have averaged the highest critical reception of any mainline Pokémon game released in the franchise. The game notably received spotlight due to its included pedometer accessory the Pokéwalker. The device allowed players to place one Pokémon in the device. As a player walks in real-life, their Pokémon could collect experience, find items, and even catch other creatures that could be transferred directly back into the game.
Today, the original versions of Gold and Silver can be purchased on the Nintendo 3DS Eshop alongside the first Pokémon games- Red and Blue- that had released on the original Game Boy. Alongside the original generation two games, its counterpart successor Pokémon Crystal can also be purchased currently on the Eshop. 3DS home screen themes (as depicted to the left) can also be obtained through gold and silver points through the MyNintendo website.
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