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‘Portable Ops: Metal Gear Solid’s Missing Link

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“Go forth, and find your own calling.”

What exactly is Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops in relation to the rest of the series? It isn’t written or directed by Hideo Kojima, it isn’t a numbered title, and it’s alluded to as a semi-canon entry at best by Peace Walker. At the same time, however, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots has an intimate connection with Portable Ops that often goes unnoticed under an analytical lens. Although many do so, discussing Metal Gear Solid 4 without taking Portable Ops into account ignores the fact that the PSP spin-off was anything but during its development. During the 2006 Tokyo Game Show, Kojima claimed, “If you change the Ops story, you have to change 4. If you change 4, it also becomes necessary to change Ops. Until Ops is finished, 4’s story can’t be finalized.” This emphasis given to Ops’ narrative in regard to Metal Gear Solid 4 is simply context that cannot, and should not, be ignored. It may not be written or directed by Hideo Kojima, it may not be a numbered title, and Peace Walker may disregard it, but it is undeniably an important piece of Metal Gear’s canon. Sadly, what it considers important marks an unfortunate shift for the franchise’s storytelling.

Prior to Portable Ops, each game in the series focused more on thematic exploration than pushing the narrative forward. Metal Gear Solid followed the events of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, but it focused more on exploring the themes of genetics and legacy than it did on simply following Snake in his next adventure; Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty disguised itself as a direct sequel to MGS before quickly breaking that notion down in favor of critiquing society while breaking down what it meant to be a sequel; and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater dropped all pretense of telling one continuous story by flashing back 45 years to chronicle Big Boss’ origin story and re-explore the series’ themes in a different context. Themes are so important to Metal Gear that Hideo Kojima even went so far as to attribute a keyword to each main game in the franchise: “Gene” for MGS, “Meme” for MGS2, and “Scene” for MGS3. The post-Ops games likewise feature keywords, such as “Sense” for Metal Gear Solid 4, but they suffer from the same problem Portable Ops does: the themes are secondary.

via www.psu.com

“Call me Snake.”

While the theme of inheritance does linger over the narrative, particularly in the second half, Portable Ops concerns itself more on continuing the story of Big Boss than it does on making any point about the nature of inheritance or succession. Although it makes sense to set a game after MGS3 to some degree, especially considering Snake Eater cuts off about thirty years before Big Boss’ death at the hands of his son, his story was nonetheless over thematically. Big Boss had killed his mentor, lost faith in his country, and inherited the title of “Boss” all with the promise of a life filled with eternal warfare. What happens next isn’t important. What matters is the fact that audiences now understand the man behind the codename. In fashioning Ops as a sequel to Metal Gear Solid 3, the story runs the risk of coming off as derivative; which is exactly what happens. Big Boss’ loyalty is put under scrutiny again, The Boss’ legacy is brought back into question, and Big Boss goes so far as to drop his inherited title in favor of his old codename. All this is done so Big Boss can have another outing. Ops’ excuse is that it’s telling the story of how Big Boss came to develop Outer Heaven while foreshadowing the identity of the Patriots so the reveal doesn’t come entirely out of nowhere in MGS4, but nothing in its story has weight. It doesn’t help that future games refuse to reference it, but even in its own context Portable Ops feels meaningless. Big Boss’ relationship with Campbell has no substance, Gene is a blander Liquid Snake, Gray Fox is shoehorned in with a backstory that contradicts his previous one, and the existence of Metal Gear RAXA completely devalues Otacon’s character arc in the first game. Out of everything Ops does, though, nothing is so blatantly reductive as Big Boss calling himself Naked Snake. In one fell swoop, everything Snake Eater built up to was dismantled for the sake of comfortability.

Reductive, derivative, and incompatible with the rest of the series writing-wise, what is it that makes Portable Ops Metal Gear Solid’s missing link? The answer lies in what comes after, not before. Portable Ops is the series’ missing link because it acts as a bridge between Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots. As at times asinine as Ops can be, it does set the stage for MGS4 appropriately. As a matter of fact, it sets the stage for the entire rest of the series. The unfortunate truth is, every game after Metal Gear Solid 3 is reductive, derivative, and incompatible with the rest of the series writing-wise. Metal Gear Solid 4 is the last game that seems to care about themes, but it also cannibalizes Metal Gear Solid 2’s narrative to make a point; Peace Walker is basically Kojima’s own personal Portable Ops, complete with rehashing Big Boss’ downfall; and Metal Gear Solid V has an incomplete mess of a narrative that clearly didn’t know what it wanted to be anyway. Kojima denounces Portable Ops in Peace Walker, but the fact of the matter is Kojima lifted more from Ops than he would from his own games in the post-Snake Eater world. Portable Ops is Metal Gear Solid’s missing link because, with the exception of MGS4, every game after it is exactly like it.

via www.giantbomb.com

“The futures we saw were one and the same. Snake, you will destroy Metal Gear, and you will create a new Metal Gear in its place. Your children: Les Enfants Terribles. Snake, your son will bring the world to ruin. Your son will save the world.”

Portable Ops’ greatest tragedy isn’t that it strayed from what the series once considered important; it’s that it genuinely tried to find a place in Metal Gear’s narrative and failed. Underneath the story of Naked Snake becoming Big Boss yet again to establish Outer Heaven is a commentary on the nature of inheritance and succession. Big Boss is The Boss’ chosen successor; Gene is a super soldier created to inherit the prowess of The Boss; Big Boss inherits Gene’s resources and ideologies; and Elisa’s premonition is one inherently about succession. These two ideas link back perfectly into the franchise’s overarching theme of legacy, but they lack a proper reason for inclusion. Big Boss shouldn’t be inheriting anything from Gene because his desire to establish Outer Heaven was already solidified at the end of Snake Eater; Gene shouldn’t be modeled after The Boss because it means his character lives in the shadow of two of the series’ most important antagonists; and Elisa’s prophecy adds a mythological element that feels horribly out of place in Metal Gear. The series always relied on a little bit of mysticism as part of its charm, but Elisa goes too far. Previous games in the series said something with their themes. They sought to say something. Portable Ops’ themes don’t say anything. They don’t hold water. They exist because the other games had themes. That alone should disqualify it from securing a place in the Metal Gear saga, but, if that were the case, it would also apply to Peace Walker, Ground Zeroes, and The Phantom Pain.

These three games, while written and directed by Hideo Kojima, follow in the same footsteps as Portable Ops by prioritizing the continuation of Big Boss’ story with a loose focus on themes. Where Portable Ops gets excommunicated, though, Peace Walker and the Metal Gear Solid V duo get a free pass due to the air of legitimacy which Kojima’s presence gives them. Hideo Kojima is a fantastic director and writer, but Big Boss’ story was already told. The greatest storyteller in the world wouldn’t be able to make a continuation of Big Boss’ narrative feel natural because the greatest storyteller in the world would understand that there wasn’t any story left to tell. A good sequel could be made, but any approach would be at the expense of the already complete Snake Eater. In this regard, Portable Ops simultaneously does and doesn’t get the criticism it deserves. It does because it’s a sequel to a game that doesn’t need a sequel, but it doesn’t because the other sequels get off Scot free.

via youtube.com (DBoy9 | IconSeanX15)

All this isn’t to say Metal Gear is suddenly a bad franchise after Portable Ops. There’s a lot to appreciate about Metal Gear Solid 4 from a narrative and thematic perspective, and Peace Walker and Metal Gear Solid V redefined the series’ gameplay in a way that felt appropriately fresh. Even Ops isn’t without its redeeming qualities. The story, while unnecessary, does improve in the second half while setting up MGS4’s narrative, and its themes do work in a bubble independent of the previous games. Really, the problem with Portable Ops is that it became a missing link despite being critically important in understanding the direction the series adopted with Guns of the Patriots. There isn’t some sudden shift after Snake Eater because Ops exists as a bridge. Whether or not it keeps the spirit of the series intact doesn’t matter, especially since the later games blatantly stray away from what made the series Metal Gear in the first place. What matters is that Portable Ops exists and deserves to be acknowledged, flaws and all.

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.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. John Cal McCormick

    April 13, 2018 at 3:27 am

    It should have stayed missing.

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‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

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It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…

I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.

Coffee Talk
Some of the subject matter can be pretty serious in nature…

Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.

Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.

The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.

Coffee Talk
Appearances can often be deceiving in this game.

Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.


Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.

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The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child

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Magic of Nintendo

Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.

The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.

The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.

 Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.

Super Mario Odyssey Wooden Kingdom

Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.

When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.

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‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.

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Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.

It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.

In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.

Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.

Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.

Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.

I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.

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