MGS V: Our Story

There are going to be MASSIVE spoilers in this blog. If you have not finished Metal Gear Solid V or are only part way through it, come back when you beat it. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Lots of discussion has been going on since the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. People seem to be pretty upset with the ending. An entire Kotaku article was written about how disappointing the whole affair was. (Then again, it is Kotaku)

I think people have the entire plot wrong. It may not be well written (in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s outright bad), but it has a bigger symbolic meaning then we realize. For the first time in any games plotline, you (the player) are the most important figure in it.

The big twist at the end of MGS V is that you were never actually playing as Big Boss. At the end of Ground Zeroes and leading up to the opening of Phantom Pain, Zero and Ocelot concoct a plan to fool the world and keep Big Boss’ enemies off him.

This leads to you getting a face lift and becoming “Big Boss”. In actuality, you are Punished “Venom” Snake, who was once a field medic and the best soldier of MSF. He had such a dedication to Big Boss’ philosophy that, when in the coma, his mind was easy to trick in believing he was Big Boss.

Thus kicks off a game where, without the twist, nothing big really happens. You get revenge on the man who destroyed Mother Base and the plotline just kind of peters out of existence. The credits roll, you lose a buddy and that’s really it.

It’s when you consider the twist that things start to get interesting. I won’t defend it’s place in the Metal Gear canon (as I think it makes no damn sense), but as a standalone game, Phantom Pain’s plot is pretty emotional.

For starters, it’s basically a gigantic thank you to every Kojima fan. Without us, he would never be the superstar developer he is today. By making us Big Boss, he is saying that no Metal Gear would be possible without our love of the series.

Or without *sob* David Hayter!

The shift in gameplay to an open-world also echoes this. Since we are now the most pivotal character in the plot, our choices are what Venom Snake goes with. There are multiple ways to accomplish any task, so the story is dependent on the player.

There are obviously some bits from Ground Zeroes thrown in to make some kind of connecting thread, but you could skip that game and not miss much. The ending might make less sense, but you wouldn’t initially feel shocked at how you were deceived.

In the aforementioned Kotaku article, the writer goes on about how Mission 43 becomes mess gripping once you learn you aren’t Big Boss. I actually think the opposite effect occurs; once you learn you’re not actually Big Boss, you begin to realize that you are the one making all the shots.

You walked into the quarantine zone on Mother Base and shot the soldiers that you extracted. Everything was done by you and has to be undone by you. If your character were Big Boss, it would be an emotional moment for him. Since it’s actually you, the impact becomes two-fold.

I probably would have cried more than strike a dramatic pose.

The Phantom Pain works wonders when it comes to player involvement. I do wish the narrative were stronger (or that Konami didn’t cut out the damn real ending), but I can’t think of how else to really get a player invested in an open-world style game.

A lot of sandbox adventures suffer from unfocused plotlines. Grand Theft Auto IV and V have really bad stories. Each one starts with an intriguing premise before falling into rote execution and repetition. In both of those games, the actions done are by your characters, first, and then you.

Assassin’s Creed III is another perfect example. The whole game is built around the growth and struggles of Connor, not you. Not only do I not care to see his story unfold, but the game takes so damn long to even do so that the gameplay simply acts as a distraction more then anything.

With the Phantom Pain, every bit of gameplay is story. Regardless of what you’re doing, those moments are a part of Venom Snake’s history. You decided to make it happen and it will be your own personal conclusion to Metal Gear’s legacy.

The previous entries in the Metal Gear series were all about how much of a bad ass Solid Snake was. Even with Metal Gear Solid 3, it was less you and more Naked Snake doing things. He was the one who got the glory and who had to put that final bullet into The Boss.

I just can’t help but think people missed that with the Phantom Pain. We were so used to games giving us a clear narrative and actual purpose that we were left disappointed. That’s not to say that every story beat is good (because that isn’t even close to true), but the whole of the Phantom Pain is bigger then it’s individual pieces.

Kojima has stated that the amount of player freedom in Grand Theft Auto V had made him depressed. He was positive that the Phantom Pain couldn’t reach the same heights as Rockstars latest blockbuster.

In all honesty, I feel that MGS V has the most freedom of any game I’ve played this year. It’s also more open ended then a lot of sandbox games claim to be. You’re given tools, a general location and then told to get at it. If anything, it echoes more of Far Cry 2 then it does Grand Theft Auto.

I truly think that Kojima was inspired by what FromSoftware have done with the Souls games. While those are a bit more linear then the Phantom Pain, they don’t beat the player over the head with exposition or cutscenes. You enter a world and rarely (if ever) lose control.

But I can’t control this! WHY?! WHHHOOOOOO?!

The cassette tapes were a decent idea with MGS V, just the execution of them didn’t truly work out. We may never know how much Konami’s decision to drop Kojima may have effected the game, but I do get the feeling that the story could have been grander if Konami just believed in their output.

Still, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is deeper then we all think. It probably won’t go down in history as a classic or even the best of the series, but it certainly deserves to be called a masterpiece. If nothing else, I believe we have a best new character of 2015; us.

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Meaningful Content

In the last generation, we saw games getting bigger and bigger and budgets ballooning out of control. As publishers were looking to get as much return as possible, games became bloated with side-quests that had little to no relevance to the main story mode.

Just this year, we have been given three games that do away with such fluff. Bloodborne, The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V. In each game, every bit of content feels just. You never waste your time in areas that plaster up invisible walls or grant absolutely no benefit; if you undertake a side-quest, the reward is readily apparent.

Take MGS V for example. At the very beginning of the game, you are unable to understand the soldiers in Afghanistan. This pretty much makes getting information a pointless endeavor. After finishing the first mission, you are informed of translators in the area that can be rescued. Doing so grants you the ability to understand the language in that area.

It’s an immediate payoff that gives the player a sense of accomplishment. Instead of including an activity because it’s cool, the developers thought to award some palpable sense of achievement within the game itself.

The Witcher basically has stronger plot points in the side missions then the main quest itself. One very early side quest has you tackling the mystery of a man’s wife who has gone disappearing. You get to be a detective and figure out what occurred and the impact this has had on the man’s life.

Did you take her?

It is supremely rewarding to dig into such a rich story. Most side quests can be boiled down to a few simple points; the game needs to be longer and the player can skip these. Since developers don’t want the player to “miss” any important content, one can reasonably skip the side stuff and still get the entire story.

Even before Wild Hunt, The Witcher 2 had an entirely different second act based on some decisions you made at the end of the first. It was a radical departure from what mainstream, triple A gaming was doing. That is getting a bit side tracked from my point, though.

With Bloodborne, while the world may not be entirely open as in Witcher and MGS, you can tackle most of the boss creatures in an order of your choosing. There are even a great few that you can entirely skip. A lot of the work in getting to them is shrouded in obscurity and requires one to think outside the box.

This leads to optional areas that are just as thrilling, frightening and meticulously detailed as the main game. More so, with the narrative being ambiguous and vague, the game encourages you to seek out as much information as possible. Without being told to, you are actively pushed to see the full picture.

This subtlety to approaching story in a game makes Bloodborne utterly captivating. Coupled with the brutal combat mechanics and steep difficulty and Bloodborne becomes a game that can consume your life for a good month or two.

Ah, yes, a good month or two….where is my cranberry juice?

I do remember games being like this in my heyday. Games on the NES, SNES and even PS1 were more about creating experiences that rewarded player skill and investment. Not every game was supremely long, but every bit of content was worthwhile.

I can’t think of a Mario game where I would want to skip levels (other then 8-3 in the original being a bitch). Shooters like Quake were so morbid, dark and terrifying that I was compelled to press on to see the corridors that lie ahead.

Then you look back at the last few years of gaming and you see pointless padding. Watch_Dogs, Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider; newer entries in these series had so much pointless content that gamers gave up caring. Why do I want to climb towers in every city just to spot “important” locations? What benefit does collecting feathers or journals or hidden packages have for me?

I was amazed when playing Sleeping Dogs and found out that a lot of the side quests have a tangible benefit to the player. Finding the hidden shrines would increase your maximum health. Getting all of the statues in the story missions unlocked extra finishing moves for your combos. It was wild to think that side content could actually mean something in the modern era.

Then you look at inFamous: Second Son and all of the side stuff does basically nothing. Sure, you can level up your skills, but the game is so easy that nothing else over your starting arsenal is really required.

It seems that for as big as we can make game worlds, there is some nagging need to include as much stuff as possible. It’s as if the game isn’t engaging enough, so developers have a desire to distract you from how mediocre it is.

“You’re right! I don’t even care!”

There are some complaints that MGS V is devoid of life (something lobbied at Ocarina of Time as well), but that doesn’t even hold water. When I actively want to explore the game world, I don’t care if hundreds of things are crawling around. I like exploring landscapes and seeing nature in a natural state.

Taking a hike through a forest doesn’t bring you to a lost tribe or hidden tomb (unless you happen to be lucky); one takes a walk through nature to escape the fast paced nature of their lives. It’s a form of escapism that brings you back to reality and the purity of nature.

It’s also not a waste of time. Even though you aren’t technically accomplishing anything, you are freeing your mind of the bullshit from your daily life. Your problems disappear for a few hours in a safe, fun and refreshing manner.

Where are all the damn side quests?

When a video game so perfectly encapsulates that (such as MGS V), why am I going to complain about a lack of visible life? I don’t want more stuff in my games, I want my games to feel more complete.

I just wonder why it took so long for developers to finally get around to making completely worthwhile experiences. I think that, in the years coming up, we’ll see more and more games that cut out all of the trappings and stick to gameplay and extra missions that actually matter.

That, or we can just look at Super Mario Maker and make our own stuff. I wish Project Spark were as open-ended as Mario Maker, because I would love to get in on manipulating my childhood memories.

Metal Gear and Me

Not many game franchises mean much to me. I blow through games quickly and tend to forget them. As I’ve grown older, my skill has gotten better and I just have a natural tendency to blitz through games.

Some games buck that trend. Zelda, Mario, Souls, Yakuza; these games are so well made and intriguing that I actively look for each facet of them. I want to experience every minute detail they contain.

Then, there is Metal Gear Solid. There hasn’t been many other games that have echoed different areas of my life. My first taste of MGS was with a PS1 demo disc, but I didn’t get into the games until the PS2 and MGS2.

I do still remember playing the living hell out of the MGS demo with my sister. We thought it was so expansive and daunting. We were scared to proceed, but interested in what the game held. The graphics were gorgeous and the atmosphere was second to none.

Still, I never did get MGS on PS1. I either was too disinterested in the PS1 (being raised a Nintendo kid) or just plain forgot about it. Whatever the case, when I entered middle school, I found myself without many a friend.

I’m Otacon in this picture. Dave was in love with Snake’s name being David.

I met a kid named Dave would introduced me to a lot of great games. Unreal Tournament, Neverwinter Nights and Metal Gear Solid. The first time I hung out with him, he beat MGS in an hour. He knew every inch of Shadow Moses and was able to show me exactly what was so special about the game.

It looked absolutely incredible. I didn’t realize that action games could be so in-depth and cinematic. While I didn’t actually catch any of the story (since he skipped every scene), I loved the way the bosses were set up and how the game focused on an espionage story.

At that point, I did finally want the game. What prevented me from taking the plunge was the announcement of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I was a bit of a graphics whore back in the day and that game was easily the best looking game on the market.

I was determined to get it. I tried buffering as many videos as I could online (I had dial-up!!!), but I mostly fell in love with the sound effects. I remember finding a theme for Windows 98 that augmented the task bar to look like MGS font and included every codec sound effect.

Anyway, this was around the time I started to get into reading reviews. I had found IGN64 when I was younger, but my internet access was so limited that I didn’t really frequent the site. In 2001, things were picking up a bit, speed-wise.

I favorited IGN and Gamespy and looked to them for coverage on every game. MGS 2 just happened to be the biggest damn thing in the world, so I was ingesting every bit of info I could. When it was announced that a demo would come with Zone of the Enders, I waited patiently to get that game.

While it wasn’t a bad game (not great, either), I spent more time with the MGS 2 demo then any human should. I had beaten every difficulty level and found every stupid little secret. I was so blown away by how detailed the “Tanker” was. I needed to know what came next.

At that age, I wasn’t ready for the bombshell Kojima would drop on us. I never had an issue with Raiden (seeing as how MGS 2 was my first Metal Gear), but I couldn’t understand what the plotline was about. I thought the ending was anti-climactic (it was written in the IGN review!!!) and I was angered that the plotline was mostly mumbo jumbo.

Still, I had enjoyed the gameplay enough to get interested in the series. While I still didn’t end up grabbing MGS on PS1, I did catch wind of Nintendo doing a remake of the first game. Since I liked the improved AI and mechanics from MGS 2, I figured getting the first game on the same engine would be for me.

You really didn’t mind me? Huh…

While it took a few years to come out, I had spent time online playing Unreal Tournament 2003 and meeting some nice people. The best of those were two younger girls named Mai and Kim. I grew attached to them, despite our distance, and I spent a lot of my time fantasizing about them.

Flash to when Twin Snakes was released and I was now in high school. During my biology class, we began to learn about the human Genome project. Much to my surprised, a lot of the plotline in Metal Gear Solid tackles ideas about how the human Genome can be manipulated.

There was also the curious case of a voice actress having the name Kim Mai Guest. I saw these things as fate giving me hints. There was no way this was purely coincidence. Metal Gear knew exactly who I was and what I was doing.

Hyperbole aside, I really fell in love with the characterization of Snake and his struggles against FOXHOUND. I loved the cutscenes as a child and my growing fascination with Japanese culture and Eastern philosophy seemed to hit a fever pitch.

After completing Twin Snakes, I was dedicated to the series. I didn’t want to miss anything else that came out. I wanted more Solid Snake. Learning that Metal Gear Solid 3 was just around the corner, I was ecstatic. How lucky was I to have 2 Metal Gear games in one year?

Oddly, though, that Winter didn’t go like I had originally thought. I had been a pretty bad kid in high school. I was falling in with a bad crowd and doing really idiotic things. I had become a thief and was constantly getting suspended. I was treating my own family like shit and manipulating teachers into letting me escape class.

So at the end of sophomore year (in 2004), I had changed schools. I had a growing depression that I was unaware of and ignored. I just felt miserable when I walked into this new school. I spent the first few months before winter break basically alone.

People were interested as hell on my first day and then quickly brushed me under the rug. It was hard to me to come to terms with being an “outcast” and not bonding with anyone. So when Christmas came along, I was gifted two games; Metal Gear Solid 3 and Metroid Prime 2.

Returning after New Years is where my life changed a bit. I had met my current best friend, Jim, at lunch. I’m not quite sure how we managed to get in touch, but our chance meeting was met with lots of discussion about games and music.

Jim’s favorite series of all time happened to be Metal Gear Solid. When I told him I had yet to play 3, despite owning it, he told me to immediately do it. He was so infatuated with the game that he didn’t understand how I let it slide past me.

Ch-chow!

I still tell him to this day that if he were a Metroid fan, I would have been more inclined to play that series. I didn’t want to let my new friend down, so I dove into MGS 3. At first, I hated the game damn. Kojima’s decision to stick with the old camera style didn’t mesh with how much more expanded the game was.

After breaking a controller in rage and screaming a lot, I kept playing. I forced myself through those opening hours. I wanted to make sure I had something to bond with this kid over. Sure enough, after about an hour and a half, I was enjoying myself.

I also found myself bonding immensely with Naked Snake. The story of the birth of Big Boss seemed to resonate more with me. While Solid Snake was cool, Big Boss had actual emotion. He had talent, skill and passion. He was also a bit of a klutz.

Instead of following in the footsteps of Solid Snake, Kojima decided to flesh Big Boss out more as a human. I understand, now, that this was all deliberate, but at that point, I had never seen a protagonist like this.

My own sadness and misery were paralleled by Big Boss. He had lost everything he ever loved in the world. Worse still, he was put in charge of ending it. The Boss was so brave in the face of absolute death; I wondered why I couldn’t be the same way.

After finishing MGS 3, I was in love. I loved the entire experience. It quickly became one of my favorite games ever. It also cemented a friendship that still exists. Metal Gear grew from being the cool, new, flashy series to something more personal for me.

I could just cry right now…

Ever since 2004, I began to take gaming more seriously. I was no longer playing solely for joy. Now I got into how reviewers processed information and what qualities of game design I enjoyed.

I dug deeper into why I played so much and why I felt more attached to Japanese style narratives then American ones. This brought about a new found interest in Martial Arts cinema. This also brought me closer to Jim, who was a bring proponent of kung fu.

While college would see us part for a few years, we stayed in touch and kept similar interested. Music, films and games were what we loved. Every time we hung out, we’d talk about one or all of those.

College sort of mirrored my high school life. While I wasn’t committing petty crimes, I was pretty alone. I had made some friends who seemed to bully me more then I liked, so after 2 years, I came back home.

This was in 2008 around the release of Grand Theft Auto IV. If anyone knows the history of Metal Gear, you should know that Metal Gear Solid 4 was on the horizon. Since I was back home and could hang out with Jim, I got to finally get a taste of what the PS3 had offered.

He obviously bought the game and invited me over to play it. Even though he had already finished it, he watched while I played. Under such close supervision, I made a bunch of mistakes, but I was floored with the quality that Kojima had on display.

Quality like a guy taking a dump in a garbage can.

Never had a game looked so damn realistic. The cutscenes were so flashy and over the top and the action was more manageable then previous entries; Metal Gear Solid 4 was everything a fan could have hoped for.

While I don’t really care for the game, presently, that experience of playing it with Jim and seeing this whole new world of PS3 opened my mind to the possibilities of the next generation. I figured things could only get better from there.

In a lot of ways, they did. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was the next major installment in the series. When I learned it had co-op, I nearly cried. Jim and I could finally play the game together. We both loved Metal Gear and to be able to help each other made me overjoyed

The only problem was that I didn’t own a PSP. Jim has a big problem with spending, so he actually had ended up with multiple PSPs after his trip to Japan. He also really loves collector’s edition consoles, so the unveiling of a camo-themed PSP piqued his interest.

In addition to getting the collector’s edition of the main game, Jim also got the camo-themed console. It came with Peace Walker, so we were set to play the game. I don’t think I ever had as much fun playing co-op with him or anyone.

You guys ready to limbo?

I loved the increased emphasis on gameplay over story. I liked the neat comic panels that took the place of full motion cutscenes. I also loved the ridiculous extras and Monster Hunter missions. Peace Walker was a great game.

When the HD version came out, we beat it a second time. We even made sure to S Rank every mission. Our love of Metal Gear needed to be reflected in that Platinum trophy. I didn’t want to stop until every small bit was vanquished.

Now we can skip ahead to the present. While Jim and I were super excited for Metal Gear Solid V, we didn’t really play into the idea of Konami splitting the game up. When Ground Zeroes was released last year, we both took a pass on it. While we wanted to play it, we figured it would be better to just wait and get the entire experience.

Neither of us owned a PS4, either. We weren’t about to shell out to get a single game (even if Ground Zeroes was on PS3), so we played the waiting game. This paid off as Konami announced a PC port for MGS V.

PC has always been our preferred platform, even if Metal Gear has had a terrible past on it. Seeing Ground Zeroes running on PC was incredibly tempting. We nearly plunged during the 2014 Steam Winter Sale, but the $20 price tag was still a bit high.

Earlier this year, a random sale saw Ground Zeroes dropped to $10. Without thinking, both of us quickly bought the game. We were both amazed at how many touches Kojima thought to add.

Games have had a huge problem escorting people and allowing you to shoot. MGS V not only lets you aim and crouch, but you can flat out sprint with hostages. You can lay on your back and fire any weapon you desire. There is a neat “reflex” mechanic that allows you to silence foes before an alarm goes off.

The control scheme is just so smooth. The scale of the island is massive. Ground Zeroes may not be long, but it is incredibly dense. It opens up so many possibilities that I can’t believe other developers didn’t tackle first.

In an industry going towards more linearity and scripted sequences, it’s refreshing to see a game with near limitless freedom. You are basically put in a map, given a target and told to go. It’s intimidating and exhilarating. It makes you feel like you are Big Boss.

Or like Solid Snake being Big Boss; either one.

Our memories or too fresh to really say if Ground Zeroes will stick with us, but we are both waiting with bated breath for Phantom Pain. Since this is going to be Kojima’s last Metal Gear, both of us need to experience it.

Jim has even gone overboard and purchased both the Japanese and English collector’s editions along with the Japanese themed console and a CE of Ground Zeroes. He is making sure that he does not miss the monumental conclusion to the Metal Gear saga.

And for me; I just want to know how the whole thing ends. What other facet of my current life will Metal Gear reflect? Each game has seen me create incredible friendships or strengthen my inner acceptance.

Without Metal Gear in my life, I wouldn’t be half as engaged with gaming as I am. I wouldn’t have found my best friend and I definitely wouldn’t be a better person. I have Kojima to thank for that.

It will be sad to know that a true Metal Gear won’t exist after V, but I’m ready to accept reality. All good things must come to an end and while I really hope MGS V doesn’t echo the end of my life, I can guarantee it will be the end of a certain chapter of my life.