NOTE: This post contains spoilers about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, as well as a number of other Metal Gear titles.
After Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain being released a month back, everyone’s probably getting to the point where they’re sick and tired of hearing about it, especially anyone who’s not playing it themselves. I’m still playing the game, but I’m rather tired of discussing it myself. Instead, after beating the game and picking up the story twists it has to offer to the saga, I’ve moved on to contemplating what the future holds for the franchise.
It has already been pretty much confirmed that Konami will keep making Metal Gear even after creator Hideo Kojima‘s departure from the fold. That’s just something we have to deal with, even though I’m sure no one’s especially thrilled about the fact. The question that it generates is, what direction will the series take without the firm hand of its inventor, director and main writer.
The short answer is “a bad direction”, because this really is one of those few series where one man does have a significant role in what the games are all about. He’s not the sole writer, and there have been hundreds of other people bringing their effort to the table in the actual making of these games, but he is definitely the one person who has had the greatest influence in every one of the core games.
To be a bit more constructive though, I’d like to venture a few options Konami could and should take with the series to actually retain its popularity to some degree. As the title suggests, I’m not focusing on what I expect the most likely scenario to be, but rather what I would do if I was in charge of deciding on the fate of a wildly successful franchise such as Metal Gear.
So far, basically every core Metal Gear game has had a Snake as a protagonist, if you count Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, whose codename in the faux Foxhound unit was Snake as well (and even if you didn’t, Solid Snake was still sort of the main protagonist in that game, even if Raiden was the one through whose eyes you saw the story). Raiden, however, has been distanced from the core game series with his own title, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, though it is arguably non-canon. Thus, the expectation is that any core game that may be released in the future should be either Solid Snake or Big Boss, or as a bit more adventurous idea some have thrown around, Liquid Snake.
I’ll say it right now: having Liquid Snake as a main character in a Metal Gear game is a terrible idea. He was a popular character in Metal Gear Solid and has retained the fanbase’s admiration since, but the truth is that he is one of the few truly bad guys in the series. If you look at the main antagonists in the core games, you have Big Boss who is the true hero of the series at best, and an anti-hero at worst; by no means is he a definitive bad guy. Then you had Solidus Snake, who was a ruthless schemer with a “the ends justify the means” philosophy, but he also arguably had a fairly altruistic end goal. Then there’s Ocelot, who we know by now to have an agenda not unlike that of Big Boss.
Liquid, however, is a different case. His aims are selfish and vengeful, and he expresses no empathy or chivalry whatsoever. Alongside Skull Face and Volgin, he’s one of the only characters who have practically no redeeming qualities to balance out the crap he pulls. That’s not to say he’s a badly written character – on the contrary, since he’s the minority in that sense, in a series as well written as this, that makes him quite the efficient story element.
That said, it means that he could never work as the protagonist. Not only would it be dissatisfying to play as a character as unrelatable as Liquid Snake, but it would dissolve what makes him such a popular character – the fact that we’ve never really gotten that close to him, instead always looking at him from the outside, leaving him a little bit shrouded in mystery. To open him up to the player like that would do nothing to improve his role in the series, but just make him more grounded and less intriguing. The appearance of Eli in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was on the verge of doing that for me already, but I let it pass since it didn’t quite go too far.
As for the two other characters, Solid Snake and Big Boss, we’ve already had them as main characters. They basically define a Metal Gear game, and we’d expect either one of these two as the main character. This is the reason why Hideo Kojima was able to throw curveballs such as Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2, or the fact that you never actually played as Big Boss in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Still, we expect the next game to be about one of those two characters.
My argument is, that game should never be. Just Kojima’s absence alone should prompt the decision to also exclude the Snakes from future titles; that’s the minimum expression of respect the developers of future titles should have for Kojima. Since they’re going to bastardize the series either way, it would be nice if they moved on from something that was instrumental during Kojima’s era at the helm, as a symbol of a new age for Metal Gear. If that’s not reason enough, I also think it’s unnecessary to use those characters as there are many more in the series who still have a story we haven’t heard. The story of the Snakes is over – we already know everything from what’s practically the beginning of the story of Big Boss to the end of his life, also covering his two sons.
Here’s something I’ve been hearing complaints about, regarding Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Aside from just being light on the story, some pointed out their dissatisfaction in its failure to “bridge the gap” between the stories of Big Boss and Solid Snake. That’s what I don’t understand: just how much filler does there need to be? We already knew everything there was to know in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and Peace Walker and The Phantom Pain basically only answer questions that were created by those same games. The circle was complete with Big Boss’s first game, there was never any gap to fill in the first place. Do we really need a game that follows Big Boss through every single day of his life until Operation Intrude N313?
I believe the masterfully crafted story of the Snakes would only increase in value and effect if we just accepted that the story has been told in full, and appreciated it for what it is. Meanwhile, we could have the universe of Metal Gear expand in entirely new directions with stories told through other characters. There are still questions that might need answers, as well as characters and events we don’t know enough about. The Snakes, we know everything about, and the questions regarding them have been answered many times over.
Lightning Bolt Action
Here’s the most obvious alternative to Solid Snake and Big Boss: Raiden. Despite what many people in the west thought of him back when Metal Gear Solid 2 came out, he’s a tried and true character, and with subsequent games actually proved to be a legit member of the Metal Gear ensemble. He’s mostly a pretty underrated character, and I’m actually glad to say it’s unlikely we’ve seen the last of him.
After Metal Gear Solid 2, Raiden already starred in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, which – despite what a bunch of people say about it – was actually a really great game. All subjectivity aside, Revengeance was way more fun and enjoyable to play than either Metal Gear Solid or Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Sure, the story was nothing to cheer about, in fact there was barely any story at all, but did anyone really expect otherwise? And if they did, why? No one ever said this game would be a story comparable with the masterpieces like Metal Gear Solid. All we were promised was a good action game, and that’s exactly what we got. Of course, you don’t hear many of these complaints anymore now that the dust has settled a long time ago, but the game doesn’t enjoy as good a reputation as it deserves.
I really hope we’ll see another game in the vein of Revengeance, in terms of gameplay. But not only that, I’d like more games with Raiden as the main character (yes, I said it). While Raiden himself doesn’t have much undiscovered story points, characters surrounding him have much more, especially – and this is where we get to one of my main points – Solidus Snake.
Another pretty underrated character, Solidus is actually more relevant to the overall story of the series than either Solid or Liquid. What’s more, we barely know anything about him, despite the fact that he’s a key factor in the “present” timeline of the series. While his master plan to overthrow the Patriots’ system ultimately failed, and even though he never learned the truth behind the system in question, he was instrumental in bringing about the events of both Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2. We know the bare basics of what he was up to in the few years before his demise in the hands of Raiden, but until that point in time, we have very sparse information about his past.
Unlike Solid and Liquid, Solidus is practically identical to Big Boss, which may explain why his rapid aging is much more severe than that of the other two Snakes – seeing as he is the most perfect copy of the greatest soldier of all time, it’s only logical to assume that his “kill switch” is that much more merciless. Either that, or he was created to be an adult to begin with. Besides that, the difference between him and the others is the life he has presumably been leading before his appearance in Metal Gear Solid 2. Solid and Liquid were established as professional soldiers pretty much their entire adult lives, or as in the case of Liquid, way before that. Solidus, on the other hand, was busy with different pursuits, becoming a wielder of power instead of a dog of war.
We know the crude outline of Solid and Liquid’s path to their first appearances in the games, from the Les Enfants Terribles project to their respective military careers, to Operation Intrude N313 for Solid Snake and the Shadow Moses incident for Liquid Snake. But Solidus Snake’s history has much bigger holes, and we don’t even really know what he personally was doing during the four years following Shadow Moses, even though his influence can be seen all over the place.
We know he has a history with Raiden, but we were only given the gist of it, and we were expected to invest in their distorted father-son-relationship as well as feel astonished by the revelation that Solidus killed Raiden’s parents, even though we had no idea any of this stuff ever happened. That was never the point of Metal Gear Solid 2, so it’s understandable that they were just passing references, but that leaves some details to be filled in. Much like how Kojima turned Big Boss from a pixelated Sean Connery lookalike into easily the deepest character in the whole series, a skilled writer could take the implied past that Solidus shared with Raiden and transform it into a storyline of significant consequence.
The problem here is that Solidus practically died at the end of Metal Gear Solid 2, so anything that happened between him and Raiden would have to take place before that. However, Raiden didn’t become a cyborg ninja until much later, and he didn’t even remember Solidus, resulting from treatment by the Patriots system to indoctrinate him. Raiden apparently had no active interaction with Solidus outside his time as his ward back in his youth. Besides, it is implied in Metal Gear Solid 2 that being a child soldier was Raiden’s only combat experience until the Big Shell incident, excluding his extensive virtual training. I find it hard to believe there’d be a game where you either control a child soldier killing people, or a Metal Gear title where you just recreate Raiden’s VR training regimen. In other words, if Raiden was the protagonist in a game that explored Solidus’s past, it would have to be in the form of flashbacks, which runs the risk of seeming like cheap storytelling.
It all comes down to writing, however. Revengeance didn’t have a good story, but that’s because it ignored that aspect entirely, which wasn’t as bad a call as it may seem. After all, there were two main types of people who were looking forward to the release of that game: those who thought it would add to the core story of the series, and those who didn’t care about the story in the least, because they knew it wasn’t a core game. Thus, the developers probably knew that making a good story would be a waste of time and resources, and so that game was all about gameplay. If there is a Metal Gear Rising 2, however, I’d love to see them take the leap and delve into Raiden’s portion of the Metal Gear universe. He’s really the only conceivable tool for exploring more of Solidus.
So if there needs to be a Snake, let it be Solidus. I’m not against the other Snakes being referred to in future games, I just don’t want them to be the focus. Solidus, on the other hand, could stand a bit more examination. I may be in the minority when I say I want Solidus to return to the series in some shape or form – I was in fact quite disappointed when Revengeance made practically no mention of him – as I am aware he was never as popular as Liquid was. I think even Volgin exceeded him in popularity – why else would they have forced the sadistic communist officer into The Phantom Pain after being struck by a lightning as a fireball-spewing superhuman, while Solidus’s only appearance since Sons of Liberty was as an inanimate husk on a gurney, and you didn’t even know it was him until the very end of the game.
The Man with No Name
I thought of another possible alternative for the Snakes as the main character of future games. It has been suggested before by others, and I believe Gray Fox is a fairly organic choice to star in a Metal Gear game. Using him as the protagonist would even allow for the gameplay to retain the style of previous games – just imagine a stealth action game not unlike The Phantom Pain, where you control the mystery man called Frank Jaeger.
If we exclude Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, which I personally consider to be non-canonical, Frank Jaeger is another character who has many sizeable blank segments in his history. In fact, we only know a few small details of his history before the first Metal Gear. What we do know, however, provides good points of interest that could easily attach him to the greater Metal Gear universe. A game starring him would allow for a huge amount of brand new story and cast of characters, mostly independent of the stories of Big Boss and Solid Snake, but with some organic opportunities to tie it in. It doesn’t even need to reveal any more of the existing story – as I said earlier, that story is told by now – but rather weave another one that runs alongside it. I can’t be the only one that thinks there could be an entire saga there, if only the right people started writing Frank Jaeger’s story.
What I find interesting is that Gray Fox was a gigantic fan favorite back when Metal Gear Solid came out, and people just wouldn’t shut up about the “awesome cyborg ninja”, while currently I don’t find him relevant at all. Kojima showed some significant restraint in not reverting his gruesome death in the hands of Liquid and Metal Gear REX, even if he did give the character a nod in the form of the new ninja in Metal Gear Solid 2, who turned out to be Olga Gurlukovich. Granted, Gray Fox himself being a cyborg ninja was a throwback to Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, so it’s not like he was the origin of the concept. Nonetheless, the fact that he disappeared from the series (save for Portable Ops) is an oddity, as it seems like every possible obscure character was dug up in one of the later games even if just for some nostalgic thrills.
While I appreciate the fact that he was sort of attached to that time in the series, I wouldn’t call it a bad thing if he was reinvented as the main character in a new game. One could argue that he’s one of the characters who don’t need more of their story to be revealed, but I personally probably would have said that about Big Boss before Snake Eater, and look at him now. There was a lot of room to create that character into whatever the writers felt like, and a lot of opportunities to develop him into the multi-dimensional character he eventually became. I can’t think of a single reason that couldn’t be done for Frank Jaeger, whether you start telling the story from his guerrilla days or his time as easily the best FOXHOUND operative under Big Boss himself. Maybe save the latter for one of the sequels though, right?
As I said, there’s so much that can be done with this character, because most of his history is entirely blank, with just a few attachment points (such as taking Naomi under his aegis out of guilt) to existing lore. Sure, what I said about Liquid applies here too; if you reveal too much, you disintegrate the mystique that surrounds him. But unlike Liquid, Frank is a conflicted, complex character who we know to have struggled with his ethics and loyalties. We know he is one of the few people Solid Snake ever considered a friend, even though they ended up on opposing sides on the battlefield, which perplexed Naomi. We know he made decisions he would later regret, and as his final deed he would try to redeem himself. We don’t know many details about him, but what we know paints a picture of a deep, troubled character, who actually shares more qualities with Solid Snake than one might realize at first glance.
I didn’t even realize it until just now, but you could actually combine these two ideas I’ve presented for a pretty interesting concept. Honestly, there’s nothing I’d be more excited about for the future of the series than a tactical stealth game starring Frank Jaeger, where Solidus Snake plays a significant part. If you think about it, it’s really not that farfetched either – we know Frank was active in Africa at some point in his past, and Solidus was involved in the Liberian civil war. I can only assume we don’t even know about all the shady business Solidus was taking part in, so who’s to say he wasn’t somewhere else in Africa as well? There’s so much room in the pasts of both these characters, that I would absolutely believe there is a connection there somewhere. Hell, you could throw in a twist about Frank’s self-reported run-ins with Big Boss, revealing that one of those cases might have actually been Solidus Snake.
In all honesty, I don’t believe I’m even in the ballpark with my hopes. A Revengeance sequel, maybe, but most likely we’ll just be seeing more unnecessary Snake adventures, answering questions no one asked, introducing pointless connections between timelines and inflating the significance of story details that are of no consequence. Without Kojima, the developers of future titles just won’t dare to take the franchise to new places, instead cashing in on the characters and story elements they know people will pay them for, even if it’s nothing new. Likely there will be more unneeded Big Boss interquels, perhaps a blasphemous sequel to Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots even though that game clearly intended for us to never see Solid Snake again, or maybe even a remake of the first two games which, to be honest, would be extremely disrespectful towards Kojima who has gone through so much trouble to incorporate as many story details from those silly 8-bit games as humanly possible into later games. If he didn’t remake those games, I’ll be really disappointed if anyone else has the nerve to touch them.