This weekend, I was finally able to finish Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Well, I say finish, but I’m still playing it. The game is so massive and has so much to do after the main missions are cleared that it can feel almost daunting. But I could always take a break. I could always move on and come back another day in order to extract the seventh highly skilled soldier, or to clear mines for the fifth time. But I’m not. I don’t think I’m ready to move on.
NOTE: Needless to say, if you haven’t beaten the game yet, DO NOT scroll down and please leave this page now. I am going to be spoiling everything and I don’t want to ruin it for you. Once you finish it, definitely come back.
I took up an obsession with Metal Gear in 2011, when the HD collection released. In the weeks before, I pulled out my copy of Metal Gear Solid that I had owned for ages and never really played, and played it. And then I beat it. And then I played it again (I wanted to see the other ending, and unlock the item that came with it). I was enamored, and couldn’t wait to play Sons of Liberty when the HD collection came out. In fact, I didn’t. I pulled out my copy of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty for PS2 and started it up (yeah, I owned this thing for years and didn’t touch it. Quite sinful, younger me). I got as far as finishing the Tanker chapter before the HD collection hit, which was the true beginning of my fascination with the franchise. To this day, Sons of Liberty is one of my favorite games of all time, and definitely my favorite Metal Gear game. In the months leading up to The Phantom Pain’s release, I started to think that would change. I can now safely say that I was wrong.
This all isn’t to say that The Phantom Pain did not deliver on most fronts for me. Our review can be read here, and I agree with what it was given. This isn’t meant to be a review of the game itself, but more a review of what it means. A review of what this game managed to accomplish, and in turn failed to accomplish simultaneously.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is not the finale that this franchise needed, and it is not the sendoff that Big Boss deserved.
The game did a lot of things right. Every performance made me shudder, especially Kaz and Huey. Kudos to Robin Atkin Downes and Christopher Randolph for making me feel horrible (in the best possible way). I could constantly feel the pain Kaz had gone through, and several tapes involving Huey’s deception made my jaw drop. These were some seriously amazing performances. Also, Quiet’s entire arc was superb, and nearly had me in tears during her final mission. Yet another person to give their life in order to save Big Boss. Except she didn’t. She was deceived, just like me.
Kojima managed to pull another Metal Gear Solid 2; prior to release, we were all lead to believe we would be playing as one person, when in fact we’d be playing as another. While not as severe as a switch (I mean, going from Solid Snake to Raiden is pretty noticeable, right?), it sure as hell stings when you look forward to seeing your favorite character develop into this “horrible” villain, and instead play the entire game as his proxy through some batshit twist and crazy bait-and-switch. That’s Metal Gear for you though, isn’t it?
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots wasn’t just a proper ending for Solid Snake; it was a fitting end to the franchise, able to tie up so many loose ends that it was a knotted mess at times. But after replaying it recently, I realized it had this massive sense of closure for every character involved, especially Big Boss. It’s a shame I didn’t realize that sooner. I was so glad to get The Phantom Pain, and I was so glad to fill in that massive gap in the timeline. The trouble is, that gap was filled focusing on the wrong person. That gap was filled focusing on a carbon copy of my favorite character, who merely adopted his mannerisms, abilities, and even appearance. That gap was filled focusing on a man that needed no conclusion, and by extension no introduction.
It was all well implemented, in my opinion. Kojima had thrown the twist at us right at the start, and managed to make us be in denial for the entire narrative. I made up excuses, read threads on Reddit, trying to validate that I truly was Big Boss through the entirety of the game, only to get the basic message of “nah, you were right the first time” at the very end. It felt smart, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.
We see the real Big Boss, if only momentarily, and we learn what his goal was during the events of The Phantom Pain. Now, I’ll never get to see him achieve these goals. I’ll never see him rally his own troops and build his own “army without a nation.” I’ll never see him get the true finale he deserves. It’s almost genius, the retcon they placed for the original Metal Gear, where Big Boss informs his “phantom” of the plan for Operation Intrude N313, and in the end he’s the one who dies, while Big Boss himself is probably home, safe, and playing the game on his MSX2 in the wake of the Zanzibarland Disturbance. The series did come full circle, just not in the way I would have wished.
I feel like Kaz. I feel betrayed. His best friend wasn’t really there to support him, and he was instead simply expected to be supportive. I didn’t witness my favorite character become a villain, a demon, or the main antagonist we come to know. I witnessed him become an asshole that turns his back on everyone in his “final chapter.” I agree with Kaz. Send him straight to hell, Miller.
And yet, even after all this, I don’t hate him. Maybe that’s why I’m so bothered. I don’t hate Big Boss, because he didn’t do anything. He literally wasn’t there to do anything, and while I hate him for that, I don’t hate him himself. I wanted him to have his own finale, where he becomes the evil man we all knew, and dies by Solid’s hand. Not one where he isn’t even there, and instead has a noble newbie doing his bidding and raising his reputation.
That’s why I’m not ready to move on. It’s the end of a saga, an era, and it doesn’t feel like one. It feels like there is still so much more to see, but we never will. I’ll keep playing for now, until I can finally accept that. Man, fuck Hideo Kojima. Making me have feelings and opinions about this shit. I sincerely can’t wait to see where he goes next, despite all this ultimately being his doing. I hope he gives us all another ruse some day. Hopefully it won’t be as much of a slap to the face as this one was for me.