Metal Gear Solid Is Dead, Long Live Metal Gear
(Warning: this piece contains major spoilers for Metal Gear Solid 4, and, therefore, the entire Metal Gear Solid series.)
In the wake of Hideo Kojima’s announcement of Metal Gear Solid 5, I’ve been thinking about the series again; what it was, what it did, where it ended up, all that. It’s a landmark series, to say the least; it pioneered the use of cutscenes, had some of the greatest characterization I’ve ever experienced, and told a deep, complex narrative within in a somewhat-grounded setting (though it definitely has its share of the fantastical about it).
But that’s over now. Those characters, that world, that story, they’ve all moved on. Solid/Old Snake truly “finished the fight”, unlike the “final” installments in most videogame franchises. Sure, there are gaps in time where stories can be told (that’s why we have Peace Walker and Rising), but that’s just padding; we all know where everyone ends. We all know what that world is like, right up to the end of MGS4.
Metal Gear Solid is dead.
I’m sorry to say that, but it is.
If you’ve played Metal Gear Solid 4 at all, you should know that that game was about this. Snake is decrepit and dying. Big Mama is decrepit and dying. Liquid Ocelot is decrepit and dying. The main characters of the game are holdovers from the past, trying to adjust to this new world of technology, trying to settle old grudges before they bite the dust. The characters that aren’t dying have all tried their best to move past those grudges or end up dead in the process of fulfilling them.
By the end, the only ones left alive have moved past it all. They have new lives to live; Snake seeks to live out his final days as best as he can, Otacon has gotten over the deaths of his loved ones to help Snake’s goal, and Johnny and Meryl are married (which is heavily symbolic of a new beginning for them). They’ve found their place in this world, and they can finally live out their lives without worry.
When Snake fought Ocelot, that was it. That was the climax of everything. Four games of development came to a close, leaving us with only these few characters, who could now be happy. They gained contentment with their world, and that is, in the end, all we can really ask for.
Why should we dredge them up again? They’ve attained the truest goal we can have in our lives, and they shouldn’t have it taken away from them. At that point, you’d just be forcing material onto the narrative, and, even for someone of Kojima’s story-crafting skill, I can’t think of any way in which you could continue a story with these characters without it feeling tacked-on or forced. Let them have their happiness. After four games of hardship, they deserve it.
Kojima could always do what he was originally planning with Peace Walker: fill out another part of the backstory that doesn’t really affect the previous game’s story and put a number on the title. I’d like to think he realized that was a poor idea, so that’s why he dropped the number from that game. The Metal Gear Solid series, though not completely focused on Solid Snake, has always been about him and Big Boss, father and son. There’s no way you can really make another main game in the series about that without going into the backstory (say, Snake’s days with Philanthropy). Snake’s infertile; he can’t have children, so the father-and-son dynamic at the heart of the series can’t be continued otherwise.
However, there are two characters that could continue that: Raiden and his son. If Rising ever comes out, that could easily become a new series under the Metal Gear umbrella, chronicling their story. But that’s a very pie-in-the-sky sort of theory, and I’m not sure if Raiden could have a story that’d warrant that much development after, like with every living character in MGS4, gaining his contentment.
I can’t see Kojima making a game called Metal Gear Solid 5. It just wouldn’t work. If he reaches into the past, he won’t have anything interesting to build off of. If he reaches into the future, with the same cast of characters, he’ll have undone almost all of the thematic merit behind Metal Gear Solid 4.
If Kojima wants to do more within the Metal Gear universe, he has only one real option left; a new cast of characters. Metal Gear has been about the same characters since the very beginning, but the world they’ve created and left can still be used. It still has merit and backstory, enough to build off of, but it would require a new set of characters who have unresolved conflicts, who don’t have contentment, who still reside within this world but aren’t (closely) related to those who’ve previously affected it.
Kojima needs to build more characters, if he wants to keep making these games. He can’t just keep using these old ones until he fills out every minute detail of their lives. We already know the beginning, we already know the end, and we already know enough of the journey between that we have little interest in seeing more of it.
I beg of you, Kojima. Please do something new. Metal Gear Solid is dead, but that world lives on. Create something within it, something with new people for us to love and care for, new people for us to hate, new people for us to cry over in the end.
Show us that you can still truly “create”.