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The Ghost of Metal Gear Past

It's been a couple of years since Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was released, so you may not remember the popular opinion of the series at the time, but it was one of skepticism to say the least. Years before, Metal Gear Solid 2 left a sour taste in everyone's mouths, distancing the "average" fan from the series in a way that seemed to threaten its very survival as a big franchise. One wrong move and the series would plunge forever into unpopularity, or, at best, become a totally niche series. Just look at the jabs being taken at Sons of Liberty in the following reviews of Snake Eater:

CNET + User Review

So suffice it to say that the plot here is very much in the same vein as that of the previous two Metal Gear Solids. It's better than the second, in that it ties up its loose ends and ultimately delivers a strong sense of closure. (link)


... MGS2 arrived in 2002 to great acclaim, but also to great annoyance because of an unpopular character named Raiden taking over a quarter of the way through the game, pushing Solid Snake out of the limelight. (link)


I walked into Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater with high hopes but also a little skepticism. After all, the much-hyped MGS2 didn't quite live up to the phenomenal expectations we all had. ... While there are some good plot twists, Kojima wisely reigns in the high-minded metababble that tarnished MGS2. MGS3 is much more straightforward and upfront, but still manages to work in its key themes without being overly preachy. In this respect it's a more mature work than MGS, and much more accessible than MGS2. Outside of post-modern lit majors, everyone should find these changes to be for the better. (link)


After all, the same thing can be said for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty with its incessant Codec conversations and movies. ... As for its story itself there's little of interest unless you really want to spend a couple of late, smoky nights going over the details and putting all the pieces together, and they do fit together. While that's kind of interesting if you want a pleasant mind rutting, it was far from fun to watch a game eat itself. (link)

Annoying? High-minded metababble? Far from fun? There's really no denying it: Snake Eater had to "prove itself" if it wanted to survive in the eyes of millions of fans worldwide, and perhaps more importantly, the critics whose voices reached Kojima's ears most clearly. The ghost of MGS2 continued to haunt the series, warning Kojima to give people what they wanted, or the series would sink.

The feeling of the times was no secret

Is it any coincidence, then, that the theme of Snake Eater is "Scene"? Or rather, the times? I think not. The fact that Kojima never admitted that the twists of MGS2 were a mistake, despite constant criticism, shows that he felt the game was simply misunderstood and underappreciated, not actually problematic. But if he wanted the series to complete its mission of survival, he would have to forget the past and adhere to the times.

The E3 2004 trailer proves beyond a doubt that the survival of the series was in question, and that this game was specifically designed to save it.

But for as revealing as this trailer may be, it was only the tip of the iceberg. The entire game is interwoven with messages that double as self-commentary, such as this conversation between Naked Snake and The Boss:

Boss: People aren't the ones who dictate the missions.

Snake: Then who does?

Boss: The times. People's values change over time. And so do the leaders of a country. So there's no such thing as an enemy in absolute terms. The enemies we fight are only in relative terms, constantly changing with the times.

Everyone agrees that this conversation is surprisingly long and heavy, considering that it's placed at the beginning of the game before the player has even gotten his backpack, but I believe Kojima wanted it to be a sort of disclaimer for those "post-modern lit majors" who actually loved MGS2 and understood his "metababble" enough to keep an eye out for double meanings. It's a warning that what they were about to see was dictated by the times, not his own wishes.

Major Tom: This time, survival is of the utmost importance.

The original plan, as alluded to in this trailer, was for Snake Eater to be an open-ended game in a huge, seamless jungle, where day would turn to night and the weather would change dynamically. Kojima described these features in interviews at the time. This was no coincidence, either, since Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was being developed at the same time, for the same console. In the same 2003 trailer, Kojima makes fun of himself and the comparison to Vice City with a joke about hijacking vehicles.

Even though this vision would ultimately be sacrificed by the time of the game's release date, it clearly shows how aware Kojima was of people's expectations and, more interestingly, how to "camoflauge" with the gaming environment of the times.

Yes, the game's emphasis on camoflauge and blending into the environment is a direct metaphor of the need to "survive" the "times", and one that becomes profoundly enjoyable when the game is played with this in mind...


Part Two: Mission or Beliefs

Back to Metal Gear Solid 3


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