In the age old fairy tale of the Beauty and the Beast, a handsome prince is transformed into a hideous creature by a spiteful fairy's curse, which can only be broken if the prince finds somebody willing to love him in spite of his new appearance. In Metal Gear Solid 4 we find that a similar transformation has befallen the formerly-handsome Solid Snake character (now known as Old Snake,) and are even given some obvious clues regarding parallels between the two stories. This article will explore those parallels.
The foremost reference to the old story is of course the "Beauty & Beast Corps", which consists of four beautiful yet psychotic women who are adorned with beast-like power suits and an overwhelming emotion that they constantly carry with them. The name, we can safely assume, is a reflection of their common theme of inner beauty and outer ugliness, but when the character Drebin introduces them, he reveals something deeper about them than the superficial:
Drebin: They suffered shell-shock on the battlefield... Post-traumatic. It damaged their minds pretty much beyond repair... So the only way they could cope with the reality of battle was to become war machines themselves. The remnants of their human side are buried deep within. The beast... That's what you see on the outside. War transforms us, Snake... Into beasts.
But deep within that shell, something human survives. A fragile, scarred heart. Without a shell to protect it, it's like the yolk of an egg. Word going around is... Their natural, flesh-and-blood bodies can't survive in the open for more than a few minutes. And they've been convinced that by killing Snake, their minds will be cleansed.
So then, not only are they physically beautiful beneath their physically grotesque suits, they're also emotionally beautiful beneath their emotionally grotesque coping mechanisms and psychological disturbances. Or if nothing else, we know that they're not horrible people, just innocent victims being exploited for evil. As the game goes on, Drebin explains each of their histories with some detail, creating further sympathy in the minds of the players, who are forced to eliminate them one way or the other.
And although this may all seem irrelevant to the actual story of Beauty and the Beast, there is a remarkable feature in all of the B&B boss fights which raise an interesting comparison.
Defeating a B&B member is not as simple as blowing up her beast suit with the woman along with it; there isn't even some kind of automatic resolution via cutscenes like in previous games. Each of the bosses has two distinct stages: one where you fight the beast, and the other where you fight the beauty, unprotected by her outfit. In each instance, the beauty exits her suit and walks towards Old Snake with arms open, trying to embrace him. With skin-tight outfit conforming to her every curve it's a picture of total vulnerability. This is the beauty hidden within the beast. It's up to the player to decide whether to kill her in this state of innocence or spare her life by simply knocking her unconscious. Similar to the female FROG members, using lethal methods result in the victim's body turning into a statue of ash; on the other hand, knocking them out will simply cause them to curl up and stay still. In a sense, then, it's your responsibility to decide whether or not to break their "beast" curse, or condemn them without mercy.
Even more interesting is the ability to simply avoid the beauty for long enough to trigger a bizarre alternate reality, where everything is white and a timer counts down to zero. Here players can equip their camera and take photos of the beauty, as she poses in various provocative stances like a model. While posing she seems happy, and if the player uses their iPod to listen to music during this time she'll even dance to it. Of course this is simply an "easter egg" meant to amuse fans who wait for long enough, but it still reinforces the theme of having the power to choose the beauty's fate. Waiting for the timer to go down causes her to die, since, as Drebin explained, they can't be exposed to reality for too long. There's something psychologically awkward about the situation, and that's how it was designed by Kojima.
If we only look at this purely from a player's perspective it's easy to dismiss all of this as quirky gameplay, shallow mind games, or a treat for those with a perverted impulse. It's not really that fun, challenging or funny, although it is strange. From a story perspective, your decision on how to eliminate them makes no difference whatsoever. There are no alternate endings for those who "do the right thing" and spare the women. But from a high-level design perspective it's quite curious why Kojima would plan the boss fights this way. We know that he wanted to emphasize "psychological warfare" in MGS4, which is why he gave the Gekko enemies cow sound effects, evoking thoughts of peaceful farm life and green pastures, but what makes this psychologically unnerving is the fact that the enemy is actually a good person at heart, and all they want to do is love you. The fact that Old Snake's health is drained if he allows her to hold and caress him doesn't make a lot of sense, but from a design perspective it teaches the player that there is something fundamentally incompatible between Old Snake and the beauty. Perhaps this is because Old Snake himself is a "beast".
Otacon: You said it yourself, Snake. There's nothing inside you can pass on to the next generation. No genes, no memes... You're man-made... You're a beast.
Snake: I know... A blue rose. There won't be any happy "Beauty and the Beast" ending for me. What little time I have left will be spent living... As a beast. A shadow of the inside... Of the old age.
Basically, Old Snake has nothing to offer the world. He is a sterile, pointless creation who is unable to build a legacy or improve the world. This is a far cry from what we see in Metal Gear Solid 2, as I've discussed before, but here we have a more straightforward commentary on the matter. If players missed the moral of the story so far, this is Kojima's way of revealing that he has conceded the struggle to pass on a message. Not having a happy "Beauty and the Beast ending" actually doesn't make sense in story terms, since the ending of that story was about somebody loving the cursed prince for who he truly was, and not about passing on something to the next generation; but it makes perfect sense from a meta-commentary perspective.
Since Old Snake is a metaphor for Kojima to begin with, this is a rather pessimistic admission of defeat from the game creator. He has fought to pass something on to the next generation for many years, but instead he simply lived to see his efforts invalidated by a growing demand for "war", or in other words, more sequels. This is the real reason why "war changed", and why war has managed to transform Snake into a "beast", unable to pass on his memes. It's rather bleak.
It's my suspicion that, just as the player may choose to kill or spare the B&B Corps in an homage to the Beauty and the Beast ending, we are meant to feel as though we, the fans, have collectively failed to break the curse of Old Snake by neglecting the themes of the series. Kojima, like Old Snake, has accepted the futility of trying. We are the "beauty" in this metaphor, and we hold the power to either redeem or reject the hidden essence of the series in spite of its obvious violence. Kojima assumes our rejection, and thus we are left with an unhappy ending for Snake. The beast dies a beast after all.
I don't know which version of "Beauty and the Beast" Kojima had in mind when he made the game, but I can't help adding another thought on the subject if it's the 1991 animated Disney one.
In the Disney version of this story, there is a rival suitor vying for the affection of the "Belle" character, whose name is Gaston. He's an egotistical, brutish and inconsiderate hunter who demands that Belle marries him, and becomes furious when she doesn't. All of the foolish women in town are infatuated with him, and all of the stupid locals admire him unconditionally, but Belle is too discerning to be charmed by him. She wants something more.
If the player is Belle in the analogy, and Old Snake serves as the metaphor for the Beast, then the only suitable representative for Gaston would have to be the newly "badass" Raiden, fighting for the love of the fans (Belle) as the main character. Remember the 2005 teaser trailer where Raiden and Snake fight for the spot of "main character"? Kojima may have been hinting at the parallels between the two stories before any footage of the game was even released. His promise (mentioned near the end of the article) to make Raiden loved by fans was surprising when he first said it, but he knew exactly what to do to accomplish this. Meanwhile, Old Snake was being set up for defeat, as we have just seen. Sounds like nice reversal of the Beauty and the Beast ending if you ask me.
Like Gaston, Raiden is an unthinking, testosterone-driven symbol of everything that stupid people go crazy for. No, he's not a brash muscleman with a goofy sidekick, but then again this is a much different setting, with a much different cast of characters. Raiden is an emo action badass, swinging swords and pretending to be Cyborg Ninja while feeling sorry for himself. But much like in the movie, the question becomes who the "real beast" truly is, as we see the inhumanity of the cool Raiden character, contrasted by the anguished struggle of Old Snake. Which one really deserves the affection of Belle? Which one is the real hero who fans should admire?
Yes, it's a big bunch of self-pity on Kojima's part, but this is apparently how he deals with his frustrations. Honestly, it's a brilliant allegory if you ask me, and a clear indicator that many of the strange plot twists included in the game may have an ulterior motive, so I enjoy it. It's this kind of high-level design that separates Kojima's games from the rest, and the reason why I haven't lost faith in his talent or his integrity.
Of course I can't say I'm equally pleased about Gaston's new adventures.