Wrongful Snake: The Problem With Yet Another Metal Gear Prequel
The PixlBit staff is quite diverse in their gaming passions, and it’s one of my favorite things about writing here. In addition to being “Mr. Final Fantasy” I probably also hold the title of biggest Metal Gear Solid fanatic. Well, I might tie with Patrick Kijek, but MGS is a series that I’ve followed religiously since playing the Japanese Famitsu demo disc way back in 1998. It follows, then, that I should be beyond excited at the announcement of Metal Gear Solid 5, right? While I’m always happy to hear of another main entry in the series directed by Hideo Kojima, I just can’t muster up much enthusiasm for this one. Even the shininess of new console hardware and the Fox Engine can’t get my blood pumping. Why? Chalk it up prequel fatigue, and a longing for what could have been. (Note: The following editorial contains major spoilers for Metal Gear Solid 4. You have been warned.)
Solid Snake should be dead.
The story of Metal Gear Solid 4 contained all of the bombast and sci-fi/military hoodoo that we’ve all come to love (or loathe) from the series. Yet at its core, MGS 4 was a much more intimate story of an old dog of war going out for one last hunt. If it wasn’t obvious from the rapid aging brought on from Snake’s cloning process, his dialogue throughout makes it crystal clear. Solid Snake’s time was over, and he wasn’t long for this future that Kojima envisioned, full of nanomachines, PMCs, and cyborgs.
There were plenty of wonderfully poignant ways to end Solid Snake. His struggle to shut off The Patriots, fighting down that radiation-flooded corridor, was not only a heroic deed of Herculean proportions, but could have been the perfect swan song for the former Fox Hound soldier. His epic fight with Liquid Ocelot was another place where our brave hero could have fallen. Lastly, and most obviously, Solid Snake could have taken his own life in that final scene, avoiding a slow and painful death from the FOXDIE virus.
There were plenty of ways to let Solid Snake go out like a hero, but Konami and Kojima Productions flinched instead of quite literally pulling the trigger.
Since Metal Gear Solid 4, we’ve had another prequel in the form of Peacewalker for the PlayStation Portable and later the Xbox 360 and PS3 with the MGS HD Collection. That was the fourth game to star Naked Snake, AKA Big Boss, the genetic source material for Solid Snake. Then we had the announcement of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, which was obviously another prequel that (at the time) was said to have story ties to the yet-to-be-announced MGS 5. Speculation at the time was that whatever Big Boss Snake got up to in Ground Zeroes would have a lasting impact on Solid Snake’s next adventure in the fifth Metal Gear Solid game.
Fast forward a bit, and Metal Gear Solid 5 is indeed announced, with the trailer showing a lot of the same footage shown in the Ground Zeroes teaser. Information is still hazy, but we know that Ground Zeroes and MGS 5 comprise a complete story. Whether these are two complete games that continue into each other or a way of splitting one game into two full retail games is unknown, but what is known is that both games feature the Big Boss incarnation of Snake.
I think this is a huge mistake. Ground Zeroes and MGS 5 will bring the total of prequel, “Big Boss” Metal Gear games to six. That’s more games than Solid Snake was in, unless you count spinoffs like Ac!d or Ghost Babel. In a world where God of War and Gears of War get chastised for going backwards, can we really say this is fine in the Metal Gear series? At this point, how many more stories of Big Boss can be told before we reach the inevitable remake of the MSX Metal Gear game that started it all?
The series needs to move forward, but I think Konami is scared. My gut tells me that Kojima wanted to kill off Solid Snake but wasn’t allowed to, so now he exists in this limbo while we get prequel after prequel. As much as I love Solid Snake, I’m well-past ready for him to retire.
I think video game developers and publishers get too attached to their characters, and let them continue until either the franchise or the development teams are run into the ground. There is plenty of potential for long-running series to reinvent themselves by introducing a new protagonist. Look at the success of the Assassin’s Creed games: a series that is about to have its fourth main series protagonist in seven years. It’s a lesson that the God of War team could learn, and I’ll put Kojima Productions in that camp, as well.
It’s time for someone else to slip into the sneaking suit, but who?
I’ve got two words for you: Johnny Sasaki.
Now, before you kick me off of the internet, I have my reasons. If the series is to move on from the events of Metal Gear Solid 4 without Solid Snake, then it should be a time to somewhat reinvent the series. To do so, you need a character that ties back into the history of the franchise without having a story that everyone knows. Johnny Sasaki has ties all the way back to the first MGS game, best known as the Genome soldier that’s sitting on the toilet and talking to himself about how hot Meryl is. He’s a total joke character throughout the series, known for his irritable bowel syndrome and being generally lousy around women.
He’s the complete antithesis of Solid Snake, and this opens up a whole new world of opportunities.
This idea isn’t without historical merit, and when you stop to think about it, it makes a ton of sense in what’s come before. Hideo Kojima surprised and pissed off a great deal of gamers in 2001 when he slipped in the untested, somewhat whiny, and effeminate character Raiden as the main protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2. Fans hated Raiden, but came to love him when he reappeared in MGS 4 and later in his own spinoff title. I think a large part of that reversal came from fans getting to see Raiden “grow up” in front of them. They controlled him as a boy and saw him become a man by MGS 4. Well, cyborg.
Johnny has even more modest roots, what with all the comedic and tragic moments he’s had over the course of the series. Even his grandfather got into hilarious trouble in Metal Gear Solid 3. However, by the end of MGS 4, Johnny is not only revealed to be somewhat of a badass soldier, but if you squint he kind of resembles a younger, blonder Snake. To pile on the awesome, he proposes to Meryl while in the middle of a firefight. I mean, how smooth is that?
By this point, you may be thinking that I’m kidding about this, but I’m dead serious. I imagine a game with a young Johnny taking up the Snake codename and going on his first sneaking mission. Maybe Solid Snake is on the Codec in Col. Campbell’s old role. Considering that Johnny Sasaki is a full-blooded human with not a hint of nanomachines or cyborg implants, the story could be this great “man vs. technology” adventure. Maybe we’d get a game that makes good on the dilemma that Too Human couldn’t execute on.
If you’re reading this and shaking your head vehemently, consider that many badass and powerful characters in media come from, er, less than awesome beginnings. When Wolverine’s origin was finally revealed, it was learned that he started out as a sickly, scrawny child that was almost always stuck in bed with some cold or other disease. Evil Dead’s Ash was some schlub that worked at S Mart before getting his hand replaced with a chainsaw. Darth Vader was an insufferable little brat that grew up into an insufferable young man before Obi Wan set him on fire. These meager beginnings don’t detract from where these characters ended up, and if anything add to their rich backstories.
Well, maybe not Darth Vader. That kind of ruined the magic.
I’m not asking you to jump on my Johnny Sasaki bandwagon, but surely the thought of yet another Metal Gear Solid prequel makes you yawn just a little bit, right? Don’t you want to see something new in such a beloved franchise? Or is Metal Gear only Metal Gear if it has Naked or Solid Snake in it? Let me know your thoughts on this and other long-running series, but for now, I’m #TeamJohnnySasaki!