Obviously, I’ve heard of the Metal Gear franchise. I never actually played the games myself, but most people with baseline knowledge of video games are at least aware of Solid Snake and I’ve seen my brother try to catch up on the franchise so that he could play Metal Gear Solid 4 back when it first came out over half a decade ago. Never was all that interested in trying the games out myself though because I’m not into soldiers and stealth games as a genre never really interested me growing up. I always hated the bits in those Spiderman games when you had to interact with objects without getting caught.
However, with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain being the big AAA release of the year to the point that it’s being considered one of the best games of all-time, the franchise finally summed up enough interest for me to check it out. Wasn’t keen on jumping into the fifth installment of an acclaimed series though, so I got to acquiring the Legacy Collection that included practically every Metal Gear installment that was handled by Kojima personally in order to get me up to speed. Then I discovered that the original PS1 version of Metal Gear Solid was unplayable by today’s standards if you didn’t grow up with it, so I had to acquire the out-of-print Gamecube remake. Then I realized it was on two discs and lost more money in the process of getting that. Then I realized that even though they’re a huge step-up from the PS1 version, realistic graphics on the Gamecube have aged remarkably badly. Then I realized I was padding this post and that I need to get to the point right now.
Barring the NES stuff since I discovered very quickly that I was better off watching the movies on Youtube, I have since finished all the non-Phantom Pain numbered entries and will admit to being quite fond of the series as a whole. They are incredibly overwritten with way too many dialogue-heavy cutscenes at the expense of gameplay, its philosophy and tendency to troll the audience makes Evangelion look straightforward, the females pretty much only exist to die or suffer tragic backstories before they die whilst wearing revealing clothing (I know Kojima is doing it ironically, but that doesn’t change the fact that someone somewhere is getting off to the final boss of the third game looking like this), and the gameplay design is very bloated with unintuitive controls and too many options in regards to doing a simple task. But despite all that, the series has been consistently impressing me with each installment to the point that it’s probably tied with Saints Row as my favorite video game series of all-time. So this is what it’s like to be the video-game equivalent of a Geass fan.
The thing that draws me in right away is how very auteur-driven it is. In markets where the most commonplace products are safe mediocrity designed by teams wanting to achieve widespread appeal, I tend to go for directors who take the entire production under their own hands provided they make something unique out of it and aren’t named Uwe Boll. That’s part of the reason why my favorite film directors include people like Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, George Lucas, and Michael Bay – all directors who demand perfection regarding their vision even when said vision is mad (the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Transformers) – along with my favorite anime directors including Masaaki Yuasa, Shinichiro Watanabe, Satoshi Kon, and (of course) Hayao Miyazaki. Sure I may not like all their works, but I have even less patience for bland mediocrity in my anime, and I certainly don’t want to see it in games. Heck, I’ll happily declare Tetsuro Araki is a solid director with a trustworthy resume, and I don’t even like most of his stuff.
And I didn’t make that Geass comparison, nor the Gundam one I mentioned in the opening statement, lightly. Kojima himself stated that Gundam was one of his biggest influences and it’s kind of hard to not see that given that mechas used for war are a big part of the game’s story, along with the non-human dialogue and the fanservice. Where Metal Gear differs from the usual Sunrise mecha – especially Geass – is that whilst the latter tends to wink to the audience with HIGH-larious anime-isms and shipping wars that’ll make Ken Akamatsu blush, Metal Gear takes its stupidity incredibly seriously. Its setting is incredibly grounded in a realistic military setting with soldiers handling real-life guns in a manner you’d expect from Apocalypse Now, and yet the generals have the most “anime” ways of fighting ever, acting like Clint Eastwood in his early Western films or somehow having the power to control bees. And nobody ever brings this to attention or gives any hint of being “comical” whilst doing it. Metal Gear just takes place in a world where wackiness is treated as normally as its depiction of AK-47s, which I find to be incredibly hilarious. Further proof right here regarding how “not taking yourself seriously” is getting to be more annoying over the years rather than a compliment.
More than anything though, what really draws me to the Metal Gear series is the hefty amounts of post-modernism its stories bring underneath all the war baggage and utter insanity that each iteration carries. Metal Gear Solid 2’s ultimate story, for example, was about the rejection of sequels and challenging the concept of video games as an actual medium. And whilst it had execution problems, Metal Gear Solid 4 was ultimately about the series’ continued existence despite living in a completely different world from when it first took the world by storm. Many people should know by now that I like stories that challenge familiar concepts in ways that don’t necessarily have to be unique, but has to make me think about what I’m watching. And whilst Kojima’s plots may not make sense on a surface-level, taking into account the themes he tackles with each installment, the stories make perfect sense and they’re really good games about gaming, personal beliefs, post-war lifestyles, and fanboyism. I’d clarify, but in addition to lacking the motivation to do so, Rich Stanton on Eurogamer has already been doing a great job of doing that for me. Go read his stuff.
I’ll still need to play Peace Walker before I get to the fifth game and with all that’s going on in my life, who knows when that’ll be. Hopefully I can get to it by the end of the year at the very least considering it’s supposedly the magnum opus of the series, and given how much I enjoyed the previous games, I’m definitely looking forward to experiencing that. My only regret in regards to this series is not getting into the Metal Gear lore sooner. And now that I am in, I’m going to be ruined for any other crazy anime war story I come across (or at least I would if I hadn’t seen almost all the genre has to offer prior). Sorry Yang Wenli, but you lose out to robot ninja cyborg battling a military lieutenant who’s actually a vampire.
PS: As for the games themselves, here’s how I personally rank them: 2 > 3 > 1 (Twin Snakes version) > 4.