Part V (MGS2: A Complete Breakdown)

Your Choice

Unlike its beloved predecessor, MGS2 doesn’t have multiple endings.  This is a big deal, since the ability to earn a “heroic” ending not only gave the original some replay value, but it made your choices feel important by showing you the direct consequences of your failures or successes.  The torture sequence (where you decide whether to submit at the cost of Meryl’s life, or endure it and possibly save her) is impossible to beat if you’re not determined, which means that the ending is in your hands.  If you give up, Snake will later hold her lifeless body, ready to give up and die himself, confessing that he’s not a hero — screaming out that he’s “nothing”.  It’s a genuinely touching scene, but it’s not because the writing and acting is good: it’s because you had the power to prevent it from happening with just a little more effort.

Kojima was very much aware of this fact, and obviously felt that players would be expecting the freedom to earn a “good” and “bad” ending again — which is why he decided to acknowledge it.  However, you may need to read the Game Script to figure out how:

Snake      : You can find your own name. And your own

Raiden     : Decide for myself...?

Snake      : And whatever you choose will be you.

Raiden     : I don't know if I can...

Snake      : I know you didn't have much in terms of choices this time. But
             everything you felt, thought about during this mission is yours.
             And what you decide to do with them is your choice...

There’s meta significance to Raiden saying “I don’t know if I can” in the above section of the ending.  When Snake says “I know you didn’t have much in terms of choices this time”, Kojima points out that this is “An allusion to the fact that this game did not have a choice driven narrative.”  Raiden doesn’t know if he can decide his own name and future, because unlike MGS1 the game doesn’t have multiple endings!  He’s stuck with this one ending, no matter what we do in the game.  The player might feel the same way.  The inability to truly rebel against the Patriots and the S3 Plan is clear, so how can we ever change the outcome of this mission?  It’s simply not a choice-driven narrative.

Kojima’s fascinating script note, which describes President Johnson’s decision to complete his “pre-planned role” as a parallel to what happens to the player later on, proves that Kojima expected players to feel frustrated by their lack of freedom — or their lack of an alternate ending.  There is no rebellion for us; no “heroic” ending.  That’s why Snake says that Raiden’s real choice is not a different ending, but a different understanding of the whole thing.  You see, Metal Gear Solid 2 does have multiple endings, but they are both hidden within the same scenes.  Subjectivity creates multiple endings!

Look at the same bit of dialogue, emphasized differently than how David Hayter chose to read them, which I think is probably closer to the original intention:

Snake      : I know you didn't have much in terms of choices this time. But
             everything you felt, thought about during this mission is yours.
             And what you decide to do with them IS your choice...

Here are the two endings:

One is the bad ending, where you feel confused and disappointed by the fact that the game isn’t as cool as the first one, and the fact that you didn’t really thwart the Patriots, and everything was crappy in the end.  You killed Solidus, but the Patriots wanted you to do it.  You won the day, but you lost your sense of identity.  It’s a hollow victory, surrounded on all sides by questions.

The good ending is a liberation of the mind – an abandonment of the game’s silly story, and a love for all of the genius and meaning hidden within the experiences.  It’s mental freedom, in the same way Snake obtained genetic freedom in the previous game, by not letting his past decide his future, even in spite of FoxDie’s looming threat.  Snake didn’t know when he was scheduled to die, just as Raiden doesn’t know when he’ll wake up, so they both need to change their priorities and find meaning in something bigger than themselves.

No matter what Raiden does, he can’t change the physical outcome of his mission, but when he asks “You mean start over?”, he reveals the secret genius of the double-ending.  Kojima adds another simple note in the script, which rephrases the question as simply “Start over?”  Then, when Snake says “Yeah.  A clean slate.  A new name.  New memories.  Choose your own legacy.  It’s for you to decide.  It’s up to you,” it’s a challenge unlock the good ending.  If, until this point, you were too emotionally invested and ignorant to appreciate the game thus far, these words are an invitation for you to get over it, look past the Refusal-Chair-disappointment, and see the game again through a new lens.


Let’s do another take

Over the years I’ve come to hate Quinton Flynn.  He’s the English voice actor for Raiden, and while it may seem unwarranted to have such hard feelings against him, I’ve realized that he’s responsible for much of the confusion, irritation, and unbearable inappropriateness of Metal Gear Solid 2‘s abundant cutscenes and conversations.

When you’ve been studying this game and its script for as long as I have, you start to pick up on things, like the way a line should be read, in the context of the story situation; how the character should be feeling, and how the punctuation in the script does a good job conveying that feeling (minus audio).  As a hobby writer myself, I know the significance of an ellipses versus a question mark, for example.  Pick the wrong one, and suddenly your character can seems stupid and confused, instead of just quiet and uncertain.  Add a wrong exclamation mark, and suddenly your character is overreacting at a completely inappropriate moment, making them seem erratic.  Little things like these can make and break a character’s likability — especially if they keep happening — and especially if that character is the main protagonist, who you’re supposed to relate to.

Obviously, it’s the job of a voice actor to do justice to whatever material he’s reading, not to go his own direction.  A good actor will conform to what’s on the page and pay attention to the greater context, not just toss in their own “take” on it like Quinton Flynn.  His refusal to take the material seriously played a big part in ruining the character of Raiden for the Western world, I’m sure.  When I first started playing the game, I used to think Flynn was doing a perfect job conveying what Raiden was all about: annoying, immature, and constantly out of step with the people around him.  And to some extent, I think Raiden was supposed to come off as a delusional jerk.  But now I see that it’s Quinton Flynn who’s annoying and out of step.  He just doesn’t care about the words he’s saying.  He’s lazy and arrogant, and although I couldn’t possibly compile all the tiny examples of his bad acting, I’ve picked a couple to demonstrate what I mean.  For this one, I’ll be doing some voice commentary too:

We should be thankful that Kojima stuck some notes into the script to help the actors, but it seems Flynn makes up his own whenever there isn’t one.  And when there is, he tends to overdo it and miss the point along the way, like when Raiden says to Olga, “So you joined hands with him to pay back a debt?”  Indeed, there is a note in the script reading “a little sarcastically”, but if you listen to him, he doesn’t even respect the question mark at the end of the sentence!  He forgot that it was a question first and foremost, and says it like he’s accusing her instead.  Small difference, you might say, but it makes Raiden seem like an asshole, at a time when he’s supposed to be the victim of misinformation.

The worst, most agonizing example is of course when he says, “I’ll decide for myself what to believe and what to pass on!” to the Patriot AI toward the end of the game.  It kills me every time I hear it.  Nobody in their right mind would say the way Quinton Flynn does.  He literally turns it into a question!  “I’ll decide for myself what to believe in and what to pass on??”  What the fuck, man!  Do you have any idea how important that moment in the story — the moment when Raiden tries to adopt the wisdom of Snake in order to fight the Patriots’ mind games — is supposed to be?  Raiden’s character arc, from a completely naive rookie to an enlightened disciple of Snake, is finally supposed to pay off.  But thanks to Flynn it fizzles out and shits on itself.  It almost sounds like a joke, because nobody would ever talk like that!  I guess Kojima should have included a note in the script: “Please just read this the way it is written on the page, including the exclamation mark, and if you don’t mind, pay some fucking attention to what’s happening in the story at this point!”

Now we can’t just blame Quinton Flynn, of course.  The voice director was Kris Zimmerman, a fine lady who’s done sound direction, casting, and even acting on dozens of TV shows, movies, and games in the past.  She’s done pretty much every Metal Gear game, and for the most part she must be pretty good.

Here’s Flynn being interviewed by Ryan Payton, while Kris Zimmerman is in the background listening…

Are you picking up on the douchebagary too?  He’s a smug dumbass the whole time, and he basically admits to disregarding the intentions behind the dialogue and just ploughing through it without thinking.  He actually makes fun of the idea of considering the character’s motivation!  The script was dense, it was like a phone book, and he wasn’t going to playing around and think about the characters motivation!  Who cares if nothing matches the script!  The game is weird, long, and frankly a lot of work!  Better to just make it up as you go along, like kids playing cops and robbers!

It’s no wonder that innocuous lines like the “We managed to avoid drowning” ended up being comically infamous on the internet.  “BEST LINE IN THE GAME” people say.  Why?  Was it really supposed to be that hilarious?  Not at all.  It was just terrible delivery.

Quinton Flynn’s childlike “cool energy” and lack of consideration ended up making the line come off way too earnest, giving the impression that Raiden was proud of his accomplishment, and thus making Raiden seem like a complete idiot.  You can look in the script and find it doesn’t have notes next to it — meaning that it was meant to be played straight, as you would imagine, probably with a lot of exhaustion and frustration.  Instead, it’s now famously mocked, drawing comparisons to Tommy Wiseau’s internationally lampooned movie The Room.  Ouch.

I don’t know why Kris Zimmerman, who generally seems to be a good voice director, didn’t force Flynn to do extra takes and get it right.  I can only assume they both looked at the “phone book” script and wanted to get the job over with as quickly as possible, so they rushed through it, took their money, and walked away.

Kojima’s subtle, carefully layered story was bludgeoned thanks to these people, which is why he was surprised by how much people hated Raiden.  Sure, it was risky, but he didn’t intend for the character to be a Saturday morning cartoon character!

Oh and by the way, the actress who played Fortune is shit-terrible too.  Was Kris Zimmerman even in the studio that day?

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