Part VI (MGS2: A Complete Breakdown)


Part VI Substance & The Document

Now that we’ve analyzed the main game, Part VI examines The Document of Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance, where we find even more fascinating evidence of Kojima’s hidden goals.

{NOTE: Please watch any video clips, they include special editing and important additional information.  Watch in Full Screen mode for best viewing.}

I am MGS fanboy, hear me roar

In case you’ve forgotten, Sons of Liberty was widely hated by the time it’s second edition was released two years later.  Gamespot put it this way:

The release of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty in 2001 was gaming’s equivalent of the premiere of a huge Hollywood blockbuster. …. Just as with many Hollywood blockbusters, now that the excitement over the game’s release has dissipated, it’s become fashionable to speak ill of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.

… Social commentaries aside, it’s perfectly understandable that the game’s heavy-handed, convoluted, and arguably sloppy story has been the object of much criticism now that it’s had a while to sink in.  Also, most all Metal Gear Solid 2 players like to point out that they just hate Raiden.

Gamespot review of Metal Gear Solid  2: Substance,
March 5, 2003


You may notice the tone here is not apologetic on behalf of Kojima’s vision.  Critics took the side of the upset, ignorant and entitled players who fell for the colossal hype.  Glossing over the controversial meta themes of the game by saying things like “social commentaries aside”, Sons of Liberty got raked over the coals as an incompetent tangle of plot points with no higher purpose.  The actual meta themes — those which discuss the player’s own willingness to be manipulated and play along for the sake of fleeting fictional glory — remain an elephant in the room to this day.  It’s only in the last year or two, with the release of the “HD” version and a 10-year anniversary that I’ve seen positive retrospectives which discuss a deeper meaning behind the bait-and-switch.  Ignoring this controversial aspect of the game while attacking Kojima’s storytelling competence was partially stupidity, but mostly spite.  We certainly weren’t going to kiss his ass for making us feel stupid.

What really mattered was that people desperately wanted to play as Snake again, and they made their voices heard loud and clear using the Internet, back when having a “comments” section on game sites was progressive, and the idea of backlash was given significantly more weight than today.  (The concept of “trolling” was not widely known, as evidenced by the fact that nobody called Kojima one.)

It’s hard to describe the atmosphere surrounding MGS2 at the time, but suffice to say that hopes were still high that Substance could somehow turn all that disappointment around and revive our faith in Kojima as the #1 videogame maker in the world.  One of the most popular (and obviously stupid) demands was that we be allowed to play the entire Plant Chapter of the Sons of Liberty from Snake’s point of view.  The other big demand was more gameplay, period.  We figured maybe Kojima simply didn’t understand what we wanted.  The game was lacking “substance”, we said.  Complaints about the camera view and lack of Xbox presence were frequent too.

It turns out Kojima got the memo.  Substance was released on PS2 and the Xbox, included tons of VR missions, and — much to fans delight — even “story missions” where you play as Solid Snake!  Calling the name “Substance” was a clear gesture of good will, implying that the original game had indeed been lacking.  At last we’d get what we’d been waiting for: mindless challenges, void of all that confusing metababbble!  Of course, these outward signs of conformity were meant to disguise yet another subversive twist.

To the untrained eye, Substance will seem like a perfectly reasonable answer to fan demand, if not a naturally occurring idea.  MGS1 had also received a second edition, known as “Integral” in Japan and released as a stand-alone disc called VR Missions in North America, so why not do it again?  There’s nothing suspicious about releasing a more robust version of a Metal Gear game a year or two later.  It was tradition.  Except that the whole thing was inherently ironic, this time.  In Sons of Liberty our hero Raiden directly references VR Missions, boasting about completing “Sneaking Mission 60” and “Weapons 80”, while video of the actual PS1 missions plays in the background.  We already know that Raiden was designed to characterize stupid fans who failed to think about the deeper themes of the series while bragging about their progress in the VR Missions.  That’s Raiden’s whole deal.  So when players rejected Metal Gear Solid 2‘s memes with an even vindictive force, they unwittingly justified the allegory of Raiden The Delusional Rookie.  Calling it “Substance” was wry attempt to ask a deeper question: what is the real substance of the series?  What is its legacy?  What will be passed on, and what will be discarded?

These questions didn’t matter to anybody but Kojima, of course.  There was enough gameplay, puzzles, and challenges to satisfy people.  The various modes had been created with care and quality.  That is, except for Skateboarding, which was a cross-promotional demo for a Tony Hawk knockoff, Evolution Skateboarding.  Riding around as Raiden or Snake on the top of the Big Shell seemed like a lame joke, but a harmless one, considering it was optional.  Away from Kojima’s introverted, existentialist questions about memes and legacy was a fun mountain of pointless filler, designed to challenge a very different part of the brain.  But this juxtaposition would be brought to the forefront of our minds by the most anticipated feature of all: “Snake Tales“.


Careful what you ask for

In my estimation, Snake Tales is the least appreciated “meta” feature of the entire series to date, but this shouldn’t be surprising.  The missions consist of arbitrary “what if” scenarios, disconnected from the real Metal Gear universe, featuring no voice acting or cutscenes.  Instead, we get a series of text-filled screens told from Snake’s point of view.  Seeing directly inside his head is jarring enough, but reading between gameplay is even worse.  Few players bothered to read all the way through “In the Darkness of Shadow Moses”, the faux-book included with Sons of Liberty that gives an insightful new perspective on MGS1, so why would we read arbitrary hypothetical missions featuring Solid Snake?

But we need to study Snake Tales.  It never got anyone’s attention, but I like to imagine Kojima was hoping this little trick would cause a splash almost on par with the “Raiden twist” of Sons of Liberty, because it certainly seems to be designed to piss people off.  Let’s not forget: MGS2 was designed from the beginning to build up and subsequently mock our need to “be Snake”, and Snake Tales was, ostensibly, the prescription to cure our fever.  It’s like giving somebody you offended an “I’m sorry” gift card along with a present that contains nothing but a dog turd.  Surprise!  I’m still an asshole!

There are five “Snake Tales”, but the first four are important only insofar as they demonstrate how unsatisfying it is to roleplay as Snake divorced from any deeper themes.  They test our willingness to go along with the absurd, the boring, and the pointless.  This again underlines the question of whether real “substance” is about gameplay or themes.  We’re asked to rescue Ames, who’s secretly cooperating with the terrorists (but not really!) because he’s secretly using Snake to get revenge against Fatman for killing his daughter.  There are even multiple endings (which means little considering there are no cutscenes to drive home the emotions) and the plots are each unnecessarily complex, with loose ends and mysteries that obviously will never matter.  But this is intentional.  It’s showing us the formula.  Snake lets himself get used despite suspecting something is wrong; Snake goes along with it, even as it becomes more obviously rigged; Snake finds out the truth too late, and some things are never answered.  Rinse and repeat.

The fifth is called “External Gazer”.  We’re going to deconstruct this as meta commentary.  As we get into this, you’re going to have one of two reactions:

  • “You’re taking it way too seriously, it’s just a joke, stop over-analyzing it.”
  • “Wow, this weaves perfectly into the meta-story of Sons of Liberty and really drives home the themes in a creative way.”

If you find yourself having the first reaction, I doubt you’re keeping in mind the whole story thus far.  If you have the second reaction, good.  You’re going to get a lot out of this.


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