The Music of MGSV You’ve Never Heard

mgsv-feel

The PC version of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain allows players to insert their own music into the game, which will play as their evac chopper comes in for a landing, or if you select it from your iDroid device. When I was playing I made sure to try this feature. Even though I haven’t played the game in half a year, I am vividly and immediately transported into the game whenever I hear those songs.

I feel that this is an accomplishment of Kojima’s that needs more recognition. At the very least, I want to recognize how it has affected me.


 

Hundreds of thousands of people listen to their own music while playing a game on PC, whether it’s streaming in a browser, playing off their smartphone into their headphones, or using a dedicated music playing program, like my good old fashioned Winamp. I played The Witcher 3 while listening to Mark Lanegan and have no association between the two, but MGSV managed to incorporate the music in a way that permanently changed the meaning of the songs to me. What surprises me most is just how potent the sensation of reliving the game is when I hear them compared to, say, hearing songs that I recognize from the Grand Theft Auto series. There are classic, catchy songs I’ve only ever heard while driving around in Vice City, Liberty City, or San Andreas, but those associations are muddled and weak. Perhaps there’s something about hand-picking a single track that plays on cue, at a meaningful time in a stressful mission, that multiplies its resonance.

I wanted to share the two songs that I used for my helicopter rides. Both of them are now part of the Metal Gear Solid V soundtrack in my mind, if not part of the Metal Gear series. Both of them give me a sense of impending relief, as if I’m waiting for that exact moment when the hook of the song meets the ability to climb onto Pequod and begin my journey back to base. These songs make me almost painfully nostalgic, and the game is still recent.

The first is 10,000 Emerald Pools, by the band BØRNS. I’m not good at describing music, but there’s something magical about hearing the way this song juxtaposes and contrasts war-torn Afghanistan in the 1980’s that makes me happy inside. It’s a happy song. Totally chill and groovy and under control, and that’s how I picture Venom Snake in the midst of hell. He knows he has a way out. When he hears that music, he knows he’s almost home free. The beautiful thing about this song is that the chorus tends to kick in right as you’re taking off, giving you that uplifting sensation when you need it most.

Kojima was criticized for forcing players to sit through the tedious process of being dropped off and picked up by Pequod, but I have come to adore the psychology of it. Immediacy is a luxury Venom Snake should not have. Both as a game design balancing mechanic and a commentary on war, I respect the fact that extraction takes time, even for a man with his own private army waiting offshore. 

“You’re the treasure. Dive down deeper still. All I need is you,” the song goes. In a way, I feel that Pequod is serenading Snake as it makes it’s way to save him. And Snake feels the same about Pequod. They are reunited, not with melodrama and angst, but with the best kind of low-key intimacy. I know I’m reading too much into it, but that’s the beauty of music and association.

The other song is Tiny Monsters by Puscifer. When you hear it, you may be able to imagine how haunting and serene the mood becomes as this begins to play. It was a powerful, unforgettable favorite during night time missions in particular. It gives me a chill to hear it. I recall the tension, biting my lip, hoping to make it to the landing zone without tripping some alarm. The initial uneasiness suggests fear. The warbling notes in the beginning then give way to beautiful, commanding clarity in the vocals, as if to reassure. This all builds up to the pulsing, deliberate bass plucks reminiscent of John Carpenter films or, more appropriately, Shadow Moses Island. By the time the full sound is in effect and the backup vocals chime in, you should be home free, looking down on what was once a puzzle of death and strategy. The lyrics are what really put it over the top for me, however:

Day gives way to night
On the storefront mannequins
The audience with Mona Lisa grins
Moonlight builds emotion
As the players scuttle in
Pull the curtain back and let the show begin

Moon of mischief
Under low light discipline
Here the tiny monsters hunt the harlequin

Silent patrons view the drama
Under low light discipline
Here the tiny monsters hunt the harlequin

Moon of mischief
We kill, be killed or run
To be or not, to be beyond the dawn

“Here the tiny monsters hunt the harlequin,” he sings. Is it referring to the jester, or the striped snake? Either could fit Venom Snake as he takes on the impossible. The tiny monsters hunt him, but as long as he has Pequod they won’t be able to get him. It’s a reinvigorating song for stealth, I think. “Moon of mischief. We kill, be killed, or run,” could not be more fitting. “To be or not to be beyond the dawn,” is the constant question of the mission. I love the whole song as a soundtrack song for Metal Gear Solid V, and I did play it off the iDroid as I infiltrated fortresses and took on the hapless Russians.

If you felt something similar with a song of your choice — something that now is inseparable from MGSV and the magic of the mission — please tell me about it by emailing metagearsolid@gmail.com or contacting me on Twitter @meta_gear.

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