I’ve been wanting to write about something not Final Fantasy for awhile now, partly to diversify my “portfolio”, but mainly to save my sanity . The idea came to me to write an article about how MGSV could have been better. After 64 hours played, I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on it. Then I beat the game and thought “nope, this is what I need to talk about, the ending itself and mostly just the ending”. First let’s talk about my initial reaction, and then work through the various aspects of the ending to see whether that still stands, and why. It should go without saying that this article will contain massive spoilers so don’t read on unless you’ve already beaten it, or don’t really plan to, or care about it having it spoiled.
Initial Reaction: That Ending Sucked
To say that I was unimpressed, no, downright disappointed, in the ending and the entire hour that led up to it, would be a fair descriptor. At best it felt brief, disjointed (like the rest of the story), and inconsequential to the story at large. Like Kojima wanted a big shocking MGS twist, but without actually risking changing anything about the overall canon. As a brief refresher, or reveal for those who don’t care about spoilers but are interested nonetheless, the big ending reveal is that you aren’t playing the real big boss at all, but rather Phantom Big Boss, created by using plastic surgery and hypnotherapy on the medic injured along with BB at the end of GZ. The phantom BB experiences the events of the game and goes on to create Outer Heaven from Metal Gear 1, while the real BB goes off to found Zanzibar Land from MG2. For the essence of discussion, lets dig deeper into the various aspects surrounding the ending and see if we can’t determine exactly where the problem lies.
The Idea Behind Phantom Big Boss Isn’t Actually That Bad, Just Executed Horribly
Upon reflection, the idea behind utilizing BB’s double actually does make sense, BB is amazing, but not omnipotent, and he knows the only way his enemies will stop looking for him, is if they think they’ve already found him. I’m also not such a I MUST BE REALL BB fanboy that the fact that i was playing an “imposter” bothers me at all in and of itself. Really it’s the way that it was handled throughout the life of the game that I think causes me most issues. The most disappointing thing about the twist, was how people kind of already suspected it in the first place. Even back in 2013 when it was revealed that Hayter was gone in favor of Sutherland as the voice actor, people were coming up with three theories. 1) that it was all a troll 2) that it was setting up for MG1&2 remakes, or 3) that we weren’t really playing big boss. People doubled down on it once it was shown in Ground Zeroes that Sutherland also voiced the medic. The tutorial itself makes it pretty obvious something is up with Snake’s appearance. For the man who trolled the world with MGS2, the fact that he tried to pull a similar move, and completely failed to truly come out of nowhere with it is kind of crappy. To be honest, a lot of his attempts at secrecy with MGSV has failed, people figured out pretty quickly that Phantom Pain was MGSV.
The game itself doesn’t seem to really know how it wants to really deal with the twist. As mentioned it gives a pretty big hint that something is a bit off at the beginning, but then beyond like two snippets of information, it kind just lets it all sag until the very end. The two snippets don’t even come from actual other characters or the phantom BB himself noticing something may be off. Rather it comes from a single line from the Mammal Pod from Peacewalker, and the results of a genetic comparison test between BB and Eli (who was also very obviously fingered as a young Liquid Snake by anyone with eyes). The fact that no actual person feels or suggests something is off makes the plan feel too perfect, we’ve reached an uncanny valley level of success. Of course I guess it’s easy to never really notice a change in character when BB in Phantom Pain has almost no character. Something like this has happened in MGS, but about 30 years in the future, and it took Ocelot undergoing hypnotherapy, receiving drugs and nanomachine assistance to take on the persona of Liquid Snake (being the son of a powerful medium probably helped too), and even then slight variations (Ocelots love of showmanship) peeked through. Here though apparently just copy all of BB’s memories and experiences through hypnotherapy (and probably some less advanced drugs), add in a little facial reconstruction and BOOM, instant Big Boss “clone” that is indistinguishable from the real thing. It was done on Zero’s (Cipher) command too, which kind of calls into question why the fuck he even bothered with Les Enfants Terribles now. Now MGS has always carried the theme that we are not slaves to our genes, that the memes we’ve been passed, and will pass down ourselves, change us, and leave a mark on the world beyond our genes. But the fact that such a perfect transition can seemingly be done says that we’re a slave to our memes if not our genes, and that those memes, which MGS has implied are so enduring, can be so easily thrown away.
The Lead Up To The Ending Fell Completely Flat
You might disagree, but personally I’ve always felt MGS had some pretty epic finales, usually involving going mano-a-mano with the most worthy opponent in the game. Brother vs Brother atop REX, a samurai showdown atop Federal Hall, Facing off against your mentor and woman who made you the man you are in a field of flowers, a final confrontation with series mastermind while the UI and music phases between each entry (critical hit to the nostalgia). MGS has always had some pretty good shit going on with it’s final hour, and your mindset going in to the final cutscene can greatly impact how you feel about it, that’s why great final bosses are so important. What does MGSV do to carry on the legacy? You replay the tutorial mission, in its entirety (complete with Tutorial Prompts), with a short scene added to the beginning (which blows the twist wide open) and the ending scenes added to the end. Sure the opening was exciting the first time, after all you were finally playing MGSV, and you knew shit was going down and you were in for a wild ride. The second time around as I was looking at a blurry screen with The Man Who Sold The World playing, i couldn’t help but think “really...am I seriously going to have to sit through this and then drag myself through scripted sequences? no, it’ll probably cut to something else after it shows something”. Nope, turns out it was the entire thing sans the horse ride. The appearance of the final Mission doesn’t even really make all that much sense. When you get back from doing something, you get a call saying that Quiet has left, and when you open up your mission screen, there it is. Then after it cuts back to phantom BB in a bathroom with a tape of real BB explaining the entire thing to him, which I don’t even know why he would do that instead of just letting phantom BB keep on keepin on, and apparently also leaving plans to build up to Operation Intrude N313.
In reality, you’ll be left feeling like the real finale was about 15 missions back, the boss fight against Sahelanthropus, and you wouldn’t really be wrong. That could be said about the entire second half really, you felt like the game ended a while ago and now you’re just playing through a messy after thought. Even going farther back the entire story lacks pacing and tension resulting from the stop and pop organization of the game and how sometimes it feels like story development is just randomly inserted after doing missions whose only connection is “hey we need to make money so do this job”. I blame this on the use of the Peacewalker model, although I’d say peacewalker still had a better done story overall. The easily manageable and digestible mission structure is great for a portable title, gives quick and easy stopping points while still allowing the player to feel like they’ve made progress. This isn’t a portable game however, this is a home console, numbered entry in a series that has demanded that you take time to be told its secrets. The model they’ve chosen to apply just doesn’t really work for the story they wanted to tell, or the story we want.
The Worst Part Is It Shows Just How Unfinished The Game Is
There are people, I imagine a lot of them, who can, and rightly will challenge my opinions about MGSV’s endings. One thing however, that I think most will almost universally agree on, especially in light of the unfinished content included in bonus materials, is that this game just wasn’t finished. The game fails to answer any questions it really should have, while answering ones that honestly? we didn’t need, assumptions already inherent in the series would have held up just fine. Was Heuy really the mastermind behind all the events connected to him? or was he just god’s gift to the real saboteur? I feel like the hunt for the truth was a plot line right up MGS’s alley, but nothing comes of it. Even worse, much much worse, is the absolute lack of any resolution of the situation with Eli, Psycho Mantis, and Sahelanthropus, which may I remind you they stole literally right out from under the noses of BB, Miller, and Ocelot. Assuming this is the last MGS (and for most fans it may as well be with Kojima gone) we’ll just have to use either the unfinished content or our imagination to figure out what happened between then and when Liquid reappears in MGS1.
Beyond that, as a supposed filler of the gap between the BB saga and the Solid Snake saga, it really adds nothing in aid of that. BB was already intent on forming Zanzibar land, where he’s going to be the bad guy, and it’s implied that BB gives Phantom BB some kind of instruction that would lead to Operation Intrude N313 (MG1 events). Speaking of which, I don’t even know why Ocelot bothered to trick himself in to forgetting about Phantom BB, or why they didn’t tell Phantom in the first place if they planned on revealing it all along, or why they told Phantom in the first place since that knowledge would obviously interfere with his ability to just be Big Boss. So in the end we’re left with an ending, and a story overall, that only really contributes one series changing revelation, the fact that the Big Boss killed in MG1 was Phantom, and that’s why Big Boss was alive to initiate the Zanzibar Land incident. But that doesn’t really mean a damn because either way you kill Big Boss twice (BB says to Phantom that Phantom IS big boss, and Big Boss is Big Boss too).
Does It Bring Down The Game and Final Thoughts
The answer to that question is a resounding Absolutely Not. Whatever I may think about the MGSV’s ending, it doesn’t take away the fact that this is the best playing MGS to ever exist. Hell I’d go so far as to say game play wise it’s the best stealth game I’ve ever played Period. my 75 hour and counting play time doesn’t lie, I’m having the time of my life experiencing everything this game has to offer. Even the story itself, which is the clearly weaker aspect of the package, has some high points. Code Talker and a lot of the plot surrounding the vocal cord parasites is interesting, especially since as someone with an education in ecology and evolution, it’s all right up my alley and I just ate that up. The lab outbreak mission had all the feels I kept waiting for, probably best mission in the game.
Quiet was also a nice surprise. Despite whoevers supposed to be in charge of reigning in Kojima’s creepy old man pervert tendencies clearly being asleep at the wheel, Quiet is actually one of the few/only characters to actually have a full character arc. Miller just pouts and rages, Big Boss is a blank slate, and Ocelot kinda just kicks it around being the slightly disinterested sounding voice of reason (we don’t even get to see any cool gunplay from Ocelot for fucks sake!). The resolution to Quiets story was actually quite somber and elicited more feels that almost anything else. I just really could have done without the helicopter lounging or the ridiculously creepy stripper dancing in the rain scene. In the end, this wasn’t the ending I wanted, It wasn’t the ending I didn’t know I wanted, but on the flip side it’s not as bad as my initial reaction. If it had been more subtle, if it had been better handled, had a great lead in, I think I could love this ending as the final Metal Gear Solid ending even if it still wouldn’t have been my favorite.