Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Timelines

Posted by JerryTerrifying On Monday, July 5, 2010 0 comments

Christmas 1998 my idea of video games changed.  I had to stop and rethink video games as a medium of entertainment.  It was the day after Christmas and my friend from across the street Michael had come over to ask me a very important question.  It had been a long time since I really hung out with Michael so it was a little odd that he came over at all but his mission was important.  The first thing he asked me was "Did you get Metal Gear Solid?!"  He was beaming with excitement.  "Yeah I did get it actually."  I answered curiously.  I hadn't really heard of the game, I had seen the hilarious commercial but hadn't really thought much about it.  Back then Dr Jerry Terrifying wasn't a hardcore gamer that followed all the news in the gaming magazines and primitive internet.

Michael insisted that I play the game immediately.  He had already played his brand new copy of the game and was so excited he had to find the nearest person with a Playstation and share the experience.  It was amazing.  I instantly understood why he was so excited, why despite our weak association he simply had to spread the word about this game to anyone that would listen.  I just happened to live directly across the street and have a Playstation.  I was instantly hooked.  The cinematic opening sequence with the well performed dialog grabbed a hold of my imagination like no other game ever had.

He explained that the object of the game was to sneak around undetected, to hug walls and peak around corners, to avoid fire fights and engaging the enemy.  I was in love.  We played through the game up to the first boss fight with Revolver was getting late and he had to go back home.  It was the day after Christmas after all.  So I saw him to the door and rushed back to my dank pit of despair and picked up the Dual Shock controller and kept playing.  I played all through the night.  After the Psycho Mantis fight I had to save and go to bed.  My memory card, a cheap third party memory card by the way, corrupted on me and was useless!  Luckily my Father had bought himself a Playstation so he could mess around and play some games and bond with me I guess.  So I went out to his office and begged and pleaded that he let me borrow his memory card!  He eventually submitted to my demands and let me use his memory card.  I could save my game and continue again in the morning.

That's how I fell in love with Metal Gear Solid.  From that day on I was in love with everything Metal Gear.  The high quality voice acting, the cinematic directing and brilliant action sequences shook every notion I had about video games.  I recognized that video games could be art and tell a story just as well as a film.  Everything about this game was brilliant but what set it apart from the rest of the video gaming world was the expertly crafted narrative and the tight plot.  This video game had a story on par with any Hollywood motion picture, sure that's not saying much, but it was something that had never really been accomplished in a video game.

How could video games get any better than this?  November 2001 Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons Of Liberty was released.  Generally I've found that sequels usually aren't as amazing as the original.  How could a game top the plot of Metal Gear Solid?  It wasn't possible!  I was wrong.  Metal Gear Solid 2 actually raised the bar even further and I was just as stunned as I was a few short years before that.

How I got my grubby hands on the game actually involves my favorite Christmas.  My Mother knew that I had to have Metal Gear Solid 2 but it was on the Playstation 2.  The new expensive video game hotness.  I grew up in a fairly poor family, we weren't poverty stricken hobos but we weren't the richest family on the block either.  I knew I wasn't going to get to play Metal Gear Solid 2 for quite some time.

Christmas came and I opened my presents excitedly as usual.  No new Metal Gear.  My Mother handed me one more present.  It was small and thin.  I tore away the paper and saw Metal Gear Solid 2!  My heart sank.  This was the last gift with my name on it and it was a game that I so dearly wanted but obviously couldn't play.  I still remember how bummed I felt and shocked that my mother would buy me a game knowing I didn't have the system to play it on.  I still remember my heart sinking and how bummed I felt.  I was disappointed that my Mom had made such a Mom mistake!  She was cooler than that!  My Mom was the manager of the electronics  department of a department store, she was the hip Mom that knew about video games and prided herself in the fact that she knew who Bomberman was, declaring him to be a cutie, how could this have happened?!

I started cleaning up the wrapping paper when my Mom went into my Father's office and came out with another gift.  My eyes lit up with pure Christmas magic and joy!  I eagerly tore away the wrapping paper revealing my very own Playstation 2!  I was just as excited as Ralphie getting his official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.

I ran straight to my bedroom and wasn't seen for days.  I was so drawn into the game that I played through it in two sittings.  This began my tradition of skipping school or work for Metal Gear release days.  No longer would I wait for Christmas or birthdays to get my hands on new Metal Gear.  It was decided that I must own Metal Gear games on the day they are released.  The first game in the series had blown me away and changed the way I thought and felt about video games.  The second game had just as much impact.  The plot was deep and interesting and made me consider the philosophical impact the internet had on society as a whole.  In other words this game had a deep and well written complex plot.

The first thing any true Metal Gear Solid fan will tell you is that this series has the best plot of any video game.  This series was used as a shining example of video games as an art form until Shadow of the Colossus came along as an even greater example of a game being art. Still Metal Gear Solid 2 received a lot of  criticism for the introduction of a pretty boy slightly effeminate main character for the last three quarters of the game.  The character came to be after a group of Japanese school girls said they didn't want to play games with nasty old men in them.  So Raiden exists to appeal to teenage Japanese school girls and the long time American Metal Gear Fans had a mixed reaction to it.  Some other gamers didn't grasp the complexity of the plot in MGS2.  Despite that the series still stood out as having an amazing plot combined with outstanding game play and fans wanted, no needed more!  More Metal Gear!  Hideo Kojima gave his fans what they wanted and took all of the criticism into account when creating Metal Gear Solid 3.  This trend would have a huge impact on the quality of the series especially in Metal Gear Solid 4.

Again in Metal Gear Solid 3 we had another change in the games main character.  It looked like Solid Snake, was voiced by the same actor but wasn't Solid Snake.  This time it was Naked Snake and players got to experience his growth from Naked Snake into Big Boss the legendary Super Soldier from the first two Metal Gear games.  The corpse Liquid held the world hostage for and one of the most important characters in the Metal Gear timeline.  Kojima wanted a game  that took place in the 1960's during the height of the Cold War so how could this have been done?  Naturally a prequel.  It's no secret that Kojima, like many Japanese people, has strong feelings about Nuclear weapons.  The Cold War was a time in human history that most people were afraid of being nuked off the planet and experiencing the end of civilization.  The perfect setting for a game with a strong message about the horrors of nuclear weapons.  Another reason for justifying a prequel.

So what could go wrong?  Well nothing actually went wrong.  This game introduced what I personally believe to be the best game play in the series, had the most stunning action sequences I've ever seen in a game or a film, introduced new interesting characters and has one of the all time best boss fights in a video game.  The only thing that went wrong was the time line.  Kojima wanting to place the game in 1964 felt the need to knock off about 10 years of Big Boss' age.  Naked Snake's mentor, The Boss, fought in World War II and became a hero later taking on Naked Snake as her disciple to teach him everything she knew.  Kojima felt that Big Boss' true age was simply to old to work with that he just changed it.  After all who the hell actually played Metal Gear or Metal Gear 2?  Especially in America where the Solid Series was most popular.  Really the only information about Big Boss is a few lines of dialog between Solid and Liquid Snake and  the official strategy guide for the first Metal Gear Solid.

My personal theory is that there are two separate time lines and two different Big Boss chatacters.  There's the Original Time Line and the altered Time Line.  The original time line makes perfect sense and all fits together as the games were all made in order.  The second timeline however uses elements of the first timeline which creates plot holes aplenty.  Think of it like  Back to the Future 2 when in alternate 1985 Doc Brown explains to Marty the perils of misusing the time machine and the alternate timeline that branches off of the original timeline.  That's what happened to Metal Gear Solid.

Metal Gear Solid 3 is the beginning of the second timeline.  It's a prequel that took the liberty of changing whatever it wanted about Naked Snake/Big Boss for the sake of making an interesting story within that game.  It worked well the plot of MGS3 is great assuming you don't really know or care that much about  the little bit of background information about Big Boss.  Ultimately it didn't have much impact on the over all timeline it just changed around Naked Snake/Big boss' personal history.  A year later the game was re released with an enhanced version packaged with many extras as incentive to buy the game a second time.  Metal Gear Solid 3 Subsistence came with a second disc that contained the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake.  These games were slightly updated.  The character profiles no longer looked like celebrities from American Action films of the 80's they more closely resembled their modern counterparts from the Solid games.  Also it was a new translation with minor updates to the script.  Wait, what?  Yes some details were changed to make the games fit in more closely with the Solid games and some of the characters names and pasts were changed to sound less goofy and out of place.

All of these changes are known as "retcons" or retroactive continuity.  Comic book fans are the most familiar with the retcon.  When you have a piece of serial fiction that's been running for 50 years and had different writers work on the series adding their own touches or rebooting the franchise you get a lot of complex and convoluted plot holes.   In the 1980's there was a large story line spanning across all of DC comics franchises.  The Crisis on Infinite Earths 12 part series involving parallel dimensions.  Over the span of 50 years many of the DC comics had suffered from inconsistent stories that went back and changed details and plot lines.  Originally Superman couldn't fly, he could leap over a quarter mile due to being from a planet with higher gravity.  Eventually he could just fly, his background story was altered to incorporate Super Girl despite him originally being the only survivor of Kryptons catastrophic destruction.  Little effort was made to explain these changes.  Eventually all DC comics were suffering from this same problem.  Like Batman as an active hero in World War II and not aging for over 30 years.

The Crisis event was originally conceived as a celebration of DC's 50th anniversary but the authors saw this as an opportunity for a clean slate and washing away the convoluted past of every DC franchise.  The Metal Gear franchise is now at that point where the timeline and origin of many characters have been re written making them inconsistent with earlier games in the series.  I don't think it's feasible to introduce a multiverse super crisis to wipe away the huge plot holes but at the very least they could stop making prequels that destroy the consistency of the series.

The Alternate Time line really didn't get sloppy until Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops for the PSP.  The game is cannon but despite this many fans simply choose to ignore it.  Kojima had very little to do with the game and it has a thing plot that does little more than introducing inconsistencies.  Grey Fox or Frank Jaeger is introduced in MPO as the Ultimate Soldier.  A war orphaned boy that is conditioned to be the ulimate killing machine.  It's Naked Snake/Big Boss that meets him in battle and is his superior in combat.  Breaking Frank's mind control and freeing him from being The Ultimate Soldier.  To put Frank Jaeger in this game they had to change his established past and age further muddying the timeline for seemingly no reason at all.  It doesn't add to the story or the history of the series.  It just throws in a familiar character and alters his established past weakening the character and strenght of the over all series.  Sadly this trend would continue but fortunately all of it contained within the second weaker timeline.

The second time lines alterations mostly focused on changing established characters agesm origins and motivations.  No longer was Big Boss the man born in the 1920's that had to lie about his age to fight in World War II, was cloned in the 70's while in a coma, lost his eye in the 1980's and founder of Outer Heaven the haven of mercenaries and war orphans that bred war and conflict to justify their continued existence.  Big Boss was now Naked Snake the tragic misunderstood anti Hero fighting to preserve the will of his Mentor and later secretly fighting against Major Zero the secret shadow government puppet master.  Gray Fox the member of Fox Hound that after being injured in a mine field fist fight with Solid Snake was made into a bad ass super robo-ninja controlled by mind control and drugs now had a past as a machete wielding mind controlled ultimate weapon.  What a terrible fate to suffer the exact same manipulation twice in one life time. 

It was at this point that every new character introduced into the series during the prequels was directly related to characters from previous Metal Gear Solid games.  It would seem that they purposely went out of their way to convolute and over complicate the series history.  No longer was the Darpa Chief just the Darpa Chief he now had a past as being Sigint in Metal Gear Solid 3 and a much more significant role behind the scenes.  You'd think if he were secretly working for The Patriots that knew and saw everything and was in ultimate control he'd have known about Ocelots plans to hijack Metal Gear Rex and avoided being killed before the first game even started.  Dr Clark the woman responsible for Grey Fox being the ultimate in robot ninja excellence was now in all actuality Para Medic.  The woman that was used as a surrogate mother for the Les Enfant Terribles project was no longer a nameless no one it was none other than Eva the Patriot spy from China.  The problem of interrelated characters got so huge that Kojima joked that the End's Parrot was directly related to the Emma Emerich's Parrot in MGS2.  There was no reason that these characters had to be related to each other.

The trend would continue with the most recent game in the Metal Gear series.  In Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker  the character Huey, Otacon's father, who happens to look, sound and act exactly like Otacon.  Also keep in mind Otacons father kills himself after discovering his son Otacon porking his wife Otacons own step mother.  There's also Kazuhira Miller who would later appear in Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake as well as being featured as a plot device in Metal Gear Solid.  The only problem was Master Millers name wasn't Kazuhira it was McDonnel Benedict Miller.  He was always half Japanese and American but now his name was changed.  I wonder why they're afraid to introduce new characters into the series?

The changes in the timeline are so huge and engulfing that I consider that characters to be separate from the original versions of the characters.  The two most important being Big Boss and Ocelot.  Big Boss was originally introduced as being a stereotypical villain.  He wanted nothing more than a world filled with strife to give soldiers a place to thrive.  Peace to Big Boss was seen as forced obsolescence of the soldier and an end of his purpose.  Later he would be shown as a tragic anti hero.  The world had used his mentor and thrown her away so now Big Boss wanted to create a world where soldiers were cherished and celebrated where valiant patriotic warriors like The Boss wouldn't be thrown away for the sake of a mission rather than Big Boss being worried about his own self worth.  There were parallels to those two different motivations to build Outer Heaven but Naked Snake's story painted the character in shades of gray.  So I consider the character Big Boss to be the generic villain from Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 and Naked Snake to be the tragic anti hero that's misunderstood by the world.  I do find the character of Naked Snake to be a more compelling and well written character but the point is just that he's different.  He's not the Big Boss that the world knew for nearly 20 years.

Revolver Ocelot is the greatest villain of all time.  He's a gun slinging duster wearing Spaghetti Western loving Russian sadist that takes great pleasure torturing information out of his victims.  Cool!  He is cold hearted ruthless and perhaps the single most important character in the entire Metal Gear franchise.  At the end of most of the Metal Gear Solid games Ocelot usually telephones in to his superiors revealing that Ocelot has been secretly behind everything the entire time.  Working for President George Sears, The Patriots or the Director of the CIA manipulating every event in the game for the powers of evil!  Playing Solid or Naked Snake like a well tuned fiddle!  Ocelot is the ultimate villain.  You do not get more cold hearted and ruthless.

Of course it could all be faked with a healthy dose of nano machines, psycho therapy and hypnosis.  Yes Revolver Ocelot is in all actuality a good guy!  Having earned so much respect for Big Boss during the events of Snake Eater Ocelot would go on double crossing every single character he ever interacted with for the ultimate goal of freeing the world from the grip of the Patriots.  It makes total sense that he would foil Solidus Plans to over throw the Patriots and take off in a Metal Gear Ray.  Wait, no it doesn't. This all could have been avoided by not making any prequels or at least actually knowing the history of the series you created.

The plot twist about Ocelots secret intentions makes no sense if you actually pay attention to the character in the first two Solid games.  For my own personal sanity and respect for the first half of the series I keep the two time lines separate.  Metal Gear through Metal Gear Solid 2 are a well written masterpiece and are an example of how to write a story for a video game. And all of the colossal plot holes introduced in Metal Gear Solid 3 through MGS Peace Walker are examples of how to over complicated a series.  Don't get me wrong I love the series and love every game in the series its from this love that I have to point out the disconnect between the two time lines.


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