Metal Gear Solid 2: Too Cryptic, Or a Modern Masterpiece

Seeing as it was recently the 25th anniversary of the Metal Gear Solid saga, I thought this would be the appropriate time for me to abuse my power as a columnist and write a bunch of stuff about one of my favourite video game franchises. You guys must know by now how much I love these games, but this will be the first time I dedicate a whole piece to Hideo Kojima’s creation. I think I’ll start with my favourite of the series, and perhaps the most controversial, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.

I think it’s safe to say that there will be spoilers in here, so if you haven’t played the games yet… what the hell is wrong with you? Go sort it out. Now.

To those who are still reading, I apologise in advance because this will end up being quite an essay. I suggest you go grab a cardboard box, download the soundtracks for background music, and think of this as just another cut scene.

Raiden vs Snake

For me, MGS2 is one of the best. There is so much I love about this game; the fluid gameplay, the total mindfuck of a story, the crazy but fascinating villains. Plus, I think Kojima’s stunt with pulling Snake back from the forefront was a very dangerous move, but a stroke of pure genius all the same.

The second instalment of the Metal Gear Solid series was a controversial title, to say the least. Fans were outraged that Solid Snake had been replaced by some blonde kid with a girly voice. Not only that, lots of people complained that the story was too damn cryptic. I’m going to discuss both of these topics (and no doubt go off on lots of tangeants as well), but I’m going to start with the subject of Raiden: the manliest woman alive.

Check out those luscious blonde locks!  No, I’m kidding. At the risk of receiving hate mail, I’m just going to come out and say it. I love Raiden. I thought he was an excellent addition to the Metal Gear saga.

His introduction was brilliant. I love the way Kojima tricked us! As opposed to being outraged with this new guy, I was excited to have someone different at the forefront of the action. To be honest, I kinda fancied him, but that’s beside the point.

We learn at the end of MGS2 that Raiden was a child soldier, moulded and trained by Solidus to become the greatest soldier alive. In effect, the player and Raiden are both progressing through the story purely by emulating the experiences they have been subjected to in the past. The player attempts to use their knowledge of the previous game to tackle the sequel; something which is useless, as MGS2 is essentially a very jumbled version of Metal Gear Solid. In turn, Raiden only has the techniques he has learned through simulating Snake’s experiences in Shadow Moses to take on this mission, but it is clearly much more of a challenge for him than a VR.

MGS2 wants to fool the player, from beginning to end. Even from the demo, which offered up half of the Tanker section for us to sample, suggesting that Snake was indeed the returning protagonist. It sets out to invert everything that we thought we knew from the previous title. Rather than being seen as a hero, Snake is portrayed as a terrorist following the Tanker section. As opposed to infiltrating an environment, Snake was lured there by Ocelot to be seen around the world as the villain. And of course, after just two hours together, we are ripped away from our precious protagonist, led to believe that he has been killed.

I believe that MGS2 spends its time wanting the player to break away from the idea they have created for themselves of what the Metal Gear world should entail. It is consistently altering the virtual reality the fans have come to know by providing mirrored scenarios and relationships, only to dramatically change them without warning. For instance, the relationship between Raiden and Pliskin could be seen as a slightly twisted version of the interactions between Solid Snake and Gray Fox in Metal Gear Solid. Snake came into contact with Gray Fox after walking down a bloody hallway; a situation which was mirrored in Raiden’s initial meeting with Pliskin. Also, both protagonists learned how to act as soldiers from their respective counterparts: we discover that Snake had been taught how to fight by Gray Fox in previous years, and we know that Raiden learned all of his skills by emulating Snake (i.e. Pliskin) in VR simulations.

However, the similarities become altered when the outcome we are denied is what we have come to expect from previous experiences. In Metal Gear Solid, Gray Fox first appeared to us as a threat, but later serves as a comrade. MGS2 offers a complete reversal of this expectation, providing Pliskin as an aid initially, then revealing him to be an apparent enemy upon sacrificing Raiden at the game’s climax. It seems that Kojima wants us to draw these parallels, to recognise these subtle similarities, in order to be drawn into a false sense of security. He wants us to feel at ease, then to remove the cardboard box and see how we handle this new, strange environment.

It is the conclusion of the game that makes me so attached to Raiden (…no, I’m not talking about the naked part).

Here, Raiden has been stripped of everything that he knows. He was physically stripped of everything, and even had the support of the Colonel and Rose taken away from him once it became clear that they were not genuine. It is in the final battle with Solidus that we know Raiden is finally fighting for himself, not for some other cause. He is no longer tied down to following in the footsteps of Solid Snake. Following his victory, Raiden even strips himself of the gamer, removing the dog tags from around his neck engraved with the name of the player.

The final transformation is in the title screen.

Upon completion, the title screen changes from displaying Snake’s face coloured red, to Raiden in blue. This is the acceptance of Raiden as a protagonist in his own right, finally freeing himself from the shadow of Solid Snake he has unwillingly found himself in.

An alternate viewpoint of Raiden’s presence is that he was created purely to demonstrate how awesome Solid Snake actually is. Personally, I think this is quite a shallow route to follow, but it’s a possibility all the same. When Pliskin reveals his true identity, we are in awe (as is Raiden) watching him in battle. I suppose the two characters could be seen as representations of experience and innocence; Snake is a veteran on the battlefield trying to redeem his past failures, while Raiden is little more than a pawn attempting to break away from the control of others (including the player). Having been told, “You don’t deserve to be free”, Raiden must cut a path to his own freedom by destroying his own past. He attains this by killing Solidus, not for any greater reason than to be free. Raiden finally accepts that he is not, and he can never be, Solid Snake.

Dat Speech

After complaining about Raiden taking over from Snake, lots of gamers complained that the story of MGS2 had got too difficult to follow. I imagine the Wikipedia page has taken a fair few hits over the years as everyone has tried to make sense of it all.

We all got a bit confused when the Colonel started freaking out on us over the Codec, didn’t we? INEEDSCISSORS61 and all that jazz. Well, what I found to be more disturbing was his speech regarding freedom, and the liberty that humans are truly allowed to possess.

When I first played the game in 2002, I was too young to fully appreciate and understand the message that was being conveyed in MGS2. Listening once more to the Patriot’s speech with a more experienced mind, it makes a terrifying amount of sense. The ideas of “convenient half truths”, “context”, and contradictory lessons we are taught from a young age, are all elements of society that we can identify.

“Is that even your own idea?”

The Patriots state that we “lack the qualifications to exercise free will”. Kojima is very cleverly utilising a video game, a medium which relies on a massive limitation of free will in exchange for alternative realities, in order to convey such a powerful commentary on the state of politics and the direction society is headed towards. We finish MGS2 feeling as though we, along with Raiden, have been mere pawns throughout the experience.

The speech also discusses the influences of technology over our society, and how dangerous such freedom of speech could be. The suggestion that the digital age has somewhat dumbed down our culture is something which cannot be ignored. A message which was certainly ahead of its time; in recent years the internet has been flooded with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and certain infamous imageposting boards which shall not be named. Is there even such a thing as “context” any more? Even more concerning is the idea of entire governments condemning or even banning such sites. Were these fictional Patriots correct? Is there such a thing as too much freedom?

Well… I hope that wasn’t too heavy for you. I’d love to get a discussion going, so please feel free to leave me any comments with your opinions on any of the subjects I’ve touched today. If you guys enjoyed this (and my editors let me!) I’ll dedicate a future column to another title in the series, because I’ve really loved writing this one.

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