The Curious Case of Tomokazu Fukushima
Editorial by Johnny Miller IV, Posted on June 21, 2020
To many Metal Gear fans, the “Golden Age” of the series was the original Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Each entry pushed the games industry forward in terms of presentation, thematic complexity, and emotional resonance. Since then, the series has received a more mixed reception. While there are certainly fans of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and Metal Gear Solid V (Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain), few would argue that these games hold a candle to the franchise’s peak.
Those who were especially dissatisfied with the direction of the series began to theorize that the person behind the quality of the first three Metal Gear Solid games was actually co-writer Tomokazu Fukushima, not Hideo Kojima. This theory has gained so much traction, that even highly regarded Kojima-game analyzers have begun to adopt the theory.
The theory goes; Tomokazu Fukushima was credited among the writers for the first three Metal Gear Solid titles. Once he left, the writing quality of the series fell off a cliff with Guns of the Patriots onward. On the other hand, Metal Gear: Ghost Babel, which had a fantastic story, was written by Fukushima, not Kojima. Thus, without the support of Fukushima’s writing, Kojima is exposed as a “hack” who got lucky due to the talent of those around him.
While this makes for an appealing David vs Goliath-esque narrative—with the “egotistical” gaming superstar director Hideo Kojima taking the latter role—does the reality live up to the legend?
Under further scrutiny, the answer is “probably not.”
For starters, Kojima wrote great stories before he collaborated with Fukushima. Although Snatcher drew heavy inspiration from films like Blade Runner, The Terminator, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Kojima was still able to combine these disparate influences with his own world building capabilities, to create a universe that was uniquely his own. Taking inspiration from J.C Pollock’s novel Crossfire, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake dealt with themes such as the scars of war and the fickle nature of politics well before Snake Eater became famous for it.
Whatever doubt remained in Kojima’s abilities as a storyteller were dashed with Policenauts, which combined the buddy cop premise of Lethal Weapon with themes of space colonization, human organ trafficking, and the corporate corruption of public institutions. Despite taking place in outer space, Policenauts was Hideo Kojima’s most down-to-earth game.
Second of all, the argument confuses correlation with causation. It’s true that Fukushima was involved with writing “the good Metal Gear Solid games”, and his absence correlated with the release of games whose writing quality is more divisive. However, it’s a fallacy to argue that “the good stuff” was 100% Fukushima and 0% Kojima, without showing evidence for which parts of the game’s writing were Kojima’s and which parts were Fukushima’s.
Fukushima joined the writing team for the original Metal Gear Solid in July of 1997, well after development began in mid-1995, and only a little over a year before the game’s initial Japanese release. From there, he helped punch up Kojima’s script with harsher dialogue.
By the time Fukushima joined the team, the core story, themes, and characters—in other words, the stuff we associate with how great Metal Gear is—had already been finalized by Kojima (with a little help from Yoji Shinkawa).
In an interview with gamesTM, Hideo Kojima claims to be responsible for the core story and writing of each of his games, while Fukushima works on some of the Codec conversations.
Fukushima himself appears to agree with Kojima, claiming that he’s mainly responsible for the writing of the optional Codec conversations.
This is no small feat, given how much these optional Codec calls helped enrich the world and themes of Kojima’s stories; his absence is definitely felt with the minimal Codec calls in Guns of the Patriots. However, they are all derived from Kojima’s core vision for each project.
Indeed, while Fukushima is praised for his work on Ghost Babel, his main modus operandi was to imitate the style of Kojima’s previous Metal Gear games.
Ultimately, Hideo Kojima was the captain of the ship for each of his games, having decided on “the relationships between the characters and the order of events” ahead of production. Based on what we know, Solid Snake’s triumph over his genetically superior brother in the original Metal Gear Solid, the prophetic, postmodern take on narrative manipulation, memetic conditioning, and online communities in Sons of Liberty, and the shocking reveal of The Boss’s true loyalty in Snake Eater, all came from the mind of Kojima himself.
It may be difficult to reconcile that the man who came up with something as brilliant as The Sorrow’s river, could create something as fundamentally flawed as Death Stranding. With that said, one shouldn’t use their feelings against Kojima’s later works to justify totally discrediting his prior moments of brilliance… let alone, give most of the credit to someone else, for having a nice sounding profile.
At the end of the day, good or bad, there’s no game like A Hideo Kojima Game.
Special thanks to Arc Hound for their translation efforts, and for providing source images for the translated quotes.