The Argument For A Freer Canon
By Ravi Singh, Posted on January 3, 2011
The Metal Gear series seriously needs to end. Well, not really. Let me be more specific: the main fictional canon that begins with Metal Gear and currently stands at Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker with Metal Gear Solid: Rising looming in the near future needs to be put to rest. Yes I know, it won't, but I think it should and there are plenty of good reasons why it should. The first thing that pops up in any Metal Gear fan's mind regarding this would be the fear that putting the storyline to rest means no more Metal Gear games in the future. That's not what I'm saying though; even if Hideo Kojima had went along with his plan to end the series at Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty in 2001, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater in 2004 or even Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots in 2008, that does not mean that there would have been no Metal Gear games released since per se.
There are numerous options available which allows new Metal Gear titles to start on a blank or relatively untouched canvas and to leave the past behind so that the new generation of Metal Gear developers have a lot more leg room to work with. While storyline is very important in the make-up of a Metal Gear title, creating more games which will be placed within the existing canon is actually crippling the series and prolonging the day when even the most loyal of fans find it harder to take the storyline seriously, if not simply become apathetic to it.
THE PROBLEM OF THE CONTROLLED CANON
Characters, events and organizations that exist within the canon end up being saturated with additional information with each installment. While information can add depth to a character, it doesn't necessarily mean that it will. This is especially true in the case of recent Metal Gear titles which spend far more time giving you information rather than allowing viewers to perceive characters through their actions.
A classic example of this is Vamp from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. We have a creepy bisexual immortal running on water. While a conversation with Snake does reveal some background information on Vamp regarding a crucifix and a church bombing, his supernatural powers and ability to revive are never explained and indeed, despite being lethally wounded numerous times, he appears in the streets of Manhattan during the ending.
If you have drifted along the fan community up until 2008, you may remember numerous theories regarding Vamp. The most popular concerned the possibility of water reviving Vamp. Every scene Vamp is seemingly killed, water somehow revives him; Fortune's tear drop, high oxygen water and the ocean itself. Granted, in real life, water doesn't have such effects, but then again, nothing actually has the power to revive you from such lethal experiences. Not even… nanomachines.
Yet that is the official explanation given in 2008's Guns of the Patriots–nanomachines. This isn't adding depth, this is just a desperate attempt to fill in a "hole" that was never even dug up to begin with as Vamp was supposed to be a mysterious character, not someone who is able to move the way he does due to special boots and revives himself due to tiny machines running through his bloodstream. This explanation also brings up another issue which plagues the canon whenever an attempt is made to just add information which was never intended to exist: inconsistencies.
Vamp is now explained as a demonstration of the excesses of nanotechnology. Okay. Fine. What about his superhuman abilities? His boots take advantage of van der Waals force. Well, that certainly doesn't explain his abilities in Sons of Liberty, where he does not wear the special boots. That's because, once again, during the development of Sons of Liberty, Vamp was just part of the paranormal. Now he's not because fans wanted an explanation from Kojima and he didn't have one to provide. So he pretty much worked something in that does not even apply to the original source material. No surprise here as Hideo Kojima himself gets confused by his own story.
Hideo Kojima: "I personally get confused too about the whole timeline and saga of Metal Gear Solid. This is especially tricky when you create the future first and then go back in time to create something new."
Kojima then admits at the consequences that this confusion can lead to.
Thus fans take note of retcons and inconsistencies. Kojima would surely find it much easier for him to tell a fucking story if such boundaries didn't exist. Such boundries have hindered Kojima even in 1998. Some have criticized the so-called "science" behind cloning within Metal Gear Solid as being full of shit. There's some truth in that, and it's not necessarily Kojima's lack of understanding simple biology either. It's because he wanted to make the main villain more intense than the mercenaries of Outer Heaven and Zanzibar Land and Big Boss himself:
Metal Gear Solid only had two titles to incorporate into it's story. Fast forward to Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and by then you have six–and that's not including Portable Ops which is still officially considered canon! If "things got difficult" with Metal Gear Solid, imagine how difficult things have been with the past several installments in the series canon and how much more difficult it will be in the future! No wonder Kojima's confused; the poor guy has to make all of this fit with each other the best he can in addition to writing an actual plot. Even then, he still either makes mistakes or simply disregards prior events established in the canon. Look at Metal Gear Solid and some of the things regarding the classic Metal Gear titles.
DON'T: REMAKE THE OLD
Some argue that the classics should be remade in order to address some of these issues. This will only complicate the problem and will not get us any closer to canon consistency. 2003 saw The Twin Snakes for the Nintendo Gamecube. The game saw all-new cutscenes and voice acting and some minor changes made to the in-game environments. So which game depicts the real canon? At this point, it seems like later Metal Gear titles such as Guns of the Patriots acknowledge the PlayStation original as canon, but use the voice acting from The Twin Snakes… in the English version (let's not even get into this issue though as the Japanese version of Guns of the Patriots has Liquid Ocelot still using Liquid's voice ala Sons of Liberty).
The Twin Snakes was still a third dimensional remake of a third dimensional game with the original script practically intact. A modern remake of the 8-bit titles Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake would have to face a much grander scale of changes from the original source. At that point, it's just like working on a brand new canon Metal Gear title as there's bound to be new information that will be thrown in and there to extend the length of the script and there will have to be some sort of checking to see if it all ties in with the rest of the series.
Something "little" will still go through and all of the sudden, the main reason to remake the classics are thrown out the window as a new error in continuity is found. At best, in order to "fix" the originals they would simply have to keep the game two dimensional and keep the script relatively the same while making minor changes so that Gray Fox actually showed Snake "the ropes" and Zanzibar Land didn't somehow steal all of the world's nukes. Then again, Kojima Productions had this opportunity anyways during the ports to the mobile phone and PlayStation 2 platforms. They had their chance and they merely adapted Yoji Shinkiwa's art style along with a new translation. Even the fucking Zanzibar Land Poisonous Hamsters stayed put!
If remaking the classics is seen as a viable option to patch up any holes future titles bring forth, this will only cause the canon itself to be unstable. At this point any argument against a reboot holds little water as sequels can essentially reboot the canon by completely disregarding what has already been established. Luckily, remakes do not seem to be Kojima Productions' answer to addressing the problems that continuing the current canon brings forth; it's just a wet dream certain fans have and what they see as a solution to the inconsistencies future Metal Gear titles have made. On the other hand though, Kojima Productions seem more focused on making new games with new plots to explain shit that's supposedly "missing."
DON'T: FIND MORE 'MISSING LINKS'
Even before Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops was released and disfigured what was already at the time a complete series, I knew the story would be completely unnecessary despite the "necessity" of it being pushed by Konami's marketing. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was promoted in a similar fashion. Both titles were claimed to be a "full-fleshed Metal Gear Solid title" and "not a spin-off" that reveals the "missing link" between Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Metal Gear.
All of that turned out to be complete bullshit when it came to Portable Ops, which while remaining officially canon, can truly be forgotten with no effect on the overall storyline. Peace Walker on the other hand, does actually have some damn relevance in the Metal Gear canon, but just like Portable Ops it created more plot holes while it supposedly filled others. Such is the fate of these "missing links."
While Peace Walker does depict Big Boss finally getting the fuck over The Boss, recruiting children and building on the philosophy that turns him into the tortured villain in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, it often times leaves behind broken links behind. I'm not talking about something as trivial as Huey and Strangelove never revealing their real names either. Why Huey ends up leaving Militaires Sans Frontieres though is of interest. He had to have left considering that Outer Heaven has to kidnap Dr. Pettrovich Madnar to build TX-55. Right? His son Hal didn't seem to have any idea of his mother (assuming Strangelove is his biological mother) and father's escapades in Central America with Big Boss. Fuck, Hal did not seem to even realize that his father worked on nuclear weapons much like his grandfather did!
Then there's the whole thing with The Patriots giving Big Boss an ultimatum via Paz, which he rejects. The bromance between Big Boss and Zero is apparently deep enough for Zero to forgive Big Boss and allow him to be FOXHOUND commander once again though, as such is the case in the first Metal Gear. As stated by Big Mama in Guns of the Patriots:
Could the "plan" possibly involve tricking Zero into believing that Big Boss was working for The Patriots all along? Indeed, the revelation that Big Boss was the leader of Outer Heaven is supposed to be a surprise to everybody. Maybe even Miller shat a brick in disgust. That could explain why Miller hates the man so much nearly twenty-five years after a playful and quite frankly homoerotic fist fight in MSF's showers:
…but wouldn't Miller have known that Big Boss was the leader of Outer Heaven? As we know, MSF becomes Outer Heaven. Not only does Big Boss actually refer to MSF as "Outer Heaven" throughout Peace Walker, he pretty much establishes it as it's official name in the second post-credit ending. Now several people cringed at this when it's revealed that The Patriots–under the name Cipher–knew the existence of MSF and that Big Boss is it's leader. MSF's second in-command, Miller, is also revealed to be a Cipher spy in an eavesdropped phone call conversation you can listen to after finishing all of the missions the game has to offer. The phone call discusses events which took place at the end of Chapter 4, but nothing that has taken place since. So I guess at the end of Chapter 5 Miller could have really cut all ties with Cipher as he pretty much told Big Boss he would. Yet he's in FOXHOUND in the 1990's and pretty much gives Solid Snake the hint that led to Big Boss' second erasure. If he was still a Patriot spy, what was the deal with Outer Heaven, then? If he severed his ties, how was he able to work his way into FOXHOUND, with Zero himself overlooking Big Boss' return?
For a missing link, Peace Walker sure as fuck sets itself up for yet another sequel. Hideo Kojima has already stated that Peace Walker "is a test" of sorts and talked about a sequel to Peace Walker being planned, suggesting that his "test" was a success. Maybe we'll see Big Boss in the 1980s where mullets and bandanas were actually in-style, for once. If they make it take place in the late 80s we could even see at least one of the young sons of Big Boss! Then who knows what else will be "missing" after that which we will see in Metal Gear Solid: Yet Another Big Boss Prequel! The possibilities are endless!
BREAKING THE CYCLE
WHAT THE FUCK ELSE DID YOU GUYS REALLY NEED TO KNOW??!!!
The necessity of a "missing link" between Snake Eater and Metal Gear was simply a marketing strategy with no basis on the plots of Snake Eater or even the paragraph-long script for the original Metal Gear. Snake Eater's ending should be enough to give a good idea of why Big Boss essentially tried to take on the world. Metal Gear doesn't really explain why Big Boss was Outer Heaven's leader but it's sequel Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake gave us a speech by Big Boss justifying his mad views. Even if these were not enough, with the release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots came a full explanation of what happened between 1964 and 1995. Even then, it's revelation of Outer Heaven being a challenge to the Patriot establishment in Guns of the Patriots was pretty fucking obvious as it was.
So while Portable Ops and Peace Walker failed in it's mission to be a "missing link," there was never a damn missing link in the first place, let alone two! Alas, we got them and now we must deal with what we got and we can expect similar marketing strategies in future prequels. Economically, making additional games in the successful Metal Gear series makes sense, but for the canon overall? The only claim that can be made at this point is that a new prequel could fix all of the questions which Peace Walker has ultimately brought out. Of course, that doesn't mean this new sequel won't do the same thing Peace Walker did and create new issues. Thus, we have the Metal Gear Sequel Cycle.
The cycle won't last though. Not particularly because it might be modified for sequels in general, but probably because eventually nobody is going to give a shit by then. Since Snake Eater, every new Metal Gear title that is announced polarizes the fanbase. Sure, there are those who for some odd reason want to know what happened in certain parts of the canon timeline, but most do not. This makes sense though. How many fans of Watchmen beg Alan Moore into continuing the series? How many times do you hear people wishing for a Blade Runner 2? Did we really need the fucking prequel trilogy for Star Wars? Especially with a conclusive ending as seen in Guns of the Patriots, any unanswered questions that are left such as what happens with the destruction of the Patriots is seen as trite. Just like how Peace Walker was unnecessary, Metal Gear Solid: Yet Another Big Boss Prequel will be as well, despite Peace Walker pretty much moaning for a sequel made. The "missing links" are about as missing as you want it to be. The "twenty-year gap" between Peace Walker and Metal Gear is actually smaller than you think. Fans can discuss that which has not been explained–and they do–just as they did with all of the unanswered questions from Sons of Liberty.
With plenty of thinking and discussion, you'll find an answer you'll be happy with. If you have read my defense of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots you'll remember my discussion on how most fans had their own version of what the perfect Metal Gear Solid 4 would be like. Chances are, whatever sequel is made will be less satisfactory than how you see things. That's the beauty of a free canon. It allows fans to see the series as it is. There's still some direction on Kojima's part due to existing installments, but with less control over the canon, there is more room for critical thinking, discussion and interpretations. Yes, Konami is naturally interested in money and it's perfectly acceptable for them to continue to release new Metal Gear games to please their stockholders and for us to enjoy playing. They can do this without continuing the cycle by looking into adopting alternative canons… which they already have.
Ghost Babel, released as Metal Gear Solid for the Game Boy Color, was actually an alternative sequel to Metal Gear in which the events of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and Metal Gear Solid do not happen. The game's plot thus is only concerned with Metal Gear and writer Tomokazu Fukushima was faced with little established canon to interfere with his work. Yet fan favorites such as Solid Snake, Roy Campbell and Mei Ling still appear (they're simply not the same people in Shadow Moses though they look like them). The point here is that new Metal Gear titles can be developed without conflicting with the existing canon. Not only does it make plot development much easier, it also can attract new fans who are otherwise turned off by the idea that they have not played through the six-or-so games which take place prior to the new title.
Instead Kojima Productions is seemingly trying to cover every single insignificant part of the timeline, make it significant, and as a result ruin parts of the canon. There's nothing wrong with a Metal Gear title that's dedicated to Ninja Raiden and hell, the emphasis on action is okay too. It's just that incorporating it in between two existing installments and marketing it as anything but a spinoff is asking for trouble. If Hideo Kojima has trouble with his own fictional universe, how will newcomer Etsu Tamari be able to handle it? He probably won't be able to. Tamari was a writer for the Metal Gear Solid 4: Database which included many errors, took many liberties with the canon and has already been rendered irrelevant by Peace Walker.
Tamari might actually be a very talented writer but the bloated canon is simply holding him back much like how it's been holding Kojima back. Let the current canon be free and just start fresh guys. While there will be fans who for some reason want a game that takes place during World War II with The Boss and The Cobras, or a game that takes place twenty years after Guns of the Patriots with Sunny and Little John, or a game that takes place during the Gulf War with Liquid Snake… the truth is that most of these fans are probably imagining these scenarios to be far more grand than anything that would come about by an actual depiction through a new Metal Gear title. The canon was supposed to end at Sons of Liberty… it had a great end at Snake Eater… it was pretty much wrapped up in Guns of the Patriots… and for fuck's sake, now we know who Otacon's mom probably is. Let it go already.