Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Tale of 2 Snakes

I am a huge Metal Gear fan. The first mature game I ever played was Metal Gear Solid. Up until that point my video game world had been engulfed in Sonic II, Earthworm Jim, Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, Tekken and a myriad of other E for Everyone or T for Teen games. So when I finally got my grubby little hands on MGS at the ripe old age of 12, I was blown away. The gameplay. The integration of a deep story. Breaking the fourth wall. All this was so new to me. And for the first time I was introduced to a creator of a game; a one Hideo Kojima. To this day no other game fills me with such joy when I replay it as Metal Gear Solid does. It’s not even my favorite in the series any more. I find Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots far superior, but there’s something about Solid that draws me in every time. It’s because of MGS that Solid Snake is my all time favorite videogame hero. He’s stoic, brave, runs into the face of danger without hesitation. Plus, his story is so interesting, well at times intricate bordering on convoluted, but I still dig it. However, while recently playing through the Metal Gear Solid HD remake, I started to wonder who has the more interesting story arc, Solid Snake or Big Boss. The only answer I could conclude was Big Boss!
A meeting of Old Snakes
I’ll start where it began for me, with Solid Snake. Snake has had some significant development throughout his carrier. He went from being a rookie who needed significant guidance for his first mission, to being a man of little questions. His growth was paramount to his success over his carrier. His experiences hardened him, even to those who would come to love him. In Metal Gear, even though Snake is green, he is constantly questions what he is told, making decisions for himself that would plant the seeds of independence and ingenuity. He takes in the information he receives, and analyzes it critically. When Big Boss reveals himself to be a traitor, Snake takes it in stride. On the changing battlefield, Snake is not caught unprepared. He adapts, taking Big Boss out, ruining all of Boss’s plans and destroying a nuclear equipped mobile tank. It is his forward thinking that allows him to deal with the betrayal without too much physical or emotional stress. 

On his second mission, when his former ally Grey Fox ended up fighting for the other side, Snake does what he has to. His respect of Grey Fox never wavered, but in order for him to complete his mission, he knew he would have to defeat his friend. Even when Big Boss reared his head once again, Snake dealt with him for the last time, showing the skills and growth that he has gained, and the tenacity to overcome the challenges like Metal Gear. It’s at this point the seeds of anger, hatred, and cynicism takes hold. Snake went into his next mission distrustful of his superiors and all intel. If left alone, he could have fallen from loved hero to hated villain, and it wouldn’t have taken much effort; just a couple more people stabbing him in the back. However, he found a saving grace; Otacon.
When Solid Snake's involved, just give up
Otacon is more than just comic relief, or the science guy. He is the most human of the main characters. While everyone else has big bulging muscles, fighting each other on top of giant bipedal nuclear tanks, doing back flips, deflecting bullets, or doing whatever sick thing Ocellot happens to be doing at a given time, Otacon remains the most human character. It’s very much for the players benefit; we need someone to relate to. Additionally, Otacon helps keep Snake human. Without Otacon, Snake would continue to drift towards the insanity that seems to drive units such as The Cobras, Fox Hound, and Dead Cell. Otacon keeps Snake grounded, and thus honest. After Metal Gear Solid, despite leaving with his love Meryl (depending on what ending your achieved), Snake winds up working with Otacon trying to stop the development of future Metal Gear’s. This partnership endures until the very end; Otacon becoming a witness to Snake’s trials and tribulations. Snake comes out of his final mission battered, tired, but not alone. The man of little words is helped along by his trusted ally, and that was all he needed.
Best Friends FOREVER!!!!
Big Boss's story is quite different. At the beginning of Snake Eater he is very green, much like Solid Snake. His skill is indisputable, but his strength of character is not. Because of his nativity, he was unable to read situations, being blind sighted by The Boss's betrayal. He does not know how to handle the betrayal of his beloved teacher, and for the rest of his carrier he chases her shadow. As he slithers his way through the rest of the mission, fine tuning his skills, he is tested both physically and mentally while being caught in a web of lies. At his final confrontation with The Boss, based on all the information he was privy to, his only choice is to kill her, despite how clear that something is amiss. After besting her in battle, Big Boss points The Boss's own gun at her and pulls the trigger (the player has the pull the trigger, and it’s still the single hardest thing I've ever had to do in a game). Back in the USA, when he finds out about the ruse, Big Boss feels used, like a chess pawn. The Boss was to go up against her greatest disciple so she could die, and she did it willingly for her country. This truth broke Big Boss. Coupled with this is a lack of grounding character, like Otacon, to help Big Boss through this. All the people around Big Boss are soldiers with varying degrees of cynicism. Big Boss decides that if this is how soldiers are treated by their country, he no longer wants to be a part of the machine. Walking away from everything he knows, Big Boss becomes a gun for hire.
Big Boss's first mistake
For the rest of his carrier, Big Boss actively fights the United States and its allies, covertly, then openly, many times preventing a nuclear holocaust, but consistently fanning the flames of war. His only foil is Solid Snake who continually prevents Big Boss’s success, eventually showing the grizzled warrior the error’s of his ways. Snake never fought for control, he brought about balance, never wavering in his beliefs. Every time Big Boss returned from a mission, he was warped, pulled about by various forces, influenced by others. Big Boss never truly learnt to think independently, at least not at Snake’s level. In the end, the old man even questions his own decisions when he says to Snake; “If you had been in my place back then, maybe you wouldn't have made the same mistakes I did. Ever since the day I killed The Boss with my own hands, I... was already dead.” Big Boss lost the fight before it even began. But because of this, I find Big Boss’s journey far more interesting. He mistakenly fought his way through life, picking the wrong side of history, and actively fanning the flames of war. By the time he realizes his mistakes, a new generation has to correct them for him. He lived his life in regret, but he worked his hardest to undo his foolish mistakes. Snake remains Snake (with a little help from his friends). There is nothing wrong with remaining true to oneself (a very admirable quality), but the room for change was minimal at best. Big Boss’s fall from grace was a sad one, but in the end, he tried desperately to mend all he had broken before he died, fighting till the very end.
A final meeting between Snakes 
Posted by Dogfish.


  1. I share your love of all thing Mgs. Naked and solid both have such tragic, and twisted stories that really make you feel, whereas most other video game stories and themes don't. When I play through any Mgs I'm like that one guy in the theatre: "don't trust that bastard snake!" "yo snake, it's a trap!" other game gets me as giddy as these do. People complain about the cutscenes and extensive dialog, but I think that's a big part of what makes the series so great, no skimping on the details. Too bad snake eater is the only one with a demo theatre..

  2. Great article. In my opinion I think Solid Snake has a better story arc. I relate to him more and I feel like he is a bigger break from the mold than Big Boss. He is a former soldier with no country, no friends, no family and the only reason he keeps fighting is because that's the only thing he has ever been good at and knows. He is also a cooler character, a clone of a legendary soldier and he has an awesome evil twin, Liquid Snake. You should write a post on him, he does not get the attention he deserves for being such a cool villain.

    1. That's a good idea. I'll work on a Liquid Snake article. Thanks for the feedback guys - Dogfish