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‘Metal Gear Solid V’: A Chapter by Chapter Analysis

What’s saddest about Metal Gear Solid V’s conclusion is that it genuinely feels like very little has happened.

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PROLOGUE: GROUND ZEROES

Discussing Metal Gear Solid V without discussing Ground Zeroes is akin to discussing Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty without touching upon the Tanker chapter. It’s certainly possible, but the Tanker chapter directly sets up the events, arcs, and themes of the Plant chapter. Simply analyzing the latter ignored all the crucial context found in the former. The same can, and should, be said for Ground Zeroes relationship with The Phantom Pain. GZ is undeniably an important piece in understanding TPP’s puzzle. While it isn’t handled with nearly as much grace as it should have been, arcs, themes, and characters are all introduced in the prologue that aren’t necessarily reiterated in main game. The Phantom Pain’s narrative absolutely expected its audience to have played through Ground Zeroes. There are issues with this expectation, however; most notably, The Phantom Pain’s apparent lack of interest with everything that occurred in Ground Zeroes.

Recognizing and analyzing Ground Zeroes isn’t so much important to understanding The Phantom Pain’s story as it is important to understanding how The Phantom Pain’s story is told. Narratively, Metal Gear Solid V is the simplest game in the franchise, perhaps to a fault. There are few actual twists; the script tends to be fairly straightforward with intentions and motivations; and many of the game’s arcs and themes tend to just exist in their own bubble without interacting with one another in a cohesive manner. Aside from The Phantom Pain’s signature twist, Metal Gear Solid V lacks that Metal Gear “punch” present in the rest of the series. At least, it seems to. Where MGSV lacks in actual narrative, it attempts to make up for in storytelling; and Ground Zeroes plays a big role in that.

To put it bluntly, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is the last time players take control of Big Boss and that’s an incredibly important face for Metal Gear Solid V’s overall narrative, especially since it’s so understated. The twist at the end of The Phantom Pain focuses primarily on the fact that Venom Snake was the playable character and not Big Boss, but it doesn’t touch upon the fact that Big Boss’s last canonical adventure was GZ. This gives the prologue an added sense of mysticism in hindsight and greatly adds to that feeling of “phantom pain” Kojima tries to inject into the story. Phantom pain is the psychological sensation of feeling pain in a limb that has already been amputated. Control of Big Boss is effectively amputated from the hands of the players at the end of Ground Zeroes and, while they don’t know that Venom isn’t Big Boss, the dichotomy between Venom Snake and what fans would remember from Big Boss creates a sort of pseudo-reverse phantom pain where the loss of Big Boss can be felt even though he’s supposedly there when in reality he truly is gone, but replaced with a body double to give the illusion that he never left at all.  

It’s an ambitious concept to say the least, but it’s one that works in Metal Gear Solid V’s favor. The plot itself so simple that it needs complexity elsewhere to stand out. The only real issue with Ground Zeroes being Big Boss’ last game playing a role in The Phantom Pain’s narrative is the fact that Ground Zeroes isn’t literally mandatory to playing The Phantom Pain. For a first playthrough, someone can skip GZ on account of it being released independently of TPP and the latter is written, to an extent, with that absence mind. Metal Gear Solid V, in all respects, is the story of Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain working collaboratively, but, as mentioned earlier, the latter seems rather against mentioning the former outright, only referencing what is absolutely necessary and leaving most of what Ground Zeroes established behind.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground ZeroesTonally and thematically, Ground Zeroes is a very different game from The Phantom Pain. Perhaps it’s because the former stars Big Boss and the latter doesn’t, but there is a massive shift going from the prologue to the main game. Nothing in TPP ever gets as remotely dark as Skull Face forcing Chico to rape and beat Paz, and this incredibly overwhelming detail is completely overlooked after Ground Zeroes. By the time The Phantom Pain rolls around, that overbearing darkness is missing altogether. There are dark moments, but nothing darker than what’s typical for Metal Gear, and they might be even lighter, all things considered. Skull Face is also softened up between games with much of his vitriol and downright diabolical personality toned down. Visually, TPP adds a mask to his design, making him look far less menacing. At times, it’s hard to believe that Skull Face isn’t the character who got replaced between games considering how little his two representations reflect one another.

Perhaps the last major thread noting in regards to Ground Zeroes’ relationship to The Phantom Pain is its antithetical nature towards Metal Gear Solid 2. Like MGS2, Metal Gear Solid V features a prologue with a different, familiar, playable character. Unlike MGS2, Metal Gear Solid V’s prologue isn’t meant to make audiences reflect on the loss of familiarity when transitioning into The Phantom Pain. That feeling is still there, but it’s so understated that it’s missable. This isn’t a mistake or an oversight on Kojima’s part, but a deliberation meant to contrast Sons of Liberty. Metal Gear Solid 2 was partially about demonizing the audience’s desire to be Solid Snake. They can be crafted into Solid Snake, but Raiden’s arc shows that it is in no way worth it, and any given individual is better off forging their own path. Metal Gear Solid V, on the other hand, glorifies the idea of becoming Big Boss to the point that not actually being Big Boss hardly matters. Ground Zeroes is the last time players take control of the original Big Boss, but Venom, in a way, is still Big Boss. It isn’t dwelt upon because it doesn’t matter to MGSV’s narrative, and it’s that philosophy that carries on into the rest of The Phantom Pain. For better or for worse.

CHAPTER 1: REVENGE

Without a doubt, The Phantom Pain features the single strongest opening act in the series on a conceptual level, to the point where it almost justifies separating Metal Gear Solid V into two separate games. Opening up to Midge Ure’s cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” is a cinematically appropriate introduction that foreshadows Venom’s identity, both through the content of the song and the fact that a cover is playing instead of the original, while building anticipation for the game proper to begin. Once control is given to the player, what follows is a genuinely tense escape mission where Venom has to break out of the hospital he’s being held in with only the help of the enigmatic Ishmael by his side. The mission itself is long and meticulous, but it works in setting up the world of The Phantom Pain, especially in the wake of Ground Zeroes. It’s oppressive, hostile, and features a fair amount of foreshadowing in regards to Venom’s nature as Big Boss’ body double. As far as The Phantom Pain goes, this was as good an introduction we were going to get after MGSV was split in two.

Unfortunately, since there always tends to be an “unfortunately” when discussing Metal Gear Solid V, The Phantom Pain’s introductory mission suffers from the same fate as Ground Zeroes: it simply doesn’t matter in the long run. Key details from it end up playing a role later on, but the actual events of the mission, and the game that preceded it, exist almost in a bubble of their own. The only reason there’s a connecting thread between Ground Zeroes, the hospital prologue, and The Phantom Pain is because the game explicitly says there is one. In terms of storytelling, these three events do not naturally tie into one another. Ground Zeroes and the hospital prologue feel tonally similar, but nothing that occurred at the end of GZ, save for Big Boss’ coma, is touched upon. The hospital prologue and The Phantom Pain share some thematic similarities, but they’re tonally worlds apart and the events that occur within the hospital really only work in service toward Venom’s and Quiet’s character arcs, and even then it’s more in favor of making the twists feel a bit more clever than it is to give them narrative or emotional significance.

Metal Gear Solid VIn its own bubble, the hospital introduction works tremendously well. At times, it almost feels like the start of a survival horror game where death looms around any corner. That feeling doesn’t translate into the rest of Metal Gear Solid V, though, and that’s a problem. The Phantom Pain brings with it a massive narrative disconnect where arcs, themes, and story beats barely attach themselves to one another. It’s at its most jarring during the game’s first chapter, “REVENGE.” Given the title of the chapter, its contents are rather easy to assume: Venom wants revenge against Skull Face in the wake of MSF’s complete annihilation and Skull Face wants revenge against imperialism by wiping out the English language. As far as motivations go, Skull Face’s is actually rather solid for a revenge story. There are some implications that Skull Face resents Big Boss for their respective roles in Operation Snake Eater, Big Boss serving as the main operative and thus getting all the recognition for killing The Boss while Skull Face acted as his behind-the-scenes clean-up crew, but the focus is on his desire to wipe out the English language to effectively put an end to a history of imperialism.

It’s right up there in terms of literary merit with Metal Gear Solid 2’s existentialist and postmodernist themes, but it doesn’t land with as much impact as it should in large part due to the inconsistencies, and downright lack of quality, found in Skull Face’s characterization. In Ground Zeroes, Skull Face is a deranged, yet composed, monster of a man who forces characters to rape one another, kills without remorse, and orchestrates the destruction of a private army players spent dozens of hours building in Peace Walker. All this is done to form a personal connection to Skull Face where audiences will naturally come to hate him and want to get revenge themselves. Conceptually, this is all great as it takes the theme of revenge that would be seen in TPP and extends it outside of the game. The revenge isn’t just personal for Big Boss/Venom, it’s personal for the player. This is a concept that only works if the villain is truly irredeemable, and Ground Zeroes does an excellent job at making Skull Face unlikable without making him a bad character. In fact, GZ Skull Face is one of the most disturbingly compelling villains in the franchise. Come The Phantom Pain, however, and Skull Face is given quite a bit of material to make him more sympathetic.

With any well written revenge story, it’s a given that the antagonist will have motivations that make them believe they’re in the right for their actions. Doubly so considering this is Metal Gear Solid where villains often end up coming off rather sympathetic either through their characterization or ultimate intentions. The problem is, Skull Face is introduced too far off the deep end to be reeled back in. This is a man who forced a child to rape a woman. This is a man who wants to commit legitimate mass genocide. Villains in the series have always wanted to use nukes for their own gains, but they were never so uncomfortably personal in their motivations. It’s not a bad thing to write an antagonist with uncomfortable motivations, but it is a bad thing to do so and then ignore those facets of their character in favor of making them come off a bit more sympathetic.

Metal Gear Solid VSkull Face wants to wipe out the English language as an act of revenge because imperialism took his home, language, and culture. In wiping out the English language, Skull Face can fire back at the people who effectively erased him from existence. That is a compelling, uncomfortable motivation that makes him a sympathetic figure in a bubble. In his mind, killing anyone who speaks English will save other cultures and languages from undergoing what he went through. Skull Face’s portrayal in The Phantom Pain cannot be separated from Ground Zeroes, however. Given the nature of Metal Gear as a series, TPP wants players to sympathize and see Skull Face’s point of view, but it wants them to do so without acknowledging the atrocities he committed in GZ. The destruction of MSF is one that’ll always be looming over the player, especially since much of the game is spent rebuilding it under the moniker “Diamond Dogs,” but the player is never expected to think back on what Skull Face did to Paz and Chico.

It certainly doesn’t help that Skull Face is far more affable and friendly in The Phantom Pain than he ever was in Ground Zeroes. His rapport with Venom is downright amicable at times. This is not the same character between two games, and it’s made all the more frustrating because both interpretations are great in their own right, but incompatible together. GZ Skull Face is a purely evil villain the series has never had before. There is nothing redeemable about him, but his sinister presence makes him a foe worth conquering. TPP Skull Face lost his culture and wants to put an end to the very real consequences of imperialism by any means necessary. His actions are extreme, but his motivation is uncomfortably understandable. At the same time, despite some implied resentment, he holds nothing against Venom personally and engages him in conversation whenever possible. One is a monster, the other is a man, and they don’t make a character with more depth when brought together. Rather, they just make Skull Face feel disjointed.

Metal Gear Solid VThis is to say nothing about the antithetical implications of Skull Face’s character in relation to Venom, specifically regarding nuclear deterrence. Through Sahelanthropus, Skull Face could instill a fear of nukes back into the world. All militaries, in turn, would arm themselves with nuclear weapons. Since every nation would have nuclear weapons, however, no government would actually make use of their nukes out of fear of retaliation. In response, Venom is heavily anti-nuke to the point where The Phantom Pain rewards players for invading others’ bases in order to dismantle any nukes. Making Skull Face an almost shadow to Big Boss works conceptually, but the execution is sorely lacking, especially since Skull Face is neither dealing with the real Big Boss or interested in doing so. Rather, his goal is to get back at Zero who was introduced as the series’ overarching antagonist at the end of Metal Gear Solid 4.

There’s something to be said about the nature of phantom pain in this regard, especially since Skull Face effectively spends all of the first chapter accomplishing nothing. He’s not actually going head-to-head with Big Boss, meaning he can’t get revenge on Zero by hurting Venom; Big Boss and Zero aren’t even on speaking terms at this point, so getting revenge through Big Boss was already pointless; and Zero is already on his way to his deathbed, utterly demeaning Skull Face’s desire for revenge. On a thematic level, it all works, and revenge’s relationship with The Phantom Pain’s relationship with phantom pain stands out as one of the few things Metal Gear Solid V’s narrative does truly well. It’s hammered in all the more at the end of the chapter when Huey kills Skull Face in the name of revenge after Venom leaves him alive to suffer, thus robbing Venom and the player of all agency. It’s an unsatisfying conclusion that perfectly captures the futility of revenge and the essence of phantom pain. It’s just unfortunately tied to an inconsistently written villain.

In many ways, the first chapter is very much its own game with a proper beginning, middle, and game. It isn’t a particularly impressive one on the narrative side of things considering how little actually happens in the story, but it feels complete from a plot and thematic standpoint. All things considered, it might even feel more complete than the game’s actual ending. While the second chapter does tie up Venom’s and Quiet’s loose ends, everything else ends in an incohesive manner that may as well have been a cliffhanger. Chapter one doesn’t serve as a final conclusion to the series, but neither does chapter two. Metal Gear Solid V is a game destined to fail at bringing the series full circle, so why not end it at a point where the story at least feels complete in a literary sense? Regardless, The Phantom Pain was obviously never going to end with just one chapter.

It was going to end with two.

Metal Gear Solid V

CHAPTER 2: RACE

For all its faults in characterizing Skull Face, tonal dissonance with Ground Zeroes, and a generally simplistic plot, The Phantom Pain’s first chapter was at least thematically cohesive. The theme of revenge is handled in an unsatisfyingly satisfying way that caps off the chapter appropriately. Come chapter two, “RACE,” however, and all that thematic cohesion is lost. Simply put, there is no central unifying theme of race in chapter two. If anything, REVENGE focused more on the concept of race considering Skull Face’s background, his desire to wipe out the English language, and the fact his ashen skin made it impossible to tell what “race” he was at first glance. The chapter actually named after race, on the other hand, does nothing with the idea. There is the Kikongo infection storyline that ends with Venom needing to execute his soldiers to prevent the parasite from wiping out his whole base, but that’s only very thinly connected to the concept of race.

Since chapter two’s title cannot be referring to racial relations, what else can “race” stand for? If it’s referring to the arms race then, once again, the concept is more at home with chapter one than chapter two as that’s the chapter which actually features nuclear weapons prominently. If not racial relations or the arms race, only a race to the finish line is left. That’s most likely not the intent behind the title, but it’s the only meaning that fits. Chapter two is mostly just filler. With the exception of Quiet’s character arc coming to an end and the resolution of the Kikongo infection, nothing narratively major happens in chapter two. In fact, it’s also significantly shorter than chapter one. In many ways, it feels like a literal race to the credits. At the very least, they’ll be scrolling rather quickly after starting the chapter.

Metal Gear Solid VSo with no central theme or plot thread to unify the events of chapter two, how does it all feel? Disjointed, to say the least. Chapter two is a narrative low point for Metal Gear Solid as a whole. Much of the game is formatted in a pseudo-television structure where each mission acts as an almost “episode,” but this ends up hurting the game’s story since missions rarely ever connect into one another. There are exceptions, and they do stand out as particularly strong, but the end result is most of the game’s plot feeling like filler. RACE isn’t all bad with both main story lines having some interesting gameplay consequences associated with them, but the actual story is painfully bogged down by a lack of themes and quality.

In the case of the Kikongo infection, the emotions are all where they need to be. Forcing players into gunning down soldiers they personally recruited, and possibly even played as, is an appropriately cruel way of adding weight to the infection. It’s perhaps built up for far too long with some annoying gameplay consequences early on, but the payoff is emotionally phenomenal and serves as the only real piece of organic development Venom gets all game. It’s clear that killing his own men shakes him to his core, and this personal attachment to his soldiers separates him from Big Boss. The original leads from a distance and shows no remorse in losing MSF or forcing one of his soldiers to undergo a personality death in order to become his doppelganger, but the duplicate cares for his men like a family. This is an important distinction that needed to be made for Venom to stand out as his own character. It’s only a shame the actual infection has little thematic relevance and is so disconnected from everything else happening in the story.

Metal Gear Solid VAs for Quiet, her ending doesn’t do much to salvage the disaster of a character she is. She wants revenge on Big Boss for burning her alive, tying into the themes of revenge found in chapter one, but she also falls in love with Venom adding an interesting spin to the concept of revenge. The man she wants to kill is now the man she loves. It’s perhaps a bit cliched, but it’s something that hasn’t been done in Metal Gear before. That’s where that concepts stops, though. For the majority of the game, Quiet does almost nothing to act on her vengeance. She even rejects the Wolbachia treatment later on out of her desire to infect Big Boss with the English parasite and wipe out Diamond Dogs, but that thread ultimately goes nowhere. All this is done so that, when Quiet finally speaks to Venom at the end of her arc in chapter two, she has to disappear before the parasites hatch and infect him.

Quiet’s arc is surprisingly inorganic for a character whose scenes stand out as some of the most organic in Metal Gear Solid V. Her introduction is sudden and tense, and her character defining moments come up seemingly at random, yet naturally, after landing on Mother Base. The progression of her arc, however, is virtually non-existent. Quiet grows to love Venom, but that’s really the extent of her character outside of wanting revenge on him, as well. Quiet is an underwritten love interest which is not a problem the Metal Gear series has had before. Meryl has an incredible arc in MGS whether she lives or dies; Rosemary has depth and her relationship with Raiden is dynamically real; EVA is working against Big Boss during the entirety of Snake Eater, but she still clearly has feelings for him and her relationship with The Boss adds layers to their relationship. Quiet has nothing to offer Venom, and Venom has nothing to offer her. Kojima went on record and said that audiences would feel “ashamed of [their] words and deeds” upon realizing the truth behind Quiet’s design, but there’s nothing to be ashamed of, at least from an audience perspective. What’s shameful is how poorly written her character and arc are compared to the series’ rather strong track record of female love interests. Quiet is a love interest first, a gameplay device second, and a character third.

Metal Gear Solid VWithout a central unifying theme, chapter two suffers considerably. Focus is put onto a character who has no character and the Kikongo infection, while emotional, lacks any meaningful thematic connection to the rest of the game. There are other plot threads at play like Huey’s banishment from Mother Base and Eli hijacking Sahelanthropus, but the latter storyline goes absolutely nowhere. Quite literally, too, since the mission that would have resolved Eli’s robbery was cut from the final game. As is, Eli floats off in the world’s most advanced Metal Gear with a young Psycho Mantis and the two are never seen or heard from again. It’s not as if the first chapter didn’t have its disconnected story lines. The Man on Fire’s role feels more like fan service than anything else, but it could at least be tied back to Skull Face somehow. Chapter two’s events have no center that they can call back to.

Chapter one already felt disjointed thanks to the tonal dissonance between Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain, but chapter two takes it to an extreme. Skull Face is but a memory, Ground Zeroes’ themes and tones are non-existent, and the only narrative thread that ties chapter two to the rest of Metal Gear Solid V is the formal reveal that Venom was not Big Boss all along. Even then, chapter two sort of just happens and ends out of the blue. The final mission comes out of nowhere, it isn’t actually a brand new mission, instead forcing players into redoing the hospital prologue, and it ends with Big Boss informing Venom that the two of them are both Big Boss. Although there’s foreshadowing to the reveal throughout the whole game, there’s no real build up to it. Chapter two comes and goes without leaving any real impact on the series or Metal Gear Solid V as its own entity. It’s also doubtful this is a case of phantom pain considering how bare bones chapter two feels in comparison to the first. There’s almost no new content. That’s not a feature, that’s a lack of time. Chapter two will ultimately go down as the disappointing last third of Metal Gear Solid V. One has to wonder why Kojima even bothered separating the game into chapters if there were only going to be two.

Except there were actually meant to be three.

Metal Gear Solid V

CHAPTER 3: PEACE

Call it cut content, phantom pain, or an impossible incentive, but “PEACE” is easily the most baffling aspect of The Phantom Pain. Literally disconnected from the rest of the game, TPP’s third chapter will apparently only trigger when all the nukes in the game have been dismantled. It’s an idea that goes hand-in-hand with Metal Gear Solid’s anti-nuke messages, but it’s also an impossibility. There is simply no way players will ever stop building nukes online and, with the advent of hackers, there is no way all those nukes will get destroyed, if even for a brief moment to trigger chapter three. On top of that, there’s no proof chapter three would bring with it any content. In fact, all evidence points to the idea that chapter three would bring nothing with it but a new cutscene where it’s revealed the last nuke has been decommissioned. PEACE means nothing in the long run because nothing can actually occur under the moniker of PEACE. Except for one stowed away storyline.

Hidden to a fault, Venom can bump into Paz on Mother Base during chapter two. In doing the missions associated with her character, Venom will slowly come to the realization that Paz isn’t real. It almost feels like a shame this piece of story is tossed so haphazardly into chapter two, but where else could it go in a game without a third chapter? Metal Gear Solid V is unfinished. That’s not speculation, that is a fact. It is clearly incomplete on a gameplay and narrative level which required shuffling. It’s entirely possible Paz was meant to be shoved into chapter three were there more time. Perhaps not as the main feature, but as side content. After all, PEACE is Paz’s namesake. It’s only natural Venom would have to come to terms with Paz’s death in a chapter inherently associated her.

Metal Gear Solid VRegardless of where Paz’s subplot was meant to be placed, the concept behind Venom needing to accept her death through hallucinations he’s been having is an important one that ties into Ground Zeroes in a big way. Venom clearly feels guilt over what happened on Camp Omega to the point where his psyche creates a version of Paz that’s alive so he won’t have to deal with the consequences of missing the second bomb. This is made all the more impactful with the revelation that Venom is actually the medic who performed Paz’s surgery, bringing with it the question of how much of himself was Venom allowed to keep.

On one hand, he’s fine to accept himself as Big Boss at the end of the game. On the other hand, Big Boss isn’t the type of character who would feel a particular amount of guilt over Paz. His goal in going to Camp Omega wasn’t even primarily to save her. Rather, the guilt feels more in-line with Venom and serves to separate the two characters further. In placing Paz’s subplot into chapter three, the title “PEACE” takes on a new meaning: peace of mind. Accepting Paz’s death and his role in her death is important for Venom as a character even if the audience never gets to see the result of such a development. Venom believes himself to be Big Boss, but Paz is proof that the medic is still alive within him, allowing both characters to exist in their own right.

Metal Gear Solid V

ENDING: THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD

Without a doubt, The Phantom Pain features the single worst ending act in the series on a conceptual level, to the point where it in no way justifies separating Metal Gear Solid V into two separate games. In forcing players to replay the incredibly long opening mission, MGSV takes one of its best aspects and turns it into tedium. The idea of reusing the beginning of the game as the ending is an interesting one, and it almost makes sense given the nature of the game, but it just goes to show how little content chapter two really had. It’s all style, no substance, and that just doesn’t fly for Metal Gear Solid at this point. Replaying the opening is horrifically boring and adds nothing new to the experience other than a few scenes with Big Boss. The only real reason to endure the mission is to get to the twist and watch the credits roll one last time.

Although the build up to the twist and ending is as awful as it could be possibly be, the actual revelation is perhaps Metal Gear Solid V’s strongest moment. Completely antithetical to MGS2’s message that Raiden should not want to be like Solid Snake, MGSV embraces the idea of making the audience Big Boss. Venom wasn’t the real Big Boss all along, but he was, because he thought he was Big Boss. Players were never really Big Boss, just playing as him, but playing as him was enough to be Big Boss. Venom is a message to the audience that they deserve to be Big Boss and they were Big Boss all along. In the same way time was kind to Raiden, time will likely be kind to Venom. He is a well realized character who separates himself from his origin while embracing it head on once he learns the truth. At the end of the day, Metal Gear Solid V is about embracing one’s role as a legend.

Metal Gear Solid VWhich is a problem in and of itself, because the point of Big Boss’ saga was to chronicle his downfall, not glorify him to the point of allowing players to call themselves Big Boss. The twist itself is great, and one of the best in the entire franchise on a conceptual level, but it goes against the entire notion of Big Boss’ downfall. It can be argued that Big Boss forcing a medic to undergo a personality death for his own selfish means was the real turning point, but it should not be argued because Metal Gear Solid V is in no way subtle enough for that to be the case. That idea could work in the pre-Peace Walker games, but by no means post. Kojima’s writing simply got simpler after Metal Gear Solid 4. That doesn’t mean Peace Walker and Metal Gear Solid V are lacking in nuance, but they in no way match up to the level of quality and coherence found in the earlier games.

The lack of Big Boss’ downfall is especially frustrating considering every game starring him after Snake Eater, with the exception of Ground Zeroes, simply repeated his character arc from MGS3. Big Boss’ entire saga essentially builds up to him going into a coma and control being given to Venom. The Phantom Pain technically isn’t even a Big Boss game since Venom’s arc is very much specific to him. As a result, Big Boss’ arc is left incomplete by the end of the game and, by extension, the series. This is to say nothing about the fact that his character arc was actually finished by the end of Snake Eater, but Kojima decided to push it even further effectively meaning Big Boss’ arc concluded, was rendered incomplete by Portable Ops and Peace Walker, and then ended incomplete with The Phantom Pain. The tragedy of Big Boss isn’t his downfall. It’s the fact his arc ended perfectly in Snake Eater, but was forced to arbitrarily keep going.

Metal Gear Solid VBig Boss aside, The Man Who Sold the World is a bad ending not because of the twist, but because of everything around the twist. There is no build up, there is no pay off, and the final mission does nothing to connect the player into the ending. Metal Gear Solid had a sense of genuine finality; Metal Gear Solid 2 outright told players to turn off their PS2s; Metal Gear Solid 3 forced the player to kill The Boss; and Metal Gear Solid 4 featured one final torture mission with the microwave that really embodied Snake’s pain and then immediately transitioned into one of the greatest final boss fights in gaming. Portable Ops and Peace Walker, while not on the same level, at least had engaging set pieces for their endings. Metal Gear Solid V simply reuses the tutorial mission without changing the gameplay. It’s blatant padding and a disgraceful conclusion to the game’s own twist.

What’s saddest about Metal Gear Solid V’s conclusion is that it genuinely feels like very little has happened. Big Boss’ character arc hasn’t advanced; Big Boss hasn’t turned into the villain he was promised to turn into; Venom has no real impact on the series’ legacy as a character; and MGSV brought up more questions than it answered. As the final missing link to Metal Gear’s puzzle, it’s hard to accept that this is the series’ true finale. Konami might develop more games with the Metal Gear title as evidenced by Survive, but they won’t be directed by Kojima. The latter few games certainly lacked in comparison to the first few, but they were still stories told by the original author. Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid is over, and it ends with Venom Snake walking off to his death. Perhaps that’s a fitting conclusion to end the franchise on in its own right. After being given the title of Big Boss, players have to watch their surrogate march off only to be killed by the series’ original protagonist. Metal Gear Solid V ends up meaning nothing in the long run since Solid Snake never discovers Venom’s identity; Big Boss never seems to care about his body double; and Zero ends up trying to make amends with Venom instead of Big Boss, ensuring no closure is given to their relationship. Intentional or not, for better or for worse, The Phantom Pain leaves only a phantom pain.

An avid-lover of all things Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry, and pretentious French lit, Renan spends most of his time passionately raving about Dragon Ball on the internet and thinking about how to apply Marxist theory to whatever video game he's currently playing.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Ron

    May 31, 2018 at 11:07 pm

    Really awesome article. I’ve always been torn on the game’s story. There’s so much thematic genius, and themes in Phantom Pain, but it’s so underutilised . I think the cuts really hurt it in the long run.

    I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Venom though.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCu4m5Oxp2w

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‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 4 Review – “Faith”: A Journey Through Trump’s America

Life is Strange 2 continues its strong trajectory from the previous episode, weaving a complex and troubling tale of faith gone mad.

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Though the story of Faith” begins in a hospital, with Sean working to recover from his injuries, the trajectory of the tale explores more settings and environments than any previous episode of the series. From wandering the highways of Nevada, to exploring a dusty motel, to sneaking into a remote church, Life is Strange 2‘s 4th entry never lacks for something new to see, or someone new to interact with.

Life is Strange 2
However, the cynical bent of the story is the new centerpiece of Episode 4. Though Life is Strange 2 has never sidestepped the controversy and division of Trump’s America, Faith” leans into these ideas with renewed fervor. Violence is committed more than once against our Mexican protagonist, and his skin color often sees him at odds with the more conservative denizens of the highways he journeys down. In a particularly telling exchange, Sean even finds himself beaten and placed on the other side of a closed compound, with a gun-toting guard glaring at him from the other side. Metaphors don’t really get much clearer than that.

This will, no doubt, lead to more calls of keeping politics out of games and other entertainment by the president’s more ardent supporters, but as other writers have pointed out, gaming has never been apolitical. Further, it would be categorically irresponsible to tell a story like this without addressing the elephant in the room. With these elements in mind, the politics of Life is Strange 2 have never been clearer than in Episode 4: “Faith”, and they account for some of the strongest storytelling fuel the series has found yet.

Life Is Strange 2, Episode 4: Faith
Politics aside, Life is Strange 2 also puts Sean at a variety of other disadvantages. His starting injuries include a lost eye that must be tended to medically throughout the episode, and the various beatings he takes throughout Episode 4 more than leave their mark. This leaves Faith as the typical darkest, and most troubling, episode of this second series, where we find our protagonist at his absolute lowest point, and must continue on with him in hopes of finding a better future. It’s a common enough trope, but one that is used to great effect here.

There are many returns of characters from previous episodes, some through letters and other communications, and others through surprising reveals and revelations. A particularly shocking character joins the story with zero preamble, and emerges as one of Life is Strange 2‘s finest editions yet. To spoil who, or how, would be criminal, but rest assured that Episode 4 is more full of surprises than any of the previous entries.

Life Is Strange 2, Episode 4: Faith
Though the main conflict that eventually reveals itself, that of Daniel being used as a messianic figure for an isolated Nevada church, feels contrived initially, the layers that are eventually revealed, and Daniel’s reason for joining the church, make a lot of sense in the overall scheme of things. Due to this strength of narrative, it really feels like all bets are off during the climax of Life is Strange 2: Episode 4, and that’s a good thing for a game so centered around the notion of interactive storytelling.

Fresh, prescient, and altogether rewarding, Life is Strange 2: Episode 4 — “Faith”, is a welcome piece of fiction in a society that has become so increasingly fragmented. It illustrates the horrors of the modern American landscape, but always remembers to remind us that there are good people out there, even when hope has never seemed so far away.

Strongly Recommended

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I Still Don’t Understand ‘Death Stranding’ (and That’s a Good Thing)

Death Stranding could create an experience unlike any game before it, and while I can’t claim to understand it, I’m certainly excited for it.

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It may only be a few months until launch, but Death Stranding remains shrouded in mystery. This first independent project from gaming auteur Hideo Kojima has been an enigma ever since it was first announced. When the world first saw Norman Reedus standing on a foggy shoreline with a weeping fetus in his arms, many questions naturally arose. Why is a celebrity actor cradling an unborn child on a beach? What kind of gameplay could we expect from this? And what does “Death Stranding” even mean, anyway?

Years may have passed since that initial reveal, but in my view at least, these questions still haven’t been fully answered. I simply do not understand Death Stranding. It’s confounded me like few games before it have – and yet, that may be the very best thing about it. There’s something enticing about that mystery. Death Stranding could create an experience unlike any game before it, and while I can’t claim to understand it, I’m certainly excited for it.

Between trailers, interviews, and a fairly hefty amount of gameplay footage, there’s been an increasingly constant stream of information about Death Stranding for over a year now. This is especially true at Gamescom 2019, where the game has had an extensive presence with two full trailers and a live gameplay demonstration. For most games, this extensive amount of coverage should eliminate all the biggest questions, presenting a relatively clear idea of what the final product should be. But consider the content of Death Stranding’s most recent trailers: one consists entirely of an exposition dump about the power and proper maintenance of jarred fetuses, while another opens with Norman Reedus urinating in a field to create a giant mushroom before dropping off a package for Geoff Keighley. Previous trailers show ruined cities overflowing with tar, gold-masked lion monsters, and levitating shadow creatures. If you can make heads or tails of all that, then you’re certainly cleverer than I.

With every new piece of information, I find it more difficult to wrap my head around the game. Even with the few concrete details known about it, Death Stranding continues to defy simple categorization. Although it features stealth elements, it certainly doesn’t seem like another Metal Gear; while it will have a massive open world, it doesn’t look like it will follow in the footsteps of signature modern open worlds like Horizon Zero Dawn or Breath of the Wild; and though it tells a story about reconnecting the broken cities of a post-apocalyptic United States, its mixture of stealth, politics, and the supernatural make it distinct from most other narrative-focused games out there. Each trailer introduces another wrinkle to the perplexing web of Kojima’s latest vision.

It is this very ambiguity that makes Death Stranding so enticing. With most games, it’s easy to understand them based on a quick glance at their trailer alone. This will reveal their genre, their personality, any unique gimmicks – all the usual culprits. But with Death Stranding, the more we learn about it, the more the mystery grows. At this point, it’s even difficult to pin the game into a single genre. Only the most ambitious games manage to create genres of their own, but from what we’ve seen so far, Death Stranding looks like it could be one of them. It could simply be little more than excellent marketing, but knowing that Kojima’s unbridled imagination is behind it, my hopes are high.

Death Stranding

It would make sense for Death Stranding to be so inventive given the circumstances behind its creation. For years, Kojima’s corporate overlords at Konami had stifled his creativity as they moved the company’s focus away from Kojima’s traditional titles like Metal Gear and Silent Hill towards more immediately lucrative pursuits such as mobile platforms and pachinko machines. Now that Kojima has freed himself from those restrictions and formed an independent studio of his own, his vision can run more freely than ever before. It’s to be expected that, finally presented with the opportunity to fully express his vision, he’d do so by creating something truly daring, something never seen before.

Of course, as attractive as the intrigue around Death Stranding may be, it doesn’t change that it’s difficult to really judge a game without knowing much about it at all. With so many important details remaining unspecified, there’s no telling whether Death Stranding will actually achieve its clear ambitions. If I were to view things pessimistically, I’d posit that the game’s ambiguity could be nothing more than an elaborate marketing scheme meant to mask the lackluster game beneath it. While I’m certainly much more optimistic about the game than that, I can’t deny the very real possibility that it could be the case.

But at the end of the day, I simply cannot resist the romantic allure of a game so surrounded by mystery. The core of Death Stranding may be wrapped in an inscrutable fog, but Kojima uses this layer of secrecy to invite players to experience a game that is truly new, an all-too-rare commodity in games today. Kojima hasn’t been free to express his vision so fully for years now, but at long last he has his chance. I cannot comprehend Death Stranding, and that’s exactly why I’m so excited for it.

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‘Daemon X Machina’ – Spotlighting 2019’s Least-Hyped Switch Game

Daemon X Machina made a bold first impression with its bombastic announcement at E3 2018 – and gamers promptly stopped caring about it. It’s time for that to change.

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Daemon x Machina

Daemon X Machina made a bold first impression with its bombastic announcement at E3 2018 – and gamers promptly stopped caring about it. It’s time for that to change.

From the very beginning, Daemon X Machina has struggled for attention.  It’s certainly not for lack of trying; after all, Nintendo has worked tirelessly to help promote this Switch-exclusive mech action game from Marvelous, even going so far as to position it as the first announcement of its big E3 Direct last year. Despite these efforts, though, Daemon X Machina has often been lost in the shuffle of other Switch exclusives. When there’s constantly talks of a new Animal Crossing, Zelda, or Smash Bros., an original IP like Daemon X Machina easily gets left out of the conversation. However, there’s no denying that it has some incredible potential, making it a game that’s certainly worth checking out amidst the crowded release schedule for the rest of the year. Now is the time to spotlight that ahead of its launch on September 13.

A good mech game doesn’t need to do much – it must simply provide the player with massive robot suits, near-excessive over-the-top action, and a story to help the game make at least a little sense. Daemon X Machina looks set to deliver in all three of those departments. It will feature a huge amount of flexibility to create the perfect mech, thanks to hundreds of interchangeable weapons and body parts, many of which can be scavenged from fallen enemies. With gargantuan destructible environments and hordes of robotic foes to take down, the combat looks to be as extravagant as some of the best action games of recent years. That’s not to mention the main plot, which focuses on the aftermath of the moon exploding. Yes, it does sound like ridiculous anime-inspired fodder, but a game about giant roots blowing each other out of the sky doesn’t need a plot that adheres to realism. It need only set up a somewhat-reasonable backdrop for intense mechanized combat, and in that regard, it’s looking like a recipe for success.

Daemon X Machina

All these features are great on their own, but what makes them truly exciting is the pedigree behind them. Daemon X Machina is being developed by a dream team of developers who have worked extensively on some of the most iconic mech games ever made. For instance, the team includes Kenichiro Tsukuda and Shoji Kawamori, who respectively produced and designed the mechs for the legendary Armored Core series. This team aims to take the classic formula that made Armored Core and other classics so special and put it back in the spotlight with Daemon X Machina. However, that doesn’t mean that it will be merely derivative. It already displays a distinct personality of its own thanks to its ambitious gameplay concepts (again, exploding moon) and its distinctive cell-shaded visuals. Its striking color palette of bold reds, blacks, and whites shouldn’t be surprising, considering that its art is directed by none other than Yusuke Kozaki, who has worked on such stylish titles as the No More Heroes series.

If it achieves its potential, Daemon X Machina could be a godsend for its genre. While it would be unfair to call the mech action genre “dead,” it is certainly quite niche. This would be the first time in years that a giant robot action game has had the full support of a major company like Nintendo behind it. And while Nintendo has already supported this genre in the past, this will be the first time that it’s done so on a hit console like the Switch, which automatically gives it a wide and passionate audience. Even with its inherent niche status, Daemon X Machina is already in a better position than many similar games before it thanks to its publisher and platform. If it does well, it could inspire Nintendo and other companies to promote similar games, leading to a needed revival of the genre’s popularity.

But this leads to one of the simultaneously best and worst aspects of Daemon x Machina: its demo. Marvelous released an early demo on the Switch eShop back in February with the intention of drumming up interest in the game and getting player feedback. To put it plainly, it wasn’t very good. The action felt unsatisfying with a lack of any feeling of real impact with each blow; it was difficult to aim at enemies due to imprecise targeting systems, poor visibility, and an absence of gyro controls; and worst of all, its performance was horrendous. It was stuck at a mere thirty frames per second, which is already less than ideal for such a fast-paced action game. But it didn’t even manage to hit that target consistently, leading to a choppy and unsatisfying experience. One need only take a quick look through Digital Foundry’s breakdown to understand the demo’s many issues.

Daemon X Machina

“Marvelous did something incredible here: they listened to their fans.”

However, the demo has turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise. Shortly after the demo’s release, Marvelous distributed a survey to many players and requested their feedback. A few months later, Nintendo released a new trailer showing how the feedback had been integrated into the game. The full list of changes reads like a wish list of everything that needed to be adjusted following the demo. Highlights include the addition of gyro controls, improved targeting and feedback systems, and most importantly, an improved framerate. In fact, the developers have stated that performance was one of their “top priorities” when adjusting the game.

Marvelous did something incredible here: they listened to their fans. The fact that they were so open to feedback and eager to improve bodes incredibly well for the final release. They know that the mech action genre isn’t what it used to be, and they seem truly passionate about creating a quality title in the genre they love. In an industry that is so often focused more on emptying players’ wallets than creating a worthwhile title, this attitude is incredibly refreshing, hinting of a project that’s filled with genuine care and passion.

The unfortunate truth remains that Daemon X Machina is bound to be one of Nintendo’s least-hyped games this year. As long as games like Astral Chain, Dragon Quest XI S, and Link’s Awakening are all releasing within the same month, it will almost inevitably remain that way. But there is incredible promise for it nonetheless. With the quality of the game design, the legacy of its creators, and their clear passion for their project, it looks set to become something very special and deserves every bit of attention it can get. If fans can look past the games that typically hog the spotlight to find this bombastic little secret, they could be in for an enthusiastic, if under-hyped revival of a once-dormant genre.

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‘Earthbound’ is one of the Weirdest, Most Surreal Video Games

25 Years later…

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Games that Changed Our Lives

The SNES is arguably home to some of the best Japanese role-playing games ever made, but even among such revered company, Earthbound (known as Mother 2 in Japan) stands out as a brilliant satire about growing up and our fears of conformity. It’s anarchy versus conformity, only conformity doesn’t stand a chance.

EarthBound has been often compared to Catcher in the Rye with its complex issues of identity, belonging, loss, connection, and alienation. Blistering, hallucinatory, often brilliant, Earthbound is a one-two punch of social satire and a hilarious ride into the twisted recesses of a boy’s psyche. This often funny, always poignant coming of age tale, deeply embedded in suburban mores, centers around four kids, off to save the planet by collecting melodies while en route to defeating the evil alien force known as Giygas.

Earthbound
Earthbound
didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it sure had fun twisting the usual JRPG tropes. There’s a princess you must rescue, not once, but twice, who’s really just a child prodigy, and there’s an arch nemesis who turns out to be your next-door neighbour. The game puts you in the shoes of a young boy named Ness as he investigates a nearby meteorite crash. There, he learns that Giygas, has enveloped the world in hatred and consequently turned animals, humans, and inanimate objects into dangerous creatures. A bee from the future instructs Ness to collect melodies in a Sound Stone to preemptively stop Giygas from destroying the planet. While visiting eight Sanctuaries, Ness partners with three other kids, a psychic girl (Paula), an eccentric inventor (Jeff), and the prince of the kingdom of Dalaam (Poo). Along the way are underlining themes of corrupt politicians, post-traumatic stress, corporate greed, depression, capitalism, police violence, terrorist attacks, homosexuality, religious cults, and xenophobia. Your adventures take you through modern cities, prehistoric villages, cold winter climates, a desert wasteland, monkey caves, swamps, dinosaur museums, and even a yellow submarine.

“Ness, you’ve stood on the eight power spots of the earth. From these, you created Magicant, the realm of your mind.”

A pivotal moment in the game comes after collecting all eight melodies with the Sound Stone. After Ness has taken control of his Sanctuaries, Ness visits, Magicant, a surreal location that exists only in his mind and contains his warmest memories and his worst fears – an allegory perhaps, for how the entire game allows us to see into the mind of the creator. There, Ness must face his dark side. A man tells him, “Magicant is a place where you must cleanse yourself of the evil hidden within your mind. Take the time to look around, it is your mind after all.”

EarthBound is arguably one of the single best RPGs ever made, and boasts one of the best storylines of any game.


The tone of Earthbound is perhaps its most fascinating attribute, best exemplified by its most famous quote: “There are many difficult times ahead, but you must keep your sense of humor.” Earthbound skillfully surprises you with a reservoir of emotion and sentiment that happily counters the game’s trendy ironic veneer. Along the way, Ness visits the cultists of Happy Happy Village (based on a real-life Japanese doomsday cult founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984); their mission statement is to paint the town red by literally painting it blue. You’ll fight a watchful puddle of vomit and battle through the zombie-infested town of Threed. You’ll use a peculiar device called the Pencil Eraser to remove statues of pencils that block you from advancing through specific areas, and you’ll suffer through terrifying hallucinations of your family and friends, and be asked to dismember your arms and legs, or otherwise, lose your mind. In one of the game’s most memorable moments, Paula is kidnapped by the Department Store Spook, an unseen entity that resides in the town’s shopping mall. And after defeating Frank Fly and his evil creation Frankystein Mark II, you’ll be escorted to the back of a police precinct, only to be assaulted by four officers and Captain Strong, the chief of the Onett police force. Defeat the corrupt cops and you’ll gain access to the second town you’ll visit (named TWOson, so as not to be confused with Onett, Threed, and Fourside). And when entering a cave, you’ll battle five moles made up of members who each believe themselves to be the third-most powerful of their group. Then there is backwards city Moonside, a warped mirror image of Fourside, that hides a secret more terrifying than the town itself. Just walking around feels like something between an out-of-body experience and a nightmarish trance, in which abstract art attacks you and the psychedelic imagery, lit by gaudy fluorescent neon-lights which contrasts the entire look and feel of what came before. It’s a city where yes means no and no means yes; a place where blond-haired business men teleport you across the city blocks and where an invisible man with a unibrow and a gold tooth gets you past the sketchy sailor hiding out in the back alley.


Throughout the game, Ness is repeatedly antagonized by his neighbor, Pokey, who resurfaces several times, and countless other enemies including Titanic Ant, professional thief Mr. Everdred, and a glorious evil statue Mani, Mani. But the real big bad of the game is the aforementioned Giygas, a.k.a. The “Embodiment of Evil” and the “Universal Cosmic Destroyer”, who intends to sentence all of reality to the horror of infinite darkness. Giygas borrows heavily from Stephen King’s It and was inspired by a murder scene from the black-and-white Japanese horror film The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beautya sequence which scarred creator Shigesato Itoi, when he accidentally watched the film as a child. Giygas is without question, the most disturbing, and strangest end-boss villain of any Super NES game – a character so deranged, there’s been hundreds of fan theories about what he really is.

While EarthBound’s overall gameplay feels like a traditional Japanese RPG of the era, the game is full of ingenious ideas that buck genre trends. EarthBound also makes no apologies for being very difficult to complete. It takes days to finish and is most challenging at the beginning when Ness travels alone and hasn’t yet powered-up. Inventory space remains incredibly limited since each character can only carry a certain amount of items and you can’t drop many of the items since they will come in handy later in the game. Boosting your XP is a must, otherwise, you won’t stand a chance in defeating any boss; and currency is also important when buying new weapons or visiting the hospital to attend to fatal injuries. Money must be withdrawn from the nearest ATM, deposited by your estranged father, and a bedtime snack from your loving mother sends you off to bed to recharge your stats. There are other refreshing deviations from RPG tropes, and every one of the four characters has a specific skill-set.

Earthbound is a strange game, themed around an idiosyncratic portrayal of American culture from a Japanese point of view. The game subverted popular role-playing game traditions by featuring a real-world setting while playing with various staples of the genre and adding a number of pop-culture references throughout. The Japanese title was inspired by the song of the same name by John Lennon – a song about growing up without a father for most of his life, and unsurprising, Ness’ dad is never once seen, and only communicates with his son via telephone. And that’s not the only Beatles reference you’ll see: EarthBound makes two additional nods to the world’s greatest band, along with allusions to Bugs Bunny, comedian Benny Hill, Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap, the Blues Brothers, Monopoly (Monotoli), Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Rambo, Mr. T, and The Who, to name a few. Written, directed, and created by famous Japanese personality Shigesato Itoi; this is surely his love letter to 20th-century Americana.

Localizing Earthbound was a massive undertaking. Under directives from Nintendo, Marcus Lindblom worked with the Japanese artists and programmers to remove references to intellectual property, religion, and alcohol from the American release, such as the Coca-Cola logo and the red crosses on hospitals (due to issues with the Red Cross). Alcohol became coffee, Ness was no longer walking around nude in the Magicant area and the Happy Happyist blue cultists sprites were altered to look less like Ku Klux Klansmen. The Runaway Five members’ outfits were changed to make them look less like the Blues Brothers, and the “Sky Walker” was changed to the “Sky Runner” to avoid the Star Wars reference. Apollo Theater was changed to Topolla Theater, presumably to avoid issues with the real-life venue and the use of the word drug, seen on the various town maps was removed or changed. The list goes on and on…

Chock full of odd charm and humour in a genre that usually takes itself a little too serious, Earthbound is one of the weirdest, most surreal video games you’ll ever have fun playing.

earthbound

The game had a lengthy development spanning five years and involved a number of Japanese luminaries, including writer Shigesato Itoi, songwriter Keiichi Suzuki, sound designer Hirokazu Tanaka, and future Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. Released in a huge box-set that contained a strategy guide with scratch-and-sniff stickers, Earthbound came with a $2 million marketing campaign derived from the game’s unusual brand of humor. As part of Nintendo’s “Play It Loud” campaign, EarthBound’s tagline read, “this game stinks.” Earthbound was proud to one of the most bizarre RPGs – and it didn’t shy away from its offbeat premise. Unfortunately, the game was met with poor critical response and sales in the United States, but as the years went by, the game received wide acclaim and was deemed by many a timeless classic. It has since become one of the most sought-after games in the second-hand market, selling for upwards of $80 for the cartridge alone. Holding onto an incredibly dedicated cult following, the main character Ness became a featured character in the Super Smash Bros. series and in 2013, EarthBound was reissued and given a worldwide release for the Wii U Virtual Console following many years of fan lobbying.

EarthBound is arguably one of the single best RPGs ever made, and boasts one of the best storylines of any game. There are two extremely popular fan-made sites dedicated to the game (Starmen.netEarthboundCentral), and dozens of other sites have devoted countless hours in translating the sequel for English-speaking audiences. Earthbound was ahead of its time when released and its influence continues to be felt, inspiring the likes of Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Majora’s Mask, Chibi Robo, Retro City Rampage, and South Park: The Stick of Truth.

While Earthbound’s game mechanics stick to the traditional JRPG template, its surreal world, imaginative locals, and experimental soundtrack created a truly unique experience. Nothing stands out quite like its visual style – an 8-bit presentation powered by a 16-bit processor. The graphics might not be as advanced as some of the other 16-bit titles available on the SNES, but it is certainly among the most memorable. The SNES was home to some amazing soundtracks, but EarthBound’s soundtrack remains the best. Created by four composers, there’s enough music here to fill 8 of the 24 megabits on the cartridge – with direct musical quotations of classical tune and folk music, and a few samples culled from commercial pop and rock. It also contains one of the very best endings in any video game, a touching climax that captures the vulnerability and beauty of adolescence and the power of friendship. And the punctuation mark comes during the credits. Throughout the game, you’ll cross paths several times with a photographer who descends from the sky and snaps a photograph of your most recent achievement. These pictures will roll throughout the credits, serving as a makeshift montage of your time spent playing the game. And be sure to stay until the very end. To say more would be giving away the surprise.


I can’t think of another game as irreverently comic and deeply touching as Earthbound. Here is a game that resonates long after completion, and oozes originality in just about every frame. Ness may rock his sweet ball cap, handy backpack, telekinetic powers, and a trusty baseball bat, but even this hero needs to call his mom regularly, otherwise, he may suddenly find himself useless in battle. Earthbound stands, sweet and strong, outrageous and quirky, like its heroes — it’s about the loss of innocence as well as gaining wisdom – and is one of those treasures absolutely not to be missed. While it suffers from a slow start and stretched premise, the charm of its cast debunking an intergalactic conspiracy goes a long way. Of all the games I own on the Super NES, Earthbound is the game I treasure the most and the game that made me fall in love with the medium.

– Ricky D

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Indie World 2019: The Best Games From Nintendo’s Showcase

With a healthy mix of brand new titles and a few shocking ports, here’s all the best games announced at Nintendo’s Indie World showcase.

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Indie World

Whenever Nintendo announces another indie presentation, it’s impossible to know what to expect. One may be a fairly low-key event, while another might announce a brand new Zelda game. The latest “Indie World” presentation for Gamescom 2019 found itself somewhere in the middle. It didn’t feature quite as many earth shattering reveals as the previous presentation in March, but with a healthy mix of promising new titles, updates on previously announced games, and a few shocking ports, Indie World was a worthwhile showcase in its own right. Without further ado, here’s some of the very best game announcements from the presentation, arranged in order of their appearance.

Eastward

Indie World

I’m firmly of the belief that you can never have too many Zelda-likes in your life. For this reason alone, Eastward looks like it could be an exciting addition to the Switch’s indie lineup. Better yet, this latest Chuckelfish-published game looks like it has all the makings of a great entry in the genre.

It tells a simple story: a miner finds a young girl alone in a secret underground facility, and together, they go on to explore a post-apocalyptic land. Although this world has been apparently ravaged by a cataclysmic disaster, it still looks gorgeous thanks to its lush pixel art and fluid character animations. Pair this with your typical Zelda-like gameplay loop of overworld exploration and dungeon puzzle-solving, and Eastward looks like it will be a promising prospect when it releases next year.

The Touryst

Indie World

Shin’en Multimedia has long been known for making some of the best-looking titles on Nintendo consoles with visual stunners like the Fast Racing series. However, The Touryst is a departure from the games they’re known for. While it’s just as breathtaking as their previous work with its beautiful lighting and voxel-based design, it’ll be a much slower experience than Shin’en’s signature lightning-fast racing games.

As its name would suggest, it focuses on a tourist taking a relaxing tropical vacation, whiling away their time with activities like shopping, scuba diving, and visiting arcades. However, the trailer also hints of a greater mystery lurking beneath this laid-back surface. With Zelda-like dungeons to explore and puzzles to solve as well as a contemporary tropical setting, it seems like it could be considered a spiritual successor to the NES cult classic, StarTropics. It should definitely be one to keep an eye on when it launches this November.

Röki

Who’s the real monster here? Röki is a narrative-focused adventure game set in a world taken straight out of Scandinavian fairytales, featuring a snow-laden forest inhabited by fantastical creatures of Nordic mythology.  It puts players in control of a young woman exploring this mystical environment, with the goal of saving her family and interacting with these various monsters. Its visuals adopt a beautiful storybook style, and with its emphasis on accessible gameplay and telling a touching story, it looks like it could be a worthwhile purchase for anyone in search of a more poignant adventure when it hits Switch this winter.

SUPERHOT

Indie World

It’s not a true Nintendo presentation without a shadow drop or two, so SUPERHOT took it upon itself to be the first to fill that void during Indie World. It’s a striking shooter built upon one simple concept: time only moves when you do. This core idea creates a uniquely methodical approach to the genre, nearly turning SUPERHOT into more of a puzzler than a shooter. It’s already made quite an impact on other platforms, so it should fit right in on Nintendo’s hybrid wonder – and best of all, it’s available right now.

Hotline Miami Collection

Indie World

If it has style, action, and plenty of violence, it’s probably a Devolver Digital game. The boutique indie publisher has supported the Switch with plenty of quality games over the past few years, but the brutal series that launched the publisher into fame in the first place has been strangely absent. Thankfully, that changed today with the surprise release of the Hotline Miami Collection on the eShop.

Gathering both games in the iconic Hotline Miami top-down shooter series into a single package, this release brings all of their signature hardcore difficulty and neon style to a Nintendo platform for the first time. For anyone who’s enjoyed Devolver’s fantastic output thus far on the Switch but hasn’t yet experienced these famously bloody titles, it should be an excellent purchase.

Ori and the Blind Forest

Microsoft’s surreal love affair with Nintendo continues with the reveal that another Xbox One console exclusive will be making its way to Switch. Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition is the ultimate version of the acclaimed artistic platformer. It will feature the same beautiful visuals, detailed world, and touching story that made the original release so special, along with all the additional areas, story, and improvements of the Definitive Edition.

For those concerned that the game’s incredible visuals will lose their luster on Nintendo’s under-powered device, there’s no need to worry: the developers have confirmed that the Switch version contains no compromises, running at a locked 60 frames per second at 1080p resolution while docked, with a native 720p resolution in handheld mode. It joins the ranks of Cuphead and Super Lucky’s Tale as yet another former Microsoft exclusive to appear on Nintendo’s console, and with its uncompromising conversion to Switch, it should be one of the most remarkable Switch ports yet when it releases on September 27.

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Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Film, TV, Anime and Comic writers.

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