History of Metal Gear: Kojima's Farewell (Ground Zeroes & Phantom Pain) - ArticleTaneli Palola , posted on 05 October 2018 / 4,417 Views
Welcome to the final part in this retrospective look at the history of Metal Gear. I hope you've enjoyed this series. I'm looking forward to starting on some new topics soon, but for now, let's go through what could very well be the final significant release in this storied franchise.
Metal Gear Solid as a series is no stranger to problems emerging as the games are in development. Hideo Kojima's vision has often demanded not only huge technological leaps from his team with every new release, but individual games themselves have more often than not gone through some drastic changes during development, as technological limitations and new ideas have forced the team to adapt its plans in a hurry.
However, there has perhaps been no other game in the main numbered series since the first MGS that has taken such a fundamentally different approach compared to its predecessors as Metal Gear Solid V. Of course, we now know that behind the scenes of the game's development issues between Konami and Hideo Kojima were brewing; divisions which would eventually also significantly affect the final product.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain – Building Up to an Anti-Climax
The development for Metal Gear Solid V was a rather unusual process, even by the series' usual standards. The first signs of the game's development came about in February of 2012 when Konami launched a site promoting it and looking to recruit staff to work on the game. Over the next several months screenshots and videos would be uploaded on the site showing it off, but the name Metal Gear Solid was never explicitly mentioned in relation to any of them.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was then properly announced later that same year at the Penny Arcade Expo, along with confirmation that Big Boss would be returning as the main protagonist. It was also confirmed that Ground Zeroes would actually serve as a prologue to another, as yet unannounced and unspecified title. Of course, we now know that Ground Zeroes would be the lead-in title for Phantom Pain.
Originally both Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain were meant to be released together in one package, but the latter's extended development time eventually led to Kojima deciding to split the two titles and release Ground Zeroes earlier, so that fans wouldn't have to wait so long to play it.
With Ground Zeroes Kojima wanted to take risks by tackling taboos and difficult themes with the narrative, even going as far as to signal that some elements of the title might alienate audiences. He also said that his role as both the producer and creator were sometimes at odds with one another, as on the one hand he wanted to prioritize his artistic vision, but as producer he also needed to consider the game's potential commercial performance in his decision making.
Ground Zeroes is split into several individual missions that place in one set location. In the main mission, which takes place in 1975, just a few month after the events of Peace Walker, Big Boss is tasked with rescuing Paz Ortega Andrade and Ricardo ”Chico” Valenciano Libre from an internment camp in Cuba. This is the only ”canon” mission in the game, leading up to the events of Phantom Pain.
The rest of the missions are labelled as side or extra ops, all taking place in the same location as the main mission but not considered part of official series canon. They're mainly there to give players more things to do, as the main mission alone would make for a very short game.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was released in March, 2014, to positive reviews, giving fans of the series a little taste of what was to come in Phantom Pain.
In terms of gameplay, the most interesting new aspect is the addition of AI companions that follow and help Snake during his missions. Up to four different companions can be recruited in Phantom Pain, each with their own, developing abilities that improve based on Snake's relationship with them. Other new additions include dynamically changing weather, as well as a day-night cycle, both of which affect the gameplay and how the player can approach different situations.
The soundtracks for both Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain were primarily composed by series newcomer Ludvig Forssell. Harry Gregson- Williams served as producer for the score, but unlike in previous games had only minimal involvement in the soundtrack's composition, providing just two tracks for it. In addition, Justin Burnett and Daniel James composed parts of the score. Both games also make use of licensed music in various forms.
Phantom Pain had an extensive development period, lasting for at least three and a half years and possibly even longer (at a minimum it lasted from early 2012 to September 2015). During this time it would become one of the most expensive video games ever made, with a budget going well over $80 million. Things that factored into the huge budget were numerous delays during development and many already finished elements being discarded. Composer Rika Muranaka gave just one example in an interview, saying how most of the songs she composed for the soundtrack were ultimately never used in either of the games.
Eventually the various issues behind the scenes began to take their toll on the development process, with budget concerns becoming the primary point of contention between Hideo Kojima and Konami. This would ultimately lead to Kojima's departure from Konami in early 2015, with all mentions of his name being removed from anything Metal Gear related.
Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain was released worldwide on September 1, 2015, and despite the numerous delays and problems during development the game was an instant critical and commercial success. By the end of the year Phantom Pain alone had shipped 6 million copies, becoming one of Konami's biggest ever games in just a few months.
Most Memorable Moment
It's difficult to choose just one specific moment in MGSV as the most memorable, even if there aren't quite as many of them this time compared to earlier entries in the series. Still, things like the battle against Sahelantropus (the game's Metal Gear stand-in), the escape from the hospital in the opening mission, the reveal at the end of the game, and Quiet's entire story arc are all wonderful moments and scenes that I still remember vividly.
In the end, the one moment, or scene, that stands out the most to me is around the halfway point of the game, when the outbreak of a deadly and highly contagious parasite infects some if his crew at Mother Base. The moment when you realize that in order to prevent the parasite from spreading any further you're going to have kill all of your own soldiers is a one of the most poignant and tragic moments in the entire series.
Making your way from one soldier to another with them expressing hope that their boss if there to help, only for them to soon realize you're there just to kill them is genuinely haunting and sad. The single most memorable moment here is when you finally end up in a room full of your infected staff, and as they realize what you're there to do, they don't panic or try to run. Rather, they accept their fate, glad that it's you who is going to do it, and salute you as their final act before death.
Does Metal Gear Solid V Still Hold Up?
Metal Gear Solid V is a very mixed game, or pair of games. Some elements are better than they have ever been in the entire series, but others fall well short on what most people would expect from a Metal Gear title. As such, it's a very difficult game to rank within the canon of the series. Regardless, I do still feel that it is well worth playing through. As uneven as it may be, there's still a lot to like.
Obviously, in terms of visual quality MGSV is a gorgeous game. The then-new Fox engine really shines in creating convincing open world environments, and the locations in Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain are wonderfully realized. I also like the little details the game adds, such as Big Boss's attire getting soaked in blood during missions if he kills people at close range, as they add a lot of little flavour to the experience. The world itself is a huge highlight, with both Afghanistan and Angola giving the player two huge, clearly distinct, and well designed areas to play in.
The scores for both titles are also excellent. Ludvig Forssell may have been a relatively unknown composer when he began work on the project, but he created one of the best overall soundtracks in the franchise. Some of the standout tracks include ´Sins of the Father´, ´Quiet's Theme´, and ´V Has Come To´. I must also commend the expert use of licensed music throughout both titles. The chosen songs fit perfectly with the tone and narrative of both titles, my personal favourite being the song ´Here's to You` by Ennio Morricone.
Perhaps the best aspect of both Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain is the gameplay. It is, without question, the most polished aspect of the entire experience, and easily the best gameplay the series has ever offered. The clunkiness of earlier titles is pretty much gone, and controlling the characters feels great. Both the stealth and action sides have been improved immensely. From a pure gameplay perspective, this was the most fun I've ever had playing a Metal Gear game.
MGSV also has a huge amount of content, moreso in Phantom Pain of course, which is a genuinely massive experience that you can sink a huge amount of time into. The main missions alone are going to provide dozens of hours of gameplay, and the side missions can potentially at least double that time. While the side missions are usually split into certain specific categories that each follow the same formula, I didn't really grow tired of them until very late into the game, simply because of the huge variety in locations and because the gameplay is just so much fun. The fatigue did eventually set in, but by that point I had already played about 30 to 40 hours of side missions alone, so I can't really complain.
In regards to Ground Zeroes, its greatest weakness is its very short length. While it's true that you can increase your playtime by completing the optional side missions and searching for things like cassette tapes and other collectables, it still doesn't amount to all that much unless you're a completionist who wants to do everything a game has to offer before moving on. For me, it didn't offer enough to hold my attention very long after I finished the main story mission.
On a more positive note, Ground Zeroes is a really well-written introduction to Phantom Pain, creating an interesting set-up for the main game and putting in motion many of the main driving forces for the latter title's story. It does a wonderful job of creating intrigue and excitement for the follow-up. Yet, even with that in mind, I can't really recommend getting Ground Zeroes as a stand-alone game. It's just not worth the price of admission by itself. However, paired together with Phantom Pain I highly recommend playing it.
Unfortunately, Phantom Pain has its own problems as well. While the gameplay, visuals, music, and the open world are excellent, many other elements left me somewhat disappointed in the end. The main reason for this is the game's rather unfocused and anticlimactic narrative. For a game that was essentially meant to provide crucial final information on many important plotlines in the franchise it's remarkably lacking in closure.
The pacing is also all over the place, feeling uneven, with many rushed sections interspersed with long stretches of little to no significant storyline development. Ultimately, Phantom Pain leaves a lot of things unexplained and unfinished, making it quite possibly the weakest game in the entire series in terms of story, which is a real shame considering its position as the entry that was supposed to finish the series' main overarching story.
This same feeling extends to the game's villains, who end up among the weakest in the series as well. The main villain for much of the title - Skullface - has a very interesting backstory and set up in Ground Zeroes and the first half of Phantom Pain, but the pay-off never really comes and his final fate is one of the most unsatisfying anti-climaxes I've ever experienced in any video game. The rest of the villains and bosses don't fare much better, though a few do benefit from their connections with the other games in the series, which had already fleshed out their characters to a much greater extent.
Another aspect that I didn't like was having to repeat more difficult versions of the exact same missions I had already completed to pad out the game's running time. The fact that I had to do this to unlock Phantom Pain's proper ending felt really cheap and gave the last 10 or so hours a really rushed and unfinished feeling, souring the experience somewhat at the very end. Kojima could have easily cut most of the last 10 hours out and it would have made the game much better as a result.
On the other hand, the story is at least partially salvaged by some very well-written and interesting character arcs, which provide Phantom Pain with many of its best moments. Design aside, Quiet has become one of my favourite characters in the entire series, with a beautifully tragic story rivalling the best the series has given us over the years, and much of the narrative and lore surrounding the Metal Gear unit of Phantom Pain is genuinely interesting.
Finally, I should briefly mention Kiefer Sutherland as Big Boss. Disregarding all the surrounding controversy, he does a fine job voicing the character. The problem is, the casting ends up feeling completely pointless because Big Boss spends most of the game completely silent, to the point that it actually starts to feel awkward and out of place when important events are unfolding around the character and he will just stare blankly ahead at nothing.
Had it not been for the disappointing plot that seemed to drift aimlessly, with no coherent direction for much of the game's second half, Phantom Pain could have been a true masterpiece. Now it's 'merely' a great game with a lot of unfulfilled potential; one that ended up leaving me slightly disappointed when it was over. It's still worth playing, but unlike the franchise's best entries my recommendation for this entry comes with its fair share of caveats attached.
Regardless, I still thoroughly enjoyed most of my time with Metal Gear Solid V, and for all its faults I believe that it is a great note for the series to go out on. Without Kojima the series is over for me, but it's given me many wonderful moments over the years, and for that I'm thankful.
Some of the visual design of Ground Zeroes, particularly the sideways lens flare, was actually inspired by Japanese idol girl group AKB48's music videos.
Phantom Pain was initially meant to have another chapter in it that would have wrapped up the storyline properly, but because of the ongoing conflict between Kojima and Konami it ended up being rushed out, meaning that the last part of the story was cut from the final version of the game.