[Warning: this article contains spoilers for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain]
Hated the ending to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain? Yeah, me too. Sort of. Though it’d probably be more accurate to say I resent the way it was presented. Right from the beginning, we all had a sense of what the twist was going to be. From Ishmael pointing and muttering, “You’re talking to yourself,” to the AI pod in Huey’s lab not recognizing us, it was pretty damn obvious we weren’t playing as the real Big Boss.
However, the worst part of the ending wasn’t the twist itself. Rather, it was how the twist was executed. After playing up to a certain point in the game, mission 46 ‘Truth: The Man Who Sold The World’ unlocks itself on our mission list. We click it, and we are immediately taken right back to the game’s prologue. As soon as you see the beginning of the prologue, you start to get a little excited; you’re thinking, hey, maybe this time we’ll get to see things from a different perspective, maybe we’ll get to play as Ishmael. Sure enough, your excitement reaches an all-time high when the doctor shows you the photograph of your custom created avatar standing next to Big Boss himself.
The truth is revealed. You were never Big Boss to begin with. You were the medic in that chopper back in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. But then the chapter continues, and you end up playing through the exact same 45 minute-long prologue again with no differences until the very end of it. Heck, mission 46 doesn’t even bother removing the tutorial prompts. 70 hours sunk into the game before reaching this point, you’d think we’d know to press X to crawl by now.
Alright, so the final mission was poorly handled. There’s little indication of when Venom Snake actually came to this realization, and the game just tosses mission 46 at its players out of nowhere, and then the game ends. But was the twist really such a bad thing in and of itself?
After allowing the ending to sit with me for a few days, I’ve realized that perhaps another way to look at things is to see it as a monumental indication of Big Boss’s descent into villainy. This twist basically means Big Boss has used one of his most trusted men as a pawn to further his own self-interests – rather hypocritical of him, considering that he left the CIA precisely because he wanted to create a nation where soldiers would no longer be used and manipulated by their higher-ups. He strips the medic of his identity, and forces him to carry on his legacy in the eyes of the public.
It’s very ironic stuff. The CIA used Big Boss as a pawn in their scheme to get their hands on the Philosophers’ Legacy back in Snake Eater, and they patted him on the back for it and rewarded him. Here, Big Boss uses the player as a pawn in his scheme to build his own Outer Heaven without us, and he pats us on the back for it, telling us we’re doing a good job. Big Boss essentially becomes the monster he used to hate.
It’s revealed in the final cassette tapes that Venom was one of the best soldiers they had in MSF, and it’s even suggested that he and Big Boss might’ve been friends. The very idea that Big Boss turns his back on his friends, namely Venom and Kaz, is proof that Big Boss is no longer the Naked Snake we once knew. And that’s the true gut punch of the game – you play Metal Gear Solid V thinking you’re going to see Big Boss’s transformation into the villain, only to find out that it’s already happened.
If that explanation doesn’t satisfy you, perhaps we can view the ending as a final ‘thank you’ from director Hideo Kojima to fans of the series as well. In the final cassette tape, Big Boss tells Venom, and us, that we, too, are Big Boss. We are also part of the legend that he’s created, and it all comes back to that iconic line from Metal Gear Solid back on the PS1: “The man is no match for the legend.” In a meta sort of sense, we (Venom) are seen as Big Boss’s right-hand man because we’ve been following and playing all the previous games in the series. We know Big Boss’s story better than anyone else; we know his moves. Given that, who better to take on the role of Big Boss than us, the players who have been following his story every step of the way?
Now that I’ve had some time to think about the ending, I’m starting to believe that this was indeed Kojima’s intention after all. As his final entry into the series, he’s chosen to break the fourth wall one last time to allow players to truly become Big Boss and be a part of his legend.
Sure, maybe the final mission could’ve been handled a little less clumsily. And sure, maybe this does create a few plot holes here and there. But the very idea that the game has made the effort to make its players part of this 28 year-old legend isn’t something we should dismiss so easily. I still resent the way the ending was handled, but maybe this was the best possible way the series could have ended after all.
I mean… this is good, isn’t it?