Welcome to another entry in my on-going series: Alessio & The Beastly Backlog. Last week we talked about The Astronaut’s The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, which was a first-person exploration / crime-solving simulator game with a whole lot of story to drive the player forward. This week we have the opposite type of experience in a myriad of ways: Shovel Knight, a fun side-scrolling adventure game more akin to Zelda II and Megaman that has very little narrative other than just enough to get you motivated to get through its beautifully designed stages and boss encounters.
Hey guys! I’d like to usher in this new wave of GeekTime articles by starting a series that helps me help you help us all. In short, I have a massive backlog of video games inching ever closer to drowning me in physical disks, cartridges, and cases as well as in digital downloads, server space, and hard drive real-estate. I want to put a sizable dent in this mountain’o’media to keep myself from paying for more games that I don’t have time to play and to help me generate some content to push out to you, our lovely hypothetical audience.
What in the world is up with Atlus and towers? If it isn’t the Karma Temple in Digital Devil Saga, Tartarus in Persona 3, or the entire premise to Catherine, it’s Naraku in Shin Megami Tensei IV, a sort of reverse tower whose spatial relationship with the player character transforms throughout the narrative. Atlus, Team Persona, and anyone else responsible for Shin Megami Tensei titles seem to have some sort of fascination with towers, towering objects, and the phallic.
Now, it has been some time since I worked on a written piece for the site, but I’ve been so deeply fascinated with Shin Megami Tensei IV for the Nintendo 3DS that I felt the need to post a review for the title. It’s something about the level of depth that the atmosphere of the game world has, and the way that the remixed soundtrack (which consists of some previous series tunes) combines with that atmosphere and the game mechanics that make for a very dreamlike experience that often gets abruptly shattered with a nightmare scenario.
Did Atlus add another layer to the tower that is their popular Shin Megami Tensei franchise, or did they finally have a catastrophic misstep by releasing a numbered entry in their flagship series exclusively on a handheld?
At the New Orleans Film Festival last year I had the great pleasure of seeing a fantastic documentary about a small Christian Wrestling community in Georgia, appropriately titled Ultimate Christian Wrestling. The film was genuine in tone, focused on a very interesting group and their motivations, very funny throughout without belittling the beliefs of those shown, and a very human tale about dreams and how the road to achieve those goals can get so very twisted.
The version of the film that I saw was apparently an incomplete cut, according to director team Jae-Ho Chang and Tara Autovino during the Q&A that followed. Now, there is a Kickstarter campaign that has a week left and is a little over halfway towards its goal. If you’re at all interested in independent film, documentary filmmaking, or having a hand in assisting those that work in those fields, please consider contributing, and even if you can’t contribute sharing the link can help out tremendously.
I’d love to see this film in its final form and you’d really be in for a treat if you gave yourself the opportunity too.
With Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance coming out in less than 24 hours, let’s finish our overview of Metal Gear Solid 2 by looking at the “Director’s Cut” version: Substance.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance
Xbox, PS2, PC | PS3, Vita, 360 [HD Edition]
November 5, 2002
Substance is a re-released version of Metal Gear Solid 2 that originally saw the light of day on the original Xbox a year after the release of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty for the PS2. Carrying on the tradition of Metal Gear Solid: Integral, Substance adds 300+ VR Missions, the ability to play as Solid Snake during the portions of the game where you originally could not, a fun Casting Theater feature where you can change out the characters in each of the game’s cutscenes, and a few other extras.
The PS2 version of Substance saw a delay, and as compensation for such a delay, it was released with free copies of The Document of Metal Gear Solid 2 for a limited time. The PS2 version of Substance in Japan replaced the original Japanese v.o. with the English dubs.
Some Metal Gear fans see the release of Substance, especially due to its subtitle, as commentary from Kojima on how gamers perceived the original release. Metal Gear Solid 2 definitely received a fair amount of criticisms from journalists and fans for its hard to follow narrative and lack of any actual “substance”, so it is quite common among some Metal Gear social circles to believe that the subtitle was a direct response to these criticisms. This is made somewhat more believable at the ludicrous amount of content made available in the title’s PS2 iteration (i.e. the skateboard mode based on a system from Konami’s own failed skateboarding game: Evolution Skateboarding). There’s an interesting article that argues about why the “Director’s Cut” was more or less a push from Konami and fans for Kojima to stop messing around and put out more MGS related content available at MetaGearSolid.org entitled “Substance Abuse” that I’m a huge fan of, so please, check it out.
Another common belief is that Substance first came out for the Xbox as a way for Konami to try and pull more of the “hardcore” gamers into the Metal Gear series and that the release was chock full of content as a way to appease these “hardcore” gamers who needed tons of content to dominate, especially content with leaderboards and such.
It’s just interesting to think of how much of a pacifist Kojima is and how anti-war Metal Gear normally is when looking at Substance, which literally makes a game out of killing, more so than the core game. In a way, it’s this gun fetishism and obsession with competitive blood sport and the coveted “number 1″ spot that fuels some of Kojima’s creative decisions going into Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
I fall into the former camp of Metal Gear fans, sincerely thinking that this version of MGS2 is more of a disservice to the original narrative, but one that a lot of people wanted. It’s really nice having a massive amount of MGS2 content to play with, espeically since it is my favorite Metal Gear title, but it feels bitter sweet playing this edition knowing that a majority of the content wasn’t originally intended to exist. But, guilt aside, I enjoy Substance for what it is, but I definitely consider the narrative as a standalone experience, which finds itself soiled and mostly ruined by the inclusion of the “Snake Tales”.
Everyone have a happy Metal Gear Rising day tomorrow! Catch you next week for my review of Rising, or my first article looking at MGS3, depending on how much of Rising I can finish in a week.
Time to end this thing. I’ve been loosely talking about Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty for nigh on a month and a half now and I think that this train has run its course. I wanted to end this section of Metal Gear history by taking some questions from the readers just so that I could flesh out any ground that may have come off as obscured or muddy during my articles. There is a lot to cover when discussing Metal Gear Solid 2, so if I don’t get a chance to cover it all, and if you’re more interested in the “actual” events that occur within the game, instead of an analytic overview, I strongly recommend downloading the Metal Gear Solid 4 Database for the Playstation 3. It’s a very useful tool for any Metal Gear fan!
1. “Fortune, what’s up with that?”
In my opinion, Fortune is just another tell, or another way that the game tries to demonstrate its nature to the player. Sure, at the onset of her appearance we are made to believe that she can deflect bullets with her mind, or some sort of luck, but later when it is revealed to be some form of technology that is assisting her (playing into the techno-babel themes that the game touches on) the player starts questioning. Again the player’s thoughts and outlook is tested whenever Fortune is, in fact, able to dodge/deflect bullets even after the tech assisting her is destroyed. This back and fourth with her ability is used to demonstrate Kojima’s point about information and “truth”. It’s all about perspective and slant.
2. “If Kojima wanted Metal Gear Solid 2 to be the end of the series, why wasn’t it?”
Apparently the fans weren’t happy with the news, and neither was Konami. Honestly, it’s a tricky question, because I’m not in the inside of the situation. Hideo Kojima, at this point, probably has enough connections and capital to fund his own small nation, but then again that’s probably subjective. He is a very influential director and writer, especially in the video game industry, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t feel A. some form of responsibility for the series (knowing that Konami may twist it or do something with the IP that Kojima doesn’t want, even if he isn’t directly involved) and B. feel some sort of responsibility to his fan-base. I mean, it’s easy to say “Kojima is misunderstood and his fans’ interpretations, as a whole, of MGS2 disappointed him and shattered his romantic view of gamer culture”, but then again it’s just as easy to say, “Kojima could tell all of his fans to screw off and do whatever the hell he wants for the rest of his life”. I’m not entirely sure what the right answer is.
3. “What is the best version of MGS2 to play?”
Personally? I think that the original PS2 release is the way that the game was meant to be played initially and stands the test of time very well. As a poor Metal Gear fan I have since parted ways with a majority of my original copies of the games, what with many moves, lending to friends, and dire financial situations, so the HD Collection on the PS3 is how I currently have replayed the game, but the PS2 original is a dream. The frame-rate stutters a bit here and there on the PS3 and Vita, with the 360 version running smoothly, due to some of the trailing effects and smoke/fire particle effects, but all versions are definitely playable. The original Xbox version, Substance, runs really well, but I hate the non-pressure sensitive buttons and controller layout for MGS, so I say nay.
4. “How many times have you beaten MGS2 and are you morally opposed to Substance?”
To date, I have completed Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Substance at least fifteen times a piece. I collected every single dog tag on all difficulties on the original PS2 release of SoL back when, primarily due to a rumor that it would unlock Gray Fox as a playable character, and then I beat the game on Extreme and European Extreme when Substance came out, as well as countless other times with the HD versions and what not.
In short, I’ve beaten the game many times… many times. And I’ll talk more about my feelings pertaining to Substance next week.
5. “Is the Tanker portion made up too?”
Honestly, one could make the chase that the level of absurdity in the game is perfectly justifiable and that none of the game is “made up”. That’s what makes the title so amazing and layered is that it makes sense on a series of levels and for all audiences, and I honestly think that that’s Kojima’s real success. I personally feel that if you buy into the theory that the whole game is one big simulation, we could just as easily be playing as Raiden playing as Snake when we’re on the Tanker, or you could believe that the Tanker portion (originally MGS2) is a separate section from the Plant (originally MGS3) and that Solid Snake really does die during the events leading up to the Metal Gear RAY hijacking. It’s all up to you, the interpreter. I’m not trying to set any rules or tell you how the game is “really” meant to be enjoyed. I’m just sharing with you guys what I got out of it. I could very easily be buying into an eccentric philosophy just to rekindle some of the magic from when I first played the game. Who knows?
6. “Do the Zone of the Enders games tie into the Metal Gear universe in any way?”
The titles aren’t specifically set in the same universe, but Kojima Productions and Hideo Kojima like to reference their other works within each other. MGS2 definitely shares a lot of design principles and aesthetic with Zone of the Enders and the 2nd Runner, but other than references and cameos for fan-service, I don’t think there is a definite connection. Snatcher and Metal Gear, on the other hand, seem to occur within the same universe.
Alright kids, that’s it. Next week we’ll discuss Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance and then we’re on to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. We may be interrupted part of the way through by the release of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, which I’ll have to review for obvious reasons! See you guys at the same Metal Gear time at the same Metal Gear place. Next canonical article is out tomorrow. Deal with it.
Metal Gear Rising: Reveangence is out in less than a month and we’re finally going to take a look at Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, even though I’ll be saving the bulk of Raiden’s role in the game for next week’s article.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was over hyped, massively anticipated, and even considered by many to be the biggest media release of its time. Arguably one of Kojima’s greatest works, many game journalists of the time had a lot to say about the plotting and narrative of the title. OXM described the plot as incomprehensible when reviewing its re-release for the Xbox, while Gamespot spoke of the complexity and opportunity for discussion that the narrative facilitated. Most fans and critics alike simply threw the story to the wind, assuming it as more of the same from days of yore, and chalked up Metal Gear and Kojima simply as absurd, Japanese, and anime inspired. For the most part, the gaming world had dismissed looking beneath the surface of Sons of Liberty‘s story and had missed one of gaming’s greatest criticisms on itself.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was released November 13th, 2001 in the United States. Somewhat mysterious is the fact that the game didn’t come out until November 29th in Japan and almost a year later in Europe. The game was three years in development and saw a companion PS2 “game” released alongside it called The Document of Metal Gear Solid 2, which went much more in-depth with the production of the title.
As far as gameplay mechanics were concerned, the game ran much smoother than its predecessor, saw a massive graphical overhaul due to the system of release, and introduced a first-person shooting mechanic to the franchise. Much in the same vein as most of Nintendo‘s first-party games, Metal Gear Solid 2 took the formula of Metal Gear Solid and attempted to recreate its format, complete with situations, style of boss pacing and location, and with familiar faces, but this time it would be with a twist.
Many gamers will recognize Metal Gear Solid 2 as the game that “trolled” players into thinking that they’d reprise their role as Solid Snake and save the world again. Hideo Kojima and friends obviously sought to create this mirage. They featured Solid Snake in all of the promo pictures, the demo, and even spoke in generalizations of the game to keep the facade up. Well, an hour and a half into the game (depending on how much of a hardcore MGS fan you are, EXTREME!) Solid Snake was presumed dead and the player took on the role of Raiden, series newcomer and OG whiny, skinny, emo boy that pissed all of the cool fans off.
Hideo Kojima didn’t necessarily know that Raiden would cause as large a stink as he did, but he definitely knew that fans would be upset, and that was partially the point. Kojima started penning MGS2 knowing damn well that MGS would be as successful as it was. He wanted to make a meta-game that broke all of the standards that sequel should follow, deciding to criticize the game that it was a sequel to, and he establishes this very early on with this role reversal.
We’re introduced to some more familiar characters (see Colonel Campbell), though we have no context for their involvement. The bosses are introduced, again to be used as vehicles to move the story forward and provide some interesting gameplay scenarios. But, everything feels a bit… off. Our protagonist has identity issues, even entering the player’s personal information as his own early in the game (and even wearing OUR names on his dogtags!), and its these issues that make up the bulk of the narrative, even within each layer.
I’ll split the game into a few layers for you guys next week and I’ll knock out MGS2. Week after that, look forward to Substance, then we’ll be discussing MGS3 and how Kojima didn’t want to ride the Metal Gear train any longer.
I missed deadline… yet again, and on a national holiday to boot. I apologize. And, to show how apologetic I am, let me postpone my Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty discussion even more! Kidding! Mostly… This week we’re going to take a look at the “real” Metal Gear Solid 2. And by that I mean the pack-in demo disk that came with Zone of the Enders on the PlayStation 2 when it was released on March 1st, 2001.
The demo disk of Metal Gear Solid 2 that shipped with the original Zone of the Enders PS2 release was a bit of an experiment on Konami and Hideo Kojima’s part. Konami didn’t just want to help a new IP prosper by packing in a demo for what was considered at the time to be one of the most hyped video game releases ever, they also wanted to boost expectations and sales for MGS2 in the process, but Hideo Kojima’s design document shows evidence that this pack-in demo was supposed to be Metal Gear Solid 2, with the Plant portion of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty being released as Metal Gear Solid III, just to add another twist to the narrative structure and the self-referential nature of the game, which we will discuss in full later.
Apart from that tidbit of information, the demo is fairly straight forward. For those of you who have played the full retail release of Metal Gear Solid 2, the demo was simply the Tanker portion, or first chapter, of the main game. The demo shipped on a CD instead of a DVD, Solid Snake could actually procure a FA-MAS (a fan favorite from MGS1) in the demo, and some of the posters are different than the full release. Other than that, it’s essentially the first chapter of the same game.
I remember playing the demo over and over and over, just being completely and totally blown away by how something could be leaps and bounds more robust than its predecessor, especially one that I held so near and dear. I was pumped. Little did I know that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and later the ironically titled Substance version, would end up being one of my favorite games of all time. As we continue discussing the legacy of MGS2, how it could easily be considered one of the first truly postmodern video games, and how Hideo Kojima desperately didn’t want to continue working on the series following his magnum opus, I just want to remind all of you to keep an open mind, check out my citations, and comment below. These next few articles will simply be me expressing my views and opinions based on the evidence that I’ve seen, as well as presenting a few other arguments, in a manner that is primarily rooted in interesting observation and analytic discussion. Seeing as I’ve almost gotten into a fist fight at one of my previous places of work over Metal Gear Solid 2 and my interpretation of it, I just felt that I should preface myself with a fair warning.
Let the flame wars commence next week!
Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions (PSX, 1999, Konami)
Last week we finished up our look at Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation, which spiraled out of control in three parts all trying so desperately to sound intelligent, clever, and well versed in symbolism but ultimately just being a bunch of hot air. Now, the smoke has cleared, and so has the facade of a real game! Tally-ho to more Metal Gear action without all of those stupid cut-scenes with the people talking about the things and how guns are bad!
Following the release of the original Metal Gear Solid the Japanese were treated to Metal Gear Solid: Integral, which was an expanded release of the title that featured 300+ VR Missions, the ability to play as the Cyborg Ninja (which fans had clamored for), and several other extras such as Tokyo Game Show videos and commercials all bundled in with the main game. The extras from this version were released as a separate disk in Europe (Metal Gear Solid: Special Missions) where you needed the original game in order for the Playstation to allow you to access the content and as a completely separate game in the United States where it was released as Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions.
The game was a response to a large group of players’ complaints that even though the original title spanned two disks and was a full featured game it still lacked the action that they had expected or wanted. So, Hideo Kojima responded by having many more VR Missions made, to accompany the original batch that were released as training with the main game, and the other aforementioned features. But, as always, the extra features came with their own quirks and bizarre nature, which I completely commend Kojima for. If there is one thing that we’ll be talking about in later articles it is that Hideo Kojima absolutely knows how to slip in his own personality, comedy, and responses into titles that he doesn’t necessarily want to make. The man knows how to be both a god and a traitor.
VR Missions plays just like Metal Gear Solid, except the whole affair is broken into little bite-sized trials and puzzles that have their own objectives. Honestly, a game like this would’ve done very well on a handheld of this generation. Regardless, this is pure mechanics over narrative, who-needs-context, MURDER EVERYTHING YOU SEE! or hide until you can reach the goal cotton-candy, all fluff with no sustenance. The player gets to slash-slash-jump-kick as Frank Jaeger, a.k.a. DA N1NJA, take oddly staged pseudo-erotica photos of Naomi and Mei Ling, and even fight Godzilla-sized soldiers, which I totally infer as Kojima telling us what sort of things we must want if this type of point-less skilled based romp through a world he so fondly created is what we want. I mean, whenever you spend so much time crafting a narrative and a plot for the player to progress through with a hard-coded message for your audience and they respond with “give us more of the pew-pew-kablohy” I imagine that it’s easy to be a bit hurt and upset with your fan-base. I’m going to let myself finish, but this is all stuff that we’ll tackle in my mind-breaking discussion on Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty which will consist of terribly borrowed fan-theories, interview snippets, and as many links as I can think of. But that won’t come for a bit. I mean… we still have Metal Gear Solid: Ghost Babel for the Gameboy Color to talk about. Obvious choice.
Quick Aside: My favorite thing about VR Missions is the use of a reworked version of the music from the original MSX2 releases as the level music.