I've been playing video games for 20 years now and over those many years they've elicited a number of emotions from me; frustration and anger at the difficulty of some games, happiness and fulfillment at the greatness of others. The rarest emotion however, is genuine sadness. I can only think of two moments in gaming that made me feel truly sad. The first was Celes' attempted suicide in Final Fantasy VI
and the second is the focus of this post: the ending of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
For you to truly understand why Metal Gear Solid 3
's ending made me feel so sad, I'll have to SPOIL
pretty much every major plot point in the game, so be warned.
Metal Gear Solid 3 is a prequel to the entire Metal Gear
series, taking place in 1964 with the player taking control of Big Boss, the "greatest solider in the world" who series protagonist Solid Snake was cloned from. Big Boss, who I will refer to as "Snake" just as MGS3
does, is an agent of the CIA who is sent to Russia to rescue a defecting Russian scientist. After locating the man however, Snake's mentor, The Boss, appears, revealing that she's defected to Russia and promptly beats the crap out of Snake, leaving him for dead.
Several weeks later, Snake has recovered and is given a new mission: Kill the boss, the woman who taught him everything he knows. She is being blamed for the actions of the man who she allied herself with, Colonel Volgin, who detonated a nuclear warhead on Russian soil soon after The Boss' defection. If the United States government doesn't take care of her, Russia will be forced to see the bombing as an act of aggression on the US' part.
Thus begins Snake's long, torturous fight through the ranks of Volgin's troops and The Boss' unquestioningly loyal Cobra Unit. Along the way, we learn just how close Snake was with The Boss and the almost Godlike reverence that he and everyone else feels for her. Even though The Boss and her allies throttle Snake at every opportunity, something just feels wrong about killing a woman that everyone has such respect for.
She's also an extremely charismatic character, stealing the scene whenever she shows up. Kojima Productions did a fantastic job building her up as a total bad ass. She easily beats Snake's ass on multiple occasions and can even overpower the hulking Colonel Volgin with little effort.
So Snake manages to kill the Cobra Unit and Colonel Volgin, and destroys the Shagohod, Volgin's super weapon. Just one thing remains: he must kill his mentor to prevent World War 3. They meet in a field of white flowers and have one final, grueling battle. The Boss, of course, proves to be Snake's most formidable opponent yet. At close quarters, she's still more than a match for Snake and even in ranged combat she's as deadly as they come.
Snake manages to come out on top in the end and we see The Boss lying on the ground near death. She hands Snake her gun and the camera zooms out to an overhead shot. The letterbox that is present during cutscenes then disappears and it is the player who must pull the trigger to end The Boss' life. Seriously. Snake will just stand there pointing the gun at her forever until you, the player, finish the job with him.
Snake then escapes with fellow agent Eva and after a dumb love scene, Eva leaves Snake a taped confession which tells him the truth behind his mission. The Boss never betrayed the United States. Her "defection" was a ruse that would allow her to join Colonel Volgin and steal his vast fortune. However, after Volgin detonated a nuke on Russian soil, it was up to The Boss to take the fall for it so the United States government could clear itself of any suspicion.
She played her part to the end and sacrificed her life and honor for the good of the world. She would go down in history as a war criminal and her heroism would never be known by anyone outside a select few. The last words we hear before the credits are, "She was a true patriot," as Snake salutes The Boss' unmarked grave with tears streaming down his face.
That final image and those words were the closest any game has come to bringing me to tears. Metal Gear Solid 3
, like the rest of the series, is a goofy game, but its ending is one of the most somber and moving things I have experienced in a work of fiction. Despite its sadness, it also manages to be one of the most satisfying endings to any game I've ever played. Whereas many works of fiction are lessened when the mystery of their plot is removed, Metal Gear Solid 3
is at its strongest when all the veils are lifted.
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