This post does have spoilers for Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, so if you haven’t played it but still want to preserve its surprises, this is your warning. Also, go play it, ya dummy.
My ongoing endeavor to play through the Metal Gear Solid series since finding a new appreciation for it continues with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
In a sentence: I absolutely loved it.
I loved the Cold War-era esponiage and jungle setting and its structure as a journey instead of just being located in one singular facility for its entirety. The Cobra Unit and their respective boss battles are the most engaging and unique of the first three games and Ocelot is not only made even cooler here but he’s also given an added layer of depth from his hatred/hero worship of Naked Snake (this is how you make the young, cocky version of a character interesting, George Lucas!). The music is fantastic and the game plays great for both its stealth and action sections. It’s easily my favorite of the series so far and, depending on how I feel after more playthroughs, could easily rank among my favorite games of all time. So, yeah, absolutely adored it.
But what I want to talk about here are two elements that stood out to me as bringing Snake Eater above its peers into a whole other level of greatness: EVA’s confession to Snake in the game’s final cutscene and Snake’s character arc.
I think the final cutscene takes a great game and makes it into a masterpiece. It’s heartbreaking, it has two great twists in it for two separate characters, and the voice actress sells it like nobody’s business.
I think EVA is probably the weakest member of Snake Eater‘s main cast, right next to Volgin. She’s not really given much to do throughout the game besides acting sexy, showing off her breasts for the player, getting physically attacked by Volgin, and occasionally helping Snake on his mission. But her final monologue almost completely redeems her as a character. Her final confession adds a whole new dimension to her role in Snake Eater‘s complicated web of espionage but its biggest feat is in how quickly and effectively it adds a whole new layer to EVA’s character.
After abandoning Snake and revealing her status as a Chinese spy, EVA tells Snake about The Boss’s true role in the events of the game. As she explains The Boss’s actual mission (to be killed by Snake to shore up the hostile relations between the US and USSR) and The Boss’s desire for Snake to know the truth about her allegiance, EVA’s voice breaks and she tearfully says, “Everything she did, she did for her country. She sacrificed her life and her honor for her native land. She was a real hero. She was a true patriot.” Even EVA, a woman playing double and triple agent, manipulating multiple people’s emotions and allegiances in order to get what she needs, breaks into tears explaining The Boss’s self-sacrifice and love for Snake. No longer is EVA just the femme fatale; now she has dimension. Even in this world of heartless betrayals, EVA still sees the honor in The Boss’s sacrifice and the love and respect The Boss has for Snake, and even she can’t help but breaking down into tears.
Kojima’s monologues often come off as stiff and lecture-y, but Suzetta Miñet (who many believe is Debi Mae West, voice actress for Meryl in MGS1, under a pseudonym) sells the shit out of this one. It’s heartbreaking stuff, sewing up the loose ends on Snake’s arc (discussed below) while giving added dimension to EVA herself.
Naked Snake and Solid Snake are basically the same character (elite, though somehow naive, soldiers who are the best at what they do yet seem constantly befuddled by every bit of information given to them and in constant need of explanation from those around them) with the same character arc for their respective games (MGS3 and MGS1). Over the course of their games, they come to distrust the moral relativism and underhanded tactics inherent in a government at war and eventually leave government work to begin their own private organizations. But what sets Naked Snake apart from Solid Snake is how much more emotionally charged his character arc is. Naked Snake’s understanding of his government’s shady dealings is directly tied into his arc as a naive soldier turned bitter by war and his relationship with The Boss. Solid Snake’s realization of the same doesn’t change who he is as a character, it only changes his job; instead of working for the government, he works for himself.
Naked Snake’s arc is entirely a result of his relationship with The Boss, his mentor and surrogate mother, who he’s forced to kill as a part of his mission. While spouting monologues about the required relativism in being a soldier, The Boss sacrifices her life and her honor for her country. Being forced to kill the woman he essentially sees as his mother along with the subsequent reveal that she let Snake kill her for the good of their country leaves Snake devastated. The final shot of the game shows Snake, standing at The Boss’s grave, saluting, a single tear rolling down his cheek. We not only come to understand the political ramifications of the shifting allegiances of war but we experience its emotional ramifications as well. Snake, the elite soldier, the epitome of the cool ’80s action hero is broken. As shown in other games, he will go on to create Outer Heaven, a safe haven for soldiers to escape the abuse and exploitation he believes they face at the hands of the warring countries of the world. Because of the events of Snake Eater, Naked Snake will go on to become the feared terrorist, legendary mercenary, and revered leader known as Big Boss. Snake’s arc isn’t just a change in allegiance, it’s a change in his whole character.
Solid Snake, on the other hand, learns that his government has used him for its own ends, so he leaves behind government work to start his own private anti-Metal Gear organization. And that’s about it for his arc. Unlike with Naked Snake, there’s really no emotional investment in who he is or how he changes as a person during MGS1. He’s basically just switched bosses. The Solid Snake in MGS1 is essentially the same Solid Snake in MGS2. He’s not any different. The only difference is who he’s working for.
But Naked Snake’s transformation is deep, heartbreaking, and lasting. The player feels it and understands how Naked Snake could become the Metal Gear-wielding villain of the original Metal Gear.
There’s actually quite a bit I didn’t like in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. The writing at the start is some of Kojima’s worst, the motorcycle finale goes on too long, escorting EVA at the end is genuinely terrible (though I understand the need to slow the game’s pace prior to The Boss fight), The Boss’s voice acting alternates between cool, reassured toughness and incredibly stilted, and there’s some problematic gender and sexuality stuff with EVA, Volgin, and Raikov. But despite all that, I think Snake Eater is Kojima’s most successful attempt at melding all the disparate elements he loves (’80s action movies, anime, gonzo sci-fi/fantasy action, complicated plots, treatises on the nature of war, etc.) into a game that’s mechanically, intellectually, and emotionally fulfilling.