The Metal Gear Solid franchise is known for four things: an ostensibly convoluted narrative, mechanically playful boss fights, one-off systems that are unique to each game, and franchise creator Hideo Kojima’s unique ability to juxtapose absolute absurdity and emotional gravity. Within the primary narrative of the franchise, three of four entries culminate in Solid Snake or Big Boss taking the lives of a relative of some sort.
In the first game, Solid Snake goes mano a mano with his twin brother, Liquid Snake, standing on top of Metal Gear Rex, a bipedal nuclear tank that nearly fell into the hand of terrorists. Liquid believes that he is genetically inferior to Snake, and deeply resents him as a result. Feelings of inadequacy aren’t uncommon in siblings. It’s a relatable struggle, and a particularly emotionally heavy one. Family places the burden of expectation on its members. Snake and Liquid are clones of Big Boss – one of the greatest soldiers in history. That’s a gigantic legacy to live up to. An impending airstrike imposes a 10 minute time limit on the fight. Regardless of who wins, one truth holds for either scenario: the bloodline does not die out. The legacy of Big Boss will continue. Liquid’s victory would imply his genetic superiority, preserving what he considers to be the ideal genes. If the twins are caught in the air strike, then both have failed as clones of Big Boss, and the bloodline dies off as a failed experiment.
Back in 1964, Jack, a.k.a. Big Boss, must kill his mother figure/mentor to fulfill her final wish. The Boss is direct: “One must die and one must live. No Victory, no defeat. The survivor will carry on the fight. It is our destiny… The one who survives will inherit the title of Boss. And the one who inherits the title of Boss will face an existence of endless battle.” The idea of familial expectation returns, and even provides the basis for Big Boss’s ultimate goal: the establishment of Outer Heaven, a state comprised of soldiers who fight under no banner. Before the fight begins, she urges him: “Finish your mission! Prove your loyalty!” It’s a double entendre by fulfilling her final wish, he’s simultaneously proving his loyalty to his family and to his country through the completion of Operation Snake Eater. During the post-fight cutscene, control is returned to the player just as Jack aims his gun at The Boss. The final shot must be fired manually, furthering the impact of her death.
It is important to note that Solid Snake ostensibly kills Big Boss in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. This carries the implication that Snake earned the title of Boss, but Big Boss is revealed to be alive in Metal Gear Solid 4.
Though the family connection is tenuous at best, the closing fight of Metal Gear Solid 4 equally deals with Big Boss’s legacy. Revolver Ocelot is the son of The Boss and The Sorrow, born on the battlefield during the invasion of Normandy. He lost his arm during Metal Gear Solid 1, but subsequently replaced it with one of Liquid’s. Ocelot ultimately comes close to fulfilling Big Boss’s desire to create outer heaven, through the creation of a private military company conglomerate. The idea of legacy is even reflected in the interface and the music. Over the course of the battle, the interface changes style, moving through the UIs of the various games. As these shifts occur, the theme of the currently displayed game plays in the background. Snake’s fight with Ocelot functions as a rejection of Big Boss and his ideals. In contrast with Snake’s victory in the first game, this functions to kill the bloodline. Snake is dying and his brothers are dead. Big Boss dies at The Boss’s grave. But in the end, his mission is complete. The title of Boss was not passed on, and no individual must live in endless conflict.