How much canon is MGS: Portable Ops to the rest of the Metal Gear series?
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE HAS LOTS OF SPOILERS, DO NOT READ IT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED ON EVENTS OCCURRING IN THE ENTIRE SERIES!
I’m writing this article as a retrospective, after having played MGSV The Phantom Pain, and seeing just how well a title Hideo Kojima has declared semi-canon at best fits into the lore.
For the record, Kojima declared the core of the story fits, but any details that don’t are not canon.
With that said, let’s examine what does and does not fit:
- Did the FOX Rebellion happen as depicted?
This is a fairly safe thing to declare absolutely canon. Since FOXHOUND was established in 1972 and Peace Walker takes place in 1974 according to official canon, FOX was disbanded, and we can safely consider the events of Portable Ops as the reason, and since XOF’s existence was confirmed but FOX does not exist by Ground Zeroes, we can conclude the FOX Rebellion led by Gene happened more or less as that game dictates.
2 Did Sokolov survive the events of Operation Snake Eater and was Metal Gear RAXA built?
In the case of these, no canon exists to contradict either from having happened. Neither are explicitly referenced in Peace Walker onward, but nothing said they didn’t happen, though some discrepancies occur.
For one, how did Sokolov get his hands on Granin’s research? Simple, Ocelot gave them to the then DCI, who passed it on to Sokolov, but we hit a snag when Peace Walker comes up and Hot Coldman (who was the DCI who set up the Virtuous Mission) also gave Huey Emmerich a copy of Granin’s research, which he got via CIA contacts who filched a copy for Coldman which were later used by Coldman to blackmail Huey.
One has to wonder why info that classified got leaked so easily, but this is the same universe where this sort of crap happens all the time, so it’s plausible. However, one has to wonder why Metal Gear RAXA never gets brought up by Huey or Miller.
In the former’s case, it’s possible Huey was never told about it and Coldman never got his hands on the RAXA data, which, given it was wrapped up in an incident both the CIA and Cipher wanted to bury (as well as the Pentagon, if we believe Cunningham), is also possible. In Miller’s case, we know he’s familiar with the San Hieronymo incident but the full scope of his knowledge is vague, and it’s possible Big Boss never got around to talking about it all that much nor had much reason to do so, since it’s events don’t really have too much bearing on Peace Walker aside from a comment by Gene hinting at Peace Walker’s story it’s likely Big Boss doesn’t even remember.
This however, leads to another plot hole never really cleared up, but for which a possible explanation exists, why is Coldman NOT the DCI by Snake Eater but confirmed to have the details of the Virtuous Mission? Also, Ocelot kills the DCI and steals the remaining half the Philosophers Legacy at the end of Portable Ops (which is alluded to in The Phantom Pain) for Cipher, which already had half of the Legacy, but how does Coldman fit in?
Easy. Coldman admits he set up The Boss’ defection, which his superiors planned, but he decided on his own hook to goad Volgin into firing the Davy Crockett (which Ocelot tried in vain to stop), this was discovered, and he was deposed in the interval between then and Snake Eater, with his presumable deputy taking over or an interim DCI, which would fit with Ocelot confirming to the DCI in charge circa Snake Eater in 1970 that they met in 1964 and also makes that phone call at the end of Snake Eater make sense, since it’s likely Coldman’s replacement who had agent ADAM ordered to covertly help Naked Snake and filch the Legacy if he got a chance.
It also explains why Ocelot isn’t around or hinted at in Peace Walker, as he was off doing crap for Cipher since he obviously couldn’t show his face at Langley anymore, which he also confirms to a degree in The Phantom Pain.
But this leads into, does RAXA even exist? While canon doesn’t say it doesn’t, I’d argue yes if we follow the canon trail of Metal Gear’s evolution:
The Shagohod was the forefather of the nuclear battle tank idea, but was more tank than the Metal Gear of the series. RAXA was an attempt to take Granin’s decades ahead of his time idea and use that as a base instead, but since technology at the time combined with Sokolov’s firm base in rocket science and lack of bipedal weapons experience quickly showed RAXA to be impractical on the walker side of things (it also used four legs, not two), and thus was little more than a half assed prototype that couldn’t move very well until it got hijacked by Ursula, who used her psychic powers to make up for the flaws in it’s design.
Why this was never filed away for when Metal Gear ZEKE was made is never mentioned, but it’s likely that information was buried deep and Huey did such a good job making a better Metal Gear the RAXA data was just filed away and forgotten as a half assed prototype.
Of course, this leaves one final question: Why does Big Boss act all surprised when Miller comes up with ZEKE’s name? Well, half of that is the fact Kojima was trying to pretend Peace Walker was the direct sequel to Snake Eater (he had a strong dislike of certain elements of Portable Ops as canon breaking but later conceded the core of the plot did happen, but any conflicting details didn’t), so glossing over that is understandable. Second, this is the same series where every new Metal Gear is treated as totally new and shocking despite several being known to the characters at this point (anyone remember Solid Snake being all incredulous about Metal Gear REX despite having destroyed two at this point?), so it’s also possible it’s regarded as a running gag that that Kojima just loves to keep milking.
Either way, doesn’t necessarily invalidate the existence of RAXA.
3. Does Gray Fox fit in as “Null”?
According to this, it doesn’t really invalidate canon all that much, though it does complicate canon quite a bit.
4. Do the endings of Big Boss’ feeling about The Boss conflict?
In Portable Ops, Big Boss eventually decides he’s fed up with being a bitch of others like The Boss was forced to be and decides to do things for himself.
In Peace Walker, he goes all emo over The Boss AI committing suicide, seeing it as a betrayal of everything she stood for, and tosses aside her bandanna and fully assumes the name Big Boss.
Do these endings conflict?
Big Boss learns The Boss was used a tool and decides “to hell with that being my fate” in Portable Ops, and decides “The Boss had her ideals spit on” in Peace Walker and adopts the title as her successor fully upon that epiphany. He also wants to know who set up The Boss to be screwed over in Portable Ops, but by the time of Peace Walker, it’s obvious his trust in his own government has eroded to the point that when he get confirmation who, he isn’t even all that rattled by it anymore because he doesn’t trust anyone who gave The Boss orders anymore.
4. Why is Big Boss poor at the beginning of Peace Walker when Gene handed him money in Portable Ops?
At the end of Portable Ops, Gene hands Big Boss money he was going to use for what would be his version of Outer Heaven, but he doesn’t seem to have all that much by Peace Walker, where you have to build up your base and forces the hard way for the most part.
Well, I see two explanations for this: One, it just wouldn’t be fun from a gameplay perspective to have a ton of resources on hand at the start in a game where base building is part of the fun. Second, four years pass between Portable Ops’ end and Peace Walker’s start, so let’s assume a few things.
One, Big Boss may not have been able to find all the funds for one reason or another. Second, a fair amount was likely blown setting up Militaire Sans Frontieres, and maybe even FOXHOUND. Third, you start Peace Walker with a decent starting set of equipment, and since four years went by, it’s likely that money was spread around to drum things like intel contacts and PR.
In any event, it’s likely Gene didn’t have nearly as much as he thought he did either. The Philosopher’s Legacy was set up by some of the richest people in the world over the space of decades. Gene had barely a fraction of that time, so I doubt he left Big Boss a Legacy sized windfall.
In any event, it’s a minor point, and it doesn’t really hurt the canon in any major way.
5. Conclusion: Portable Ops is essentially canon and any discrepancies are pretty minor.
Based on all the above, I can only conclude Portable Ops is still a worthy game, albeit a very rough prototype of Peace Walker gameplay wise, and having beaten it several times and compared its plot points to the other games, it does have some crap that is never totally explained, left vague, or minor/moderately contradicts the later games, but then again, all the games have this problem, as a lot of the lore was retroactively established post Metal Gear 2 starting with the first Solid game, which establishes Solid learned who his father was, a scene we NEVER see nor have a good timeframe for, and the contradictions only begin piling up from there.
Regardless, as Kojima-san said, all the major plot points fit, more or less, and we might as well ignore all the minor inconsistency in the long run, as there is no reason MGS PO is not canon at all, but we can safely say outside of the bare essentials, like the other games, any details that conflict should not be regarded as gospel either.