Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was one of the best games of 2015, but also a disappointing glimpse at what could have been a greater and more complete game. One year after its release, Metal Gear Solid V remains controversial. Its messy production was turbulent, and Konami’s public battles with director Hideo Kojima shocked the gaming community. The game eventually shipped with an incomplete storyline, an entire final level torn out, and the developer’s numerous unfulfilled promises. However, at least one part of Metal Gear Solid V worked as a complete plotline. That was the character of Quiet — a mute superpowered sniper dressed in very little clothing.
Unlike other characters in the game, Quiet’s character has a full arc: a beginning, middle, and end. She is also the only one that undergoes any kind of change and development, including the main character. Despite being heavily criticized and accused of being outright sexist, Quiet is the most multi-dimensional character in Metal Gear Solid V. She is a small sliver of what a complete version of this story could have looked like.
There is no discussing Quiet without discussing her most notorious assets, so lets get this out of the way first.
Nobody can deny Quiet was created with erotic purposes in mind. But she is far from the first character in the Metal Gear Solid series designed this way. Paz from Peace Walker seems to be a combination of every anime loli fetish in one thin body. Eva from Snake Eater was all Bond Girl winks and cleavage. Heck, even the Boss, the matriarch of this series, spends her final moments flashing some serious cleavage.
Quiet’s exploitative outfit pushes the boundaries of good taste. There are moments in Metal Gear Solid V that pass from merely cheerful trashiness to blatant pandering. Her design is clearly aiming for the heterosexual male gaze, but it is still unique and works in a Metal Gear sort of way. After all, this is the series that can leap from diatribes on the power of linguistics in controlling thought and the geopolitical implications of 20th century American imperialism to giant robots and vampires. Some fanservice moments, like the scene of her frolicking mostly naked in the rain, are beautifully done character moments. But then you have leering camera angles on certain parts of her body while she’s on the helicopter. This is just outrageous.
The thing about Quiet is that she reminds the audience that the story they’re playing is artificial. There’s no real reason for Quiet to look the way she does other than sex appeal, and the game mechanics serve as a weak rationale for her limited attire. Yet, there’s something almost bold about it. It’s as though Kojima is suggesting “I have no good reason for this. But it’s happening anyway. This is still a game, still a product, I won’t let you forget that.”
Quiet’s character in Metal Gear Solid V has a lot more to do than stand around and jiggle. Her character is a difficult series of contradictions. Kojima designed Quiet erotically, but the character is actually rather chaste. Quiet serves Skull Face in a scheme for revenge but respects Snake enough to never carry out her plan. She hates Snake for destroying her but finds herself in love with him. She’s one of the only boss fights, but also an invaluable and powerful ally. Her speed, strength, and cloaking abilities are second to none, yet she allows herself to be captured several times.
In fact, Quiet’s odd existence is a close mirror to that of Snake himself. Though the player does not know it until the end of the game, the character you are playing as is not Snake. Rather he is a nameless medic who has been twisted and mutilated into a perfect tool, a fake Big Boss. Quiet is another one of the lost nameless demons of the battlefield, fighting for reasons beyond her understanding. She’s lost her body, her language, even her identity beyond the code name “Quiet”. It’s no wonder that Venom Snake and Quiet fascinate each other. They are really one and the same.
Most of Quiet’s development must be done without dialog. But Kojima made his job even more difficult by keeping Quiet so quiet. It’s not just that she does not speak, she also makes few gestures and does not emote much. Eventually, Metal Gear Solid V has to cave and explain her powers and purpose with exposition dumps. But until then, Quiet is a pure enigma. Without words, she is all actions, which must tell her story.
Many of the most difficult scenes of Metal Gear Solid V involve Quiet. In Mission 45, Quiet is nearly murdered and raped by Russian soldiers. Earlier in the game, Quiet was tortured by Kaz and Ocelot when they discover she has vocal parasites within her. Recall the torture recordings of Paz from Ground Zeroes. In a more complete game, this scene might have been the first sign that Snake and his army were descending to Skull Face’s level. Instead, that’s just interpretation.
Ultimately, Quiet reaches her end not through weakness of character or ability, but through tragic circumstance. Quiet proves her power by brutalizing the Russians who attacked her in Mission 45. The player then is given their greatest challenge yet — an entire Soviet armored division charges at Snake and Quiet. Once the player overcomes this hurdle, once you reach maximum bond with their gameplay tool, disaster strikes. A single snake bite defeats Quiet and Snake. To save Snake, Quiet must speak English, unlocking the parasites within her. Rather than becoming a vector for Skull Face’s evil plan to destroy the world, Quiet disappears into the sand, lost forever.
In one of Metal Gear Solid V‘s most inspired decisions, following Mission 45, Quiet disappears completely from the player’s load-out. It is not merely a storyline character the player has lost, but a key ally. One cannot help miss Quiet. Her place in the battle strategy is gone forever. There will always be a missing piece of fanservice on the helicopter. (That is until later patches chickened out and gave players the ability to get Quiet back, ruining the effect entirely.)
In a way, Quiet is much like Metal Gear Solid itself. Metal Gear too seems like ridiculous video game-y nonsense. A spy thriller with giant robots and wacky bosses? These games go out of their way to remind players that they are games. “Put your controller on the floor!” But then Metal Gear turns out to be so much more. It defies the typical aims of the medium, just to be simple fun, with grandiose plots and philosophical ambitions. It’s the contrast of high thought in a low-brow setting that gives Metal Gear its post-modern quirks.
So too it goes with Quiet. On the surface, she’s cheap: superpowers, boobs, and legs. She’s just like any other scantily-clad disproportionately large-chested Japanese video game character. But then you understand that Quiet is fully realized and undergoing deep personal struggles. She’s the emotional core of Metal Gear Solid V, if unfortunately by default. How many other female game characters left their players in tears? How many did it without wearing clothes?
Metal Gear Solid V is an incomplete game, and will always be incomplete, but at least one part was finished. Quiet is proof that Kojima has lost none of his skill in video game storytelling.
What will the next Metal Gear game look like? We take a look at next year’s ‘Metal Gear Survive.’