March 27th was the fateful day that, to the joy of several MGS fans, Kojima Productions unveiled Phantom Pain as part of Metal Gear Solid 5, known as MGS V. However the very next day rumors began to swirl that David Hayter was no longer attached to the series. This made the fans of the series fairly uneasy and resulted in a vocal backlash as well as petitions to bring the iconic voice of snake back to where he belongs.
Nevertheless, after 2 months of speculation and veiled comments, Kojima Productions made those fears into reality as they revealed Kiefer Sutherland as the voice actor behind MGS V’s Snake at Konami’s Pre-E3 show.
Let’s take a look at what makes this decision so important for the followers of the franchise? How does this change impact the game? Why is there such vocal resistance to this change? Where does is fan anger come from?
What makes change of voice over actor make such a large difference for the game is the fact that unlike most games, the MGS series has always been about focusing on cinematics and gameplay in equal parts. It is because of this that most Metal Gear Solid games have had an almost half the time for cutscenes and other half in gameplay for their story campaigns.
While many decry this aspect of the franchise, it is this focus on story that has distinguished the series in the eyes of its admirers. Therefore it is this historical emphasis on visual narrative that has made the characterization an equally, if not more, important factor of MGS than perhaps gameplay itself.
It comes as no surprise that the most important part in the narrative for the MGS franchise is played by the series main protagonist; Snake (Whether Solid or Naked). The Snake character is known by his voice and since his introduction as a speaking character; Hayter’s performance is what made the character what it is.
It is David Hayter’s gravelly voice and distinct vocal mannerisms that has defined the character of Snake for all of the series’ western audience. To change this crucial aspect of Snake would be somewhat same as if Naughty Dog was changing Nathan Drake’s voice for Uncharted 4 from Nolan North to Mark Walberg or Sony changing voice of Kratos in new God of War 4 from Terrance C. Carson to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
In non-gaming entertainment; it would be like if DC created a direct sequel to the Batman The Animated Series, and made the new season without Kevin Conroy. Alternatively, perhaps if Disney replaces Harrison Ford in a direct sequel to Indiana Jones or makes Brad Pitt new Han Solo in the upcoming Star Wars VII.
For people who are too young to understand those references, here are some current ones in popular media.
How about the idea of changing Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC series Sherlock? Replacing Robert Downey Jr. in a non-reboot sequel to Iron Man 3? Changing Trey Parker as the voice of Eric Cartman in South Park or Dan Castellaneta as Homer Simpson in The Simpsons?
These actors are the key essence of what makes these iconic characters great. Without them, the characters are left without the main factor that makes them what they are. Replacing them changes the character itself and same is true for MGS’ very own Snake.
So if Snake’s voice is such an important component of the character itself, then why has the developer; Kojima Productions, taken the creative decision for this change?
The reasons given to justify replacement of series regular David Hayter with 24’s Jack Bower for the voice of Snake are as follows:
“I wanted Snake to have a more subdued performance expressed through subtle facial movements and tone of voice rather than words,” Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima said. “Furthermore, the game takes place in 1984 when Snake is 49 years old. Therefore, we needed someone who could genuinely convey both the facial and vocal qualities of a man in his late 40s. It’s different from anything we’ve done before.”
The explanation rings hollow due to several factors. First of which is the fact that David Hayter himself is in his Forties so how would he not be able to express qualities of his own age? Plus as we have seen in previous MGS games, Hayter has portrayed Snake in his adulthood as well as in old and decrepit state in MGS4.
And even if the change in voice was made to depict change in age, MGS series already has a voice actor called Richard Doyle, who played Old Big Boss in MGS4. If the argument held true, then Doyle would have to be the logical choice, however it is clear that they aren’t going that route at all.
Moreover, as we can see from the MGS V Japanese trailer, the game has retained its Japanese voice actor as the series veteran Akio Ostuka is reprising his role as Snake in the upcoming iteration of Metal Gear Solid franchise.
It would be quite understandable if the change is made dude to any limitations like contractual issues, schedule conflicts or creative differences. However, if that is the case, then Kojima Productions should let the fans know of the truth instead of highlighting it as something good and actually celebrating the change.
Usually if the voice actor is changed in an established series, there is a considerable effort put to decrease its impact by substituting it with a similar voice or mimcry. This not only helps to maintain same characteristics of the personality affected but also keeps the attention of the audience away from the distracting change itself.
There is actually no harm in trying something new. In fact change and creative risk taking is something that should be celebrated but it is foolish and downright disrespectful to do it at the expense of an established brand.
To some this situation may seem to mirror the outrage of DMC fans at the change in looks of Dante in DmC. However, at least Capcom and Ninja Theory respected the franchise enough to keep DmC as a separate entity than the previous DMC series. DmC wasn’t a numbered sequel to DMC4; it was a reboot.
If Hideo Kojima and his Kojima Productions development studio really wanted to make something new and present a creative innovation, then there could have been no greater way of achieving this than by creating a brand-new Intellectual Property around the concept.
If creating a new IP was proving to be a more riskier endeavor than the team was willing to take and perhaps, due to pressure from the publisher; Konami, Kojima Production had to work on a Metal Gear Solid title; the developer could have the decency to change the character or even reboot the series to accommodate the change without compromising an established character.
This attitude towards changing a beloved character brings us to the questions that if the producers don’t seem to respect the franchise, then why should its customers? If the reason for the change is the apparent need to sell out for a mainstream actor to attract the masses at the cost of the established fan base, then so be it.
Instead of making angry posts and creating online petitions perhaps the fans should speak with their wallets and leave behind the game series which has already neatly finished all of its plot threads in its prior numbered iteration of the franchise called MGS4.
Of course, the fan in us would much rather trust in Kojima than move away from a franchise that has catered to its fans in the past. At the same time, it would be foolish to invest time and money into a piece of entertainment that so many of us vocally disagree with. Especially with a next generation in the air and with it, a host of new games and IPs to discover.
Here is to hoping that Kojima is still trolling us fans, that he just got us this time and will be revealing Hayter as the voice behind Snake at E3 or perhaps the protagonist of MGS V: Phantom Pain is a new, fifth Snake after the number one; Big Boss and his three clones, Solid, Liquid and Solidus.
One can only hope.