WARNING: WE’RE TALKING ABOUT THE ENDING SO THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.
There’s no doubt that MGS 5 is an excellent game but the odd pacing and strange ending led many to argue that it was ultimately unfinished - with the ongoing disintegration of Kojima and Konami’s relationship (opens in new tab) clearly being held up as the culprit.
It didn’t help that one piece of content, the game’s 51st chapter, titled Kingdom of the Flies, was apparently cut and only turned up on a bonus Blu-ray disc in the collector’s edition of MGS 5.
Much of the discussion about whether MGS 5 got the ending it deserves hinges on how integral this missing piece was to the story (it's something we've discussed at length (opens in new tab) before). Which is where Kenji Yano comes in. He’s the author of 'METAL GEAR SOLID Naked', a hugely authoritative Japanese book on the series, as well as the editor of several Japanese MGS novelisations. He’s basically probably one of the few people in the world that has a Kojima-level grasp on the series.
He’s spoken on the ending previously, talking to Famitsu in December, but his take on what happened has only recently been translated (opens in new tab). As far as he’s concerned, Episode 51 is not “essential to the game.” Instead it has become “an outlet for venting all the unease and confusion” that followed the end game reveal that you’d actually been playing as an impostor the whole time. “Up until Episode 46, The Man Who Sold The World, players experience the story as Snake,” explains Kenji, “but then they have the rug pulled out from under them.”
One thing Kenji is sure about is that “as a commercial product and physical thing Metal Gear is definitely over.” (Which might come as news to Konami as it prepares to make a non-Koj MGS 6 (opens in new tab).) However, he also thinks that “in a way it isn’t,” highlighting a passage from Moby Dick (a reference that runs rife through the entire game). The passage in question involves the Moby Dick character Ishmael lamenting his role as narrator (the “shabby part of the voyage”) before taking the place of Ahab’s bowman, “when that bowsman assumed the vacant post”. Sounds a little like the role swapping in MGS 5 to you?
As I mentioned earlier, we've talked about MGS 5's ending before (opens in new tab) and spookily a lot of what Kenji says ties in to our own interpretation:
"If MGS5 is Kojima's final MGS game, it's clear he is passing on ownership of the series to us. Not only do MGS5's open-world systems make you author of its legacy (each gamer's story will be their own), but he is deliberately stepping back from didactic cut-scenes and holding our hand. It couldn't be any more clear: we are Big Boss now"
The elements of confusion and ambivalence, making it hard to pin an ending down more clearly, appear deliberate. In a translation (opens in new tab) of Kojima’s own thoughts on the game, he says, “there is a blank space, but it will not be filled. In that blank space there is always a hero. Because there is a blank space, you can advance ahead. It is this blank space exactly that is ‘V’” Kojima also explains the idea that the player “(as Ahab, or BB's double) is facing up to this 'blank space'…” When you think about it, even the game's reveal was built around the blank spaces that appeared in the logo.
Finally, in the same translation Kojima actually added extra fuel to the ‘Metal Gear is totally over' fire (in his eyes) by talking about the series’ 28 year lifespan and quoting author, Dennis Lehane: “No matter what kind of series it is, there is a time that it must end.”