Warning: MGS5 story and ending spoilers throughout
To say that Metal Gear Solid 5 feels unfinished - whether that feeling is intentionally designed or not - is an understatement. Broken into two chapters and a prologue, MGS5: The Phantom Pain tells the story of Big Boss, the creation of his private military organization, Diamond Dogs, and their quest for revenge after the events of Ground Zeroes. It's a fine story, if perhaps a bit one-dimensional, but it ends abruptly. Something definitely feels like it's missing, and there's a group out of hardcore fans that are scouring the game for the smallest hint of closure.
Any other game in the world and players would have moved on from its disappointing conclusion. But this is Hideo Kojima we're talking about. Things are rarely this simple. That's why a group of intrepid die-hard fans have taken it upon themselves to solve what they think is Hideo Kojima's greatest puzzle: the existence of a final chapter to Metal Gear Solid 5. They meet in a newly formed subreddit, dubbed 'NeverBeGameOver' after the awkwardly translated phrase found on the back of Eli's jacket. Here, they mull over every single clue, connection, or gameplay quirk they can find, no matter how ridiculous the theory may sound.
Various theories regarding the presence of some kind of additional content have been floating around the MetalGearSolid subreddit since the game's release, as dataminers have pored over every texture, audio file, and cutscene they can pull from the Steam version of the game. They eventually unearthed a fully voiced and animated cutscene featuring the decommission of nuclear warheads around the world. It was thought to be more evidence of cut content, until MGS community manager Robert Peeler not only confirmed its existence on the disc, but claimed that he'd be "impressed" if anyone had found it by normal means already. Data sleuths also allegedly found the presence of a 'Chapter Three: Peace' title card hidden in the game's textures, fanning the flames even further.
These discoveries have fueled conspiracy theories galore about what else could be included in the game that we don't know about (or how much of the game was cut before it was forced to ship), but it wasn't until Reddit user NuclearSnake posted his own theory that the movement to uncover The Phantom Pain's biggest secrets truly erupted.
If you've played Ground Zeroes or discovered the true ending to MGS5, you'll notice that each game hides a data tape that makes an audible screeching sound when played. Those aren't just sound effects - some astute hobbyists over at the MSX Resource Center discovered that that sound is actual data from an MSX cartridge, which Metal Gear fans will remember as the computer that played host to the very first game in the series. If you take that sound and run it through a data converter, you get real, honest-to-God code.
While the Ground Zeroes tape simply reads 'VOL2' when loaded, NuclearSnake connected the loader code discovered in the second tape found at the end of MGS5 to that of a Japanese game for the NEC PC-6001 called Portopia Serial Murders Case. It's a game by Yuji Horii (of Dragon Quest fame), and it's cited as one of Kojima's biggest influences for entering video game development. In the game, you play as a detective (who is referred to solely as 'Boss'), and you and your partner wander around Japan, investigating a string of murders by interrogating witnesses and looking for clues. To make a long story short, you eventually find out that your partner is the true murderer - identified by the butterfly-shaped birthmark on his shoulder. The connections between its plot and Metal Gear Solid 5 are pretty staggering (check out this story for a more in-depth plot analysis of this fascinating game), and many people believe this tape is one of the most important pieces of this puzzle.
But that's not all - players have found that the PC version of MGS5 only clocks in at 22 gigabytes, while the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game contain 27 gigs. Some think that's just because the console versions already have a majority of the Metal Gear Online data kicking around, waiting to be activated, but others believe that the PC versions specifically had files removed because it's the only version that could be reliably datamined, and once certain clues or story sequences are found, the rest will be patched back in. Oh, and apparently the PC version of The Phantom Pain creates a save file in the Ground Zeroes folder. Why? Who knows. But between these discrepancies, the MSX tapes, the hidden cutscene no one even knows how to find, and the numerous PT references found throughout the game, many believe that there's something important hidden within its depths. Something even more difficult to solve than PT's spooky conundrum.
If you think this all sounds like the rantings of a conspiracy theorist, you're not alone. Many members of the MetalGearSolid community feel like these theories are wildly off base, filled with confirmation bias and delusion (ironic, considering that these are two core themes of Metal Gear Solid 5). And yeah, if you take a quick look through the NeverBeGameOver subreddit, you'll see numerous attempts by players to grasp at whatever straws they can find, as they test out seemingly random ideas they think could lead to the next step of the puzzle (if there even is a puzzle).
But even if there isn't a Chapter Three, if what we got in The Phantom Pain is all there is, their digging won't be a waste. As players continue to hunt for clues, they're finding Easter eggs and pushing the limits of what the game can do. Even if they don't find the closure they're looking for, they're giving MGS5 a legend of its own, a legend that will live on far beyond the lines of code on the disc - a legend not unlike that of Big Boss. Or Hideo Kojima, for that matter.
In a way, these fans are a bit like Ahab, the central figure of the classic novel Moby Dick - a novel MGS5 references with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Their obsessive quest for a third chapter is similar to that of Ahab's own quest for revenge against the white whale, or even Big Boss' quest for revenge against Skull Face. But these fans aren't looking for revenge, and they're not doing it out of anger. They're looking for closure, and they're doing it because they love Metal Gear Solid so damn much that they want to be a part of the greatest con in video game history - but first, they have to find out if that con exists.
And hey, Moby Dick was missing its epilogue when it was first published, too.
Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect the discovery of the data tapes in Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain by the MSX Resource Center community.