Reading this reminds me of exactly how I felt when I played Dirge of Cerberus, the game set as the sequel to the epic Final Fantasy VII. I enjoyed it as slightly as I did, only because it was FFVII. And I'm not talking about the gameplay; that's irrelevant. What I'm talking about is the development of the story and it's justice paid to the original. If Dirge of Cerberus were a game competely separate of the FFVII plotline, with the same series of scenes and events, but with a whole different cast of characters in an entirely different setting, I think it would have been a complete debacle. In of itself, it holds no valuable depth, leaving it dependent solely on its attachment to familiar characters.
Reading this graphic novel version of the legendary Metal Gear Solid had me feeling the same exact way. If the game never existed, and this were an original graphic novel series like Frank Miller's Sin City, it would not be able to stand on its own. I felt better about buying it before I actually read it, just having it sit in my room as a collector's item, and leaving the fulfillment of its infinite potential up to my imagination.
Before I go on, let me make one thing clear: it is not the artwork that disappoints me. The artwork is a topic of discussion for many fans. Some like it; some don't. Personally, I find the edgy/sketchy artwork to fit the portrayal of both the characters and the environment very well. But seeing as to how "on the fence" the body of fans seem to be, I won't go into it.
What really disappoints me is the writing. As some reviewers have mentioned, the graphic novel incorporates additional scenes and dialogue that help color in the more subtle points of the story, which adds an edge of exclusivity to the graphic novel's adaptation. Overall, however, the exclusivity of these scenes is not enough. The execution and delivery of the writing, although it successfully runs through the major points along the plotline, fails to bring out the emotional depth embedded throughout the plot itself. It's almost as if reading a synopsis of the plot through characters summarizing the events of the story to each other. The scenes and dialogue zip through as if in fast-forward, rarely allowing the reader to delve into the scene and attach themselves emotionally to the characters.
More specifically, the characters are so shallow and single-sided. There really is a lacking of the depth, complexity, and thickness of the characters, especially Snake. Most of the time, he's either making crude, sarcastic jokes, or screaming out someone's name. Now, I'm completely aware that sarcasm and screaming are large parts of Snake's character, but so are confusion, regret, callousness, and so many other emotions and qualities that make Snake as intriguing a character as he is, but that are missing from the writing in the graphic novel. Ultimately, because the characters lack a large emotional engagement in the plot, so is it difficult for readers to become emotionally engaged.
Two final points. Part of what I was expecting from this graphic novel is the grasping of the opportunity to get into Snake's head. If you read many of the most acclaimed graphic novels such as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and The Dark Knight Returns, part of what makes them so great is the writer's ability to bring out the thoughts of the main characters, to get into their minds. And because the game isn't able to delve into the realm of thought, I was excited to see how the graphic novel would utilize the opportunity. It doesn't, however, take this opportunity, and leaves everything expressed through dialogue. When Snake is alone, walking through a moonlit valley of snow, I want to hear his thoughts feel the cold, the ominous looming of the abysmal night sky, and the emptiness. I want to hear of his insecurities, his fears, his hopes, everything that allows me to see and understand the world through his eyes. Maybe he's not thinking anything! But at least show the absence of thought, the absence of emotion. That in itself, the lack thereof, is significant.
The final point I want to make is the particular scenes and dialogue that the writer chose to keep versus those he cut out. I'll use the Vulcan Raven fight and the final fight against Metal Gear Rex as examples. The original version of these scenes are, I feel, the most powerful scenes in the storyline. However, as I mentioned before, these scenes are so rushed, and so detached, that when I read them, I was unable to rekindle the appreciation I had felt before.
In the original version, right before Vulcan dies, Vulcan exposes Snake's ruthlessness, describing the merciless trail he leaves behind that is marked by the blood of his enemies. Speaking to Snake with bullets in his body and a smile, Vulcan enters a heavy, psychological investigation of Snake, revealing the age old question in Snake's character: is he really a valiant hero, or is he just a pawn who fights only because fighting is all he knows?
In the game, this scene is contrasted with the dialogue between Grey Fox and Snake while they are fighting Rex. Their lengthy discussion of loyalty, integrity, honor, etc., leads to one of the most famous lines not just from the game, but from the entire series. Grey Fox tells Snake that despite the fact he is a pawn, he still fights for what he believes in.
In the graphic novel, these two pivotal pieces of dialogue are stripped completely. The scenes remain, but instead of Vulcan and Grey Fox digging deep into the mysterious realms of the soul, they deliver only mechanical accounts of the plot. I am aware that some adjustments had to be made. However, I feel as though there was a terrible loss in translation. The graphic novel proves to focus too heavily on the plot itself, rather than the actual characters involved, and ends up reading like a bullet-point outline with pictures.
Overall, this is still something all hardcore MGS fans might want to have. The three star rating is for people who are already MGS fans, who are probably the only ones looking up this graphic novel anyway. But if you're separate from the MGS loop, and you're a fan of the graphic novel medium, not the game, this is definitely a 1-2 star.