Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today, I hope you’ve got some decent upper-body strength because we’re going to climb up a very, very long ladder listening to Metal Gear Solid 3’s dramatic and campy theme, “Snake Eater.”
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (playlist / longplay / VGMdb) is the only Metal Gear game I care about. I remember being freaked out by Psycho Mantis’ fourth-wall-breaking moment in Metal Gear Solid, and I’m genuinely amused by whatever the hell Otacon is doing at any given moment, but the only game of the Metal Gear canon that moves me is Snake Eater. This song is why. Check out this performance from a Video Game Orchestra concert.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater covers events that happen before the original game takes place. In it, a secret U.S. operative codenamed Naked Snake is tasked with rescuing a Soviet defector, eliminating a weapon of mass destruction, and assassinating his former mentor The Boss. Because this is a Hideo Kojima game, there’s way more to the story than that, but those are the broad strokes.
My high regard for Snake Eater comes from a lot of different places than the song itself. The story’s great, the combat is fun and subversive, and the characters are enjoyable to watch. But the song fits everything together, like the keystone at the top of an arch, making the rest of the game click. In other words: Hideo Kojima was in his bag when he made this.
Hearing a song like “Snake Eater,” with its dramatic, brassy cresendoes, you’d expect it to come at the climax of the final battle or as the ending credits roll—but Kojima likes to subvert expectations. When you first hear this song, there’s nothing going on. It’s just Naked Snake climbing a ridiculously tall ladder, and it’s one of the most absurd but wonderfully done moments in video games.
There’s no action, no dialogue, no credits rolling—it’s just you and your ladder able to appreciate the song and Cynthia Harrell’s stellar performance with no distractions. It’s a heart-wrenching song if you imagine it’s The Boss singing to Naked Snake (and the lyrics support that theory). And while it is moving and sad, it’s not without quirk. Take these lyrics for example:
Someday you go through the rain
And someday you feed on a tree frog
Enough said. Here’s Snake Eater again, this time in its full orchestral glory:
This song belongs in a Bond movie. Hell, Snake Eater is a Bond movie and Cynthia Harrell’s performance of it ranks her higher than even some of the divas singing actual Bond songs (sorry Billie Eilish).
Harrell’s name might not ring any bells, but if you’re a fan of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, you’ll recognize her voice from the credits song “I Am The Wind” (VGMdb). I tried tracking down Harrell because she’s just as important as Kojima and Konami are to Snake Eater’s legacy as one of the greatest video games ever. Other than her credit on “I Am The Wind,” she seems to have done no other video game work. I’m endlessly curious how she, a Black woman, ended up doing the vocals on two Japanese video games that became part of the video game canon. Ms. Harrell, if you see this, please get in contact. I’d love to hear your story.
That’s it for today’s Morning Music! How’s your day looking so far? And, if you were a Metal Gear villain, what would you name yourself and what would your powers be? Let me know in the comments. Cheers!