The Metal Gear series has been around since 1987, and it’s been telling one long story the whole time. That’s great for longtime fans who got in on the ground floor, but someone who has never played Metal Gear might get overwhelmed by the saga’s complex history. If you want to play The Phantom Pain, but don’t know much about Metal Gear lore, this (relatively) compact and digestible guide will teach you the basics.
The goal here isn’t to be complete. In the entries below, I won’t touch on every significant character and event; I just want to give new players an easy-to-read reference to make The Phantom Pain less confusing. You won’t get all of the context or impact, but when you play The Phantom Pain (which you should do, because it is excellent), things should be more accessible.
Big Boss (a.k.a. Jack, John, Naked Snake, Snake)
A legendary mercenary who used to be part of the American covert operations unit FOX. His mentor, The Boss, allowed herself to be killed by him in 1964 in order to avoid nuclear war. The U.S. government was complicit in her death, which made Big Boss question his purpose and his loyalty. This single event is what started him down his path as a soldier-for-hire, not beholden to any country or ideology. At the beginning of The Phantom Pain, he is waking up from a nine-year coma.
Kaz is Big Boss’ right-hand man, and a formidable soldier. They were the leaders of their own mercenary group, Militaires Sans Frontières (MSF). Together, Miller and Big Boss pioneered the idea of turning a private military into a lucrative operation – though Kaz was the one handling the business side of things. Kaz and Big Boss were both in a helicopter crash as MSF’s headquarters was being attacked, which caused him to lose an arm and a leg (and sent Big Boss into a coma).
In the past, Mother Base served as MSF’s base of operations. It was destroyed nine years prior to The Phantom Pain (during the same attack that destroys the helicopter carrying Miller and Big Boss). Another structure called Mother Base is a focal point of The Phantom Pain, but it’s not the same. It’s in a different location, and serves as the HQ for Diamond Dogs, the new mercenary company led by Miller and Big Boss.
In The Phantom Pain, “Cipher” usually refers to a shadowy organization aiming to control the fate of humanity and unify the world. It is also known as The Patriots, and the group was founded by Big Boss and other members of the team that carried out the mission to kill The Boss in 1964. Big Boss cut ties prior to building MSF, but Cipher still remains a powerful entity. It even has its own military strike force, called XOF.
“Cipher” can also refer to a single individual – a man named Zero. He was Big Boss’ commanding officer during the 1964 mission that killed The Boss, though he and Big Boss later developed different ideas on how best to pay tribute to The Boss and carry on her legacy. These differences led to Big Boss going off on his own. Zero continued to lead Cipher, but his whereabouts at the beginning of The Phantom Pain are unknown.
Another founding member of The Patriots. In The Phantom Pain, he’s a member of Diamond Dogs, and Big Boss trusts him thanks to their shared 20-year history together. After this installment, he continues to work for various agencies, governments, and organizations, always keeping his true motives and loyalties secret.
Next: More of the characters and concepts at the heart of Metal Gear.