Can a Post-Kojima Konami Survive?

The news that Hideo Kojima and his team at Kojima Productions will be leaving Konami at the end of the year was shocking. Since the PlayStation 1 days (or really, since 1998), Kojima has helped bolster Konami to being one of the most reputable companies in gaming thanks to the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Kojima has taken the Metal Gear series from something that was dead in the water for many years and molded it into a AAA-level franchise that has entertained millions of players over the course of its lifetime.

2015 will be Kojima’s final year with Konami and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has wound up being his final masterpiece. With Ground Zeroes giving people a taste of what to expect and a hype train in motion since before the launch of the current-gen consoles, expectations are sky-high for the latest MGS game. Konami’s reputation as a game publisher and developer has been fairly high throughout its existence, but they’re going to take a big hit in terms of credibility when Kojima leaves. Sure, they own the beloved Metal Gear/Metal Gear Solid IP, its assets and game engines – but they no longer house the man that crafted the franchise.

The publisher/developer relationship is a tricky one. While Kojima’s skills created the franchise and guided their vision, that vision couldn’t have been fully-realized without Konami footing the bill. Luckily, the era of crowdfunding can really soften that blow should Kojima Productions either go fully independent or become a aligned with another company again. While just about any big company would be willing to hire them on and assume high-end development costs just to be able to say they got the first post-Konami Kojima game, perhaps KP’s services would be better utilized by a slightly smaller company.

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Hideo Kojima is a creative game designer, and while his bread and butter has been Metal Gear Solid, he’s also experimented with other game designs. Boktai was a fairly small-scale production for someone of his talents and it continued on for three games with each one expanding on the game’s core action-RPG mechanics. Kojima’s most well-known franchise outside of Metal Gear, at least for modern fans, would be Zone of the Enders. This action-oriented mech game gave PS2 players something that was unlike anything else on the platform. The HD remastering of the franchise on last-generation hardware was a bit of a mess though, and in hindsight, it seemed to indicate that not every that was rosy between Kojima and Konami.

The HD remastered versions were riddled with issues and while the problems were largely fixed on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 owners didn’t get that same benefit. The games weren’t patched up very well, and owners of Microsoft’s console were left out in the cold. The same kind of issue happened with the Silent Hill HD Collection, which left last-generation players with a fairly bad taste in their mouths regarding Konami. People were will to double dip in good faith and they had that faith rewarded with a lack of follow-through by the company to deliver a product worth its full asking price on a platform.

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Speaking of Silent Hill, the Kojima-involved Silent Hills now becomes a bit of a “what if” scenario. Does Kojima sign on to finish that project or is PT all we’ll see of that in playable form? Del Toro could still be attached to it, and while Konami has the IP and all, losing Kojima would take the game from “man, this is a serious deal!” to “well, it’s another Silent Hill game” pretty quickly. The Silent Hill series has fallen on hard times over the past decade, and PT made it more relevant in only a few days than it had ever been, and had people who weren’t even into horror gaming (like myself) clamoring to see what the future held for Silent Hills.

A post-Kojima Konami needs to get back on track and be sure to release on top-shelf games. The last 15 years have nearly killed Castlevania thanks to an inconsistent level of quality. The PS2 games were a mess and like the N64 ones, didn’t translate anything that made either the original games or the Metroidvanias work. Lords of Shadow changed things up to a more God of War-style action game, which was a good move, and then Lords of Shadow 2 mucked things up completely — but did so while at least looking really nice.

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Since the rise of MGS, much of the praised heaped upon Konami has been due to Kojima’s work. Is that entirely fair to Konami? Well, yes and no. They haven’t done a lot with their IP outside of MGS and have really milked the Metal Gear name for all it’s worth in some very interesting ways. Metal Gear Acid changed things up quite a bit, and the PSP entries of the stealth-centric games gave owners of that platform a fairly rich experience. They gained a bit more life later on in the HD Collection thanks to Peace Walker being brought over to it, while Portable Ops sadly stayed on the PSP forever. The HD Collection itself was surpassed (on the PS3 anyway) by The Legacy Collection, which got a smaller print run, but offered up a more complete experience.

Kojima’s split with Konami is going to result in a bit of shock for fans of Metal Gear and Kojima. Metal Gear Solid won’t be quite the same without him. When tensions die down, it will be interesting to see if we see Kojima Productions brought on for any role in an MGS game to help add some credibility to the project. Without him, Konami runs the risk of having a slew of Metal Gear: Snake’s Revenge games on their hands where they’re Metal Gear in name only. They could very easily lack a soul, and while someone other than Kojima can certainly craft a great Metal Gear game, the time doesn’t feel like it’s come for the reigns to be passed down.

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is set for a September release on consoles and a September 15 release on PC via Steam. With fans almost in a state of mourning before its release, it’s important to remember that the series has been in far worse shape than this and lived to see better days. Kojima Productions will likely be just fine, while Konami is going to have some growing pains, but will hopefully use this experience to ensure that more care goes into their games across the board. With roughly six months to go until The Phantom Pain, go through and enjoy past MGS entries. Competition always makes things better, and even if we get Kojima advising on a Splinter Cell game, I doubt we’ve seen the last of his involvement with stealth gaming. Hopefully, Kojima comes up with something that can change the stealth world in the modern era just like Metal Gear Solid did, and not do with expies, but instead start another dynasty that lasts for decades.