The Metal Gear Solid universe can be a ridiculously complicated tale to get the head around (even Kojima himself has admitted it confuses him).
Redditor festess has kindly provided a short & sweet little rundown for those jumping into MGSV: The Phantom Pain who either need a brush up on past events or are going in blind. Welcome to Big Boss school 101.
The main characters for MGSV are Major Zero, The Boss and Big Boss (note Big Boss and The Boss are two different people). I’m literally only going to talk about those three, and they are the only people you need to keep track of in this summary. I will no doubt be inundated with complaints that I left out this or that important character, and that may be true, but I defy anyone to make an equally friendly/not too dense summary that includes all those other main characters.
- It is the 60’s, and the middle of the Cold War
- The Boss is the USA’s top soldier/agent and a super super charismatic woman and anyone who knows her regards her as an idol
- The Boss goes undercover with some Russian terrorists for a mission to bring said terrorists down, and brings with her some nukes as a gift so the terrorists accept her. The terrorists use a nuke straight away unexpectedly, and the Russian government blames America (since they were American nukes). In order to avoid a US/Russian war, the US has to prove that The Boss was acting alone and not as an undercover US agent (which she actually was). To do that, they have to kill her and The Boss goes along with this. In short, The Boss allows herself to be killed by the US to make sure the US can pretend they had nothing to do with her mission with the Russian terrorists.
- The US sends in The Boss’s disciple, Big Boss, to kill her. Major Zero is Big Boss’ commanding officer in this mission. Big Boss completes this mission, kills The Boss and is praised as a hero. However Big Boss learned the truth behind the story, that his mentor, The Boss, never betrayed America. He loved The Boss and grows extremely hateful of the fact that she had to die because politicians decided that’s how they could save their own asses with this diplomatic problem they had with Russia
Post-MGS3 / Peace Walker:
- As time went on, both Major Zero and Big Boss are really sad that The Boss died. They hate the fact that such an amazing woman and soldier was sacrificed on the whim of politicians and international relations. They both want a world where soldiers will never be put in that position again, but they both have different ideas on how to do that.
- Major Zero wants a world where he is in total control, where he controls the whole of society and thus can avoid such things repeating. He forms an organization called Cipher to achieve this goal, and uses his pull in the US government to start his world domination plot
- Big Boss on the other hand wants total anarchy, and thinks what the world needs is continuous war, where soldiers are not tied to governments but act on their own as mercenaries and work for the highest bidder. i.e., instead of war dogs of politicians, he wants soldiers to be a prized resource that are highly valued. Big Boss sets up a mercenary group called MSF through which he intends to realize his vision.
This is the set up of MGSV. The whole of MGS centers around this conflict between Big Boss’ vision of anarchy and Major Zero’s vision of control. Once they were friends, but their different reactions to the death of their hero (The Boss) lead to an extremely bitter conflict, and MGSV centers around this conflict. You play as Big Boss in his quest to set up MSF as a huge mercenary nation of soldiers, and destroy Cipher.
As a side note, since this is a prequel trilogy (i.e. a prequel to the MGS1, MGS2, MGS4 trilogy), we know that ultimately Big Boss becomes a “bad guy”, and starts using child soldiers and all kinds of dodgy crap to get his vision of anarchy running. This game, MGSV, is set right at the point where Big Boss starts his real decline into villainy in the pursuit of revenge and anarchy, so in some ways we are playing as one of the big villains of the series.