At a certain point in Metal Gear Solid 3, Snake is captured by Volgin and locked inside one of the cells inside the fortress of Grozny Grad. Using one of various methods, he is able to escape, and manages to get away through the sewers. However, he ends up having to jump into a river several hundred meters below.
After throwing himself into the depths, Snake finds himself standing in the waist-deep water of a mangrove river. The mangrove is burning, forming a tunnel of flames across the water. Snake begins to move forward, wading against the stream. Suddenly, it starts to rain, and the fire quickly dies out.
A gloomy figure rises above the surface, his back turned to Snake. Snake readies his weapon. “Sad, so sad. A host of sorrows.” the man says. His voice is soft and subdued, but decisive at the same time. He turns around. “And you are one of them.” he proclaims, pointing at Snake. He removes his hood, and reveals his pale, but commanding face. “I am the Sorrow.” he says. “Like you, I too am filled with sadness. This world is full of sadness. Battle brings death. Death brings sorrow.”
This whole time Snake keeps his gun pointed at the levitating man. “The living may not hear them.” the Sorrow continues. “Their voices may fall upon deaf ears. But make no mistake…” He firmly points his finger at Snake. “The dead are not silent.” A tear of blood rolls from his eye. “Now you will know the sorrow of those whose lives you’ve ended.” he says with a grim voice. The Sorrow disappears, and control is returned to the player. This is a boss battle. As you plow forward, you can see the Sorrow moving along with you in the fog, a few meters in front of you, or circling you. His voice echoes. “Light and dark are brewing within you.” he says, prophesying later events in the saga. All you can do is move forward. Attacking the Sorrow is useless, he is a ghost and bullets go straight through him. Besides, his gauge is already depleted – he has already died, after all.
As you move through the river, other ghosts start to appear. The ghosts of soldiers, the ghosts of defeated Cobra unit members, even perished animals. Soldiers stumble past you, throats slit and bloody. But they’re not random ghosts – each and every one of them represents a soldier you’ve killed during your mission. Their appearances betray how you’ve ended their lives, and up to a 100 bodies can come back to haunt you during this scene. Their voices are full of fear and agony – sensations caused by you. The soldiers cling to Snake, the man who took their lives.
Every now and then the Sorrow launches a spiraling projectile at you. You may be able to dodge some of his attacks but there is no way to effectively counter-attack. He will kill you eventually. But here’s the thing – this gives you an opportunity to escape. If Snake uses his Revival Pill at this point, he will come back to life, in the real world.
Snake wakes up and finds himself floating in the river, in the world of the living this time. Running out of breath, he claws his way to the surface, and swims to the shore, where he collapses, exhausted. He coughs up the water he swallowed, the water that almost meant his death. After a while he rises to his knees. There’s a serene atmosphere, birds can be heard singing from deep within the forest, rays of sunlight pierce through the canopy, butterflies flutter by. Snake has come back to life.
Kojima is known for his out-of-the-box boss battles, and the fight against The Sorrow certainly qualifies. It isn’t even a fight, it’s more like a situation you have to escape from. Caught between the worlds of the living and dead, Snake needs to ‘die’ as well as revive himself to escape this place. At the same time this ‘boss fight’ puts you face to face with the people you’ve killed during the game. You may not have put any thought in it when you pulled the trigger or ran a blade across a soldier’s throat, but now you are confronted with each and every kill. Battle brings death. Death brings sorrow. And this sorrow is your responsibility.
Note: when talking about this battle, Kojima mentions Sanzu no Kawa (River of Three Paths), a river from Japanese myth that the deceased must cross to reach the next world, the afterlife, much like the river Styx in Greek mythology.