Where to begin?
As many of you know, Xenosaga was a trilogy of JRPGs for the Playstation 2, released once every two years or so. Probably the best known feature of this trilogy was an inscrutable storyline full of religious imagery that could put Evangelion to shame, and a bevy of cutscenes that make Metal Gear Solid look like a mere flipbook. It was also a sequel of sorts to the Playstation 1 JRPG, Xenogears.
So, let’s start there.
Though, before we go any further, I want to be clear: this is a Let’s Play, so it will spoil the whole of Xenosaga. Yes, assuming my thumbs don’t fall off and my eyes strike in defiance, I will be LP’ing the entire trilogy. Additionally, I will not be stingy about potentially spoiling things in the narrative ahead of time. If I want to note that Junior is an immortal right from his introduction, I’m going to do that. Also, a lot of this game evokes scenes and characters from Xenogears, so it is very likely I will spoil that nonsense, too. Come to think of it, if you care about playing any game with “Xeno” in the title completely clean, just go ahead and read something else. There’s, like, a whole site of content here!
Anyway, back to Xenogears. Xenogears was, in hindsight, a singular gaming event that I’ll likely never experience again. XG was released right at a horrible time for my peer group, when raging teenage hormones and Tifa Lockheart convinced us all that JRPGs were some kind of high entertainment that parents just don’t understand. Coupled with Neon Genesis Evangelion, “our generation”’s media was just so much more important and meaningful than anything that had come before, and I know I wasn’t the only one that was suckered into thinking Fei and Elly’s millennia old love story was the most significant story ever told.
Despite the accolades of the immature everywhere, though, Xenogears had a flaw. Xenogears was, one way or another, unfinished. Yes, the entire second disc of the game was paced about as well as this LP inevitably will be, and it should have been obvious to even the casual observer that great swaths of the game were cut, but, no, that wasn’t the issue for fans. The problem was that there was a complete “Perfect Works” book out there, and it claimed that Xenogears as we knew it was merely Episode 5 in a six episode series. Like a similar nerd fetish, Star Wars, we were all on the edge of our seats waiting for the next chapter, and all the prequel chapters.
But the future refused to change.
Fun fact: Xenogears didn’t need prequel stories any more than Star Wars. In much the same way that you know everything you need to know about Darth Vader from the original material (we used to be best buddies, and now we’re not), and in no way needed to know exactly what the guy was doing when he was five and building robots, Xenogears covers the important parts of episodes 2, 3, and 4 over the course of the game proper. Episode 2 was simply the story of Cain and Abel, which I think has some further detail in other sources. Episode 3 was “Zeboim Culture”, which was the “permanently 1999 AD” epoch that allowed for “our” cities to be buried under the Xenogears world. And Episode 4 was that Solaris War that I swear gets more development during the game than Rico. Yeah, you could probably set a neat noir game opposite Fei-Kim’s time in a labcoat, or maybe a TRPG set during Fei-Lacan’s military service, but Xenogears’ numerous flashbacks already told you everything you really need to know.
But there are two unknown periods proposed by Perfect Works. The most obvious was Episode 6, the only Episode to take place after Xenogears, aka “this space intentionally left blank for sequel”. But on the other side of the spectrum, there was “Episode 1”, which, on a whole, seemed to exist merely to get all the pieces together for Episode 2 onward: Earth-Man has gained space travel, the Zohar, and a need to create a space god thanks to a galactic war. It really is all place setting, because you can’t just start a story saying “In the beginning, Man created God and the Earth”, you need to have some reason space-god-slug was produced and stuck in an enormous ship, so how about a galactic war, or something?
Of course, the only issue with focusing on Episode 1 would be that, by definition, it would be devoid of all the reincarnation nonsense and the parade of familiar characters that were recycled for every other episode. And, divorced from the central “world” of the other episodes, all you would have left is, basically, Star Trek with JRPG flourishes. It would be like telling the story of Lavos’s creation on another planet: any similarities to beloved characters and situations from Chrono Trigger or Chrono Cross would be incredibly forced and completely nonsensical. Anime wagon train to the stars has been done to death already, so what would be the advantage of slapping the Xeno license on it?
Naturally, Xenosaga Episode 1 was announced.
As information dribbled out, an anxious fanbase learned details that were good and bad. Bad news: despite the name, the “Xenosaga Series” would only focus on the Xenogears Episode 1 epoch. So, sorry, no tour of the entire Xenogears series (and Xenosaga Episode 5 wouldn’t be a Xenogears remake). But good news: at this point, everyone knew of the production troubles that plagued Xenogears toward the end of its development, producing what was, effectively, only 60% of the actual vision of the game. Now, with an entire multiple game/episode “saga” to tell a story, surely we would see the real, complete Xeno experience. No sitting around watching a pendant swing, we’ve got space to breathe! A whole galaxy! Sure, Monolith Soft, team Xeno, had to jump from Square to Namco to get the game made, and, thus, we wouldn’t be seeing any licensed Square/Xenogears characters, but we learned of Dr. Shion Uzuki pretty fast, so we knew a genuine Xeno experience was incoming.
And that monkey’s paw granted us the game we all asked for…
Xenosaga Episode 1 Der Wille zur Macht is here! Yes, as a bonus for fans, every episode of Xenosaga came with a Nietzsche quote, this one translates to “The Will to Power”. I suppose we’ll get in to how this applies to the game somewhere around the finale, but for now, just be aware that pretension has bubbled out of the game proper and into the title.
That says 20xx AD, Lake Turkana, Kenya. This is, if you’re curious, a real place, and is widely believed to be the birthplace of man due to an overwhelming number of fossils. Here’s one of those random spoilers I was warning you about, but Xenosaga eventually gets around to confirming the Bible as a thing that happened, so, if you’re marrying anthropology with Christianity, you could claim this was Eden, or someplace close.
Additional fun fact: Lake Turkana is the world’s largest alkaline lake, which is where batteries come from (citation needed).
And speaking of anthropology, we’ve got a lovely little dig going.
Here’s our Indiana Jones du jour, Dr. Masuda. He offers important advice, like, “ground hard, water wet.” He’s a doctor!
And, look, we (the guys Dr. Masuda is paying to do actual work) found something! It looks like a floor tile?
Oh, it actually has a shallow polygon indentation. Anybody pick up the key to this puzzle?
Ah ha! Dr. Masuda has it handy.
Oh yeah, that’s the ticket. Every archeologist dreams of the day they stick a random rock into some other rock and it lights up like a Christmas tree.
A… relatively tiny Christmas tree.
And random ruins are now spiking out of the lake. Crocodiles are greatly inconvenienced.
And the ruins spew forth a giant, floating, golden monolith. Dr. Masuda has anticipated this, and hired timpani players for just such an occasion.
The golden idol shoots a beam into the heavens, splits the sky, and causes a downpour. This is a desert, so good on you, monolith, way to stick it to nature.
But enough about that, now it’s 4,000 years later. Dr. Masuda is long dead.
Good game companies bring presents.
Here’s the title again, as a mysterious, golden object floats through space (spoilers: scroll up).
Meanwhile, we’re getting a readout on a computer screen about KOS-MOS and Shion Uzuki. This is basically a dos prompt OF THE FUTURE.
Gaze at an R&D department OF THE FUTURE.
And here’s a lovely surfboard coffin that, mark my words, is absolutely what I want to be buried in. LPs are legally binding.
And meet our heroine…..’s butt. Eh, it’s still the intro, so we’re going kind of easy on actually focusing on characters.
See what I mean? Just enough to know she’s got a weird hairstyle, as Shion takes a seat in a Virtual Boy OF THE FUTURE.
To stop being snarky for all of a minute, here we have a brief (like, seconds) scene of a computer diagnostic performing a series of quick medical tests while prepping Shion for virtual reality. It’s… kind of crazy how much detail goes into these scenes that are, again, shown for all of a minute. Like, I suppose they could have just grabbed random MRIs off the internet or something, but, regardless, it was someone’s job to stick some very convincing (to a layman like me) medical jargon all over the screen. And, no, to my knowledge, there isn’t anything important hidden in all of this, like it reveals Shion has cancer before it becomes a real part of the plot, it’s just a lot of window dressing for a generally boring scene that plays while the player is likely getting a soda.
Back out in space, here’s a big ship.
Here’s some text on KOS-MOS that flashes across the screen briefly. You actually may get some interesting details from the scroll, but it’s all explained as the game progresses anyway, so don’t strain your eyes. Of note, it reveals that KOS-MOS stands for “Kosmos Obey Strategical Multiple Operation System”. PROGRAMMING TIP: Never name a robot with an infinite loop.
Back out in space, some Opa-Opas are grabbing the monolith. It’s hard to tell scale here, but each of those ships is big enough to house one dude.
And here’s this dude, who decided it would be a good idea to reach out and touch the monolith with his bare (for space) hands.
And he gets absorbed into the thing in a beam of light. Somebody put a caution sign on that thing!
Back to Vector R&D, here’s a seven layer deep diagnostic of KOS-MOS. Again, an incredible amount of detail for a brief scene that flashes during the credits sequence.
Now we get to see what’s going on in the virtual world. It’s… pretty dumpy.
“There’s noise appearing in the temporal lobe.”
“What’s the problem?”
“It’s on the left side of the temporal lobe. I’m showing slight stimulation of the synapses in section 818. It’s within permissible bounds, though… Do you want to abort?”
“No, let’s keep going. Just stick to the menu. I’ll try for a direct approach. Back me up.”
“Roger. Launching NATARAJA connection system.”
Nataraja is, for those of you that are curious, absolutely not a name anyone would use for a computer system.
Back out in space, somebody liked the monolith so much, they put a ring on it.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if my password was “Ye shall be as gods”, I would laugh maniacally every time I tried to log into the system.
Related, “Ye shall be as gods” was a phrase that showed up under much more dire circumstances during the intro of Xenogears. It’s also a possible translation for Genesis 3:5, and it’s basically the serpent’s sales pitch to Eve to get her to hurry up and eat that damn fruit of knowledge already. One way or another, it’s a piss poor password, as, come on, it doesn’t even have a unique character in there.
So now Shion and KOS-MOS are palling around in a virtual reality world. Shion’s first move is to ask the unfeeling robot how she feels.
KOS-MOS is, if nothing else, polite.
Okay, how about I introduce both of you?
Shion Uzuki is our 22 year old protagonist for the series. She is a genius, an experienced martial artist, and ridiculously empathetic. She’s the heart of the series, in more ways than one, and she is, for better or worse, forced to carry the emotional burden of practically everything, as her more prominent partner is not so much the expressive type.
She’s also kinda crazy.
This isn’t some Buckcherry, vaguely misogynistic appraisal, either. This is completely, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Shion is constantly, constantly surprised by things KOS-MOS does, and the majority of that surprise is based on KOS-MOS being an unfeeling robot. Newsflash, Shion, KOS-MOS is an unfeeling robot, and you built her, you should know this! But, no, time and time again, Shion is just shocked by the robotic actions of the robot she built. Once, when she was a child, Shion traced her hand on cardboard, cut out the design, decorated it with construction paper feathers, drew a little beak, and then stuffed it in her mouth and was shocked when she discovered she didn’t taste delicious turkey flesh.
This… wouldn’t be a terrible trait in most fictional characters. Like, if it’s a pretty well worn trope to have a character that is “book smart” but dumb when it comes to real world applications, but, unfortunately, Shion is the main character, and the POV character in a universe that runs on mystery. Shion is supposed to be a whiz kid, but she can’t seem to see the galaxy-wide conspiracy that puts her and her project squarely at the center of the universe, nor does she ever seem to question the completely baffling circumstances that repeatedly envelope her and her companions.
Ultimately, Shion gets a lot of the same flack as Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Shinji: when you’ve got a character that is the center of a gigantic, interesting universe, you don’t want to hear them whine about how much it hurts to hug spiky mammals, you want to see ‘em get out there and kick ass and solve those galactic mysteries.
And she has a distracting anime squirrel face!
Basically, what I’m getting at is that Shion is Xenosaga’s first big mistake, but I will be tracking her deliberately through the LP to see if there is improvement.
And, as eluded to earlier in the LP, Shion has the same last name as Citan from Xenogears, a character that won’t be born for another few millennia, and was only using the name as a cover anyway. But, hey, reference!
KOS-MOS, on the other hand, is pretty rad, and there’s a reason someone decided to make her the mascot for the series. KOS-MOS is a robot, which, as will be covered multiple times in the game, is a rarity at the time of Xenosaga. She’s also completely unemotional, and that’s a feature, not a bug. This isn’t your typical Pinocchio ‘bot that you see all the time in sci-fi (“What is… love?”), this is the definition of a badass, get %^# done robot with a mission, and an arsenal of weapons to help her do it. Also, in stark contrast to Shion, she possess a laser-like focus to pursue her goals, even if those goals are beamed into her head by aliens, or whatever is going on. KOS-MOS’s only drawback appears to be rare instances when she becomes possessed by the spirit of Mary Magdalene.
Yes, that Mary Magdalene.
We’ll get into it later.
For now, she’s just serial number 00-00-00-00-1
Shion apologizes for putting her robot to work, because she does that.
“A predetermined set of emotions has been hard-coded into my emotion module to better facilitate interactions with humans. In order to better facilitate a relationship with you – Chief Engineer Shion Uzuki of the KOS-MOS Project, Vector Industries First R&D Division – I will emit an expression such as sadness, only when that response is deemed necessary. However, the emotion module of my program has determined that this is not necessary at this time.”
Shion, go ahead and write that down, and tape it to the inside of your glasses.
RIGHT. WE AGREE.
…. Sigh… Of course you do.
KOS-MOS just… just doesn’t care, Shion. She is rolling her eyes so hard in that helmet, it’s about to pop off.
Shion puts a call in to Allen, who is that other voice that has been randomly popping up. We’ll look at him when we get out of this whacky reality.
Also note that they’re picking up from Process 277. I completely believe that this means Shion has had the same stupid “conversation” with KOS-MOS 276 times.
Allen proposes getting absolutely nothing done, as is his wont.
And that leads to a Virtual Tutorial… which is where we’ll stop for today. We’re about fifteen minutes into the game, and this is the first we’re actually using the controller for anything. Seems like a good time to take a break.
NEXT TIME ON XENOSAGA: “Shion, I need to be cleaned.”