Xenosaga Episode II Special 1: Xenosaga I & II

Previously on Xenosaga: I just spent 35 updates and eight months discussing Xenosaga Episode 1 and Xenosaga Episode 2, so let’s do that again!

WAIT, NO!

Xenosaga I & II was a Nintendo DS game released on March 30th, 2006, about three months before the Japanese release of Xenosaga Episode 3 for the Playstation 2. In a way, like the anime series, this was a clever way to get the audience “caught up” on the Xenosaga plot, and maybe nudge a few new fans into purchasing the upcoming finale. On the other hand, it took a series that was known for its dynamic, sweeping visuals and storytelling, and reduced it to something that would have been right at home on the Sega CD.

Though, in its defense, it is pretty cute.

Unfortunately, Xenosaga I & II never made it to North America. This isn’t particularly surprising, as, while there was a time that Namco seemed to believe Xenosaga would be the next Final Fantasy, by the time Xenosaga Episode 3 was released, it was public knowledge that Namco was all but done with the franchise. As the story goes, Xenosaga might have gotten additional games if Episode 3 sold well, but… “The Xenosaga Trilogy” has a nice ring to it, right? History is written by the closers.

It’s kind of a shame that we never got to experience this game, though. I’ve seen conflicting reports from multiple sources that Xenosaga I & II is either meant to be “the real story of Xenosaga” and “what was always intended”, or it’s another random, gaiden-style story that has as much to do with the real “canon” as the anime. There’s support for both theories, ultimately, as this game was written in conjunction with the writer of the anime, Yuichiro Takeda, and a lot of story beats from that presentation seem to bleed through. On the other hand, a number of between episode “flubs” are rectified for this game (for instance, Nephilim’s vision of the end of Old Miltia now actually syncs up with what happens), and some dangling plots (like what happened to Sakura) are tied up. On the other-other hand, Xenosaga Episode 3 contains a database of what happened previously, and it ignores or outright contradicts many I&II events. And, oh yeah, the original Xenosaga head writer got fired, so, uh, did anyone even ask her about her original intentions?

In all likelihood, the answer here is probably that, like anything else in this franchise, Xenosaga I&II was a series of “it seemed like a good idea at the time” decisions, and any contradictions or continuity errors are probably just the result of being part of a series that took six years to tell a six part story that was arbitrarily condensed into 2.5.

But I’ve made it my life’s goal to overanalyze the entire Xenosaga series, so let’s take a quick look at what’s going on in this DS game.

I am by no means fluent in Japanese, but I’ve practically mind-melded with this franchise at this point, so I decided to give the opening chapters of Xenosaga I & II a try. The intro of Xenosaga I & II is the same “discovery of the Zohar” from the opening of XS1, but, as per system limitations, it’s just a series of stills of the original’s cinema scenes.

Which makes it kind of jarring when we get to the game proper, and everyone is illustrated at a level somewhere around Lunar.

It’s a DS game, so we’ve got an easy-access menu on the bottom screen, and the “action” on the top screen. This same menu layout persists between the two “parts” of Xenosaga I & II, which means that stuff that was exclusive to Episode 1 in the original games (like the UMN database) will now be available for the whole adventure.

Random battles are now truly random: there are no on-screen enemies to encounter, just walk around a little bit and a battle will occur. As you may be able to tell, the battle system (again, for both parts) is almost entirely based on the system of XS1. You can see the “random round ticker” or whatever that thing is called in the top left next to the turn order. The bottom screen offers your attack options, with the familiar “would you like to use a physical attack or ether attack” option.

The new twist here is that there’s a movement grid for the battles, and you have to actually be “within range” of an enemy to attack. The good news, at least, is that it seems like movement is a free option, so you don’t have to think too hard about where your characters end up.

Little bit out of narrative order here, but here is Shion using her familiar Spell Ray special attack. Techs are once again based on the XS1 system, so stock a round, and then build up to a powerful attack as often as possible.

Also seen here: despite KOS-MOS standing directly in front of Shion, Shion took a mighty blow from Cyclops. In other words, positioning your characters so they “block” weaker characters is not a viable strategy. As far as I can tell, positioning only impacts enemy targeting and area of effect ethers/attacks.

Back to the actual narrative, here’s a fun change: Virgil and a random Realian help out during the initial KOS-MOS testing mission. I can’t read a damn thing here, but what was once an intimate scene between Shion and KOS-MOS now becomes a friggen party.

Here’s a big reason why I feel bad about missing Xenosaga I & II. It’s the little things that get my attention: for one random battle, Virgil will “help” in his AGWS and blast an enemy mech… but also “inadvertently” damage the friendly Realian in the process. This simultaneously plainly shows Virgil’s contempt for Realians, and foreshadows his own death (when KOS-MOS “inadvertently” turns Virgil into a pencil). It’s not the kind of thing that FAQs/wikis tend to mention in their lists of changes, and it was a pleasant surprise to see this… what’s the right word for it… Virgil Dickery.

Xenosaga I & II moves at a very fast clip. The opening tutorial area of XS1 took about a half hour and consisted of four or five screens worth of dungeon. In XSI&II, this area is just one screen, involves about three random encounters, and the final boss, Goblin, is dead within seconds. All told, I want to say this entire area took five minutes.

Back on the poor, doomed Woglinde, Shion receives e-mail like in XS1. I’m sure this is just more crazy nonsense from Miyuki, but it’s all Greek (probably some Latin) to me.

Shion gets to have her conversation with Jin via video phone, again. In this case, it’s probably more relevant, as he’ll be an actual playable character before too long.

Oh, each Episode is divided into ten chapters. The first chapter ends by the time Shion hits her room. I’ll reiterate that XSI&II moves really fast, so this first chapter was maybe ten minutes, tops.

Allen gets very Allen spritework.

Aw, remember Cherenkov? He’s still a loser.

Minor change, but Shion actually goes to the bridge before encountering the Zohar in this version. And she still gets yelled at by ol’ purple face for being a ditz. Hey, come to think of it, remember how Vanderkamp aka Strickland aka Purple Face got that stupid beached spaceship during Episode 2? Well, in XSI&II, he gets the Proto Dora in the same location, so he finally fulfills the promise of his Xenogears descendant.

Another anime-influenced change: Shion befriends Realian #99, one of MOMO’s prototype sisters. If I’m interpreting this right, you’re prompted to name the doomed bot. You’d think she already had a name…

Shion is always so happy to talk to Realians!

Albedo is now responsible for the gnosis attacking the Woglinde. On one hand, I prefer XS1’s implication that gnosis just kinda happen, and KOS-MOS is important because she’s the only thing that can save the human race. On the other hand, I don’t mind Albedo being established as the main antagonist early. So, neutral change.

Also, as you may be able to guess, there is little to no voice acting in this game (characters do scream out attacks, Sailor Moon style, but that’s about it). However, Albedo is accompanied by a fun little digitized laugh… and I can’t help but think of another JRPG villain…

Anime influx again: Albedo crashes the Woglinde, steals #99, and leaves Shion unconscious. She’s eventually rescued and escorted along by that same friendly Realian that Virgil zapped earlier.

You get one battle that proves “you can’t touch gnosis”, and then it’s pretty much all scripted events from there. So, nope, you do not get to participate in the one part of Xenosaga Episode 1 that I thought was actually game-y.

And, despite the fact that the franchise is terrible about following up on this, Shion still gets snatched by a gnosis, so, oh no, is she going to turn into a gnosis herself? (Who cares?)

Then KOS-MOS shows up and kicks ass.

Despite the anime influence, Virgil dies right when he’s supposed to, and Chernkov lives to stink up his own stupid dungeon. Note that Cherenkov’s entire stupid past becomes an optional side story, but encountering Gargoyle (Cherenkov’s boss form) is not in any way skippable.

I kind of like how the chibi graphics make the gnosis easier to… interpret. Minotaur, the boss of the invaded Woglinde, is about where I stopped actually playing this game, because there was a steep uptick in damage from this guy, and I think the game wanted me to grind against random Woglinde gnosis. Screw that noise.

The rest of these captures are taken from various youtube playthroughs I could find. For anyone interested, I hit here, here, and here . Additionally, I used the Xenosaga Wiki and this one lonely FAQ on Gamefaqs to put together the story. I apologize if I got anything wrong here, just, ya know, language barrier.

So, other changes. Another anime-alike, Ziggy now gets ferried to and from MOMO’s rescue mission via Elsa/Captain Matthews. This condenses the plot at the expense of making the Elsa crew look less outlaw-y and more… obedient dog.

Though it sort of doesn’t matter, as Ziggy’s mission becomes an optional sidestory, and KOS-MOS and Shion first encounter Ziggy already aboard the Elsa. There’s a cute scene where it looks like KOS-MOS is going to fight Ziggy (like in the anime), shoots a laser at him, but, gasp, it turns out there was a gnosis behind him, and KOS-MOS just saved his life. Instant friends!

Ya know, Ziggy’s hair never seems quite right outside of CG. Too…. human.

Junior’s intro dungeon is also an optional scene, though it doesn’t become available until the Episode 2 section, for whatever reason. I want to say that Mary appears to have been born for anime cutouts.

Junior, too. Oh, I guess I should mention that everyone except KOS-MOS sticks to their Episode 1 outfits throughout the entire game. I much prefer Junior’s XS1 coat, so I’m okay with this.

Another optional scene shows Shion and Kevin on one of their first dates. Amusingly enough, this park background/area reappears during Episode 3.

So, one major problem with the whole “talking cutout” thing? Here’s the death of Kevin at Proto KOS-MOS’s blade.

You will note that Shion appears to be exactly as mad at Kevin for some random disagreement as she is at Proto KOS-MOS for, ya know, killing her fiancée. See? Acting counts in videogames!

And we still get fanservice!

Here’s a fun change: Richard and Hermann appear on-foot in a couple of areas well before they’re encountered in their AMWS. Here, the party is battling the duo right around the time they’re framed and sent to jail by U-TIC.

This leads to the amusing quirk of Richard and Hermann only appearing “in person” in this little side game. As you can see, Richard (on the left) has some… interesting fashion choices.

Albedo’s trick head is only shown in silhouette.

And we get another sidestory about the #99s and Sellers (who is looking a little chunky in anime form) at the fall of Old Miltia. Turns out Sellers launched the Song of Nephilim/Proto Merkabah with a full complement of #99s as Old Miltia got sucked into its black holes, and, whoops, kiddy Albedo was along for the ride. That’s how Albedo “obtained” The Song of Nephilim, and how he got to be such good friends with his Realian harem.

Speaking of The Song, both it and Proto Merkabah are combined into one dungeon. At the end of the dungeon, Albedo sucks #99 into the ES Simeon, and stands ready to kill the party, but Canaan shows up in the ES Asher and saves everybody. They get locked in a stalemate (like when ES Asher fought ES Issachar in XS2), and the gang runs off to battle Sophie Peithos (the final boss of XS1) like usual. Oh, and Ziggy seems to think Canaan feels familiar for some reason…

The entire bitchin’ intro of XS2 becomes another optional dialogue scene. I’m pretty sure this means that all the best parts of the original Xenosaga duology were excised or drastically abbreviated.

Oh yes, while the gameplay may be almost entirely based on XS1, double techs do eventually become available. Yay KOS-Zig!

The Ether skill acquisition system is all XS1, though.

Eventually you get all the ESes, too (Miyuki actually delivers ES Zebulun, MOMO’s mech, on Wilhelm’s orders… which seems like it should be more significant than it is…). As you can see, all three ESes can cooperate in battle, which makes a whole lot more sense than XS2’s arbitrary “only two at a time” rule.

Gaignun still has daddy issues.

Here’s a clear change for the better: the second trip through MOMO’s stupid forest is excised, and now you get to traipse around that final, doomed URTV mission that Junior flashbacked over and over again. This makes so much more sense, and even offers a fine excuse for “real” Albedo to invade the simulation (as it’s the point when Kiddy Albedo became, ya know, nuts).

Oh, also Sakura dies on screen. We’ll get to that.

Another significant change: When Old Miltia surfaces, Second Miltia gets its own gnosis attack(seemingly summoned by Albedo again to delay the party). I rather liked that Second Miltia (unlike everywhere else in the galaxy) seemed safe throughout XS2… but, then again, for all those stupid sidequests, I’d kinda like to see everyone in town die horrible, salt-based deaths.

Oh, you know what’s not shown here? Anything involving Orgulla, because she was completely dropped. I suppose you really should stay out of this, Manes.

Actual Proto Omega is fought via ES instead of The Patriarch, and then the game wraps up with the entire party confronting Albedo/U-DO, as opposed to just Junior.

Albedo as the final boss is now a “real” final boss, and not just a gimmick fight. This seems a lot more appropriate here, as Albedo has been antagonist numero uno from practically chapter one in this game.

During the finale, it is revealed that, while it appeared earlier that Albedo was responsible for Sakura’s death, Sakura actually metaphorically took a bullet for Albedo, and absorbed some U-DO waves (or something) that would have killed him. This creates a lovely little irony circle wherein Albedo hated Sakura for taking away Junior, but, unbeknownst to him, Sakura was the reason Albedo was alive at all. Albedo has been resenting his own savior all along! … This would all be a lot more meaningful if a Xenosaga Episode 3 datalog didn’t contradict this revelation, though.

And, during the ending, everybody that was lost during the story makes a little friendly cameo. Cecily and Cathe are looking good in the afterlife, and Cherenkov gets to at least be slightly remembered.

And we close with the knowledge that in the XSI&II universe, Alby the dog is some kind of pug, and not a terrier mutant like in the real franchise. This is all noncanon! Throw it out!

So those seem to be the important changes. There’s some more junk I didn’t cover, like The Testaments get to hang around being generally cryptic in a few more places (and you actually get to fight Blue Virgil’s Scorpion ES), or that there’s a new council member named Pierre Ruryk, and he basically steals what little limelight previously belonged to Helmer; but, generally, that’s the important stuff.

Overall, I’d say that, from what I can tell, Xenosaga I&II made a number of interesting, if inconsequential, changes. Some changes exist to tie off stories that will not be revisited (Sakura is done, people), some changes further elaborate on established characters (Virgil is a giant jerk), and some changes are clear retcons to either validate new material (Ziggy recognizes Canaan) or set up status quos for Episode 3 (Sellers, what ever have you been up to?). Overall, however, none of these changes really make a very large impact on the Xenosaga franchise, so, whether this game is “canon” or not is just as trivial as what Junior happened to be wearing when he gunned down his brother.

As far as the “game” portion of XSI&II goes, with two games worth of content crammed into one DS game, it seems like everything moves a lot faster than it should. Say what you will about XS1 and XS2 being separated into two games released two years apart, but the separation did add some gravitas to that prediction of a terrible, exploding Old Miltia future. In XSI&II, you go from “this is the worst thing that could happen” to “oh, that happened” inside of a few hours. Similarly, the opening of XS1 may have been the most boring thing in the franchise, but when the Woglinde is sunk within a half hour, you barely even remember that the gnosis are a threat.

In short, I want to say that we didn’t really miss much with Xenosaga I & II never seeing a translation. As someone that is currently experiencing literal Xenosaga dreams (I have got to stop posting before bedtime), I’m interested in seeing all the little changes to the franchise; but for the average gamer, you’re much better off experiencing the “real” Xenosaga titles, warts and all.

Next time on Xenosaga: Wait… why does Ziggy recognize Canaan again?

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