Previously on Xenosaga: The universe had a bad time. Now let’s look at some of its most popular residents.
Let’s kick this off with Wilhelm, technically the big bad of the Xenosaga franchise.
Wilhelm sucked. … Do I need to elaborate on that? Oh, fine.
Wilhelm is exactly how you don’t do a shadowy, mysterious villain. What are Wilhelm’s motivations? He wants to reboot the universe. Why? Because… he thinks that’s a good idea. Why? Who knows!? He doesn’t seem to have any attachments to anyone, so he doesn’t want to relive a happier time (like Kevin). He’s not a mass-murdering psychopath that wants to see the universe destroyed (like Voyager). He doesn’t even have some sort of all-consuming “achieve Godhood” obsession (like Albedo or Yuriev). He’s just an immortal control freak who thinks he knows what’s best for humanity/the universe. He’s not even that bad, he’s just prone to using planets full of people as pawns to further his own goals. Yes, that makes him a “bad person”, but he didn’t actively rape, kidnap, or murder anybody on screen, so he’s got the moral high ground over the majority of villains in this story. In the end, yes, he’s responsible for a lot of misery, but he’s not as exceedingly punchable as Albedo or Pope Jerkass. It makes even his defeat feel muted.
And who was Wilhelm? Another mystery. He’s clearly immortal, and he’s been around since Biblical times, but he’s not… anybody. He’s not Pontius Pilate, he’s not Judas, he is just yet another dude that happens to be immortal and seemingly has great stores of power. Note also that his superpowers appear to be A. reviving Testaments, and B. standing around. Wilhelm is, by design, completely inactive through most of Xenosaga, and it really detracts from the possibility of his final plan being at all impactful. I want to say this is a major factor in a number of people forgetting or not understanding how Xenosaga ends: Wilhelm’s final plan was basically a whole lot of nothing, and that’s the only thing about Wilhelm we learn.
Wilhelm was a dud, plain and simple.
I suppose you could make the argument that the other big villain in Xenosaga is/are the gnosis.
The gnosis were a mystery established early in the franchise (some NPCs claim they don’t even exist), and, while there are hints all along the series, we don’t get any complete confirmation on the gnosis phenomenon until the absolute final room of the game.
And it’s another mystery that ends up being ineffective. They were people the whole time? Well, we already knew that since the Cherenkov event. But the big secret is that they’re people that “rejected reality”? Really? That’s what you got? Angry space ghosts? Okay, Xenosaga, whatever.
At least the gnosis were a decent natural marvel throughout the series. With the exception of XS2 (where I guess everyone forgot they existed), the gnosis are a consistent threat throughout the series, and, whether you’ve got the Hilbert Effect or not, if there are a pile of space whales attacking your space colony, you’re gonna have a bad time. Even though The Brews can easily defeat a group of three to five gnosis, the roaming “packs” of gnosis that menace the universe are always a threat, and instantly escalate any situation. There’s a reason that, even after Wilhelm is dead (or something?), the gnosis stick around to make the finale more sensational.
But the “mystery” of the gnosis completely fizzled out, so they only really work as “monsters” and not “adversaries”. Small distinction, I know, but it leaves the Xenosaga franchise without a Sephiroth (or even a Cloud of Darkness).
While we’re looking at natural phenomenon, let’s turn our gaze to God aka U-DO.
God sucks in the Xenosaga universe.
This was covered at length in the previous update, but it still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense: the God of the Xenosaga universe is basically a millennia-old being that has no idea what is going on. U-DO is Abel the whole time? Okay, so God is a completely silent object of a person that is able to pilot a giant robot for the gratification of assholes. Okay, sure, whatever. Even if we accept that U-DO/Abel is a complete doormat for anyone that feels like wiping his feet, we’re still left with a very poor impression of the omnipotent will of the universe. And right around when Wilhelm starts telling us that U-DO is, essentially, easily distracted by shiny things, well, I can see why this universe might need a reboot or two.
But U-DO speaks! We do get some actual insight into U-DO’s thinking… and it’s exclusively through conversations with Shion. U-DO, the great will of the universe that drives lesser men to madness… is just confused about this whole “emotions” thing, and would like some explanation on why Shion happily remembers having sex with Kevin. U-DO, depending on the interpretation of Wilhelm’s explanation, is either an omnipotent “bearded guy in the sky” god, or the collective will of everyone that has ever lived (or both!), but somehow that entity can’t quite understand this thing you humans call… wuv? Seriously? I haven’t seen a “God” this dumb since I read Preacher, and that God wound up dead because he couldn’t sit his fool ass down.
God: just another in a series of Xenosaga disappointments. Atheism is looking better and better.
And our last big disappointment is, obviously, chaos.
chaos was a big mystery from his introduction, and (I’m running out of ways to say this) he eventually turned out to be… nothing. He’s the source of the Anima Relics? Neat. Why? Because he was born that way. What? And he separated himself from that Anima power because… it seemed like a good idea at the time? And he’s been helping the party this whole franchise because he’s a generally obliging fellow, but he didn’t want to help too much, because that might impact human history, and he doesn’t want to do that. He volunteered for a mission to pilot a giant mech (incidentally powered by a portion of himself) to save a group of kids that might bring about the apocalypse (opening of XS2), but he doesn’t want to tell his best friends about the small matter of a reincarnated woman living in a nearby robot or how he routinely talks to ghosts. Also, it would have taken like thirty seconds to convince Shion to hang out with KOS-MOS more (“It’s for the good of the universe that you and KOS-MOS be close” “Great! I’ll make s’mores!”), but he kept that one under his hat for at least a year. Mary Magdalene died for you, nimrod, do you think you could maybe do her a solid in return? Oh, no, we’re being mysterious this week, never mind.
Stop being so damn chaotic, chaos!
All that said, while chaos fails as a “mystery” that is clearly meant to cover some plot holes (“Why would anyone do x?” “Oh, probably chaos.”), he’s a fairly unique character, and that’s to be commended. He’s the Merlin of The Brews: he’s very powerful, and could seemingly solve all the problems of the universe with a wave of his hand, but he steps back so Arthur Uzuki can step up and become the Queen of Legend. He’s there to guide the party to the final destination, and he… kinda… does that, and offers sage advice to not only Shion, but also other auxiliary characters like Junior and Allen. He’s the typical “friendly immortal” archetype, and, complete with his ending sacrifice, he’s the “looks like a teen boy” version of the ever-present advisor/mentor character. While we are denied a chaos/Shion training montage, he seems to serve that same role as the guy that is helping everyone along without trying too hard to be the center of attention. Xenosaga Episode 7 is going to feature an Uzuki kid named after chaos.
But there’s one important distinction from the Merlin archetype here: chaos has no idea what he’s doing.
chaos is immortal, and he knows the general flow of the plot (ie this whole Mary thing, what Wilhelm is up to, etc). However, he doesn’t have a clue as to his own part in the plot. Yes, he’s powerful, and, yes, Wilhelm is using parts of him to power the reboot machine, but chaos still doesn’t know why he was born with such power, and he doesn’t know where this is all going. He genuinely believes in the independence of humanity (a stark contrast to Wilhelm’s “stop and let me do it”), but he doesn’t know where he slots into that plan, or if he should even be doing anything at all. If chaos seems inconsistent in his choices to act across the series, it’s because he, the mega-powerful immortal, is inconsistent in his own beliefs as to his own role, and is vacillating on his options like anybody else.
chaos might be immortal, but he’s as clueless as the rest of the party.
It doesn’t forgive chaos’s spotty characterization through most of the series, but chaos’s own uncertainty is a neat trick for a character that is 6,000 years old. At least it wasn’t amnesia!
I feel like I should cover Jin Uzuki at this point, because, despite being a member of the party for 1.5 games and being literally related to the most important character in the universe, Jin somehow experienced some kind of weird, parallel story to the rest of The Brews.
First of all: Jin is cool. He’s a dude with a sword that always tries to do the right thing, and he’s often in the position to be the one saying “Hey, Shion, you’re being a putz, knock it off.” That goes a long way in a franchise where no one ever asks chaos about his preposterous movements. And Jin does have a number of moments where the focus is his relationship with Shion, and that’s important, too. Shion doesn’t have any family except Jin, and, coupled with her extremely small support group at the start (Allen and the robot?), Jin is an imperative part of fleshing out Shion and her various issues. You can’t have your (human) heroine exist in a vacuum, and friends and family go a long way toward establishing a character.
But once you get past the Shion/Jin relationship, Jin… is kind of a loner.
Jin’s “big deal” is his relationship with U-TIC. Margulis is his rival, Pellegri is his ex-lover, and Jin’s greatest achievement seems to have been liberating a portion of the Y-Data from U-TIC’s clutches. As plainly stated by Helmer during XS2, Jin has been aimless since his Old Miltia victory (coincidentally when he became Shion’s surrogate father), and joining The Brews allows Jin to sharpen his sword against U-TIC skulls once again. Jin comes out of retirement one last time for the biggest score of his life… and dies doing it. Oldest story in the book.
Except, in an ensemble piece like Xenosaga, it feels a might lessened by the fact that his sacrifices didn’t have an impact on anything.
Okay, yes, Jin fought bravely to tackle some gnosis that KOS-MOS alone couldn’t handle. Yes, it was Jin that ultimately defeated Margulis, and he saved the party from Margulis attacks on two other separate occasions. And it was Jin that exploded Pellegri, who otherwise almost certainly would have inconvenienced the party for upwards of ten minutes. Jin definitely contributed to the final Brews victory.
It was established before his big finale that Margulis was a patsy all along. In the grand scheme of things, Margulis, Pellegri, and U-TIC had no bearing on this plot past Old Miltia. Yes, they’re bad guys, and it’s probably a good thing they’re all dead, but they were apparently only generally misguided, and even Richard & Hermann could have been rehabilitated with a recording of Wilhelm confessing Evil Scheme #528. When you separate U-TIC from being a galactic threat, all you’re left with are a bunch of random dudes with grudges, and those grudges are exclusively focused on Jin, not the rest of the party. And, if everyone’s completely blasé attitude toward the end of Pellegri is any indication, the rest of the party noticed. Jin, we’re already dealing with one majorly self-absorbed Uzuki here, we don’t need to start worrying about your problems, too. Only so much time in the day, and MOMO has a hair appointment later.
So, Jin, good job. You were a memorable, cool character. You also didn’t really have an impact on anything, and got a big sloppy kiss of death for your troubles. I’m sure your sister will remember you fondly.
And now, as you know we must, we shall talk about Shion Uzuki, heroine of the Xenosaga saga.
Like many of her contemporaries, Shion’s multi-game arc wrapped up back in XS2. To refresh your memory, after spending a number of years in denial, Shion finally makes the decision to face her rotten past, and kills a pair of her childhood friends to alleviate their suffering. Shion learns that death can be a mercy, and to make forward progress, one must acknowledge the awful past. Mission complete, good job everybody, let’s go home, KOS-MOS.
And then Xenosaga attempted to do something interesting.
Consider your average JRPG hero. While we sometimes get a Cecil or Cloud, a number of JRPG heroes are “average joes”, or, at least, are meant to be fairly mundane before they find out their dad was a dragon or whatever. Just within the Final Fantasy franchise, we have Bartz the Wanderer, Zidane the thief/thespian, Tidus the athlete, Vaan the street urchin, and the collection of crystal-obsessed children from Final Fantasy 3. In all of those cases, you’re looking at a hero that is just like you or me (if you happen to be a teenage male) suddenly thrown into a fantastic, life-or-death setting. Yes, it’s a pretty common trope across all genres (“You’re a wizard, Harry!”), but there is one special distinction in any given JRPG universe:
JRPGs run entirely on bloodshed.
Need to buy a new magic spell? A healing potion? A stay at an inn? Great! Please kill a number of living creatures until you have enough credits/gold/gil to afford whatever you want. Need to walk to the next town? Slaughter an entire colony of imps on your way! And there’s an evil empire that is standing between humanity and world peace? Well, you better believe you’re going to kill every soldier, general, and king in that empire before you’re done. Okay, maybe the king gets killed by a plotting usurper, but you’ll execute everybody else in the empire, guaranteed. You’re not actually earning gold from monsters, those sums are kickbacks from the local crypt keepers. You’re putting their kids through college!
So how does that relate to the average, “man on the street” JRPG hero? Well, study after study has shown that soldiers, men and women literally trained to kill and survive in combat situations, almost universally suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, aka a lifelong mental affliction that can have dramatic effects on a person’s personality. I’m not a psychologist, and I don’t want to mischaracterize anyone that may be suffering from PTSD, but, to say the least, we have discovered that sending people into life-or-death, harrowing situations can have some long-reaching consequences on the psyche.
And, nine times out of ten, when we revisit the typical JRPG hero in some manner of sequel material, the hero, who just spent entire days in life threatening situations, is…. Feelin’ fine.
Shion, meanwhile, is not feelin’ fine after XS2.
Shion, as established early in XS1, is not a warrior. She’s a scientist, and she wants to be a therapist. She wants to help people. She wants to help Realians. She wants everyone to be happy and well-adjusted, and maybe there’s, like, a hug-o-dome where people can just go and get hugs. Close your eyes and see that beautiful world Shion wants for her and her friends. There are bunnies all over the place.
And then she spends a solid two weeks shooting missiles at people, Realians, and space monsters. An entire ship of people die, and she’s one of the only survivors. Virgil is gunned down by KOS-MOS before her very eyes. Shion explores a planet that has been turned into a hostile, fleshy mess. Cherenkov transforms into a literal gargoyle. The Kukai Foundation is nearly wiped out by a gnosis attack. Second Miltia, her current home, is threatened by an orbiting death satellite. An adolescent Realian is nearly lobotomized by an insane rapist. Shion returns to her childhood home, is forced to kill a pair of innocent children, and then watches an entire planet explode, all thanks to an exceedingly greedy pope. But we killed Albedo, or something? So mission complete, right? Smiles all around!
Then, during A Missing Year, Shion discovers that her employer might be responsible for all the strife in the universe (that she’s personally experienced), and winds up separated from KOS-MOS (her life’s work and best friend) and the Vector support staff (probably her only human friends, not like anybody on the Elsa ever writes). By the time XS3 starts, Shion is at the lowest, most depressed point in her life.
And it takes an entire game for her mood to improve. That’s kind of clever… except it means we have to put up with “Grouchy Shion” for an entire game. And she’s our POV character! That doesn’t leave the best impression…
Shion is Shion throughout XS3, she’s just a version of Shion that is not-very-subtly mad at everyone around her. She had to go through hell during XS1/XS2, and blames everyone for not letting her hang back on the Elsa and maybe miss that situation where she decides who lives and dies. She’s mad at everyone still working at Vector, because they’re still working for the enemy, and maybe incidentally get to still hang out with KOS-MOS, the jerks. She’s mad at her dead father for apparently being a bad guy all this time and ruining that perfect image of her khaki-clad parents. She’s mad at Jin because, ugh, Jin. In fact, that’s basically the crux of it, if you consider how Shion treated Jin in XS1/XS2, you can see exactly what is happening for most of XS3: she’s treating everybody like Jin.
And it’s irrational, but depression is irrational. She’s holding a grudge against everybody for circumstances outside of everyone’s control, and she can’t chastise Albedo, Pope Jerkass, or Papa Uzuki for some kind of catharsis. All that’s left is her friends, and, right around the time that KOS-MOS dies at T-elos’s hands, Shion is starting to feel more alone in the universe than ever. Think she seemed erratic and crazy during the time travel adventure? Well, try dealing with someone that is convinced there’s nothing good left in the world, and see if that person is making carefully reasoned decisions. Here’s a theory: Shion outright wanted to die at various points in XS3.
Again, not a good look for a character involved in a game where the entire moment-to-moment point is keeping the poor woman alive.
Which I think brings us neatly to Kevin Winnicot.
Kevin is everything wrong with Shion. You could probably rewrite Xenosaga to make Kevin a “second personality” of Shion or some other schlocky, Donald Kaufman twist, and you would have to change very little about the story. Kevin is obsessed with his crappy past, and, rather than heal the universe, he wants to clear the board and start all over, so at least he can re-experience earlier, happier moments. And consider that statement: he is so pessimistic that the only way he thinks he’ll be happy again is through finding a way to literally relive his past. That is practically the polar opposite of Shion’s final “there is hope” speech.
But it’s not the opposite of Shion’s thinking for much of XS3.
XS3 turns what was once a subliminal undercurrent into something a bit more superliminal: Shion only ever loved Kevin for the worst reasons. Oh, Kevin, you’re depressed about your terrible past? Me too! Want to build a robot that will destroy those that have wronged us? Me too! Even when you reexamine the “sweeter” flashback scenes of XS1, you see that Shion’s thinking was… not the healthiest in the world. Oh, Kevin, you think KOS-MOS might have a heart? That’s cool! I bet she’ll be my best friend forever because she’ll be immortal and never die and leave me like everyone else in my life! Shion’s relationship with Kevin, upon examination, was toxic. It was a relationship between two addicts (addicted to wallowing in the pain of their past) mutually poisoning each other to a world that had spurned them. And I will remind you that they were building a walking weapon that is capable of destroying planets.
But, in Shion’s mind, it was the best relationship she ever had.
So, yes, it takes a lot for Shion to get over that relationship, which brings us to the other man in Shion’s life.
Allen Ridgeley is Shion’s near constant companion.
Even before KOS-MOS awakens, Allen is there, and his introduction is chastising Shion for being reckless, and then literally saving her life. It happened! It was the first thing he really did!
But Allen is also a complete weenie for much of the franchise. He is mocked by his subordinates, he is mocked by complete strangers who just met him (oh, hi Junior), and, most damning of all, he is directly mocked by Shion on multiple occasions. She asks him, “are you even a man?” at one point. You do not want to hear that from your crush.
But Allen perseveres! Despite everything, he’s right there with Shion through nearly the entire franchise. And, yes, Shion might not immediately recognize Allen as a man, but she does recognize that Allen is trustworthy and reliable. When Shion quits Vector, she leaves KOS-MOS in the care of Allen, as opposed to making a typically Shion move and kidnapping her favorite bot. Shion is trusting Allen with her heart right there, whether she acknowledges it or not. And there’s evidence Shion cares about Allen, albeit in a “he’s my friend” way. When Shion joins the terrorist organization Scientia, she recruits Miyuki as her inside gal, not Allen, and does her best to shield Allen from her highly illegal activities. Shion knows that Allen is a straight arrow, and does nothing to endanger her friend’s milquetoast disposition. Shion cares about Allen, she just doesn’t consider that there might be any useful equipment under his Vector onesie.
And then it all comes to a head one room away from the final boss. Kevin asks Shion for her hand in universal destruction, and Shion is all about it. Allen objects, and must be made to suffer excruciating pain so Shion can finally see that her friends are her friends, and they really have been supporting her this entire time. Allen’s words are perfect: Allen has been here the whole time, trying to help Shion in every way he can, and Kevin spent all of his time skulking around Wilhelm’s space pyramid. Your real friends aren’t the imagined “best boyfriend ever” you’ve constructed in your mind, no, what’s really important are the people that have been there the whole time, assisting you in any way they can. Allen is obviously the heart of that scene, but, in a way, it could be any one of Realian Justice Warriors taking those hits from Kevin, and proving to Shion that it’s not about the person that stays immaculate in your mind because he never gets his hands dirty, it’s the ones that are in the mud with you that really matter.
Allen may have been the most… crapped upon character in the franchise, but that actually strengthens his position in the moral of Xenosaga: don’t spend your life pining for some pretend past perfection that is never going to happen, move on to a future that is messy and involves a guy that soils his onesie lot. Allen is the chaotic, unknown future. Kevin is repeating an endless loop that never accomplishes anything worthwhile. Allen is love, Kevin is masturbation.
But, even in the end, Allen never gets that final true love’s kiss. The best Allen can hope for is that Shion opens herself up to the idea of an Allen relationship, and maybe some light hand holding. I’ve seen fifth grade dances that were less chaste than Allen’s ending. No, sorry you giant weeny, you don’t get the reigns of the true love story of Xenosaga, that belongs to…
KOS-MOS, the girl most likely to secretly be a biblical character.
KOS-MOS is complicated, because, for almost the entire franchise, she’s there to prove that Shion is completely insane. She’s practically Michigan J. Frog: Shion takes her eyes off her favorite bot for more than ten seconds, and she’s sporting blue eyes and asking about feeling pain, but then when Shion checks the logs for some sign of a personality, nope, KOS-MOS is just your basic combat android. This somehow continues on for three games, and, while KOS-MOS indisputably cares for Shion, it’s difficult to discern whether that is just “protect Shion” programming or that cyber heart that Shion so desperately wants KOS-MOS to have. And it’s a fun trick, too, because the audience has expectations for KOS-MOS, too. She’s got a big secret, right? She’s going to turn out to have a heart, just like every fictional robot ever, right? In a way, we’re in the exact same boat as Shion, we all are constantly wishing that KOS-MOS is going to give us another sign of that inevitable “real” KOS-MOS.
And then we get Mary Magdalene. Fun fact: Mary Magdalene is a trick.
Mary Magdalene is there for everyone that played Xenosaga Episode 1, and then spent the next four years on Gamefaqs message boards trying to discover the “secret” of KOS-MOS. Mary is there so you could, upon the invention of time travel, go back to your younger self, and slap around the poor nitwit with, “See! It was Mary Magdalene the whole time! It was so obvious!” Mary is there to teach you that mysteries are stupid.
And I realize this might be silly coming from an update that has already repeatedly disparaged a number of characters for being “bad mysteries”. But the important distinction here is that Wilhelm, the gnosis, and even chaos are all mostly only mysteries. Remove the “what’s he up to” aspect of Wilhelm, and he’s nothing. Remove the “what are they” aspect of the gnosis, and they’re just random monsters. Remove “what are chaos’s origins”, and all we have is a well-meaning immortal. In other words, when so much emphasis is placed on the mystery, and that mystery goes nowhere, the character is a failure, because nothing is left. For more information on this phenomena, please watch Lost.
But, like in Lost, for some characters, the mystery was never the point. KOS-MOS, despite being the covergirl for the entire franchise, is, like Allen and Kevin, another character that boils down to an accessory for Shion. KOS-MOS is an unstoppable, awesome weapon for war, but she’s also (whether she wants to be or not) Shion’s best friend from the moment of her activation. She’s cold and distant, yes, but she also saves Shion’s life on numerous occasions, and Shion gets to repay the favor in kind multiple times over the course of XS3. Shion cares about KOS-MOS deeply, and it’s clearly more than the simple bond between a scientist and her creation. I haven’t seen Professor hugging Erde Kaiser at all.
And then it’s revealed that Mary Magdalene and Shion had a relationship in a past life. We know nothing of that relationship (whether it was strictly friendly, familial, or even romantic), but we know that Mary trusted Ancient Shion finally and absolutely. This proves KOS-MOS loves Shion, right? All this time, she wasn’t just operating on programming, she’s devoted to Shion, not just the “Chief of Vector”. Jackpot!
Except… That’s Mary, not KOS-MOS. The past is important, but that’s not the present. Shion barely remembers being Ancient Shion, and Mary is not KOS-MOS. She sees through different eyes.
But that all changes during the finale, when KOS-MOS, not Mary, sacrifices the known universe to protect Shion. Yes, KOS-MOS is protecting Shion like she always has, but Mary admits that she would have been unable to make such choice. KOS-MOS, now finally 100% operating with a more overt “heart”, chooses Shion over everything else in the universe, because what’s the point in the world being saved if you can’t enjoy that world with the one you love? KOS-MOS then goes on to guarantee Shion’s safe escape, but not before promising Shion that she’ll see her again. KOS-MOS says that, not Mary. KOS-MOS will miss Shion because KOS-MOS loves Shion.
And then there’s the ultimate finale of Xenosaga. We know Shion is hightailing it to Earth to save the universe. That’s cool and all, but the final shot of Xenosaga doesn’t care about that. The final moments of Xenosaga reveal that KOS-MOS has been sent Earthward, too. When Shion finally reaches Earth, she’ll save the galaxy, yes, but what’s more important is that a friend will be there, waiting for her.
In the end, Xenosaga was never about mysteries or ghosts or rebooted universes, it was about the friendship between two women, and what they’d do for each other to find happiness together. The real Xenosaga was the friends we made along the way.
What is the final moral of Xenosaga? Don’t be a gnosis, don’t reject humanity. Love those that are close to you, never give up on those feelings, and maybe you’ll make the universe a better place for everybody.
There’s always the hope of a new dawn, and maybe you’ll be together again.
Thanks for reading, everybody.
Next time on Xenosaga: Well, that’s cool, but how does it smell? One final rundown of the nuts and bolts of the Xenosaga awaits you. Are you ready for me to stop waxing poetic about robots and start complaining about presentation? Please look forward to it!