The story continues…
You could say Xenosaga Episode 1 was many things, but you certainly wouldn’t be able to say it was short. Clocking in at somewhere between thirty and fifty hours, XS1 had plenty of content, and, complete with the segment addresses and various optional bosses, even had a splattering of stuff to do after completing the “actual” game. If you bought one video game for all of 2003, there was probably something seriously wrong with you, but, conceivably, that one game could have been Xenosaga Episode 1, because, one way or another, there was a lot of “there” there.
But it wasn’t complete.
As the story goes, Episode 1 was, basically, just what the design team had time to finish. Originally, Episode 1 was going to contain a great deal of content beyond landing on Second Miltia, and, had everything panned out perfectly, Episode 1 would have had as much plot as Episode 1 and Episode 2 combined. We only got half a game!
Of course, this might not have been a bad thing. Unlike a lot of mediums, where sequels are often seen as dubious franchise cash-ins (has there been a single sequel in the Marvel movie canon that was better than the original? Captain America squeaks by because it changed genres…), video games almost universally get better with later editions. Show me a man that would rather play Mega Man (1) over Mega Man 2 and I’ll show you a man about to be sent to jail. Bad taste jail. While marketing will always tell you the sequel is going to be better than the original, history has actually proven that to be true with a number of video game franchises, from Super Mario Bros. 3 to Pokémon X/Y. Hell, it took, what, seven games for Castlevania to hit Symphony of the Night? In a number of ways, in the “early years” of a franchise, a sequel is practically inevitably a better game than its ancestor.
So maybe “Episode 1” being divided into Episode 1 and Episode 2 was a good thing from the very start. Episode 1 had more than its share of problems, both from a gameplay (Cathedral Ship) and story (Cathedral Ship) perspective. And, really, this is a JRPG. Name one JRPG franchise that had the exact same battle system between sequels, with no improvements or innovations. Shut-up, slime, don’t try to tell me there haven’t been tweaks to even your tried-and-true system, even if they do seem miniscule. This was a chance to continue a very established story with upgraded, superior gameplay. It’s Groundhog Day, Monolith Soft, and you get a chance to do it all again, but better!
And, from another perspective, a sequel could only do Xenosaga good. Episode 1 took a lot of time (like, entire presidential administrations) establishing its characters. Every character got their own introductory dungeon (well, at least pairs of characters) (and chaos doesn’t count) with entire subplots that just happened to dovetail into the main story. It’s a great way to definitively establish your characters, but it also means a lot of time given over to introductory and expository dialogue (“As you, vice president of the Kukai Foundation, know, we are currently collecting Zohar emulators, which are…”). And that’s even before you look at the setting of Xenosaga, a “space sci-fi” universe set thousands of years in the future with Realians, gnosis, URTVs, the U.M.N., nerdlingers, etc. How does everyone eat or breathe and other science facts are important in this universe, and, yes, there’s a whole ship full of NPCs wandering around to explain to you (Shion or the player) the minutia of exactly how gravity works.
And it gets boring.
I’m glad everyone on the Woglinde is dead.
But here’s the sequel! All the place setting is over, so we can get right into the giant robot fights we were all expecting in the first place! We know Shion, Junior, Ziggy, and MOMO by now. KOS-MOS and chaos may be mysterious, but we basically understand how they work. We know we hate Margulis, U-TIC, and Albedo. Wilhelm is up to something, and we’re keeping an eye on that dude. We’re no longer in a situation where Junior has to explain why he doesn’t get along with Albedo, we can move on to an actual fight!
And, speaking of fighting, this story may be “just” the second half of the opening story of Xenosaga, but it’s the good half! It’s the second, final half, so there are very good odds we’ll actually get some closure on some of these plots, something that was sorely lacking from Xenosaga Episode 1. Most of the big bosses in Xenosaga Episode 1 were practically anonymous gnosis (quick, name the boss of Encephelon Dive, aka “the Virtual World” dungeon. It was a three hour area! You should know this!), and the only villains you actually fought were Margulis, Albedo, and Blue Virgil; all of which ended their battles by scoffing at your meager skills and then walking off like nothing happened. This story should be the chance to actually beat at least one of those nitwits, and maybe get a climatic confrontation out of the deal. Everybody has something exciting to say about the final battle with Sephiroth, but people barely even remember Schizo.
All in all, Xenosaga Episode 2 had every opportunity to be better than its predecessor in practically every way. More exciting, more refined, more polished, and all with familiar characters with hours of preexisting investment. It wasn’t guaranteed, but couple this all with the assumption that there’d be some damn answers, and you can guess why the average Xenosaga fan was excited for Episode 2.
And did it live up to the hype? Well, that’s what we’re all here for.
Let’s get this LP on the road!