PREVIOUSLY ON XENOSAGA EPISODE 1: …. Nothing much happened. Like, we figured out it’s the future, we’re in space, and Chipmunk Face and Mega Woman are going to run through some tests. So, let’s get right to it!
This is the first we’re even allowed to use the controller in Xenosaga, so, naturally, we’re dropped into a stark white void where you can either battle a dude or switch your tutorials with KOS-MOS acting as some kind of computer terminal. Not off to a good start humanizing your robot, Xenosaga.
Let’s learn about Normal Attacks! Normal attacks are your basic “fight” command for the game. You’ve got an option of square or triangle, and, most of the time, you then can make that choice twice a turn. Square is usually a physical attack (shown here as “Knuckle”), and triangle is usually a magic/elemental attack (shown here as “Firecracker” which is, I don’t know, water elemental or something). So you can do a double physical hit (square square), a magic to physical hit (triangle square), or the reverse, physical to magic (square triangle). Note that your order may switch your element: hitting triangle first will give you a fire attack, but square-triangle will grant something more electric.
For the record, I kind of like this system, as, traditionally, elemental attacks are linked to magical spells, which consume MP (or whatever). In this battle system, however, you basically have, as an example, “unlimited” fire attacks as long as your triangle button still works, so there’s no need to miserly hoard your MP reserves in the face of a battle that might be finished faster by exploiting a weakness. I refer to this kind of battle system as a “reverse-Persona”.
Speaking of weaknesses, here’s an explanation of the three types of monsters you’ll see in this game: B for biological (like the humans we see here), M for mechanical, and G for gnosis. Remember, just because a particular monster belongs to a particular group, they don’t necessarily all share the same weaknesses. #notallgnosis
Here’s Shion delivering a delicious knuckle sandwich (square button).
Followed by a shocking jolt from her arm thingy (triangle button).
Note that all biological enemies explode in an absolute Pollock of blood. It is deeply unnerving. But don’t worry, kids, it’s all a simulation!
Hey, here’s that thing I just said. Note that, like Xenogears, “Magic” is referred to as “Ether”. Space’s favorite show is My Little Gnosis: Friendship is Ether.
Here’s KOS-MOS’s victory animation. She often exclaims, “Shion, I need to be cleaned.” It’s never not weird.
Oooooh Tech Attacks. Here’s the good stuff. See that little bar of light blue under Shion’s portrait? Well, that’s like six little arrows. Four of those arrows get filled up every round, and every action depletes two arrows, thus the previously mentioned “two attacks a round” thing. However, when you chill out for a round either by guarding…
… or deploying just one attack instead of two, then you save a couple of arrows, and have six (not four) arrows for your next round. Six arrows allow you to perform two attacks, and then a special tech attack…
like Shion’s craziness here…
Or KOS-MOS’s Mega Buster. This is how you really do damage in Xenosaga, and learning when to go for the all-out tech attack or something more basic is what you really want to focus on. There’s a tad more nuance to tech attacks, but we’ll cover that sometime later.
Here’s the tutorial on the sub menu, which is barely a thing. We already covered Guard, above that is…
Ether, which is your basic magic command. As previously stated, but to reiterate, “regular” attacks can have etheric properties, so you’re not stuck relying on your EP points. At this point in the game, the only useful application of Ether is Shion’s cure spell… whatever it’s called here. Medici or something.
Move is another option, which, really, is just a row switch command. Want to hop into the back row? Here you go. We’ll look at that a little more sometime around when we introduce the magical girl and the terminator.
As is noted here, there’s no Run/Escape command in the game. You’re stuck using an item that has the exact same application, or a spell Shion can learn called “Goodbye”. I’m… confused as to how this offers any great tactical advantage, gameplay design wise, over just sticking a “run” command at the end of the sub menu. Maybe they didn’t have enough room for more buttons?
Oh, Medica! That’s what Shion’s Cure spell is called. It heals one ally. It does what it’s supposed to do.
Here’s the most important move in the game: Boost. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll note that, while there is a turn order displayed in the bottom right, it’s not like Final Fantasy 10’s order notation that clearly displays who will be moving when for the next thirty turns. Xenosaga only shows, I think, a maximum of four character turns at a time. This is, kind of, a good thing. If your character isn’t in the current “crop” of turn order, you can expend one Boost Point to boost your character to next in the line. To reiterate, you can’t boost if your character is going to be moving soon, but if they’re not, they can sneak in and really ruin the enemy’s day. An immediate use here is healing: boost Shion up next, and she can Medica an injured ally before the monster has a chance to cause irreparable damage.
See, here’s Shion boosting, so she’s up next.
Now the other big reason to boost is to game the event slot. Every turn has an “event”, and it’s the same four events looping in a predetermined order: nothing, critical up, boost up, and points up. The ideal way to play is to boost your characters so they have the most benefits from the events. You’ll want your heavy hitters to attack on critical up events, anybody that needs to fill their boost gauge (boosting costs boost points that are gained over the course of the battle) on the boost up events, and defeat your foes on the points up event, so you receive more EXP and assorted special points.
Special Points are used to level up every damn thing. Ether abilities evolve and mutate into new skills through ether points, Tech points up tech skill powers and speed, and… I forgot the third thing’s name. They let you yank abilities out of accessories, so you don’t have to wear an anti-poison amulet forever, just draw out the skill and have it innately.
While this giant dome generates to trap our heroes in their first real battle, I’ll note that those previously mentioned events also affect the monsters, so you do not want a super powerful boss attacking on a high critical event, and whatever you can do to keep your opponents from boosting is a good idea. Yes, the enemy can boost just as well as you do, and the whole thing becomes a kind of struggle to boost properly and control the flow of the battle. It’s just the kind of battle system that allows you to stress all the time because oh God should I be boosting right now?
Anyway, here’s our first real battle, where the enemies actually fire back.
Let’s go team Vector Product Placement!
Yeah! Bad guys! Aim for the throat!
Aaaand 12 points of damage. After another eight machine gun blasts, we’ll really be in trouble.
Shion delivers a punishing electrical attack… and that’s about it for these guys.
Here’s Shion’s not at all creepy/awkward victory animation. You’re not actually playing the game, so you won’t have to see this another 10,000 times. I envy the dead.
Remember, we’re in a sort of virtual reality world right now. Back in Vector R&D’s lab, the Vector peons are acknowledging that all is going well.
Here’s Allen. Allen is helping. Let’s look at Allen a little more closely.
Allen Ridgeley is 24, and Shion’s second in command, a job that grants him the emasculating title of “Junior Chief Engineer”. This is appropriate, as Allen Ridgeley, spoilers, is just a giant weeny granted a human body by the Fairy Princess. As part of this magical pact, Allen must never actually reveal his weeny origins, but he must act like a completely milquetoast pushover for the rest of his days. Allen can only become a real boy if he experiences true love’s kiss, so he sheepishly romantically pursues Shion, the only woman in close proximity with a name. Allen, despite having the offensive and defensive capabilities of damp toast, will stick around and journey with the party from the beginning of Episode 1 all the way to the end of Episode 3, so buckle in, and get ready to enjoy that special brand of humor where a guy is constantly followed around by a magical invisible butt that farts only on him.
Back in the digital world, Shion, expert scientist, wants to skip all these stupid tests and just get to the fun stuff.
Weenie Man objects, as progress frightens him.
Shion assures Allen that it will be fine. Shion is filled with lies.
This might seem like Allen showing the tiniest glimmer of a spine, but, no, he’s basically just admitting that he won’t sit around and watch Shion die when the alternative is pressing, like, one button.
Shion makes their relationship status perfectly clear.
If you were to pan down the camera just slightly, you’d notice that Allen is submissively urinating.
The nameless staff smells blood in the water, and soon a thunderdome will break out to determine the next Junior Chief Engineer.
Allen attempts to recapture some faint trace of masculinity by demanding everyone actually do their job and not just sit around like a bunch of catty NPCs. Good luck with that.
Alright, enough of Shion’s Whacky Friends and back to the actual game. As Shion notes, this place is a virtual space inexplicably based on ruins from 2000 AD. Pretty convenient for all these guys playing the game from the distant past of 2002. I suppose I could mock this further, but I guess half our computer simulations are based on medieval villages from like a millennia ago, so maybe this all makes sense? Maybe Shion spends her weekends hanging out at 21st Century Faires?
Shion takes the time to tutorialize a little further: there is… stuff that you can blow up, like random barrels and such, that, when exploded, will release a “trap” for wandering enemies. Use the terrain to your advantage, and blow up whatever you find. Videogames 101.
Yay! We’re starting! My controller works for more than the “advance text” button!
On-screen encounters are the norm for this game, and, as noted a moment ago, you want to lure enemies into exploding stuff to aid your missions.
Of course, I could not for the life in me direct this tachikoma into the blast radius of that yellow barrel, so normal battles for me.
Nothing exciting going on here, just Shion calling the wrath of Thor down upon her enemies.
Inside the nearby (virtual) installation, there’s a mysterious red door that we can’t reach. Somebody make a note of that.
Another battle, another pile of random points accrued. I guess it’s “S. Pts.” that draw out abilities from accessories. Steve Points? That sounds right.
Back to the trouble with doors, our ultimate goal here is hidden behind these shutters, but we need a key to open the door. I will remind everyone that, technically, the video game characters right now are in their own virtual video game, so this isn’t hacky, it just shows that there won’t be any new ideas in video games for the next 4,000 years.
Another locked door.
Though, seriously, look at that. Shion could freaking step over that knee high console and just shortcut through the broken windows. Come on, it’s not like we haven’t already determined Shion is impatient.
Outside on the catwalk, there’s a box that goes boom.
And reveals a Revive item. The way is clear: blow up absolutely everything in the universe, and you might receive cheap consumables.
On the way back in, I finally lure an enemy into a blast area, in this case a “Flame” blast.
For my trouble, the enemies are under stop status, and my allies get a free boost point each. This would be a lot more important if battles didn’t last approximately two turns, max.
In the next room, a giant robot comes out to play.
Hey, how come that battle robot is bigger than my battle robot?
Now, the main thing everyone remembers about Xenogears, aside from the pink puff ball crucified for our sins, was that you got to participate in giant robot battles. Skyscraper sized battle “gears” that could pierce the hide of god himself. Xenosaga, seemingly only to placate the fans that wanted giant robots, introduced the AGWS (pronounced “eggs”).
The AGWS are sad, 16 foot tall robots that could, at best, lance a wart off Godzilla’s foot. AGWS are still a part of Xenosaga, though, so, every once in a while, it’s a good idea to stick your main healer in a bot that is incapable of healing anything.
AGWS have dramatically increased firepower, but they cost a lot to maintain, and, if memory serves, they’re never really required, so they’ve never really been my thing. For Episode 1, my game plan was to simply ignore the AGWS until the absolute final boss, and then unleash the fury of having more disposable income than I knew what to do with. Oh, and I believe KOS-MOS and later addition Ziggy don’t even get to use AGWS, and they’re the best characters, so screw these stupid things.
As the enemy robot falls, I will note that I never noticed what “AGWS” stands for, so let’s go with… Awesome Gun Wielding Soldiers. That’ll work.
Next step in the test: replacing all the generic soldiers and robots with Type-G Drones.
Aka Gnosis. We’ll get into these buggers soon enough, but for now, the main change is that we’re now fighting primarily mages as opposed to knights.
Allen is allowed to be actually helpful once per game, and here he notes another little tutorial bit: some monsters work on “sight”, and others “hearing”. Everything is set to “sound” right now, so if you don’t make any noise running around (literally, just walk), you won’t have to battle anybody. In this battle simulator. Meant only to test your battle prowess. Thanks, Allen.
Here’s our first save point.
Let’s take a short break as I tell you all a story.
When I was a young Goggle Bob, I used to watch a number of cooking shows with my father. At the time, I assumed it was just because my dad really liked cooking shows, which makes sense, as he had been head chef at a restaurant in his youth, but, now an adult myself, I wonder if it was just because cooking was a genre that guaranteed a complete lack of that sex and violence my mother was always worried I would absorb by osmosis through watching hard hitting adult entertainment like MacGyver or Matlock.
One day, while watching a dessert-based program, I noticed the chef mixed all the ingredients, explained her recipe, told us how long it would take to bake, and then mentioned that she would pop an “already prepared” cake right out of the oven.
I was shocked. I was flabbergasted. I was betrayed.
I turned to my father, and immediately asked, “Papa, what did that lady do? She’s not showing us the cake she just made. She’s showing off a cake that could have been made any time, by any one. Oh, papa, is that lady cheating?”
“No, my son,” my father replied. “She already made that cake some time ago. This is just like that cake we watched her make, but made a little earlier.”
“But, papa! It’s not the same!”
“Son,” my father said, imparting wisdom I would carry for the rest of my days, “Everybody wants cake, but nobody wants to sit around watching it bake.”
And I’ve always remembered those words.
Anyway, while I was telling that story, it seems Shion and KOS-MOS’s HP shot up to 9999, and their EP topped off at 99. Additionally, though not pictured, I now have 99 of nearly every item.
We’re on a mission from God.
Shion, now feeling surprisingly vigorous, heads off to the next room.
Oh, now we’re in that enclosed space we passed earlier, and there’s a bright blue glowing thingy on the console.
She’s a scientist!
And now we can freely move through that area. Woo and whatnot.
As mentioned earlier, if you just remember to walk, not run, through this area, the monsters won’t even so much as glance in your direction.
But what’s the fun in that? Facing flying gnosis imparts the final tutorial for this area: airborne enemies can’t be just randomly smacked like their terrafirma brethren. This limits your options to just triangle based attacks, but it’s nowhere near as crippling a distant enemy can be in, say, Final Fantasy 12.
Note that defeated gnosis dissolve into pyreflies.
While KOS-MOS is pounding on some gnosis-kangaroos, I’ll note that my little… augmentation of our heroes isn’t just a “win” button. Everyone still has the same strength and skills they’d have normally at this stage of the game, and this has only affected Shion and KOS-MOS. Ziggy, for instance, will not show up with a similar HP count. With Shion being the only guaranteed party member for much of the game, this is basically just a shortcut to guarantee my party doesn’t get wiped by some lucky monster boost or similar nonsense. Xenosaga was built before JRPGs were at all forgiving, and this project is going to take long enough without worrying about being sent back to a save point by some overly unfortunate mob.
Oh, we’ve got the key, and we’re back at that locked door from earlier.
It’s also the only room in the whole place left, Shion.
Allen, knowing this whole Shion-conquest is a lost cause, is considering other coworkers.
Hey, everybody, it’s the boss of the area! Fat Boss Gnosis, or whatever.
KOS-MOS is glitching and clipping through her own hair, though, so maybe let’s call the whole thing off.
Oh, wait, it just means KOS-MOS is getting better… or the world is evolving… or… something? Science is happening?
The whole place is freaking out, and Shion just wants to take it in stride. Allen is sweating so much at the mere thought of it, people on Second Miltia are getting a whiff of that funk.
Allen considers openly weeping.
I guess this thing is called Drone GX… so Gnosis X-tra Large?
He won’t last long…
Against KOS-MOS techs.
And he is down for the count. It? I should probably be saying “it”.
Shion damns us all.
Let’s move on to the next stage of the test. I’ll explain what’s happening here a little later, but for now…
Just know that it didn’t work right. At all.
WHO COULD HAVE FORESEEN THIS!?
Honestly, this seems dramatic and important, but Allen had the same reaction to a 2-for-1 hoagie deal last week.
Shion, assuming Allen is allening as usual, has decided to override all safety protocols, and let Sentient Moriarty escape into the main computer.
Look closely, and you’ll see The Matrix coming apart at the seams.
And ol’ Gnosis X-tra Large has transformed into a glowing mass of light.
There’s… a girl in there?
This would be a rad shot for an album cover. Hey, little girl, do you know any songs?
She look familiar to anybody else? Tip of my tongue. I want to say… Jelly?
Allen breaks reality to undermine/save his boss.
Back to reality, Shion.
Ah ha ha. You have no idea, Shion. Just… no idea.
Allen curls up into the fetal position, as is the custom of his (weenie) people.
Shion half heartedly apologies, but subtly reminds Allen that, come on, this is our job.
She also has a brief moment of confusion as she’s thinking back on that red-headed child… umm… Evie? No, that’s not right.
Now, back to normal for everybody, discussing deadlines and delivering this precious data to whoever is asking for it.
And the PA system pipes in to confirm that, wow, it’s the future, and this is all taking place on a space ship. In space!
Let’s cut to the bridge, where they’re discussing time tables or something.
“It will be seven hours until the next rest stop. Billboards are sparse.”
Alright, credit where it’s due, this is a rather cool way to identify the size of the ship. On the other hand, was that something anyone was worried about?
Here’s Captain Gonnadie.
And his second for this mission, Commander Cherenkov. Spoilers: I hate this guy.
Ensign Alwayswrong believes everything will be okay.
Even though we’re still dancing around it with “them”, this is the first overt mention of the gnosis being kind of a big deal out in the recess of space. I’ll prattle on about them soon enough, but for now, just to be clear, the real gnosis, not virtual world gnosis, are bad news. Like, “body bags for everybody” bad news. Well, maybe not body bags… more like salt shakers.
Cherenkov calls the ensign stupid and fat, and Captain Gonnadie calls him out on being a gigantic dick.
Sargent Sniffles defends Cherenkov, claiming that it’s all a side effect of picking up that object ten days ago. If you’re wondering what “that object” is, I will remind you of the entire damn opening.
“Uh…Captain… Can you…uh, debrief us on the current situation? Our original orders from the Galaxy Federation were to investigate the vanished planet and assist the researchers, but ever since we picked up that object, it feels like…everything’s changed. What exactly is that thing, anyway?”
“Fuck if I know.”
“Nobody tells me shit.”
“What about the rumor regarding the casualties during the retrieval process…?”
“Even if it were true, that’s none of our business. The research team has their own orders to deal with. The only explicit instructions we’ve received state…that should any salvageable objects exist in the area, their retrieval takes top priority.”
“Top priority? What does that mean?”
This is why nobody likes you.
Captain Gonnadie is just such a great guy.
“Oh yeah, the robot chick, right? With the heels?”
“They’re scheduled to turn in the A-7 reports today.”
“A-7, eh… Only one step away from fully operational. It’s about time, I suppose… Lieutenant, please ask Chief Uzuki to come to the bridge once her data’s ready. Ask her to bring all the previous data as well.”
“No, he was talking about your promiscuous mother.”
Okay, is anyone else thinking there might be some sort of meta thing going on with the reformed Xenogears team hanging an early plot point on a group of geniuses with a massive project that is far behind schedule? Just a thought.
This is -important information-, and will be elaborated on before everyone in this scene is dead. Er. Spoilers.
Space novels are like regular novels. In space.
It’s always a shame when a dude has no idea what franchise he’s in.
Commander “Fartknocker” Cherenkov, apropos of nothing, injects himself into the conversation with this little non sequitur.
Can… we go now?
Back in R&D, Shion gets the call to go deliver that precious data she almost died over.
I reiterate: you almost died, Shion. Seems like you should bring your A material.
This is all just jibber-jabber, but I wanted to note that Shion fondles KOS-MOS’s robo coffin whenever possible.
Shion has… strange emotions about her pet robot. This will not be the first time Shion acts like a weird kind of parent to the detached robot. I mean, I understand, she’s fond of to what is primarily her creation, but on the other hand, we’re still talking about an emotionless killing machine. Like, literally, that’s what she’s built for. As far as anyone on this ship knows.
Allen makes it clear, through passive aggressive name calling, that he is jealous of the robot. If this is at all surprising, you haven’t been paying attention.
“By the way, Chief, what do you think of the M.W.S. and then A.G.W.S.? It’s just dummy data created inside the Encephalon, but it was pretty exciting stuff, wasn’t it? If neither had problems during this test, all that remains are the functionality tests using actual models.”
“It worked pretty well. The M.W.S. in particular felt right to me. I sense something contrived in that, though.”
Oh yeah, Shion’s weapon is called a M.W.S.
And it was built by a fellow science nerd, Miyuki. She’ll pop up later, but for now, she’s kind of a mysterious character on the other end of the phone, so to speak.
And we’re finally free to explore reality! Yay!
But reality is kind of horrible in this world, so we’ll take look at it next time.
NEXT TIME ON XENOSAGA: Sonic 2006