Previously on Xenosaga: We took a look at the reimagined, portable version of Xenosaga. Ya know, thinking about portable remixes of classic JRPGs gets me thinking…
I remember when I first heard about Final Fantasy 4: The After Years. An official sequel to Final Fantasy 4! I loved the cast of Final Fantasy 4, and revisiting the gang with modern sensibilities should be amazing! And it’s a sequel, so we get to find out “what happened next”! That’s astounding! How could such a game be anything but awesome?!
But there was one significant thing holding me back from enjoying such an eagerly awaited game: Final Fantasy 4: The After Years was only available on Japanese cell phones. This… was a deathblow. At the time, I barely had a cell phone at all, left alone a cell phone “for gaming”. And with the technology of the day, the idea of playing a comprehensive JRPG on a phone’s screen seemed, at best, cumbersome. And, of course, we’re talking about a game that was only in that magical land of Japan, so even if the previously mentioned hurdles were somehow bypassed, I didn’t have a prayer of seeing such a niche product stateside anytime soon.
Oh well, at least a variety of nerds took the time to transcribe the finer points of the adventure for an online audience. Edge got disciples! Palom and Porom were all grown up! Cid was somehow still alive! It all sounded so exciting, and, like other “never gonna see ‘em” games like Secret of Mana 2 or Terranigma, my imagination filled in any blanks on what may have been a game’s deficiencies.
In time, against all odds, we received Final Fantasy 4: The After Years as a WiiWare title. I played this “Japanese cell phone game” voraciously, and found it… lacking. In time, the game was released again on the PSP. At that point, despite technically buying it again with its Final Fantasy 4 Original brother, I didn’t even boot the game once. Anyone who has ever played it knows exactly why. Suffice it to say, Final Fantasy 4: The After Years did not live up to whatever hype it had once garnered.
Xenosaga had its own “Japanese exclusive cell phone game”. Was it any good? I have no idea. Will we ever see it come to America? I very much doubt it. But is it important to the franchise? Unfortunately, yes.
Xenosaga: Pied Piper is a prequel of sorts to the Xenosaga main story. XPP tells the story of Ziggy, aka Jan Sauer, before he was the immortal cyborg we all know and love. A century before the events of Xenosaga, Jan was simply your average space cop, working a case to track down some terrorist that had a habit of eating babies. In short, Pied Piper tells the entire tale of how Ziggy came to be Ziggy, and initially met his archrival, the Black Testament, Voyager.
And the US audience never had a prayer of playing the dang thing.
Despite Ziggy being the undisputed best Xenosaga character (non-Professor division), it appears there were never any plans to port Xenosaga: Pied Piper to any sort of Western hardware. This isn’t entirely shocking, as, at the time, Western cell phones were kind of crap. We didn’t even get to see the Nintendo DS Xenosaga game, what were the odds of seeing a game for a platform that technically didn’t exist?
It’s kind of a shame, as there are significant chunks of Xenosaga Episode 3 that absolutely rely on the player “knowing” what happened in Pied Piper. Yes, there is a “database” in XS3 that is supposed to fill in the blanks, but those xenowiki articles only show up after the related big dramatic reveals. In other words, the hapless player is stuck watching a cutscene where someone reveals that Dave was Steve this entire time, and the rest of the characters gasp, but the player is as confused as ever, and desperately trying to remember if this Steve guy was someone important. It’s clunky as all get out, and it’s particularly noticeable in Xenosaga, because this franchise is one that actually is very good about following the rules and not revealing confusing information for the sake of revealing confusing information. Wait, no, that’s wrong. Xenosaga is very confusing when it comes to terms and “mysterious entities” and whatnot, but it is very good at providing solid through-lines for designated friendly characters. You basically know what Ziggy knows from the moment he’s introduced, and it’s off-putting when he starts crying about a past that was previously barely referenced. If you played PP, you’re in the know, but if you didn’t, it feels like a betrayal.
So, with that in mind, I’ve scoured the web in an effort to put together a snapshot of Xenosaga: Pied Piper, and “what you need to know”. Unfortunately, there isn’t much data out there on X:PP (and some sources appear to have information that is outright wrong), so… this should be interesting.
Xenosaga: Pied Piper is a JRPG, much more in the Final Fantasy 1-5 mold than its big brothers. I mean, seriously, look at this…
Ziggy is going to the hospital to recruit Maria and Guy to battle the Dreadnaught. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, the graphics and basic gameplay are practically 8-bit, and, honestly, that’s kind of clever. This is a game that takes place a century before Xenosaga proper, so it’s only natural that it would be primitive by comparison. Or maybe I’m giving the Xenosaga producers too much credit…
The battle system, meanwhile, is pretty much Xenosaga Episode 1, complete with the round bonus wheel thingy.
And even special attacks that are occasionally in English.
As you can see, we’re dealing with a GUI and general graphics that are basically on Dragon Quest level.
The general flow of the game is basically DQ as well: there are three chapters, and each chapter is divided up with a basic flow of “plot -> dungeon -> boss -> plot -> dungeon -> boss -> plot -> end of chapter”.
All over, it appears to be a very retro experience.
But the story isn’t retro! While Xenosaga is “just” a space opera with heavy religious/mystical overtones, Pied Piper is predominantly cyberpunk. The main gist of the story is that Jan is the leader of a police department that investigates crimes that take place in the (fairly new) UMN. The UMN is, like in Xenosaga proper, a gigantic virtual reality internet, and apparently some terrorist is using this cyberwonderland to brainjack victims and either manipulate his prey or outright kill ‘em. The whole story is about three seconds from sliding into a Gibson novel at any given moment, and, frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing this setting in a few other JRPGs. I’ll take sentient computer viruses over orcs any day of the week. Or both, Shadowrun.
Anyway, the overarching plot of the game is simply that Voyager, cyber-terrorist, is doing whatever the hell he wants for seemingly no reason, and Jan and the gang have to stop the guy. Voyager is manipulating the natural anonymity of the UMN while simultaneously exploiting a number of different warring factions, so he’s not a very easy guy to track down. Also, the third act twist is that the call was coming from inside the house the entire time! And that always makes things difficult.
Jan Sauer is the man who would one day be Ziggy. At this point in time, he’s just your average police captain. Turns out his boss is his uncle (either by blood or friendliness), and a sort of surrogate father, because Jan’s dad was a cop too, except he got dead around his thirtieth birthday, and left Jan to be raised by Mama Sauer. Jan is now 30, and that isn’t ominous at all.
Fun fact: Jan is just as stoic as Jan or Ziggy. Apparently, it wasn’t the trauma of his own death that stunted his emotions, he’s just always been like that. Also important: Jan, as of thirty, is unmarried, because during the game he meets…
Dr. Sharon Rozas, a local medical doctor that Jan encounters after the first Voyager mission leads to a lot of dead kids. Despite meeting under probably the worst circumstances possible, Sharon winds up being a great friend to Jan, and helps him on the case (the CSI department of Jan’s precinct is apparently sorely lacking). Their star-crossed romance begins when, on a night out with the rest of the cast, Sharon roofies Jan and drags him home. That wasn’t a joke. Jan’s coworkers tease him about it later.
It all works out for the best, though, as Jan quickly becomes Sharon’s lover and a de facto father figure to Joaquin Rozas, Sharon’s 11 year old son. We actually saw Joaqin once during a Xenosaga Episode 1 flashback, and it’s either a retcon or Ziggy being very polite that explains why Ziggy always talked about his “son” that was really his stepson that he only knew for a year, max.
Incidentally, Sharon appears to be fairly religious, and visits the local church often. Since this is Xenosaga, that eventually gets her entire family killed.
Meanwhile, at the precinct, we’ve got Melisse Ortus, a human cop that is there to be the one emotional character in the cast. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that she’s a woman. Her defining moment seems to be early in the game, when she recklessly charges into a virtual tank with her supporting officers and… everybody dies. Whoops! Other than that, she spends the rest of the story generally reacting to things with her big crazy emotions. Occasionally she suggests the most careless, insane solutions to simple problems. Granted, this is an overwrought JRPG, so she’s usually right, but still!
Conversely, we’ve got Lactis, a brand new Realian provided by our friends at Vector. Lactis is cynical to a fault, and occasionally out-under-emotes Jan. As usually happens with this kind of character, Lactis always seems to offer the logical answer to problems, and what are you silly humans doing again? Are you concerned about death and mating? Ha ha, you humans and your e-mo-tions.
On the support side, we’ve got Mikhail Ortmann and Erich Weber. Both of these dudes are responsible for keeping their chairs warm while Jan, Melisse, and Lactis dive into the UMN and face mortal danger. They spend most of the game shouting “hey listen” and generally “helping” the real battle party.
Rounding out the good guy side, we’ve got Bugs, a virtual AI that appears to have just finished up his time with the cast of Waku Waku 7. He is controlled remotely by Erich, and Bugs seems to have a close, almost familial bond with his operator. Bugs joins Jan, Melisse, and Lactis in combat situations, and seems to also be a mobile inventory of sorts. Useful dude!
And, as has been mentioned, the villain of the piece is Voyager, a mysterious terrorist that is doing something or other that involves leaving a whole lot of dead bodies in his wake. He wears a white cloak… and that’s all anybody knows. Oh, and he keeps leaving his victims spouting random bits from the Bible, specifically Revelations. That’s never a good sign.
Alright, we don’t have all day here. The actual full, translated script for this game is available here (also, while I’m crediting places, any images not found on that page came from here). If you’re really interested, feel free to give it a read. It’s not bad! However, in the interest of keeping my audience abreast of “what you need to know for Episode 3”, here’s the short version:
Come to think of it, I haven’t even mentioned where in space this is all taking place. The planet Abraxas is the setting for this entire story, and, don’t worry, no one is hopping around the universe. Also, just to head off the speculation: no, Abraxas is not secretly Earth. It’ll wind up being important to the overall story of Xenosaga, but Abraxas is not a planet we’ve previously visited or referenced (much).
What is important, though, is that the Immigrant Fleet currently calls Abraxas home, and there’s a lot of friction between those space loonies and the Galactic Federation. I guess Abraxas is in the middle of joining the federation, but the Cardassians are causing problems, and…. Wait, I might be thinking of something else.
Anyway, with the civil unrest going on, there are a number of random terrorist organizations popping up, and people seem to believe that Voyager belongs to every one of them, because if you’re going to have a boogeyman, he may as well boogey to the max. But then some ambassadors get kidnapped to the UMN, and, sure, let’s say that Voyager is behind that.
So it’s established pretty fast that if you’re jacked in to the UMN, and you’ve been kidnapped, you have to make (virtual) physical contact with someone to be rescued. So the internet works on the same rules as freeze tag? Got it. Melisse, Lactis, Bugs, and an entire squad rush into the UMN to save the ambassadors. Jan was running late that day, and is currently approaching the precinct with a piece of toast in his mouth.
As randomly mentioned earlier, Melisse runs into a virtual tank boss, and accidentally gets everybody else (save Lactis and Bugs) killed. Melisse feels really bad about this, because it’s probably going to cost her her promotion. As you might expect, Jan makes the scene just in time, and saves the remaining party. Moments later, Voyager reveals himself to be responsible/a complete dick, and reanimates the dead cops for some random encounters. It’s a fun time for everybody.
After the zombie fun, the party winds up “trapped” in some virtual space. In an effort to save the party, Erich, professional benchwarmer, jacks in, and is immediately killed. Bugs, Erich’s AI buddy, has a major freakout over his deceased master. Then the party is freed, and they find the ambassadors! And the ambassadors are children, because apparently the Federation was trying to perform some sort of weird PR stunt about the children being our future. The stunt goes further south when Voyager seemingly convinces the children to commit suicide. That’s gonna get some headlines.
So there’s some talk about how the ambassatots didn’t seem to be showing any signs of resistance in the real world, so maybe they were “voluntarily” turning themselves into suicides at Voyager’s behest. But there’s no time for that now, we’ve got to go to the hospital to check on Erich, who… is pronounced dead. But, hey, some of the kids survived. Some. And it’s not a total loss, Jan meets Sharon, who really, really cares about kids being in danger. A lot is made of this, despite the fact that I’d generally ascribe that kind of thinking to basically any non-sociopath.
Oh, and then Erich gets up and leaves his own autopsy, which seems slightly suspicious.
Erich heads back to the precinct, and he explains that he had a cyber double prepared for just such an occasion, so Melisse is stuck calling the funeral parlor and explaining how her buddy was only mostly dead. But all is not well, as Erich is randomly getting headaches and quoting Revelations, which you’d think would be more of a red flag, but Jan explains that Erich has always been a little off, even on good days. Dr. Sharon swings by to check up on friggen Lazarus wandering around, and they all get the call that Voyager is now attacking a “Nursing Plant”, which is basically your one-stop shop for having your own designer child produced. Ever seen Gattaca? Voyager is attacking Gattaca.
The cops head to the Nursing Plant, and Dr. Sharon decides to hit the church. She prays for the safety of her family and all children everywhere, and the local priest says that that’s doable, assuming she’s willing to sell her soul. Sharon politely declines selling her soul to a random clergyman, and generally begins to consider atheism.
Over at the Nursing Plant, the party has a lovely conversation about how this whole designer children thing is just a side effect of the Life Recycling Act and its main supporter, Dmitri Yuriev. Also, Lactis straight up asks “Well, what if you’re not even permitted to die? When then?” As the dramatic irony levels start to reach their absolute peak, the gang finds a bunch of dead fetuses, which is never good.
Oh, and Erich is acting weird, but even mentioning that seems redundant at this point. He’s apparently on drugs, though, which is new.
Everybody jacks in to the local network, and they find that the remaining baby brains are… leaking… or… something? Voyager is apparently eating brainwaves right out baby brains, which is generally a bad thing, so everyone is more determined than ever to beat Voyager. Unfortunately, it’s only the first chapter, so they just fight an inconsequential boss.
After they jack out, Erich notices some sort of backdoor that is feeding Voyager inside info and allowing him to stay ahead of the popo. Mikhail claims there’s no such thing, but Erich sees it, yep, it’s right there, what’s wrong with you, Mikhail? Mikhail is generally nervous about the whole situation.
As a sort of wrap-up to the chapter, Jan checks in with his boss, and he’s taken off the case. Jan objects, and… he’s right back on the case. That was a rough thirty seconds there!
Now it’s time to party! Patriarch Julius of the Immigrant Fleet put together a swanky shindig to call for unity, and he’s trotting out young Irene Torres of the Torres Foundation, which is a nonprofit that is looking to bring the world together. Guess who is working security? Oh, and Dr. Sharon is at the party, too, and offering random case advice in the form of “hey, did you notice how he’s going after children? Like some kind of Pied Piper?” And then Voyager attacks.
This time, though, the party is prepared. Mikhail put together some sort of “trap space”, so when Voyager strikes, he’s stuck with no way out but through the Jan and friends. But as Jan stalks Voyager, he comments that this is all too easy, and his suspicions seem to be confirmed when he catches “Voyager”, who turns out to be Klaus Torres, the scorned, homicidal brother of Irene Torres. Klaus is on the same drugs as Erich, and he’s rambling about finding peace while quoting from Revelations. Hm, that sounds familiar. And, when it appears Klaus is about to be completely apprehended, he jumps off a virtual building to his death. The UMN needs more guard rails!
Erich has an idea, though. How about we dive into Klaus’s brain? I mean, yes, he’s dead, but we still want to grab some information out of his head, right? Let’s ask a doctor if this is a good idea!
Dr. Sharon says this is a terrible idea, and will almost certainly get everyone involved killed. But she also wants to see Voyager get caught as much as Jan, so, sure, let’s give it a shot. The goal now is to enter Klaus’s dead subconscious and find his shadow, the true self, and maybe awaken it and score a rad new persona. Melisse gets philosophical about blurring the lines between life and death, and Jan sighs loudly, hoping he doesn’t have to hear about such heady concepts again for another hundred years.
The team eventually finds Klaus’s inner-self, and a surprisingly helpful Klaus explains that he’s much better now that he’s dead and no longer being influenced by Voyager. Apparently Voyager is basically a drug dealer, offering “peace” to wayward children, though all the children involved have “the blood of Abraxas” and a connection to “the Zohar”. Nobody knows what that Zohar thingy is, though, but they do score the info that Voyager’s next target is Patriarch Julius. And then Jan passes out.
Jan drifts into some flashbacks to when his father died, and apparently he starts slipping out of life as a result. But he’s rescued by a mysterious voice that is very obviously chaos. Don’t worry, kids, this is just a one-off cameo, and Jan doesn’t get any sort of look at his savior, so this doesn’t bust the Xenosaga timeline wide open. Just, ya know, friendly demigod stopping by a troubled UMN dive to help things along.
Jan wakes up, and everyone gets the news that Patriarch Julius is already dead. On the way out of Klaus’s brain, Voyager shows up to simultaneously taunt Jan and offer him “peace” as he is a “chosen”. Then “Voyager” turns into Erich before Jan’s eyes, and disappears. Jan doesn’t think about this too hard.
Afterwards, everyone goes out drinking, and Sharon slips Jan a mickey, causing him to wake up to nearly lethal levels of cute when Joaquin instantly makes Jan his new daddy. Jan is cool with it all, though, and do I hear wedding bells?
The chapter closes with the soon-to-be-Patriarch Sergius discussing with a Cardinal (not the bird) that everything is going according to plan, and neither Yuriev nor Voyager are “real” obstacles.
Chapter 3 starts with Jan doing that whole “getting to know you” thing with Dr. The Widow Sharon and her moppet. Meanwhile, Melisse is trying to get her damn job done around here, so she suggests, lacking any other leads, the gang hit Veritas Liberabit Vos, an anti-UMN group. Voyager seems to be able to manipulate the UMN at will, so why not check in with some guys that hate the UMN? Mikhail and Melisse talk to a dude at VLV, and he claims that a lot of this case traces back to… Dmitri Yuriev! Jan is shocked… and then proposes to Sharon. Oh…kay?
Marriage, honeymoon, some time passes, and eventually we hit the “real time” of that flashback from Xenosaga Episode 1. Here’s a dog, woof woof, and Jan gets a phone call to come into work. Sharon has a bad feeling about this, and I want to say that she’s right, because the next time they’ll all be together, a healthy 100% of them will be dead within moments.
Aaaaanyway, Jan got called in to get taken off the case (again?), so Jan reveals that he knows Yuriev is behind everything. This proves to be his undoing, as Yuriev apparently had a plant in the PD, and he gets Jan’s boss killed, and locks up the rest of the gang (except Lactis, who is technically on Vector payroll)
Speaking of which, there’s an interlude where Wilhelm, president of Vector for (a very long) life, is chatting with his secretary (what did this guy do for friends before the Testaments?), and comments, as he usually does, that everything is going according to plan and blah blah blah. Of interest, Wilhelm reveals that Lactis is carrying “program Canaan”, but what that actually is isn’t revealed. Oh, and Wilhelm takes a moment to comment that he’s confused about Yeshua (chaos)’s earlier move to help Jan.
Also meanwhile, Sharon heads back to church again to try to get some answers on the Zohar. She’s told she’s got the blood of Abraxis, and should come back later, there’s going to be a mixer, bring a covered dish, and maybe we’ll tell you the secret of the universe. She decides to make deviled eggs.
Finally back to the “real” party, Jan and company stage a jailbreak with Lactis’s assistance. Now officially on the run, they decide to team up with Veritas Liberabit Vos, about the only organization they can trust at this point. Alexei, VLV’s leader, mentions that Yuriev is such a high ranking member of the Federation Government, he can basically do whatever he wants, and he seems to be the guy providing drugs to Voyager and keeping him on a leash. Oh, and apparently Voyager has some sort of weird brain disorder, too. Lot of interesting, but generally useless information, guys.
Dr. Sharon calls and says she’s got some more info on Voyager, so the battle party heads off to meet her while Erich and Mikhail stay behind. Sharon doesn’t really provide any new information, but while they’re all comparing notes, Mikhail calls in a panic, and claims to know the true identity of Voyager. But he’ll only tell the party in person. That doesn’t sound suspicious at all!
When the party finally catches up with Mikhail, he’s gone insane, and fights the party. He’s just about killed in the battle, but comes to his senses before death and explains that he was brainjacked. Erich is close at hand, and he’s helping out/randomly quoting Revelations. Then Sharon gets some DNA off a Voyager victim (well, like, residual brain DNA or something… same diff), and reveals that Voyager is… Erich! Gasp!
Voyager is apparently on the move in the UMN, but the good guys have Erich’s body right here, so let’s just dive right into Erich. Now we get to talk to Erich’s Shadow, who explains the whole deal: Erich had a brain issue, and the only way to satisfy it was to sit on the internet 24/7. I can relate. Somewhere along the line, Erich decided he needed a greater high, so he hacked into the central core of the UMN, and encountered U-DO. U-DO scared the crap out of him, so he volunteered to be U-DO’s proxy, “a voyager on the sea of the net”. His task was not really to kill people, but to absorb the souls/consciousness of the chosen ones… which incidentally involves killing people (and sometimes babies). And, FYI, Yuriev was U-DO’s first voyager. When asked about the nature of U-DO, Erich claims that U-DO is terrifying/peaceful, so good luck parsing that bit of info.
A mysterious voice (a white-haired immortal) tells Lactis that he has to protect the Canaan program, which confuses the hell out of Lactis. Lactis recovers, though, and figures that the Voyager personality is probably going to go mess with the new Patriarch and his Zohar loving buddies. Everyone! To church!
Everyone arrives at the church, and it turns out they’re crashing that church function that Sharon heard about earlier. Sharon and Joaquin are both there, and the Zohar is front and center… and glowing mysteriously. And everyone in attendance is writhing and screaming in pain. Dammit! Yuriev is way across town in his office, and he’s having issues, too.
So all of space kinda freaks out, and the party has to go through a boss rush of basically every enemy that has appeared in the game. While that’s going on, Sharon and Joaquin are trapped near the Zohar, and Voyager appears to be making a deal of sorts with Sharon. Sharon agrees that she would do anything for world peace, and Joaquin just wants to see daddy again, and…. They’re dead. They both collapse and bleed out more blood than you’d expect. Probably looks something like this.
Then things get really fun: Voyager wants Jan to join him. Typical Darth Vader style here, but Bugs (remember Bugs? The AI that worked with Erich?) decides that he’s had enough of this, and kamikazes right into Voyager. That does exactly nothing. Way to go, Bugs. Voyager is unharmed, and he’s ranting about the fact that U-DO apparently isn’t taking his calls anymore. But someone new decides to pick up those voicemails.
Wilhelm shows up, and explains that U-DO is busy right now, but maybe there’s a position for you at my organization. Voyager is reluctant at first, but Wilhelm offers the ol’ “ye shall be as gods” sales pitch, and Voyager decides to go for it. Voyager’s white cloak becomes black, and Black Testament is officially on the board. Voyager seems to gain an instant upgrade, and blurts out that Lactis’s “Canaan program” is about finding and observing chosen ones, like, coincidentally, Jan.
Once again, Voyager offers Jan a place by his side. Lactis keeps telling Jan to resist, and Jan does, by blowing his own brains out. Sharon, Joaquin, and Jan Sauer are dead, the end.
Turns out this whole story was being relayed by Melisse, reflecting on “that year”. So, ya know, fun fact, Jan only knew his wife and child for a year at most. Lactis winds up getting recalled to Vector, and no one ever saw him again. The Zohar apparently was inert before this incident, but now it’s up and ready to go, and the entire galaxy started taking a good, hard look at Abraxas. In order to confuse the hell out of everybody, Planet Abraxas became known as Planet Michtam. Naturally, all those peace talks broke down, and Yuriev decided to retire from space government to the private sector, maybe to make a few clone kids or whatever.
As for Melisse herself? Well, given her policing career was kind of aborted by that prison break stunt, she decided to officially join Veritas Liberabit Vos, which, in time, led to her founding a new anti-UMN faction, Scientia. And whatever happened to Scientia? Well, that’s a story for another post…
Pied Piper: What you need to know:
- The Zohar “activated” about a hundred years ago
- The Zohar spent a lot of time on Abraxas/Michtam
- Ziggy is originally from Abraxas/Michtam
- Ziggy/Jan Sauer killed himself to escape Voyager/Wilhelm
- Voyager manipulated Jan’s family into death
- Voyager was once Ziggy’s friend/coworker
- Voyager personally interacted with U-DO
- Lactis was a Vector Realian that housed Program Canaan
- Program Canaan was a method of finding and observing “chosen ones”
- Melisse founded Scientia, an anti-UMN organization
- chaos has been randomly helping Ziggy since he was Jan
- Wilhelm has been president of Vector for at least a century
- Dmitri Yuriev has been a player in the Galactic Government for at least a century
- Dmitri Yuriev personally interacted with U-DO before Voyager
Next time on Xenosaga: Another post.