This article contains spoilers for the Xenoblade Chronicles franchise. Well, X is barely mentioned… But 1, 2, and 3 all get spoiled to hell. Oh! And Xenogears and Xenosaga are in there, too. You have been warned!
Xenogears is a classic, deservedly laudable videogame. However, no one can say that the final product was what was imagined when the project was initially developed. Some of its most iconic moments, from Fei’s continual chair warming to entire dungeons that appeared only as JPEGs, were the result of a game that should have been two “episodes” being compressed into a single title. Whether you believe ChuChu on the cross is something that would have happened if anyone involved had longer than five seconds to consider the theological ramifications is immaterial, we simply know that Xenogears as we have it is not the same animal that would have come from an expanded development cycle. Even tracing back to its origins as a potential Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger sequel, Xenogears was forced to find its identity on the fly(ing robot). In short, Xenogears is great, but what we know as the final product “Xenogears” was totally an accident.
And then Xenogears begat Xenosaga. Xenosaga was a “saga” that was released over years, and, if that trilogy did not maintain a consistent cast, you would be forgiven for assuming they were three unrelated games. Classic RPG combat system! Or something about toppling now? Wait, now we’re done with that, and attempting a structure where you are supposed to draw aggro? And gameplay aside, the plot of Xenosaga was very publicly modified (almost exactly) halfway through, with its driving writer being canned, stories being heavily altered, and, oh yeah, the second game was supposed to be part of the first game that was supposed to be part of six games. You have about the same possibility of properly pacing a story in those circumstances as you do seeing a fish graduate law school (note: this jape should not be seen as related to my ongoing suit against The Law Firm of Fishguy and Octoman). I have objectively proven that Xenosaga is a trilogy worthy of its existence, but Xenosaga, after years of development shifts, is more of an accident than anything.
Xenoblade Chronicles was arguably the first Xeno title that was a complete game. It was not initially planned as a “Xeno” title, but dropping the Monado from its title was suggested to honor what had come before. Xenoblade was designed from the start to be a perfect combination of gameplay and plot by the guy who was responsible for the 30-minute cutscenes of Xenosaga. In pursuit of this ideal, Xenoblade Chronicles became a franchise that rewarded the player not only for combat, but also other mundane tasks like talking to NPCs or discovering new locales. And this all worked well… but combined poorly with a world that eventually got whittled down to, like, two towns and a cave as the plot progressed. A game that simultaneously rewards you for looking everywhere but effectively locks you out of that option in favor of advancing the story is a major miss. Did the producers not understand the game they were making? Was this all just an accident?
(And we’re going to skip Xenoblade Chronicles X, because talking about that delightful mess should be an article all on its own…)