Ye Shall Be As Gods
Title: Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht (this means The Will to Power in English)
Date Published: February 25, 2003
Platforms: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: Teen
Xenosaga is a story driven, anime style, sci-fi epic role playing game. The game revolves around the adventures of Shion Uzuki, one of the universe's leading scientists in the field of artificial intelligence technology. Although Shion and company don't really ever have a centralized goal besides saving innocent civilians and doing good around the universe, much of their quest could be summarized as an attempt discover the multitude of secrets and conspiracies surrounding the ultimate source of power, the Zohar, all the while defending themselves against a mysterious, ghost-like alien race called "Gnosis".
Xenosaga is loosely based off of the Playstation RPG by Square, Xenogears. However, the events of Xenogears evidently take place long in the future from Xenosaga. Whereas Xenogears relates the story of humanity's 10,000 year quest for survival against a manipulative, sentient interstellar weapon on an isolated planet through the eyes of the repeatedly resurrected main characters, Fei and Elly, Xenosaga takes place in a relatively short time in a space opera/mecha universe around 3,000 AD. Here's a timeline to make easier to understand:
Modern day --- Events from Xenosaga --- Events from Xenogears
A large percentage of the game is the plot and cut scenes, moreso than any game to date. This includes the infamously plot packed games Final Fantasy X and Metal Gear Solid 2. There are cinematics that take a good half hour to watch without any player interaction involved. When it comes time for the player to pick up his or her controller, they'll find themselves in a very familiar console RPG world. Townspeople exist soley to impart a few lines of dialogue, tiny chests are opened to find gigantic shape ships inside, and vicious space monsters are executed in a turn based battle system.
(Note! I've tried to keep Spoilers
just to stuff inside the instruction book or first couple hours of gameplay for the rest of the write up. However, if you're playing on going through this game for the plot, I'd be wary regardless.)
There are six main characters that form your party in Xenosaga.
Shion Uzuki - (5'4'' / 106lbs / 22 years old) Shion joins the multitude of other video game main characters with an enormous amount of repressed memories that are instrumental the unlocking the ultimate mysteries of saving/destroying the world/universe. When she isn't having melancholy flashbacks or prophetic visions, she does research for an interstellar corporate behemoth called Vector Industries. More specifically, she works on artificial intelligence. She wears some stylish glasses that disappear and reappear by the push of a button as well as a spiffy yellow and red uniform. While extremely intelligent and strong willed, Shion is also slightly clumsy and lacks common sense.
All RPG heroes need some sort of overexaggerated weapon, and Shion is no exception. She has a wicked mechanical contraption called the M.W.S. It's kind of like a set of brass knuckles except that it not only has claws, pincers, flame throwers, anti-matter projectors and laser beams but also covers her entire right arm.
KOS-MOS - (5'6'' / 203lbs / looks 18 years old) KOS-MOS is a completely mechanical form of artificial life. In the time of Xenosaga, there are plenty of half human/half robot hybrids with varying degrees of humanity, but KOS-MOS is the only completely mechanical one with a considerable degree of intelligence. She operates on the principles of logic, probability and success of completing her mission. This robotic behavior causes quite a few conflicts between herself and Shion, who is her co-creator. KOS-MOS has long bluish pink hair, wears a metalic white vest, sports a pair of pistols on both sides of her hips and has incredible big, cute anime eyes. She's quite the kawaii character. Also, she's somehow connected with unlocking the ultimate powers of saving/destroying the universe as her other creator died without telling Shion all of her capabilities.
The name KOS-MOS denotes not only the robot girl, but her whole arsenal of weapons and programs as well. It stands for "Kosmos Obey Strategic Multiple Operations Systems" ...Yeah, I think they just put a bunch random words together to get a cool acronym, too.
Ziggy - (6'3'' / ?lbs / 98 years old) Ziggy's former name was Jan Sauer before he died and his body was recycled for scientific experimentation. As a Ziggurat 8 combat cyborg owned by the interstellar federation government, Ziggy wishes only for the death of his human side. As the bodyguard to MOMO, another main character, he is completely devoted to her protection. The only biologically human part of Ziggy left is his permanently terse face and his slick blond hair. The rest of his hulking body is human in form, but mechanical underneath his smooth blue outfit and ridiculous large metal shoes.
MOMO - (4'8'' / 79lbs / 12 years old) MOMO is a prototype "Realian," which a synthetically created human. In the Xenosaga federation government Realians have human rights, but they are still perceived by many as less than human. MOMO is a very powerful Realian created by a Joachim Mizrahi, your run of the mill "mad scientist." MOMO plays a Pinocchio role as she realizes she isn't quite the same as other humans, but wishes to be like them. She's constantly searching for approval from her mother, Juli Mizrahi. In a fitting contrast, Ziggy, her bodyguard wishes to get rid of his humanity, while she wishes to embrace it. MOMO looks like a normal little girl with a blue and white outfit, shoulder length hair and leg length white boots. There are also the bubble like receptor things coming off the side of her head to show her Realian nature.
generic-man says "'Momo' is Japanese for 'peach,' and is frequently used as a female character name." One of the main antagonists has a sort of twisted obession with MOMO and repeatedly calls her "ma peché" ("my peach" in French). I didn't know that while playing through the game, but that nickname makes a lot more sense now.
chaos - (5'7'' / 117lbs / ? years old) Yes, his name is indeed uncapitolized. Don't why ask me why. That's just how it is. chaos is quite the mysterious figure. While every other character gets at least some sort of background information over the course of the game, chaos is left completely in the dark except for some enigmatic scenes near the end of the game. His personality is painfully polite and friendly. His face is constantly sad and searching. There is some evidence that he has some major role to play in later Episodes of the Xenosaga series although he doesn't do much in this game in terms of plot development. He has bright silver hair, translucent blue eyes, dark skin, and wears a black suit with orange and blue shoulder pads and shoes.
Junior - (4'7'' / 84lbs / looks 12 years old) Junior, or just Jr., begins Xenosaga shrouded in mystery, but compared to the elusive explanation for chaos, his background is fleshed out quite a bit more. He looks to be a young teenager, but is treated as an adult whose body stopped growing by those who know him. As one of two directors of an autonomous state called the Kukai Foundation, he is obviously more than just a boy. He has a weird gun toting cowboy/philosopher personality; excessively cocky but smarter than an average joe. Collecting ancient guns and literature (basically stuff from our modern times) is his hobby. He has bright red hair, carries two pistols, wears a black robe and has some nifty mysterious powers.
Points of interest
Note that this is not a synopsis of the story. I figure anyone who really wants who's interest in the details of Xenosaga's story is going to go through it and those that aren't interesting don't want to read it anyway. Spoilers stack up pretty quickly beyond what I put in the overview anyway. Most of this section is my ideas about this game that struck me about the subjects of sci-fi aspects, and the numerous religious references.
The religious references
- The depths of the universe
The sci-fi aspect of Xenosaga very, very deep. There is so much sci-fi jargon and mecha terms flying around that Namco graciously made a whole dictionary of 200+ words available through the menu screen that explains terminology in addition to giving literary and etymological origins of words, names and phrases. It's quite helpful, as obscure acronyms are used almost as much as in a bad Tom Clancy novel. While I recognize that all of Xenosaga's radical ideas about anything futuristic have already occurred to Orson Scott Card, George Lucas and the Trekkies, there are some very interesting concepts the game presents:
The Unus Mundus Network (UMN) is one. The UMN is a faster than light communications network that basically serves as this universe's internet. The name Unus Mundus, which means "one world," comes from the psychiatrist Carl Jung's idea of a state where all physical paradoxes can be explained. Emails, news and space travel all rely on the universal spanning UMN. Unlike the internet we know today, there is a centralized command center for the UMN which is a sort of Holy Grail for hax0rs in the Xenosaga universe.
The malicious alien race, the Gnosis, are another highlight. Although there are many types of Gnosis, they all share the common feature of hostility towards mankind. In their natural forms, they are transparent as ghosts and cannot be harmed as they actually hail from a separate dimension of existence. Many of their forms are named after mythological creatures they resemble like fairy, unicorn and golem. The bad news for humanity is that they can easily interact with the reality we perceive. Basically that means the Gnosis can rip the skulls out of humans, while humans can't even touch them. The good news for humanity is that two of the heroes of Xenosaga (KOS-MOS and MOMO) are equipped with the latest technology that draws the Gnosis into our familiar dimension. That means everything from 8 hit combos to Hadokens to bullets to tasers to dropkicks to kamikaze space ships can be busted out on their crazy 5th dimensional alien asses!
- And of course, how can you go wrong with giant robots? Xenosaga's brand of mecha is called A.G.W.S. (pronounced "eggs") which stands for "Anti-Gnosis Weapons System". They are highly similar to the kind of pilotable giant robots found in its predecessor, Xenogears, as well as in mecha anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion or RahXephon. Unfortunately, these mechs don't play an integral role to the story. They are, however, integrated into the battle system surprisingly well.
Possibly one of the most controversial parts of Xenosaga as well as its predecessor Xenogears is the numerous religious overtones found in the game. Nearly anything or anyone important in the game has a name that alludes to the Bible or other facets of Judeo-Christian tradition.
"Ye shall be as gods" is Shion's password for her personal computer. This is especially fitting, as one of the major themes in the series is bad guys trying to become/build a god through the power of the Zohar.
The Zohar is the central piece to the entire series of Xenosaga. It is a golden rectangular monolith that holds the ultimate power of the universe. Whoever can find and control the Zohar pretty much has all of the space-time continuum under their thumb. The word Zohar is the name of an integral book to the Jewish mysticism of Klabbah.
Because the Zohar is power itself and produces massive energy and everything, humanity decided they needed a few more. So a few scientists built twelve other imitation Zohars called Emulators. Each of the emulators has name: Peter, Andrew, James, John, Phillip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James (yeah, that's two),Thaddeus, Simon and Matthius. Sound familiar? Ha! I bet you can't guess what the true Zohar is named! I'll give you a clue... It's not what you expect. The true Zohar is named Marienkind. That name comes from one of Grimm's Fairy Tales and means "Son of Mary" in German.
One of the more mysterious and ethereal characters is named Nephilim, which is the offspring of a human and a fallen angel.
One of the main characters, Ziggy, is a Ziggurat 8 combat cyborg. Ziggurats are temples resembling pyramids, except with receding stories instead of smooth sides. Babylonians, Assyrians and Meso-American civilizations built these buildings for sacrifices and rituals.
One of the characters has a big red 666 permanently scrawled right across his palm. This number is mentioned in Revelations 13:18 of the Bible and is commonly associated with being the Antichrist, the ASCII value of Bill Gates' name, and many other evil things. Ironically, the character in question is one of the good guys trying to save the universe from destruction.
Also, it's easy to notice how often many of the characters grow angel wings during special attacks in battle and metaphysical cut scenes like flashbacks and prophesies.
There are loads more religious imagery and allusion used, but I've forgotten much of it as the game's plot gets fairly thick as it progresses.
The game play is pretty much divided into two sections: walking around and fighting. There are four huge mini games, two of which are quite impressive.
- Walking around
This is where most of the game takes place. In traditional RPG style, all the characters in your group are represented by one avatar, which is Shion by default. Shion can walk, run, blow things up, press buttons, talk to people, open chests, climb ladders and ride elevators. Many of the items are actually not hidden in treasure boxes, bu are in crates instead. Early in the game, Shion gets a laser gun that blows up crates by pressing the square button. There are few puzzles in the game, most of which can be boiled down to "What order do I blow up the crates in?" Battles are not random; they are started by touching the enemies like in Chrono Cross or Earthbound. Blowing up certain crates full of chemicals nearby the enemies helps either avoid fighting or gives a bonus during the battle.
The battle system is very comparable to the one in Xenogears. When characters get a turn, they have basically can attack twice with two main options: a short range physical attack (square button) or a long range magical attack (triangle button). Every character has variations of this; for example, Jr. has two guns, so both square and triangle make him shoot. Characters can save up energy by defending or only attacking once, then unleashing it for a super attack that is equivalent to Xenogears' deathblows. There is a whole set of individual magic spells for each character as well. There are a variety of magics: healing spells, elemental attack spells, support spells and so on.
The game's mechs, or A.G.W.S., are integrated very well into the battle system. Characters can jump in or out of their giant robots at the cost of a turn. A.G.W.S. have large amounts of HP and attack power, but are very slow. They operate on the same square or triangle attack button as the characters except without the super attacks. There are situations where it's useful to use them and situations where it can kill you to use them. I found this to be a great improvement over Xenogears where it was always better to be inside your mech whenever possible. It added a certain strategic aspect to when to jump in the mechs or even if mechs were needed to defeat the enemy.
I'd have to say the best part of the game play was the incredibly hard bosses. It has been quite a long time since an RPG challenged me to think a turn based battle through with strategy. The challenge was a welcome change to the cakewalk game play of recent times. By giving bosses absurdly powerful attacks while reducing the heroes damage to nothing, Xenosaga became the hardest game since latest generation of consoles began.
- Mini games
Xenosaga has four mini games accessible through specific save points.
Slots and poker are the only two games to play in the casino. Coins can be won and exchanged for some killer prizes, but the casino isn't a very fun mini game overall. Once all the good prizes are won, there's no thrill or incentive to continue gambling.
- Drill Game
The drill game is very similar to the casino as it becomes boring once all the prizes are won. To be brief, you press the square button to move a drill up, let go, press it again to move it left, let go, and watch it crush boxes beneath it. Inside the boxes are prizes. Whoopee.
- A.W.G.S. Fighter
Ah, now this is a very well done mini game! It's a complete two player 3-D fighting game based off the gear battling in Xenogears (except the mechs are A.G.W.S. in Xenosaga). You get a plethora of fighting moves and weapons for mech, then try to beat the health bar out of the other mech you're fighting. It's not as fun of a fighter as say, Super Smash Bros. or Soul Calibur, but it's nothing to be ashamed of for being a mini game.
Xenocard is another very developed mini game. It's a pseudo collectable card game that mirrors Magic: The Gathering. Many aspects of it imitate magic, like attack and defense power for fighting cards and abilities to draw more cards or counter the opponents cards. Approximately different 150 cards with different attack powers and abilities can be found while wandering through the game in a sort of "Gotta catch 'em all!" fashion. There's no prizes to win by playing, but it's a fun diversion if you can wade through all the rules to get to the meat of the game.
Who would like/dislike this game
Gamers that would probably like Xenosaga are fans of anime (especially mecha anime), console RPGs (especially Final Fantasy and Xenogears), science fiction (especially Star Wars) and robots (especially giant robots). It's packed full of character development, gigantic conspiracies, religious overtones, space battles, freaky flashbacks and much more.
Gamers that probably wouldn't like Xenosaga are those that value game play above story. Xenosaga's cut scenes are tremendously long and frequent. It wouldn't surprise me if some people found them unbearable and over excessive. The battle system, which is a large portion of the game play, doesn't become interesting until about 1/4 through the game when some over powered bosses force the player to get creative with the strategies.
Personally, I thought Xenosaga was an overall good game except for two key points: it isn't Xenogears and the undeniable fact the game was made to spawn sequels. I had immense exceptions for this game as Xenogears is one of my all time favorites. When I realized it wasn't going to be quite as revolutionary as its predecessor, I was disappointed. The other thing that bugged me was how the entire game was designed specifically so four sequels filling in the space between Xenosaga and Xenogears could follow it. Alas, I should have known considering the title of the game says it's Episode ONE. However, the challeging game play, the thickly woven plot and the ever wonderful giant robots make arguably one of the best RPGs for Playstation 2.
Update 1/19/04: After nearly a year of retrospect, Xenosaga has really fallen out of my favor. This "thickly woven plot" I speak of seems very shallow and melodramatic looking back while considering the voice acting. The voice talents and their dubbing were terrible enough to make anyone cringe. And as I noted earlier, it doesn't hold a candle to Xenogears. In short, it just doesn't hold the mystique it did as soon as I finished it. I think my lengthy write up above may have even been an attempt at justification for buying such an unsatisfying game. I don't plan on buying Xenosaga Episode II and kind of view the entire six part series as a big scam. It is assuredly an interesting game, but IMO, it isn't necessarily a "good" game. For me, it definitely didn't stand the test of time. Of course, YMMV...
This write-up complies with the E2 FAQ: Video Games standards.
Playing the game