Xenogears

Tagged: Game

Videogame (1998). Square. Designed by Tetsuya Takahashi. Platforms: PS1.

Xenogears is a Console Role Playing Game (see Computer Role Playing Games) which is played in a three-dimensional perspective. It is more adult in tone than earlier Japanese CRPGs such as Chrono Trigger (1995), with a player character tortured by guilt over the accidental death of his friends and a strong concern with Gnostic theology (see Religion); the game's treatment of these themes is reminiscent of the television series Shinseiki Evangelion (1995-1996). Xenogears is set on Ignas, a human colony world in the distant future, where a war between two technologically primitive nations has recently been exacerbated by the excavation of ancient human pilotable bipedal Robots, or "gears". The main player character, Fei Fong Wong, who has no memories before the age of 15, soon discovers a war gear and destroys his village while trying to save it. Fleeing the scene, he finds himself pursued by mysterious forces. The well-drawn characters operate within a strongly linear plot (see Interactive Narrative); Xenogears is one of the few Videogames to employ flashforwards. Ultimately, it emerges that the humans of Ignas were created by the Deus, an alien power source which had been built into a weapon and become trapped on the planet after a spacecraft crash. The Deus, which resembles the evil Demiurge of the Gnostics, intends to absorb humanity in order to create a new body for itself and escape to the stars. The player must help Wong reintegrate his ego, superego and id, which were fragmented by the childhood trauma that cost him his memory, before he can defeat the Deus, with the assistance of a remote, unknowable cosmic intelligence referred to as the "Wave Existence". Various characters are available for the player to recruit into their group, including one with whom Wong has a strong romantic subplot. Gameplay involves a mix of exploration, puzzle solution, combat and character interaction; combat in Xenogears was considered innovative for its use of two separate systems, one for humans and one for gears. While the linearity of the narrative can seem confining, it is unarguable that Xenogears has a powerfully symbolic story to tell, and guides the player through it with skill. It remains an impressive demonstration of what can be achieved with Videogame storytelling.

The Xenosaga series could be described as a reimagining of a Xenogears prequel that was never made. Following creative disagreements, many of the original game's developers left Square to start their own company, where they created Xenosaga: Episode I – Der Wille zur Macht (2002 Monolith Soft [MS], PS2), Xenosaga: Episode II – Jenseits von Gut und Böse (2004 MS, PS2) and Xenosaga: Episode III – Also Sprach Zarathustra (2006 MS, PS2), all designed by Tetsuya Takahashi. The subtitles are the names of two books and a collection of posthumously published writings by Friedrich Nietzsche, in the original German; Xenosaga's world view synthesizes concepts from Nietzschean philosophy, Christian theology and Carl Jung's theories of the human psyche into an interesting, if rather pretentious, whole. While it is not entirely consistent with Xenogears, the series shares much of the first game's Future History and core concerns. The games are set in a scientifically advanced and richly imagined galactic civilization after the loss of Earth, during an attack by a mysterious enemy called the "Gnosis". A variety of appealing characters, many of them Androids or Cyborgs, become involved in a conspiratorial struggle against their ethereal adversaries, using human-piloted "Anti Gnosis Weapon Systems". Gameplay is similar to Xenogears, but the story development is significantly more controlled, to the extent that playing through Xenosaga involves watching the equivalent of an entire series of (expertly constructed) Anime. The three games form a single continuing story; at the end of the last episode it is revealed that the Gnosis are the wills of dead humans who have rejected the universe and each other, who emerge from a shadow reality to attack the living. Ultimately, the universe is saved in a moment of Transcendence.

Related works: Xenosaga (2005) is an Anime based on Der Wille zur Macht, with significant differences. Xenosaga: Pied Piper (2004 MS, Phone) is a CRPG which serves as a prequel to the Xenosaga games, focusing on the early life of one of the series' major characters. It has only been released in Japan. Xenosaga I+II (2006 MS, NDS), also only available in Japan, is a remake of Der Wille zur Macht and Jenseits von Gut und Böse, using a two-dimensional overhead view. [NT]

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