An Introduction to Xenosaga Episode I
Xenosaga is a series of 3 games released by Namco Bandai (the folks behind .dot//Hack, Tekken, and the PS3 exclusive, Ni No Kuni) that tells the story of a universe some 2000 years in the future. Developed by Monolith Soft as the spiritual sequel/prequel to the cult hit, Xenogears, Xenosaga features a complex story line, interesting characters, and enough religious symbolism to make conservative gamers tremble. The game is full of secret bosses, plenty of side stories, mini- games, and above all, a great cast with some incredible villains. A case could be made that the first episode of Xenosaga was so ambitious and well done, that it killed the series. I’ll explain more of that in a bit. Now that you have a basic understanding of what Xenosaga is, let’s get a quick story crash course for you folks.
Xenosaga Episode I: Dur Wille zur Macht (The Will to Rule) opens up on present day Earth. An archaeological team is digging for something, when they find a strange object. The object has a small insertion for a sort of key. The man heading up the project just so happens to have the key and places it in the slot. Light shoots across the ground and a mysterious object rises from the ocean.
KOS-MOS is a battle android capable of fighting the Gnosis by bringing them into our dimension making them bleed like the rest of us. Shion Uzuki is the Chief Director of Vector’ 1st R&D Division, making her the lead of the KOS-MOS project. With the military pressing her for activation tests, Shion is very reluctant to comply and hopes she never has to activate KOS-MOS. Things quickly go downhill when the Gnosis show up and KOS-MOS automatically activates bypassing all fail safes. This is how the grand, epic tale of Xenosaga begins.
So did that seem confusing? Don’t worry, that very brief introduction is the only simple thing about this story. What makes this story so great is it’s detail. A massive encyclopedia is included in game for explanations and back story if you ever want to know more. Huge corporations attempt to balance themselves between governments, religious fanatics fight for their beliefs, alien attacks continue to weaken humanity, and science is in the business of creating God. All of this is going on in the background, affecting your journey to simply survive. After the first game, your goal becomes much larger as the villains goals come to light.
Now, why do I love it? It’s the way the story progresses. There is never that one big twist that many RPGs use. It’s a collection of a bunch of small, little twists that keep the story fresh and interesting. Xenosaga Episode I stays fresh during the entire 30+ hour journey. Whether it be government betrayal, religious crusades, or the mystery surrounding Earth and Milita (a planet) fates, there is always something to ponder. Which brings me to my next point about the game.
A great story can only carry a game so far. You need great characters in the story to push it along. Xenosaga Episode I introduces a ton of incredible characters. We get the strange boy in chaos (lowercase c) who seems to save the day and know more about KOS-MOS than he should, the religious fanatic Margulis who acts as the military leader for U-Tic (a religious organization), Albedo, the crazy laughing maniac who cuts off his own head to scare a little Realian (artificial human), and KOS-MOS, the battle android who for some reason has a will of her own.
Over the course of the first game we learn a lot about these characters, but end up with more questions than answers. I was on the edge of my seat trying to piece together the giant jigsaw puzzle of a story and how the characters fit in to everything for the duration of the first game. It captured me, and had me reading every encyclopedia article in the game. I had to know more. As a history buff, Xenosaga’s lore was my newest fixation. Great story aside, Xenosaga also had to do something else to keep me playing instead of looking up the story online. That something is gameplay.
Xenosaga Episode I features your typical Turn Based battles. You have two rows to use four characters with. Placement is key since back row characters do less damage, but also take less damage. Front row character are the opposite. So it comes as no surprise that correct placement of your party can make or break battles for you. Another key part of battles is the Boost system. Lets say you use a physical attack. If you have enough Action Points (the points that allow you to attack) saved up and the ticker at the bottom of the screen is on a physical icon, you can boost into an extra turn. This allows you to string multiple attacks together doing more damage. However, the enemy can boost too, so you have to plan when to use your boost and how to use it. If you aren’t the battle type, you’re in luck. There are no random battles. Enemies walk around on screen and only engage in battle if they touch you. Obviously you want to fight to gain experience to level up, or bosses will annihilate you.
As you level up, you can add new attacks to your arsenal and create specialized party members. For example, KOS-MOS was my main attacker. She was leveled in a way to allow for her to deal a ton of damage and a solid amount. Shion was a support attacker. She could heal and buff, but also deal some damage. On the flip side, she could not take much damage.
You get to choose how to fight your battles and the battles feel fair. I never found myself thinking, “Well that was dumb” or “Bullcrap!” during battles. Everything about them is designed well. The battle system is very easy to learn and some complain that it is shallow. I personally love it because it is simple. It lets the story do all the strange and new things while it acts as a constant. It does not take the focus away from where it should be, the story and characters.
As I’ve stated before, Xenosaga Episode I leaves you with more questions than answers and wanting even more story. Luckily there exists something out there to give you hope for answers.
To be continued…