Nine years ago today, I went to a Gamestop to pick up my preorder for Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra. While in line, the girl in front of me was also picking up her preorder of the game (which mystified me, seeing as I had never really met someone in real life that also played the series). Her boyfriend was right beside her, looking bored out of his mind. The clerk joked around with her, saying she should be getting the new Disgaea game instead. “I have to finish the story!” she said with a laugh. She handled the situation well.
After she took her copy of the game, I requested for mine. “You know, you should be getting the new Disgaeainstead,” the clerk said, pulling the same joke on me as the last customer. Silence. A moment passed, things got awkward, so the clerk went and got the copy of Xenosaga for me. I didn’t mean to be a jerk. I was a junior in high school, quiet and awkward as can be, and small talk was never my forte. But especially that moment, for that game, even joking about getting a different game seemed ludicrous to me. He gave me my game and, as I was about to leave, I asked, “Where is the preorder art book?”
“Sorry, we ran out.” With a small fanbase like Xenosaga and how few people in my area probably played the game, I cried “bullshit” in my mind, but I carried on. I should have gotten the cool lenticular covered version at Best Buy instead (it was in my hands at one point), but my preorder had been set. Buying the game twice had crossed my mind, but since I only had so much money from my summer job, one copy would have to suffice.
|If only I bought two copies!|
By now, you must be wondering what kind of video game would turn me into such a jerk, to such a slave that I would buy two copies of the same game. Well, Xenosaga isn’t just a video game; it’s been my life support, my social circle, and an inspiration. If you’ve known me for a while, you are aware of the significance that Xenosaga has had on my life. If you haven’t known me long, then, hey, here’s something that will let you know a little more about me
and then you can run away.
The first game, Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht (gotta love these Nietzsche titles that are actually relevant to the game), came out on the PS2 back in 2003. I was waiting for Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, which seemed like it would never come out (it probably shouldn’t have). I saw a review for Xenosaga in an issue of Official Playstation Magazine (RIP, I still have a ton of issues stashed away), so I was intrigued. Yes, I mostly wanted an RPG to pass the time until the next Tomb Raider came out (I was also stuck in middle school hell, so escape was mandatory), but what I got was something much, much more.
The story alone is chock full of themes of identity, existence, with references to Nietzsche (duh) and even 2001: A Spacey Odyssey, but like my obsession with Evangelion, I fell madly in love with the characters. At the time of its release, female protagonists in RPGs were very few, and Shion Uzuki turned out to be a female protagonist that, well, wasn’t overly sexualized.
|Shion Uzuki, as she appears in Episode I|
At the age of 22, she had already become a high-ranking scientist for the conglomerate Vector Industries. Needless to say, she was smart. She was caring. Though Vector uniforms looked a bit snug for ladies, she dressed pretty modestly. She even wore glasses and had, as I liked to deem it, a chipmunk look about her. But I think that was a problem with Kunihiko Tanaka’s art style not transitioning well to 3D (I sadly have the same feelings for Xenoblade Chronicles X, though I’m not as anal about it as a lot of people have been). And Shion was a nerd for video games (well, you only find this out from a shameless sidequest from Episode I where you try to collect emails advertising other Namco games from 2003). Despite the changes to her character after the first game (she became a tad more attractive in Episode II but at the cost of her intelligence, imo, and Episode III…well, look at that outfit), Shion was a complex protagonist with her own strengths along with her own insecurities.
And then there was KOS-MOS, the android you either loved to death or despised because she had more figurines than your favorite character. I think my love for anything with robots and androids started with KOS-MOS.
|KOS-MOS, as she appears in Episode I|
In the game, KOS-MOS was an android (gynoid if you want to be uber technical) specifically built to combat the Gnosis, a race of mysterious aliens that existed mostly in another dimension. I say mostly because they could interact with us in their quasi state of being, but we couldn’t interact with them, leading to humans being killed and Gnosis going untouched by conventional weapons. It was KOS-MOS’s job to basically grab the Gnosis out of their dimension (using the Hilbert Effect) and fully bring them into ours. Anyway, I fell in love with her right away. Whether she was kicking alien ass or doing dishes, KOS-MOS lit up a scene (literally in the former, figuratively in the latter). Sure, she was cold, calculating, but you knew she had a soul deep down. I suppose it has become a cliché in anime, movies, games, etc. for the android character to become self-aware and develop emotions, but her relationship with Shion really divided her from the cliché. Not quite sisters, not quite mother-daughter, their relationship was sweet if but painful in the end. I won’t naysay the shippers, but I never thought of the two in that way. I’m horrible and ship chaosXKOS-MOS, after all.
Anyway, KOS-MOS has become Xenosaga’s legacy after it ended nine years ago. KOS-MOS has appeared in countless games as a cameo character, from the Tales series to Project X Zone (as of this writing, I haven’t heard if she has been confirmed for the sequel or not). She has many figurines based on her many forms, which I will admit to having a small collection. KOS-MOS embodies Xenosaga now, whether you love or loathe the fact. I’m okay with it, seeing as she is one of my favorite characters of the series, but every time I see her, the feeling is bittersweet, like seeing an old friend in passing and only having the time to wave at them.
|My Xeno Shrine|
Getting back to the series characters, a character I loved and didn’t really expect was the villain Albedo. Albedo was the twin brother of Jr., a party member, but they were really part of an army of clones to battle the god-like entity known as U-DO. Albedo and Jr. were special in themselves as they were born from the same surrogate womb, attached at the back. Albedo depended on his brother. After finding out he had the knack of being immortal, he sobbed uncontrollably after learning that his brother was a mere mortal. “If you die, I want to die too!”
During a battle with their fated enemy, Jr. disconnected from his brothers and the power of U-DO became overwhelming. Albedo was stricken with madness and developed a vendetta against his brother. He became vengeful of MOMO, another party member who was created after the image of Sakura, a girl Jr. loved. Througout the series, you develop mixed feelings for Albedo, but you eventually learn his one true desire is to be one with his brother again. As a twin myself (sorry for bringing up that fact constantly), I could really relate to Albedo and his plight to be close with his brother. When I originally played Xenosaga, my brother was one of my few friends. To go through the same things as Albedo scared me. Even if he was crazy as can be, I felt the closest to Albedo than most characters.
There are more characters to talk about: there’s chaos, the mysterious character who taught me that everyone is talented at something (though, I don’t think my talent is killing aliens with a single touch); Jin, the “samurai” of the series but also the doting brother of Shion; and Allen, who probably matches me most in personality than any other character (he’s a clutz that everyone makes fun of). However, I won’t bore you. The series has a ton of characters who are good, bad, and somewhere in-between (looking at you, Wilhelm). Though not everyone gets the proper spotlight (especially after Episode I), each character is written with such detail and distinct personalities that you can’t help feeling something about each one.
With Xenosaga, I entered my first online community. Granted, I did visit the IGN forums back in the day along with the Baten Kaitos (another great game by Monolithsoft) forums, but the place I really felt like I was part of a community was the Xenosaga forum called Xenolegacy. I made online friends for the first time. I still remember the first time I cautiously entered a chat room. I felt like I belonged, I had people I could relate to (again, not a lot of people in my vicinity IRL knew of or cared for Xenosaga). I was a stupid teenager, so I know I pissed off people with my angst, but the friends I did make I will always cherish. Along with the community, I helped moderate another Xenosaga forum (well, in title only, I was kind of a crappy mod), and I helped code the English translation of XenoComi, a visual novel that never released outside of Japan) using Ren’Py and with the help of Kare_Reiko and several other fans (though, to this day, we still haven’t finished the project; it might be dead). Even today, long after Xenolegacy was shut down and replaced with some World of Warcraft blog or whatever (don’t go there now, it’s weird, like a bunch of links), I still take part in Xenosagaforums, though not as much as I used to. The friendship got me through difficult times, from middle school to college, and I hope I helped other people as well.
This nine year anniversary of Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra comes with great memories and heartache. Nine years without a new game in the series, the anniversary of its death. The series was originally planned to be six episodes long, spanning various console generations and casts of characters, though KOS-MOS would always be there along with chaos (ha, you can’t have order without chaos…I’ll show myself out). But, due to declining sales with each installment and changes behind the scenes (staff members juggled around, the cowriter Soraya Saga being fired), the series was cut short.
I soaked in as much of the final game as possible, originally beating it in two weeks and five days, 64 hours, 18 minutes, and 58 seconds of game time (yes, I memorized these numbers for no good reason). I even woke up at 5 a.m. one day just so I could read the game’s database before heading to school. The ending to Episode III itself is bittersweet. Every time a character said, “We’ll meet again,” I choked up a little. I was saying goodbye to a group of friends I had known for many years.
I miss the series every day. The movement for an HD rerelease fizzled out about as fast as I expected. Though the petition grew to 10,000, it did so slowly and acknowledged the fact that us Xenosaga fans are a dying breed. Who knows, maybe something will happen with the series someday, but I’m a pessimist at heart. I’m glad the series creator, Tetsuya Takahashi, is still able to create games. With the purchase of Monolithsoft by Nintendo, the company has had great success with Xenoblade Chronicles and X looks absolutely amazing.
Xenosaga will always be there, perfect yet flawed. I’m thankful for the series, the people who wrote it, the company that developed it, and the community of fans it spawned. Though I may not talk about it as much as I used to, the series will never leave my heart. Thank you, Xenosaga.