This is how I was introduced to “Xenosaga.”
Now, I love a good RPG that I can sink my teeth into and play to my heart’s content. The only reason I picked up “Xenosaga” was that the attendant at the GameStop that I was in told me that I wouldn’t like it because it was probably too hard for me. That was as good as a dare in my book and I even bought its sequel.
“Xenosaga” has an intriguing concept. The opening sequence shows you the discovery of something called a Zohar. The game then flashes forward into the future where you are introduced to Shion. She is a scientist who is in charge of the KOS-MOS project, which is in fact a Cyborg who has been outfitted for battle against a hostile alien force-the Gnosis. KOS-MOS is the only model of her kind and has been completely rebuilt and reworked several times, the most significant time being after her first activation where she went nuts and killed most of the original research team. Shion was one of the few that survived the incident; however her boyfriend Kevin was killed.
The Gnosis are aliens that have devastated humanity, appearing throughout several instances in history. However, they exist in another location separate from humanity – the “imaginary plane.” This can only be countered by KOS-MOS, who has been outfitted with the “Hilbert effect” a wave that draws the Gnosis into the human plane.
Separating itself somewhat from this interesting story is the gameplay, as the game runs like a standard RPG. You are assigned a character that you can use as your avatar. Your initial character provided (and this stays consistent for most of the game) is Shion. Most of the storyline is based upon her, the revelation of her secrets and how they affect the rest of the universe.
Like most RPGs, “Xenosaga” relies on a turn-based gameplay system. Your party consists of three main players, or “fighters,” while the other people in the party act as “hanger ons” until you decide to throw them in to give them some experience points.
Or if you’re like me, you keep some people around because you like watching them die and switch out the rest.
Each character is outfitted with a boost gauge that increases whenever a character attacks and, going by a battle’s progression, it could either fill quickly or not at all. A character can use up to three boost commands in a battle. This runs the gauntlet from stealing to boosting up an attack.
To help a character out, huge mech robotic fighting machines that can be piloted by basically the “humans” of the group, kindly entitled A.G.W.S. units. While they are accessible during all battles, no one really knows where they are stored when not in use. This can be chalked up as one of Xenosaga’s great mysteries (as if the storyline didn’t have enough).
These can be summoned to either help out in a battle or when you are so sick of looking at a character that you would rather look at a robot. [cough…sparkly, perpetually, cheerful characters…cough] Note that if the character dies while in the robot, A.G.W.S. it will not disappear, so instead of looking at a sprawled dead body, you can stare at a broken down robot instead.
What makes “Xenosaga” hard (hard to get, hard to play, hard to even look at half the time) is the fact that the storyline is so weird.
The cut scenes get progressively more oblique and leave you as lost as you were when you went into it. For an opening sally to a trilogy, episode one just leaves you thinking “huh” throughout most of the game and straight through, till the ending.
While there are intriguing characters that are introduced, their motives and they, themselves, remain murky. While hints and clues are dropped all around, they are never fully developed.
As a result, you have an investment in time and energy that ends up breaking your heart. All the challenging battles and all the puzzles you face for just a small glimpse into the world and in the end, you’re none the wiser than you were before.
Sad, but unfortunately in this case, true as well.