Wednesday, June 22, 2011

THEPLAYGAMER3: Xenogears



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Xenogears (ゼノギアス Zenogiasu?) is a science-fiction console role-playing game developed and published by Square (now Square Enix) for Sony's PlayStation. It was released on February 11, 1998 in Japan and on October 20, 1998 in North America. The game was never released in PAL territories. It was re-released by Square Enix as a Greatest Hits title in 2003, and on the PlayStation Network on June 25, 2008 in Japan and on February 22, 2011 in North America.

Xenogears follows protagonist Fei Fong Wong and several others as they journey to uncover the truth behind mysterious, cabalistic entities operating in their world. The principles and philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Jacques Lacan influence the plot, character design, and world of Xenogears. Additionally, the symbols, theological concepts, and devotional practices of several world religions are represented in fictionalized forms in the game. Major psychological themes are the nature of identity and human memory, particularly as these relate to the phenomenon of dissociative identity disorder. The relationship between humanity and machines is central to the game's plot, as indicated by the presence of giant robots dubbed "gears," which almost each playable character can control.

Overall, Xenogears was well-received by critics, with a 91% rating on Game Rankings and a score of 83 out of 100 at Metacritic. It was voted the 16th best video game of all time by readers of Famitsu in 2006. Xenogears has shipped 1.19 million copies worldwide as of March 31, 2003.

Gameplay

Xenogears combines traditional console role-playing game structures such as Square's signature Active Time Battle system with new features particular to the game's martial-arts combat style. It features two slightly different battle systems: in the first the user controls human characters in turn-based combat manipulated through the sequencing of learned combos. The second, making use of "gears," introduces different sets of statistics and abilities for each character. Xenogears features both traditional anime and pre-rendered CGI movie clips by Production I.G to illustrate important plot points.

The player advances the protagonist and his companions through a fully three-dimensional fictional world. There is an overworld map with visitable cities, geographical sites, and other important locations spread out across several continents. A couple of locations encountered throughout the game exist not on the original world map, but in the sky. At first, the party only travels on foot, but is eventually permitted to make use of a variety of vehicles, including their gears and the "sand submarine" Yggdrasil.

Battle system

Battle in Xenogears is a variant of the Active Time Battle system found in games such as Chrono Trigger and the Final Fantasy series. Most enemy encounters in Xenogears are random. When a battle begins, there is a transition to a separate screen with a combat interface. Player-characters use a combination of martial arts moves, "Ether" (magical) attacks, and special "Deathblow" combinations which are learned through the repetition of specific proportions of strong, moderate, and weak hits. All offensive actions use Action Points (AP), costing either three points, two points, or one point, corresponding to the intensity of the attack. Each character can initially use only three AP per turn, but at higher levels, they can eventually use up to seven AP per turn. At a certain point in the game, characters can begin using "Elemental Deathblows," which, as the name implies, attach elemental attributes to physical combos. In addition to being used for attacks, AP may be saved and allocated to Attack Points for combo attacks during later turns. A total of 28 AP may be accumulated for combo attacks.

Characters can also use a variety of magical abilities for both offense and ally-support. These abilities are limited by the number of Ether Points (EP) that are available to a character, which must be replenished using items during exploration (non-combat) sequences. For most characters, these abilities are attributed to "Ether," a mysterious power to which (presumably) all humans have access. Some characters' magical abilities are referred to by different names, implying differences in their origins. For example, Fei's magic is called "Chi" and Citan's is called "Arcane". While fighting in gears, human Ether abilities are amplified, though some change or become unavailable during this type of combat.

Gear battle

In addition to small-scale, hand-to-hand combat, the characters sometimes fight from within their respective giant robots, called gears. In gear combat, the limiting factor of AP is replaced by fuel, with each attack consuming an amount corresponding to its power. For these battles, "deathblows" may only be executed after first building up the "Attack Level"--an abstract concept represented by a number in the bottom-left of the gear combat interface—through the execution of simple strong, moderate, or weak attacks. One deathblow is allowed per point on the Attack Level gauge. There are three levels for normal gear deathblows and, beyond the third level, an "infinite" level with its own set of deathblows. To reach Infinity Mode, a character has to stay at attack level 3 while performing any other action. With each turn, there is a chance that Infinity Mode will be reached. Having a duration of three turns, "Infinity Mode" allows fuel to be recharged in much larger quantities and, while in this mode, gears have access to "Infinity" attacks. This mode is actually referred to as "Hyper Mode" in-game through a little-known text read-out found in one of the bonus dungeons at the end of the game.

Gears can regain fuel with a "Charge" command. The gears can also activate "Boosters" which enable them to act faster at a cost of extra fuel per turn. The "Special Option" command allows for gear HP restoration abilities and special, fuel-consuming attacks. When a gear has no fuel left, it can no longer execute attacks, use special options, or use boosters. They can, however, Charge to regain fuel and use Ether abilities. Gear fuel, parts, and upgrades may be purchased in shops or from certain individual vendors.

Setting

Xenogears initially takes place on Ignas, the largest continent of the Xenogears world, and the site of a centuries-long war between the nations of Aveh and Kislev. A church-like organization known as the Ethos has excavated gears, ostensibly for the preservation of the world's culture. Although Kislev originally had the upper hand in the war, a mysterious army known as Gebler appeared and began to provide assistance to Aveh. With Gebler's help, the Aveh military not only recovered its losses, but began making its way into Kislev's territory. As the story unfolds, the setting broadens to encompass the entire world and the two floating countries, Shevat and Solaris. Solaris, ruled by Emperor Cain and the Gazel Ministry, commands the Gebler army and the Ethos and secretly uses both to dominate the land-dwellers. Shevat has been the only country to evade the control of Solaris.

Much of Xenogears plot and backstory is detailed in the Japanese-only book Xenogears Perfect Works. This book, produced by the now defunct DigiCube, details the history of the Xenogears universe from the discovery of the Zohar to the start of the game. According to the Perfect Works schematic (as well as the game's end credits), Xenogears is the fifth episode in a series of six.

Characters

Xenogears' nine playable characters hail from different areas of the game's world. The game begins on Ignas, a continent with two countries, Aveh and Kislev. Fei and Citan at first appear to be from this land, although it is later learned that they originate from the capital cities Aphel Aura and Etrenank of the floating countries of Shevat and Solaris, respectively. Fei is the story's protagonist, and has initially lost his memories of his past. Citan is a man whose knowledge of the world and technology often aids in the party's quest. Bart, a desert pirate, is also from Ignas and is the rightful heir to the throne of Aveh. Rico, a demi-human with incredible strength, lives in a Kislev prison, spending his days as a gear-battling champion. Solaris, a hidden city of advanced technology, is home to several characters in the game. Billy, a pious worker for the Ethos religious group, was originally from Solaris. Elly, a Gebler officer of Solaris, is destined to be near Fei and falls in love with him by the end of the game. Maria and Chu-Chu are both from Shevat, the floating city and the only place resisting Solaris' domination. Emeralda is a humanoid being constructed by an ancient civilization from a colony of nanomachines, and was retrieved from the ruins of the ancient civilization Zeboim. Significant non-playable characters include Krelian and Miang, both leaders of Solaris who seek to revive Deus, a mechanical god that fell to earth thousands of years ago. They serve as the game's main antagonists. Grahf, a mysterious man with immense power, follows Fei and his group and often fights them, though his goals remain a mystery until very late in the game. Fei, Elly, and Miang have been reincarnated several times throughout the game's history.

Story

Xenogears centers around the protagonist Fei Fong Wong, an adopted young male in the village, Lahan, brought by a mysterious "masked man" three years ago. The events surrounding Fei's arrival at the village cause him to have retrograde amnesia. During a battle between Gebler and Kislev forces taking place in Lahan, Fei pilots an empty gear named Weltall in an attempt to defend the village against both groups of gears. Witnessing the death of his friend during this battle causes a dormant personality within him to awaken, who then proceeds to destroy the entire village. Fei later awakens with no recollection of what happened and is told that he lost consciousness and that the gear then went berserk. As a result, Fei and Citan, the village's doctor, decide to leave with the abandoned gear to get it away from the surviving villagers. Fei meets Elly, a Gebler officer, and Grahf, who claims to know about Fei's past. Eventually, Fei and Citan are picked up by Bart, a desert pirate and heir to the throne of Aveh. Fei again loses control of himself inside his gear while elsewhere Bart and Citan are attacked by an unknown red gear. Fei wakes up in a Kislev prison and meets Wiseman, a mysterious masked man who originally brought Fei to Lahan. Fei is able to escape with the help of his friends, but he and Elly are separated from the rest of the party and accidentally shot down by Bart.

They are rescued by the Thames, a movable floating city. After learning Elly's whereabouts, Gebler attacks Thames to kidnap Elly and Miang, a Gebler officer, unsuccessfully brainwashes her. Ramsus, who holds a vendetta against Fei, attacks Thames, searching for him. Afterward, Billy, an Ethos worker onboard Thames, allows Fei to use the Ethos' advanced medical technology. Bishop Stone, Ethos' leader, reveals to the party Ethos's true purpose of controlling the land dwellers, or "Lambs", for Solaris. The group follows Stone to Zeboim, an excavation site. They discover a young girl composed of nanomachines, which is what Krelian, a Solarian leader, seeks. Stone takes the girl while the group fights Id, the mysterious red gear's pilot, who wants the girl, but is stopped by Wiseman. The group returns and finds Fei awake and standing at his gear with a case of retrograde amnesia. Fei and his friends decide to ally themselves with the floating city of Shevat, the only remaining city capable of resisting Solaris. When entering Solaris, they encounter Emeralda, the nanomachine colony. She attacks at first, but recognizes Fei, referring to him as "Kim", much to Fei's confusion. In Solaris, Fei learns that Citan has been working for Emperor Cain and that Solaris has been producing food and medicine out of recycled humans in the Soylent System facility. The party also learns that the Gazel Ministry seeks to revive Deus and achieve eternal life, while Krelian seeks to possess Elly. Back at Shevat, Citan informs his friends that Id is actually Fei's split personality.

The Gazel Ministry uses the Gaetia Key, an artifact that manipulates the DNA of massive amounts of humans around the world, turning them into mutants called Wels in order to collect flesh to reconstruct a god called Deus that crash-landed on the planet ten thousand years ago. During this time, Elly and Fei become romantically involved with each other. They learn that they are the reincarnations of Sophia and Lacan. Lacan was a painter while Sophia was the Holy Mother of Nisan around the time of the war between Shevat and Solaris five-hundred years earlier. Lacan blamed himself for Sophia's death during the war and, with the help of Miang, became Grahf and sought to destroy the world. Although defeated, he and Miang have transmigrated their minds into other humans since. Krelian and Miang dispose of the Emperor and the Gazel Ministry because they are no longer necessary and kidnap Elly, the Mother, who must be sacrificed in order to revive Deus. Miang is killed by an enraged Ramsus as he realizes he has been used, and Elly turns into Miang, becoming absorbed by Deus. Fei, as Id, attempts to make contact with the Zohar. Wiseman, who reveals himself to be Fei's father, stops him, giving peace to Fei's other personalities. Fei's gear transforms into the Xenogears and Grahf appears, revealing that he had been inside Fei's father's body. At this time, Fei makes contact with the Wave Existence—an extra-dimensional being who is trapped inside Deus and is the source of power for all gears—and learns that he must destroy Deus to free humanity. Grahf, who tries to merge with Fei, is defeated.

Fei discovers that he is a descendant of Abel, a young boy who was a passenger on board the Eldridge, a spaceship that was being used to transport Deus, the core of an interplanetary invasion system created by a federation of spacefaring humans, one that was deemed far too dangerous for use and was therefore dismantled and moved. Deus, however, had become self-aware and took over the Eldridge. Amidst the confusion, Abel was separated from his mother and accidentally made contact with the Wave Existence through the Zohar, Deus' power source. It gave him the power to one day destroy Deus and the Zohar in order to free itself. The Wave Existence also sensed Abel's longing for his mother and used the biological computer Kadomony to create a woman for a companion. When Deus gained full control over the Eldridge, the captain decided to initiate the self-destruct sequence in an attempt to destroy it. Both Deus and the Zohar survived the explosion and landed on a nearby planet along with Abel, under the protection of the Wave Existence. He was the sole survivor, but was soon united with the woman that the Wave Existence had created for him as a companion, Elly. Abel and Elly, at first, led a happy life, but Deus had also created Miang, Cain, and the Gazel Ministry to begin a human civilization on the planet, one which would be under their control to one day be turned into Wels and be absorbed into Deus to recover its strength. When the now-adult Abel and Elly discovered this, they openly challenged Cain and the Gazel Ministry, but lost. However, through the power of the Wave Existence, they are able to be reincarnated in later eras to combat Deus. One of these incarnations lived during an ancient technologically advanced era in Zeboim, where Abel's incarnation went by the name Kim and created Emeralda.

Fei sets out to destroy Deus and free the Wave Existence and Elly. In Merkaba, the party defeats Deus, but they realize that the energy released from the Wave Existence's shift will destroy the planet. Elly, inside Deus, tries to move it away from the planet and Fei, in his Xenogears, follows to save her, but both disappear in the rift. Krelian confronts them, telling Fei he only sought to end the pain and suffering that comes with human existence by reverting everything back to when it all began, when all was one, to ascend to the realm of God. Fei rejects Krelian's ideology with his love for Elly, but Krelian challenges Fei, telling him to prove this love that could make him independent of God, and calls forth Urobolus, a gigantic serpent-like incarnation of Miang. Xenogears appears and Fei uses it to defeat Urobolus. Krelian releases Elly and reveals to Fei that he had planned to become one with God along with Elly. During her time with Krelian, Elly had seen inside his heart and realized it was full of sadness and despair for all the atrocities he had committed. Despite everything, Elly says that Krelian truly loved people more than anyone else. Because no one will forgive his sins, he declines Fei's offer to return and ascends to a higher plane of existence along with the Wave Existence, telling Fei and Elly that he envies them. Fei and Elly then return to their planet along with Xenogears and reunite with the rest of the party.

Development

Xenogears was produced by Hiromichi Tanaka, who previously worked on the SNES game Secret of Mana. The scenario of the game was written by director Tetsuya Takahashi and by Kaori Tanaka. Yasuyuki Honne served as art director, while Kunihiko Tanaka was responsible for the character designs. Tetsuo Mizuno, Tomoyuki Takechi, and Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi were executive producers for Xenogears. Koichi Mashimo, an animator for Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion, was in charge of the anime cut scenes. Xenogears started out as an early concept conceived by Tetsuya Takahashi and Kaori Tanaka for the Square game Final Fantasy VII. Their superior in the company deemed it "too dark and complicated for a fantasy", but Takahashi was allowed to develop it as a separate project. It is the fifth part of a six-part story detailed in Xenogears Perfect Works; at the end of the game's credits, "Episode V" appears on screen. The story of Xenogears is influenced by the ideas of Freud, Jung, and Nietzsche, and they are referenced numerous times within the game's narrative.

Square had announced that Xenogears may not have come out in the United States due to "sensitive religious issues". However, Square soon after reversed this and, with a joint partnership with Electronic Arts, released the game in October 1998. The English translation of Xenogears was the first instance in which an English localization team worked directly with Square developers. It also was the first major project of Square translator Richard Honeywood. According to Honeywood, translating the game was a particularly difficult task due to it containing numerous scientific concepts and philosophies.

Square Enix released Xenogears on the Japanese PlayStation Network on June 25, 2008 and in North America on February 22, 2011.

Audio

The music in Xenogears was composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, composer of the SNES title Chrono Trigger. The Xenogears Original Soundtrack was released on two discs and published by DigiCube in Japan. The score contains 41 instrumental tracks, in addition to a choral track and two songs. According to Mitsuda, the music of Xenogears belongs to the traditional music genre. Though he first described it as stemming from "a world of [his] own imagining" rather than any specific country, he has also claimed a strong Irish or Celtic music influence. There are two vocal tracks included on the OST, and both are sung by Joanne Hogg. One of the tracks, "Stars of Tears", did not appear in the final version of the game. It was originally intended to play in a cut scene at the start of the game along with the main staff credits. The scene, however, was removed for pacing issues, as it would have made the combined opening movie and introduction scenes last roughly ten minutes. The other, "Small Two of Pieces ~Screeching Shards~", was the first ending theme with sung lyrics to ever appear in a game developed by Square.

An arranged soundtrack of Xenogears also composed and arranged by Mitsuda was released as Creid. For Creid, he expanded on the theme from the original album of having Celtic influences in "easy-to-listen-to" pop tracks to create an album of arranged Xenogears music with a more prominent Celtic style. The album contains a mixture of vocal and instrumental tracks, and combines Japanese and Celtic music together in its pieces. The album features five vocal tracks and five instrumental tracks. The main lyricist, Junko Kudo, wrote the lyrics to four of the five vocal tracks, while Mitsuda wrote the lyrics to the titular track "Creid", which were then translated from Japanese to Gaelic for the recording. Celtic singer Joanne Hogg did not reprise her role in Creid. Instead, Tetsuko Honma sang the four tracks written by Kudo, while Eimear Quinn sang "Creid".

In October 2010, Mitsuda announced that he planned to work on Myth: The Xenogears Orchestral Album, a second arranged album of music from the game, in an orchestral style. He is taking suggestions from fans as to which tracks to include.

Merchandise

There have been several Japanese books and comics published concerning the Xenogears franchise. Xenogears God Slaying Story, a series by Masatoshi Kusakabe, was published by Shueisha in 1998. DigiCube published both Xenogears Perfect Works and a memorial album named Thousands of Daggers, which contains the entire script to the game in Japanese, along with screenshots. Two manga books, Xenogears Comic Anthology and Xenogears 4koma Comic, were released by Movic. Movic also released wallscrolls, notebooks, pins, keychains, stickers, and postcards depicting the Xenogears cast.

Legacy

Shortly after Xenogears was released, there was speculation of a sequel being released, although this never occurred. While Xenogears has never had an official sequel or prequel, there was wide speculation that Namco and Monolith Soft's Xenosaga was a prequel when it was first announced. Tetsuya Takahashi was the director and writer for both Xenogears and Xenosaga and has noted that "with our relation between Square, I think it is difficult for us to say it is a direct sequel or prequel". Approximately twenty members of the Xenosaga development staff had previously worked on Xenogears.

On the connection between Xenogears and Xenosaga, Takahashi has stated:

It's probably more suitable to say that it follows the direction and style of Xenogears.  Now that we are under a different company, we figured we should start everything from scratch all over again. Though there are familiar faces that serve as important characters in Xenosaga, others are more like self-parodies, so we don't really want Xenogears fans to overreact. Like movies, sometimes you have the director of the movie or friend of the leading actor appearing as cameos, so it's similar to that.

Several members of the Xenogears staff came together in 2008 to work on Sands of Destruction, a role-playing game for the Nintendo DS, published by Sega. These staff members include Masato Kato, Kunihiko Tanaka, and Yasunori Mitsuda.

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