Xenosaga Episode I:
Der Wille zer Macht
Monolith Soft's pseudo-prequel to the controversial Xenogears has been a long time coming, and it's easy to see why - the team has created a sweeping, all-encompassing space epic that still preserves many of the same introspective and religious elements that made the team's PSOne efforts so memorable. And like the original Xenogears, it's emphasis on a twisting, complex plot is bound to create as many fans as detractors.
Swapping out Xenogears' semi-traditional terran landscape, Xenosaga takes place largely in the cold vacuum of space some four thousand years in the future. For reasons not clearly explained, man has left the earth and moved onto colonize planets and create enormous spaceships. Not all is peaceful, however, for this existence is increasingly jeopardized by an alien force called the Gnosis whose numbers are great, whose goals are unknown, and whose existence on another plane allows them to pass through solid materials. Despite frequent advancements in technology to repel the constant menace, all signs point to a losing battle. In this world, players assume the role of young Shion Uzuki, in whom Xenogears fans will no doubt find a passing resemblance to another famous Uzuki, whose current project is non-other than the boxart-adorned android Kos-Mos, designed as a secret weapon against the Gnosis.
RPGs, especially the better RPGs, have a way of taking simple beginnings like these and taking a more-than-meets-the-eye approach to weave a complex mythos from it, and Xenosaga is certainly no exception to the rule. There are so many twists and turns, in fact, that Monolith has taken the liberty of including a dictionary of terms that grows to span hundreds of words and can be referenced at any time to prevent confusion - a surprisingly useful tool that helps clear up a game rich in science, science fiction, literary and religious references. As with Xenogears, not all of what follows is original, but there's simply so much of it that it's inconceivable that the developers wouldn't be influenced by or cross paths with some of our more familiar works.
Nor is the story a straightforward one, as the game asks a lot of questions along the way, some as early as an hour or two in to the game. Alternatively direct and indirect, questions are posed and deal with everything from the human condition and the nature of consciousness to ethical questions imposed by the technologies and wars of the far-flung future. It's all done in such a way that it remains crucial to the plot and never feels tacked on or forced.
To convey such a mammoth story, as it were, some allowances must be made. In this case this means not only a particularly lengthy game but cutscenes of unprecedented length, with the longest clocking in at some 45 minutes. It's a testament to the storytelling that despite falling on the occasional moment of RPG or anime lapse of logic, these remain compelling enough that their length remains justified. It helps, too, that after the cutscene-heavy early game the developers find an easier balance between gameplay and story.
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