Friday, February 27, 2009

Watching a...and...Trailer?

Over the past week, I've had to revisit some ideas and preconceptions I've had on the ol' cutscene issue once again. As I've found out in my latest DFB through Xenogears, "scene" is a very broad term which has in essence given a face to some sort of evil in the gaming community. I've always enjoyed games that use them more, but I always recognized this as a crutch becoming more and more of a blatant use. Don't get me wrong, I still hate how they're being used; I'm just a bit more open now to the extent.

A large point of contention most would have with me here is my personal favorite game of all time, Metal Gear Solid (1998). If I hadn't played MGS at the time and place I did, I guarantee I would be ten times as more critical of cutscene usage now. Because of this, I'm looking at the point a little more pensive than I was this time last year. What I came to grasp not too long after making that post was how stuck up I was being in the first place. Like I stated in my last post, games have to translate whatever they're trying to convey in order accomplish anything worthwhile.

I don't necessarily like when someone plays the "a game HAS to play card" with me, because I can't really bring myself to argue with it, I just know that I don't like the statement at all. It may be the signifying distinction of the medium (that I won't argue). However, I don't pretend to let it govern my perception of it, it's far too limiting for me to even begin to look at it that way.

With posts like Michael's turning up this past week, it's hard for me not to revisit the concept again (also you can see it from me specifically at the current roundtable at Forwards Compatible). I thought I would bring this up now, as I've run into this what...three times over the past month now? I should stop there though, as I may be starting my annual playthrough of the MGS titles sometime over the next few months and I'll have to beat that dead horse (that I've already killed with a stick)...once again.

"My current problem is that I haven’t figured out how these scenes can be further engaged by the player. Then again, I’m not going to play martinet for “NO CUTSCENES” (further illustrating the point of one-track minds...heh). Games should be able to have scenes when they need them…perhaps this IS just one of those instances."
--- DFB - Xenogears Fraction VII

Another thing I wanted to briefly visit is the nature of video-game trailers, as it stems from a similar issue. The vast majority of games always seem like all flash when they're presented in most trailers or commercials and it's because of how that hook that goes in with watching all over again. Unless the game is minimalist (i.e. Everyday Shooter), we're typically watching cutscenes in tune with insultingly ostentatious music. It's either going to dip into being pandering or confusing ("Is this meant for me or the masses?"). In my opinion, Hollywood's infiltration of the game's industry is at it's most noticeable here. As a trailer is the baby of that medium. It's not ours.

Does this mean we should be asking for a glimpse of what the play looks like? Developers seem stingy showing such things now (or am I mistaken?). Should demos be even more of an available privilege for us? I don't know, I can think of some pretty good examples of how demos ruin or distort things concerning the final product. The only thing I can think of where a game has to the "right" to promote in such a fashion is once again...MGS, where it's directive to be a "serious parody" of Western film is up front and center. I just don't really see it in anything else. Of course, some games begin to approach this on their own terms as individual pieces, but it's almost more implied in most of these that marketing is dumbly running usual. I guess their job is to solely notice what sheep will buy...that doesn't mean I have to like it any more. I actually feel compelled that it's my job to hate it...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cowboys and Demons

I picked three series over the weekend and stuck them together because there’s some degree of righteous fandom the video-game populous holds for each of them. Many times, game developers love to transition between mediums without realizing the degree of reverence that stems from the origin material. In other words, video-games very typically transition when they should be translating. What I’m proposing here today is a simple abstract concept that most people respond to in the following trio of shows. How this particular notion could be translated into video-game form is up for interpretation, so here’s mine.

Cowboy Bebop (Japanese Animated Series) – 26 Episodes
Though this series is noticeably “colder” than the following one, it still manages to hold out as a self-effacing story amidst a reasonably small amount of lovable characters. Taking place in a slightly extended future just beyond "our contemporary one" (real-life), Cowboy Bebop follows four makeshift bounty hunters and their pasts as they struggle to keep their hunk of metal floating out in space. Cowboy Bebop’s gift is in it’s subtlety. It’s not extravagant by any means, and the overarching quest culminates to be quite tragic towards the end. Everything about the show is fairly downplayed and even what I took to be the most prominent element in the series (the music) never went overboard in taking itself too seriously.

The Bebop
Everything about my previous statement stands here as well. The Bebop as a ship is only effective in it’s ineffectiveness, and is not as much of a junker as it is a “ghetto-ship”. The stark shots of the ship are always moody without becoming brooding. As little as it gives to work with, it’s the ship that communicates as a "flying blues bar". It doesn’t need to be any more than that and provides a stable establishment to engage through and with.

Firefly (American T.V.Series) – 14 Episodes
Nobody can venture too far into “geekdom” without coming across Joss Whedon’s beloved yet abused series, Firefly. Those who haven’t had the pleasure of acquaintance with this show yet are in for a short lived surprise (and subsequent anger) if they do find enjoyment from it. Firefly is a Space Western that premiered on FOX in 2002. Despite gaining critical praise, it was canceled after only 12 of the 14 episodes were aired. FOX contributed greatly to this malady by not only initially airing the episodes out of order, but promoting it very awkwardly. Despite that, the cult status managed to hold it up just long enough for it to garner itself a feature film, Serenity.

Firefly is a character-driven drama that takes place aboard a humble little spaceship that nomadically makes it’s way across a fictional star system. It’s occupants spend most of their time doing “get-by” jobs that usually end up biting them in the ass, which often leaves them broke, injured, and at each other’s throats on a regular basis. Coupled with unique signature elements such as the Chinese/American melting pot, it became quite an outstanding little television series. The dedicated “Browncoats” (hardcore fans of the series) have since been left with a gaping hole of longing since the show’s demise. Their support did give birth to Serenity, which still remains a functioning anomaly to this day; more than most can ask for these days, isn’t it?

Serenity – The “Firefly-class” transport ship
Part of what made Firefly so special was the ship itself, Serenity. This fairly small freighter was blessed with parts so interwoven into the characters themselves, it became a functioning presence on the ship (which I perceived a direction allusion towards in “Objects in Space”). Mal’s noble reverence, Kaylee’s sweet intimacy, and most importantly, River’s existential movement throughout the ship; all of them help build a deep connection to the set in just 14 episodes (whereas some series can’t even do such a thing over the course of multiple seasons. This in turn helps the viewer establish a lovely “home” for themselves, and it’s a big reason why so many people still watch the small morsel they were given with such veneration to this day. Floating out in the verse is such a reality in this quaint little ship that barely saw the light of it’s own damn tail.

Devil May Cry (Japanese Animated Series based off Capcom’s Video Game franchise) – 12 Episodes
I’m a pretty big Devil May Cry fan, and that extends into all of the extended areas as well. In 2007, an anime based of the popular game franchise was released. It was basically colored under the design of a formula that I didn’t mind it ripping off in the first place. Supposedly taking place between the first and fourth games, the game follows Dante maintaining his shop, “Devil May Cry”. He is a half-demon prodigy of a legendary knight that saved humanity eons ago; he’s constantly under financial stress and he takes various odd jobs, which typically involve eliminating demons or paranormal-based oddities. His friends Lady, Trish, and Patty typically end up causing him more grief than wants and he constantly attributes this to a running "women relations" gag throughout the series (“they keep stabbing me and shooting me in the head…”).

I won’t profess that the show is particularly mind-blowing, but anyone that finds the games enjoyable at all will surely find some giggles within this anime. It’s full of all the action, style, and cheeseball dialogue that still distinctively differentiates the game franchise to this day.

Devil May Cry
Dante’s shop is such a special thing that’s being squandered in the game series. Here’s the catch though, it’s an understandable loss. Any focus on his shop at all would disrupt the main focus of the games proper and throw way too many things off. In the anime, Dante can usually be seen napping on his couch or his desk while Patty watches her soaps or begrudgingly cleans his shop. Lady and Trish constantly barge in and out of the establishment, for no other reason than to bother Dante half the time; this leaves Morrison (Dante’s liaison for jobs) to routinely stop by, handing out jobs that somehow get botched up in the end anyway. Dante's shop was featured at the beginning of both DMC1 and DMC3 (the player actually demolishes it in Dante's Awakening).

What I'm proposing is that this "homely" sense of place be established for the player in a game. I see some conflicting areas for this to happen in the traditional high-stakes release, so I think it would be safer to request this through DLC. Given that two of these are T.V. shows, the word "episodic" jumps out to me immediately. Usually the average big-wig title takes two to three years to pump out (and it's gradually extending it seems). I wonder how much of a place is left for studios or for parts of studios---to string along it's audience without totally pandering to them. This seems like the most viable option to me.

Being that I was content with what I got in Devil May Cry 4, I’d rather see the current time-line of the DMC series continue through some operation such as this (I proposed that the DMC series go back to Sparda's lifetime for it's next entry). It would have to be carefully considered of course, but the payoff is an innovative sense of continuity no game has really touched upon yet. Having this hypothetical setup could at best...say...give Dante a new mission every few months. Cameos from Lady, Trish, and even Patty could work exactly the same. There could also be some degree of access to customize and make one's way through Dante's shop. Not anything overly ambitious like Sony's Home, but definitely something to have Dante's shop become more special than it already is. Compatibility with the next big title would have to be considered as well, and I'm sure advertising for Capcom would inevitably help more than hurt here too.

There’s something that's just overwhelmingly charming about universes or worlds where people have worry about their next job and meal. Scathing from one thing to the next while maintaining a current lifestyle is so resonant because the majority of us live lives not totally bathed in luxury as well. This is also a cheap but effective way to establish a deep characterization in games. So much can be said about Spike, Mal, and Dante, but things like this they all have in common:

1 - All three are interesting characters that constantly break and blur the edges of morality across a very short time period.

2 - All three are characters reluctantly taking jobs they rarely get paid generously for anyway.

3 - All three are lovable brigands with some personal sense of nobility that gets them in trouble more often than not.

Once again, I'm not proposing anything as ambitious as an MMO, but things like this could fortify ridiculously strong fanbases while giving the industry a new area to explore as well (translation...not transition). Things like Sam and Max should have company (and competition) in this category as well.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

DFB – Xenogears Fraction X

*This is it, the last one; Xenogears’ inevitable conclusion. For this entry, I’ve decided to accompany the writing & artwork with some scans I found yesterday of the now-elusive Perfect Works book. This book, as I’ve previously explained, details the entire backstory of Xenogears’ universe and all it’s lore. Topics range from the discovery of the Zohar all the way to episode VI (though much isn’t actually provided for episode VI). Even if I have no way to efficiently read or translate all of this, it’s still nice to have, even in digital format. Anyway, as usual--if you want to avoid spoilers at this point, just leave the page. If you just want to bypass the story summary, skip down to “Notes and Observations”.*

Chapter X –“Baring One’s Fangs at God”

As Id makes his way towards the Zohar, Fei is still locked inside his own subconscious with Id, who cruelly regards Fei as a “fake persona”. He introduces Fei to his “coward persona” (Fei’s figure sitting on the ground in the fetal position) and informs that he or “they” have created yet another, fourth persona to help delegate his emotional torment. He then tells Fei that the rest of the team has followed him and that he should just remain inside his own mind and observe.

Meanwhile, Citan and the others have found Wetall-ID’s true form, locked in a sort of casing deep under the earth. As Id awakens, the Zohar erupts out of the ground, and he viscously assaults them all, now powered by the massive generator. The Wiseman then arrives to help the crew and Id finally acknowledges him as Fei’s (or his own) father, Khan Wong. Fei’s father is powerless against Id’s relentless beating, but his voice eventually reaches Fei inside his own subconscious (who is gradually submitting to Id’s will). Id suddenly appears before Fei again and tells him how they came into such a state. It was shown how Fei had a normal and happy family life until his mother suddenly changed into an entirely different woman (Miang assumed her persona). Fei’s mother acted regularly in Khan’s presence, but changed entirely when he was away. This involved taking Fei to research facilities where he was brutally experimented upon and tortured. His “mother” coldly watched as the experiments attempted to “awaken” him. Fei was shoved with countless needles and cruel experiments were performed on him. He was also forced to watch children, women, and men die before him in an attempt to stir his emotions.

Id then hatefully informs Fei that he was created solely out of Fei’s need to endure all of that torture. All the extreme negative emotions that Fei couldn’t deal with…were passed on to Id. This created a persona that knew nothing but pain, sorrow, and hatred. All the resentment was forced upon Id to deal with all Fei’s misery. It is then revealed that one day Grahf came looking for Fei, as to return to his original body because he was Lacan, Fei’s past life. After Lacan’s initial exposure to the Zohar, he gained the ability to transmigrate his will into others (much like Miang), which allowed him to live for centuries. As Grahf nearly killed Khan, Fei struggled with the scene while his mother (who existed as Miang), coldly watched on. Fei then gave into his emotions and became Id, which destroyed his mother and offloaded his guilt from that action onto Id as well.

Fei then realizes that he has to come to terms with his coward and Id. First he forcefully tells the coward that they must take responsibility for their actions. After this, he and Id are finally granted access to what “Fei” actually saw that day (as the coward held control over many of Fei’s memories). The memory recounts how his mother actually assumed control over her own body at the last moment and sacrificed herself to save Fei. This allows him to confront Id himself and make him realize that his only interaction with the world doesn’t have to be destruction. His past wasn’t as grim as Id assumed it to be, and the destructive side of Fei’s persona is put into contact with it’s mother’s actual personality for the first time (Id acknowledges it as being “too warm”). After this, Id grants his own memories to Fei and tells him to figure out who they really are and what must be done now. He is then briefly put into contact with scenes from his previous incarnations’ pain. First he witnesses a small child known as Abel shown watching an earlier Elly be slain by Cain. Then he sees a man known as Kim (who was shown in flashbacks earlier from Zeboiim), protecting his and Elly’s created child, Emeralda (as Elly was sterile in that incarnation). It is also implied that Miang had the government sent after their child for scientific reasons. Elly is finally shown being shot by a large amount of soldiers as she buys time for Kim to hide Emeralda. Lastly, Fei witnesses Lacan’s loss of Sophia.

Fei then comes into contact with a being that lives within the Zohar itself. It claims to be from a higher dimension that Fei cannot even begin to perceive, and it describes this world where everything “acts in the manner of waves”. Fei immediately refers to it as “God” but the being says in some ways it can be referred to as such and others not. It acknowledges itself only as “EXISTENCE” and informs Fei that Deus connected with it’s dimension while studying it’s own purpose. The existence also informs Fei that it descended from this point of contact (“The Path of Sephirot”), which is where Fei is currently located now. The wave existence tells Fei that it became bound to the Zohar due to this contact with Deus, thus trapped in the “fleshling’s dimension” (creating the illusion that the Zohar was the source of infinite power). It then reveals that it has a plan for release and this includes Fei, as he was it’s first human contact.

Abel (Fei’s first incarnation) was the sole survivor of the Elderidge crash; simply a small boy who became separated from his mother during Deus’ takeover of the Elderidge. As Abel stumbled into the Zohar’s chamber, his will to find his mother was imprinted on the Zohar (the wave existence) and this caused it to create the first Elly/Miang (The Mother). Upon this “contact”, Fei was granted it’s power and Elly was given it’s will. Now that the wave existence has crossed paths with Fei again, it requests that he destroy it’s physical body (Deus) in order to release it from this dimension. Deus’ existence is different of the Wave existence’s and will trap it within the Zohar forever if it merges with the rest of humanity. Being the first contact, Fei is the only one who can destroy the Zohar through Deus, and release Elly. Fei and Elly were literally born to be together. Fei agrees and vows to help release the wave existence in order to save Elly.

The wave existence states that through his shared power with Fei, it contributed to everything that Fei used in order to deal with his tragic childhood. Fei has found his resolve however, and attributes the blame only to himself now, regardless of what actually transpired. The wave existence observes that Fei has finally come to terms with his past and has now achieved “himself”. The wave existence begins to disappear while telling Fei that he is to use “Xenogears” to destroy Deus and set him free. Fei desperately pleads to ask him more, but the Existence only tells him to “Ask…her…later” before disappearing entirely.

Back at battleground, Fei hops out of the newly acquired Xenogears (an angelic and elegantly designed version of Wetall) and rushes to his father’s gear. As his battered father observes Fei’s return to his “actual self”, Khan suddenly gets up and hoists Fei up by his throat. His form then changes to the masked skull figure…Grahf…Lacan. Grahf reveals that Khan was his newly acquired body since the day of fighting him. Fei is shocked and questions the nature of the Wiseman’s help, but Grahf explains that Khan’s will simply overrode his at times, which is why Khan chose to mask himself when he appeared before Fei. Grahf then acknowledges that his contact with the wave existence led him to believe that only through destruction would he be granted any true solace. Fei denounces this claim and Grahf proceeds to pit his “True Wetall” against Fei’s Xenogears (Wetall after Wave Existence Contact). Grahf is no match for Fei aboard Xenogears now and falls before him. The Zohar then calls out to Fei, crippling his movement. Grahf announces that this is due to the Zohar’s desire to merge with him, the first one to separate from it. Grahf announces that Fei is “the contact’s true will”, and he is just the vengeful remnant of yet another split that occurred upon Lacan’s initial contact with the Zohar. He then decides to offer himself to satisfy the Zohar’s desire while Fei goes to face Deus’ perfect form. Before he disappears, he requests that Fei rescue Elly (for Lacan that means Sophia), who is now merged with Miang and therefore every other woman that has ever existed (including Fei’s mother and all of Elly’s former incarnations).

The team then travels to Kadomony, another piece of the Elderidge that houses a super computer that was used by Deus in order to create the first woman. Fei relates to Bart that he, Elly, and Miang house the memories of all their past lives within their introns (which regular humans are unable to do). This allows the three of them access to an abundance of knowledge that everyone else is incapable of. Back on the Excalibur (Shevat’s flagship), the crew plans an elaborate plan to penetrate the Merkava. This involves the Yygdrassil IV combining with the Excalibur in order to provide them with a brief window to shut down the Merkava’s defenses. It is also revealed that Taura has created a Disassembler (the opposite of the Mass-Driver) to prevent the Seraph Angel troops from regenerating. This allows the crew to adequately defend the Yygdrassil and the Excalibur while making their way to Merkava. Xenogears’ contact with the wave existence has tied it to the Zohar, which serves as hub for transforming the entire party’s gears back into their omnigear state (they were reverted due to Krelian taking their anima relics for Deus earlier). The crew then sets out to enact it’s plan, to destroy Deus.

The crew successfully carries out their plan to take out Merkaba’s main cannon, but they notice that their plan was a little too successful. They cause the ark to crash into the planet, which activates Deus. The Merkava was merely acting as a vessel of transport for the global weapon. Deus then terra-forms the entire planet in an attempt to convert it into a massive weapon itself. The team then decides that it’s time to storm inside Deus and eliminate the core. They talk with the Zephyr, who expresses further sorrow for their actions over the past 500 years. She questions Citan about their “friend rescued from the Merkava” and it is shown that the team took Kahran from the ship earlier. Ramsus, who is still sulking over his purpose as trash, is responsively slapped by Citan for wallowing. He turns Ramsus’ attention towards the Elements, who have been the only people, truly standing by his side throughout his life. He saved all of their lives before and earned their respect and loyalty. Ramsus then agrees, as he sees the four girls as living testaments for who he actually is.

After sufficiently preparing, the crew sets out for the massive form that is Deus, which has imbedded itself within the planet. The crew then makes their way through the remains of the Merkava, which has also become a part of the creature. After a dizzying venture through it’s labyrinthine interior, they come upon Deus’ core, a massive biological energy generator with four orbs swirling around it. The crew then leaves the choice up to Fei on whether to deal with the orbs first or the core itself. The four orbs are sub weapon systems designed provide Deus with a more expansive means of support. 

After the crew penetrates the core, they find Deus’ perfect form within it; a massive angelic beast that is in actuality…their god, however synthetic that may be. After a grand battle, the crew is finally able to force Deus into retreat. Upon it’s fall however, Citan speculates that the weapon will generate a force powerful enough to eliminate the entire planet anyway, killing them all. To the team’s surprise however, the massive energy core then begins to hover and lift away from the planet, seemingly on it’s own merit. Fei immediately recognizes this will as Elly’s, who is attempting to sacrifice herself again to move Deus (who she is now fused with) away from the planet. This is almost fitting, as it seems to be the fate of Elly, even across transmigration, to sacrifice herself for the safety of her corresponding “Contact” (i.e. Lacan/Sophia). Fei decides that if Elly is to sacrifice herself this time, he wants to be by her side for it. After Deus’ defeat however, Xenogears is the only gear able to operate anymore and all ether abilities on the planet have dissipated entirely (because Xenogears is only thing other than Deus to directly make contact with the wave existence). As Bart makes Fei promise to return, he lifts off in Xenogears, flying full speed at the departing Deus.

When Fei catches up to the sentient weapon, he progresses to it’s interior once again. Making his way inside, he finds himself nude, and staring at an also-nude Elly, curled up in the fetal position; suspended, while encased in a ball of light. Fei recognizes this area as the “Path of Sephirot”, which is the same place the wave existence contacted him at earlier. He then converses with a voice, which he eventually recognizes to be Krelian. Krelian proceeds to tell Fei that the wave existence’s state of being as a one of unity and something all humanity should strive towards. He relates to Fei (whom he refers to as Lacan) of humanity’s perpetual drive to cause strife and hurt themselves. This constant and eternal state of humanity’s emotional and physical torture leads Krelian to truly believe that uniting with the wave existence will cause everything to work as one…with a cohesive existence of waves. He arrives at the resolute end that humanity will follow him into this higher domain of existence, to truly be embraced by the love of god, not their false love weaved out of his absence. Fei then steps in to argue for humanity’s imperfection as that of a benefit and privilege they’re all granted, to help one another. With this resolve, Fei has bared his fangs at god himself, announcing that they do not need his help to live their lives. Krelian hears this, and then decides to test Fei’s faith and will by submitting him to a final hurdle to overcome, the Urobolus, the final incarnation of Miang, humanity’s mother.

After overcoming the Urobolus, Fei frees Elly and they attempt to escape from the now unstable area. Elly tells him that while fused with Deus, she realized Krelian’s true intentions; he actually loved humanity more than anyone. Krelian’s resolution stems from his deep sorrow over Sophia’s death. Her sacrifice was something that profoundly affected him to the extent where his only way of coping was his resolve to “create god for himself”. Through all his acts, his end goal was to achieve a world where “no one would experience loss ever again”.

As they try to flee the dimension, they find themselves about succumb to death when suddenly they’re both whisked away, far above the planet; Krelian has saved them. Elly and Fei then urge Krelian to return to the planet with them, but Krelian announces that he’s not going back (despite Fei’s desperate pleas) and progresses onwards. He affectionately relates how his horrible actions throughout his life have entirely removed him from the human race. He then transcends to the next dimension via the path of Sephirot to “walk with god” with his last words to the couple: “Actually, I envy you two”. Fei and Elly then use Xenogears to make their way back to everyone awaiting them on Ignas. Their true god has been freed, mankind’s faux god has been destroyed, and the cycle Fei and Elly have existed within for ten thousand years has finally been broken. They are allowed to proceed forth on their own terms, truly mankind now.

~End Xenogears: Episode V~

Notes and Observations

Yasunori Mitsuda is a Beast.
Yasunori Mitsuda did a lovely job with Xenogears’ OST. Though I got extremely annoyed by “Stage of Death”, I think faulting any composer for making a “bad battle theme” is ludicrous. After I hear any one song so much, my ears begin to bleed regardless. As long as it’s actually a battle theme, it works, case closed. As for the rest of the music, as long as it remains varied enough to capture the custom scale of it’s adventure, I remain content. Mitsuda does this by using obvious influences from foreign areas (any composer that dips into the Celts’ taste typically does good work). It’s ironic that Tetsuya Takahashi (the designer) initially valued graphics over the music, as the game’s score definitively made Xenogears in good number of areas.

My Ranked Personal Favorites (all are on my Mp3 player at the top right of the blog):

6th-“The One Who Bares Fangs at God”–6:05
I originally thought this track was another (which is ironically in first place on this list) because of how stylistically epic the title is. When I found out that it’s actually the LAST battle song (not the penultimate), I ended up disappointed with it in comparison. It is admirably successful however, in how it’s interwoven into the confrontation with the Uroborus (Miang), and captures the mystic setting of the arena (the path of sephirot). How it begins playing prior to the fight itself is also important, because it eases the mind into a final yet serene encounter. My criticism is against the fight itself, not the music. This track is actually pleasantly disappointing in how it gets away with it’s faux-chorals and I won’t argue with anyone who dotes on it.

5th-“Ties of Sea and Flames”–3:08
I’m not entirely sure if this track plays prior to the Yggdrassil boarding, but I fell in love with it during a particular scene involving Sigurd, Maison, and Citan explaining Bart’s motives to Fei. Xenogears is one of the few games that can STILL get away with becoming sappy when it wants to be. This track is the manifestation of that, and usually plays when some dramatic character-based-revelation is on the stage presenting itself. It does begin to go backseat in the second half of the game, which is kind of sad. Given how intrinsically I tied this theme to my first few days aboard the Yggdrassil, I was okay with that though, and it’s one anybody will pick up on when first starting to get into the game. It’s emotional, it’s memorable, and most importantly, it’s very catchy.

This is the exact opposite of the #5 and plays during times of stress and action. Sometimes I even caught it going on during fights. What this track does well gets the blood pumping very gradually. It’s a well paced, and manages to define sense of rush and anxiety without inducing oppressive panic. If one pays really close attention to how I wrote my story summary, they can pick out the exact moments when this track surfaces. That is a gift not many action-tracks can boast for themselves.

This presents itself when Shevat first comes under attack. It transitions very abruptly from being a darker version of what “Fuse” does well to an assertive heroic cheesiness. I mean cheesiness in a good way as well, because the tracks always consistently meshed with the tone of the scene. It started out as Maria’s theme and ended up playing during dramatic gear scenes (i.e. the appearance of the G-Element). It’s a track that begins to help melt the roles of the antagonists into people to sympathize with (mainly the elements). My only complaint with it is that it didn’t actually flow into a battle at all (I actually think it only did once and I might be mistaken there). Though I like “Knight of Fire”, I would have rather have heard this in place as a boss theme at times.

2nd-“The One Who Is Torn Apart”–5:06
This is for all intensive purposes, Id’s theme song. I described this in a previous entry as being a track about “everything that is nothing” and I stand by that now. It’s ominous in how the player immediately associates it with not only Id, but what actually drives his existence as well (long before the game spells it out too). It’s also the only thing that kept Id’s initial appearance (as the scarlet gear) from being incredibly cliché. It’s an in-the-moment song that has a good number of standout sequences due to it’s inclusion alone. Id’s actual introduction (above Zeboiim) in which this plays during a boss confrontation with him is where I realized my love for the piece. Citan’s interrogation of Id (still remains my favorite narrative-area in the game) plays stage for this as well. The persona’s appearance in Fei’s subconscious mind (visualized as a child-Fei with his hair over his eyes) is an area where this theme dominates everything around it. Everything about Id’s strike sound effect also jumps out when I think back on this theme as well. It’s a pleasantly brooding theme that doesn’t go overboard in being “emo”.

This is what I thought “One Who Bares Fangs at God” actually was. This is the music that accompanies the battle with Deus and encapsulates everything that’s good about destroying god. My opinion is that everything I love about my 6th pick is achieved with much better grace in this track (right down to the vocal synths). Awakening holds hands with intensity itself in this fight and almost always seems to sync up with the action going on while playing. The vocal chorus always struck it’s peak when I hit Deus (which causes one of his Seraph defenders to violently flyby shooting a counter blast back), and it always slowed down when he pulled the big moves out of his ass (i.e. Ultimate Break). Ultimate Break is serendipitous when juxtaposed against this track because it’s that RPG move that involves the final boss metaphorically pulling out it’s long penis and slapping the player in the face with it. Making the universe blow up is one thing, having some sensible music to go along with it is something else entirely…

The Zohar and the Monolith
There’s a certain charm & mystique to the Zohar in both Xenosaga and Xenogears. It’s an obvious allusion to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and should be an instant corollary for those who’ve seen the movie. In that film, the monolith was a large black rectangular stone that appeared each time humanity transcended to a new level of consciousness. It’s eventually revealed as an alien artifact which Arthur C. Clarke jokingly identified as “an alien swiss” army knife, furthering intelligent life each time it made an appearance. In Xenosaga, the Zohar is the physical portal between the U-DO’s (“god’s”) domain and the human one. It’s also an unexamined source of infinite power as in Xenogears. In Xenogears however, it’s the same basic golden rectangle with further defined purpose, a generator to power Deus. It’s also revealed in Xenogears that the Zohar only appears as an infinite source of power because the “wave existence” (the “god” in xenogears’ world) became trapped inside it.

The weakness for me in the Xenogears’ use of the Zohar was the stripping of it’s will. The wave existence’s text should have been nearly illegible to the player (and Fei could play translator in some way). There should be some way of communicating with the thing while not crossing it’s threshold of mystique. It’s not something that requires an ambitious plan. Alma’s letters in the dot hack games freaked me out and it’s what I’m alluding to with this desire (to get some sense of eeriness when in contact). Something that crumbles logical ground for the player to stand on is what I desire. I love the subtext that goes along with it as a sort of quiet entity, not simply a power source. It provides an almost eerie sense of spirituality. Playing as Abel in “year 0” would have been an amazing thing to experience from a gameplay standpoint. In a hypothetical remake, the game could offer a playground for controlling Abel, as he becomes separated from his mother in the wake of Deus becoming self-aware (instead of the opening movie). Either way, I’d rather the Zohar stir up existential fright, rather than superficial power.

Final Bosses
These guys are important to me. Luckily, the times are gone when the final boss has to be the end-all-be-all fight. However, in RPGs specifically, the final boss is always supposed to represent some sense of thematic finality in terms of the game’s narrative. I don’t consider the Urobolus the last fight in the game, as it doesn’t really pose a threat (unless you’re not paying attention at all). Deus is the actual final boss of this game for me and posed an excellent opposition to seeing the end of this game. Something nice that Xenogears does is give the player the option of crippling Deus by taking out his support structures. Destroying either (or all of) of the surrounding orbs around it’s core slices a good chunk out of it’s starting HP and strips it of it’s cheapest moves.

What I really loved about the fight with Deus’ core was his two defending angels that maintain a sense of intensity throughout the fight (in addition to “Awakening”). Deus usually auto-counters physical attacks, which sends either of these guys elegantly flying across the screen violently, blasting random party members for 4,000 HP or more. Though my enjoyment of this fight is hindered by the gears combat itself, it’s definitely a high point of the game. Though I love that Miang is actually the final boss of the game, I wish the fight with the Urobolus was much more difficult than it was. I would have also preferred the fight been on foot with a nude sprite of Fei vs the “suggestive” mother of humanity (no matter how unrealistic that is considering the ESRB).

Eternal Return
Both Xenosaga and Xenogears use the concept of Eternal Return as a means to move it’s story along. While it’s used in Xenosaga as a specific driving plot point, it is downgraded to more poetic meaning in Xenogears, specifically between Elly and Fei. Even without the Perfect Works, Xenogears manages to faintly trace three other stories while maintaining it’s focus on the main one. I typically find a game like this and demand it be revitalized by a remake. I’m fine with something of say—System Shock 2’s caliber, as it’s STILL a great game and can stand on it’s own feet, even a decade later. Xenogears however, has aged and time hasn’t treated it well (and no, I’m not speaking about visuals dumbo). It’s massively self-indulgent narrative is actually one I’d argue DESERVES a remake. With the right dialogue retooling, CAREFUL consideration of scenes, and sufficient budget (notice once again that I very specifically said nothing about visuals), Xenogears could become a title with the facility to shift forward the entire industry a few years (and at this point I’d argue decades). This is especially relevant in the world of RPGs, where something such as this would greatly flourish the industry at large.

When one considers how the very concept of eternal return has died in the face of things such as Christianity and Science, art is at this point--the only thing nurturing such a notion anymore (yes I’m one of those people). Updating the science in a future Xenogears installment is key here as well, as science is something that changes drastically over time periods (i.e. Citan calling Fei a schizophrenic is very problematic now). Xenogears tries, even as it is, to run science and religion (it may be more accurate at this point to say “metaphysics” in place of religion) into one another (which is good), but it needs to be responsibly handled. This is something Xenosaga of course, tried as well (though Xenosaga shallowly toyed around with astrophysics more). While I’ll solemnly assert that Xenosaga deserves to rest in peace, I’ll stand behind Xenogears requiring transmigration for the “greater good”. It’s a fantastic game with the potential to achieve a sort of “godhood” for itself (go laugh at that irony). Xenosaga never touched the Zohar for itself, Xenogears did.

Ω. Μετεμψυχωσις, A Retrograde Legacy
Moving forward to Xenosaga, It seems that it simply got tripped up in too many ways to successfully honor it’s predecessor (though I still prefer saga to gears for selfish reasons). It’s (Xenosaga) visual design, censoring, budgeting, and inappropriately-crammed-into-three-entries narrative all ended up horribly tarnishing what should have been an amazing spiritual successor to a lovely game. The titles share troubled/rushed development, but Xenogears’ true faults are more based in it’s time period. What’s important here is what’s implied in the title of this note, “retrogradation”. I certainly encourage someone to step up and argue my opinion here, but going from saga to gears pretty much cemented my perspective that the state of this particular type of RPG (heavy-handed tale spanning continents/worlds) got worse over the years.

Even now, in our age riddled with trite desires (i.e. High Definition), more and more games are actually regressing in terms of what they do well (if they even DO it that well in the first place). Though I could go on to further name this in a string of other RPG franchises, Xenogears was the first one to solidify this for me. My deduction is that this is simply because of my own personal interests; which are lined up in such a way that led me from my immediate appeals to the exact same ones (albeit with a bit more substance behind them). This was only garnered by playing Xenosaga and Xenogears in reverse. This paints the illusionary picture that Xenosaga left a legacy for Xenogears to capitalize on. The sardonic humor in that is that the Xenosaga titles are still being praised to this day as the mistaken prequels to Xenogears. Totally unrelated, yet running exactly parallel to one another, love it.

Xenogears MVP - Krelian
Though I stand by my two personal favorite characters in this game characters (Miang and Id, who really aren’t characters at all in a sense), I acknowledge Krelian’s worth in the story overall. I do however, wish he had been introduced earlier and Sophia’s death more faintly traced in the earlier portions (the Nisan necklace swinging back and forth just isn’t enough). It’s the equivalent of putting one’s best football player in during the last quarter of the game. Even with Krelian making his debut a well before disc 2, he’s still left out of a great chunk of the game as a whole. The best way for this problem to in a sense, “fix itself” is for the second disc of Xenogears to simply be redone. Canonically speaking, disc 2 probably encompassed more time than disc 1 did. As I said in the last entry though, the perception of time was lost, so the game (specifically Krelian’s character) suffered because of it.

Krelian’s earlier life should be conveyed in some sense for the player to experience to his reverence towards Sophia (though I don’t know how it could be worked in). I thought it was a bit lame to play him up as a villain when it should have been obvious from the beginning that he wasn’t. The span of his life in particular is important in the narrative as he (as a human) made himself important in the grand scheme of things (as opposed to Elly and Fei who were predetermined by the wave existence’s will). Throughout the game, he progresses from an ultra-violent high-ranking military man to a scholarly person with a strict personal faith (stemming from his spiritual benefactor Sophia). This would have also separated him from Lacan, who was romantically interested in Sophia (at this point it’s arguable to most that they simply both loved her romantically). The only thing I feel should never happen is that control be given over Krelian. He should remain outside the player’s control at all times, it’s part of his allure.

Righteous Reward?
Xenogears also plays homage to the notion of achieving something beyond good and evil. Though generally speaking, Xenogears is about another wayward computer hell bent on misbehaving. It’s more of a story about people, plain and simple. With the state of inexplicit narratives in games (or moral ambiguity), it’s important to notice it as an issue for the gamer as well. Is the medium truly based around conflict? I’d certainly love to argue no, but I won’t deny that most people I’ve seen, experience a certain disconnect when they’re a “good person” fighting what they perceive to be another “good person". Sometimes people like to let their own morals and codes run rampant, overriding (and sometimes destroying) the game’s ability to cognitively tie up a person’s mind with audio/visual constructs (which are able to be engaged at will).

Coloring roles is a tool that’s been used by drama ever since the early stages of dramatic literature (even before then as well). Now it’s something games can further by perversely binding the player to the game’s narrative. That’s certainly not easy because writing has to be tailored (which hasn’t happened yet), gameplay has to have a clearly dominating role (which is a problem in Xenogears), and the game has to be developed while those sensitive areas are being explored (which is no easy feat in itself). This is certainly a lot of work considering the end result being “small” in some sense. When one realizes how sensitive a person’s subjective perception is though, they’ll agree that those small rewards are probably most important right here; where passion and pleasure find no equal.

While I will acknowledge Xenogears as the far better game between the two siblings (and the one I’ll choose to play in comparison any day), I still harbor too much love for Xenosaga to just cast it off now. Between the makeout on both games, I now hold them in equal regard. Like I mentioned before, despite Xenogears high-praise in it’s time, the fanbase is rapidly compressing itself into a cult and I’m not sure I’m okay with that (though that’s just me). It’s surely by far one of the best console-jrpgs I’ve ever played and I don’t feel silly in any way with that statement.

From it’s lively locales, intricately weaved narrative, and strong characterization, it’s a title worthy of adoring, even a decade out of it’s time. My greatest wish is that another Xenogame will be made one day, WITHOUT the crippling factors of budgeting and development. These games manage to shine through their horribly extensive list of faults, showing titles of great purpose beneath. If I had my pick, I’d demand this game specifically be remade, with the considerations I’ve gone over in the past month. As I always state in my writing--if I ever attain the time or the money…I’ll fucking do it myself.

Monday, February 16, 2009

DFB - Xenogears Fraction IX

*The gloves are now off, in both the story summary and notes and observations. If you want to avoid spoilers at this point, just leave the damn page. Either way, the same rules apply. If you want to bypass the story summary, skip down to “Notes and Observations”*

Chapter IX: “Erudition of God”

Within Mahanon, the crew discovers a large grotesque creature known as “Deus”. Upon defeating a portion of it’s biological weapons system, they find their way into a gigantic section of the ship, which is seemingly big enough to house the entire capital of Aveh within it (*a clue?*). There, the team comes across “Razael's Tree”, a massive super computer with an extensive database of knowledge. Here they learn of “System Yaweh”, an interplanetary weapons system that was housed within the ship. They discover that within the core of the ship lies the primary control center for the project and that the power source for this area is known as the “Zohar”. As they’re coming across all of this information, Krelian and Grahf appear. The team attempts to stand against the two, but are swiftly defeated by Grahf. Krelian then advises Grahf not to touch the “bait” and everyone is taken into custody.

Back in Nisan, Elly is busy helping Margie heal the nation’s inhabitants when she’s suddenly struck with the intuition that Fei is in danger. Upon reaching Shevat, she finds that Krelian has left a message for her demanding she come to the Mahanon alone to ensure everyone’s safety. Her former Gebler crew loyally attempts to follow her, but Elly refuses to jeopardize the agreement with Krelian. Elly then takes Shevat’s last known omnigear, “Regrs” (which in a twist of fate, previously belonged to Sophia as well) and sets out for Mahanon. When she arrives, she finds the entire team’s gears crucified on gigantic crosses and Krelian patiently waiting for her, while holding everyone else in captivity. Krelian immediately demands that Elly use her new omnigear against two of his creations. Citan and Fei yell their objections, as it’s an obvious trap, but Elly does what she is told and proceeds to fight them.

Elly is nearly beaten to death, but is able to overcome the two henchmen, destroying them completely. Fei and Citan watch in horror as Elly demonstrates an immeasurable amount of power, Krelian then announces that Elly is indeed what he has been searching for all this time. He dismisses Fei and the rest of the crew, denouncing them for not having any real power. Grahf shares Krelian’s sentiment, telling Fei he is too pitiful to even be put out of his misery. Krelian then meets with the Gazel Ministry, who are overly pleased that the “fleshly body of god has been obtained”. They also announce the retrieval of all the Anima and Animus. As the Ministry vocally traces their plan’s next path, Krelian announces that they are incorrect. The Gazel furiously addresses Krelian, as he’s begun pulling all their memory banks (deleting them). Krelian announces that he only needed them alive because of the Gaetia Key, which only they had access to. He also announces that he created Ramsus as a clone of Cain to kill the Emperor himself, as he was the only one who truly stood in his way.

Krelian then deprecates the entire Gazel ministry for their impertinence and futility in attaining godhood. He goes on to announce that he will combine his nanomachine work with the “anima vessels” (Fei and all his friends). With this, he plans to further the existence of the human race and create god for himself (he denounces the idea of becoming god and instead chooses to create one). He proclaims this as his ark plan, “Project Noah”. Krelian tells the “ancestors of mankind” to rest in peace and completely deletes them from existence.

Fei is now seen wallowing in his failure to protect Elly. The Wiseman suddenly appears and announces that he can’t hope to defeat Grahf while relying on Wetall and pride alone. He tells Fei that Grahf’s power comes from his pure hatred and resentment of their world. He also tells Fei that Elly showcased true strength in that her resolve was only for their lives, even at the expense of her own. The Wiseman then departs, leaving Fei with his thoughts and choice. He decides to rescue Elly and after two weeks of searching, they find her aboard Krelian’s nearly completed “Merkava” ship. Upon arriving at the Merkava, Fei comes across the Elements. The women are now dead-set on fighting Krelian and Miang, as they tortuously manipulated Ramsus for the sole sake of killing Cain. The Elements refuse to fight on the same side as Fei, and tell him not to assume their intentions are to help him, but Ramsus, their commander.

As everyone makes their way inside the Merkava, they discover Ramsus waiting to confront Fei once again (whilst aboard Krelian’s loaned omnigear, Amphysvena). Fei furiously demands to know the reason of Ramsus’ persistent resentment of him. Ramsus then relates a time after which he was just created. Due to his artificial makeup, he was fully conscious of the moment, even as an infant. Krelian was viewing him within a test tube when an unknown woman appeared and curtly advised Krelian to abandon Ramsus as a project. She informs Krelian that “her name is now Karen” and that she has a child who is definitely a “contact”. She also informs Krelian that the child’s name is Fei. They both acknowledge there must be a corresponding antitype born somewhere now. They both acknowledge Ramsus as a useless endeavor now and the mysterious woman jests at the Ramus’ fetal form with in the test tube, eventually chasing after love it will never be able to have. Ramsus then furiously recants how Fei’s very existence cancels his own out, while Fei recognizes his mother as Karen. Dominia then appears to reason with her commander, but Ramsus is far beyond being reached now. Ramsus then leaps at Fei purely intent on killing him once again.

After Ramsus is beaten, he retreats further into the depths of Merkava. As the crew follows, they finally come across Miang and Krelian, who are holding Elly captive. Krelian announces that Elly is to be a part of resurrecting god, and Miang launches an amused attack aboard her omnigear, revealed to be the Solarian “perfect gear”, the Opiomorph. As the crew fends her off, they realize that Miang cannot be killed in any traditional fashion. This leads to Krelian activating another part of Deus, which consumes all the team’s anima relics. This results in all of their gears being shut down completely (also reverting them back to their normal state), leaving them completely helpless. As Krelian and Miang prepare to sacrifice Elly to truly awaken Deus, Ramsus appears. He demands to know the purpose of his existence. Miang coldly states to him that his sole reason for living was to slay Emperor Cain for their benefit. Ramsus, being an artificial life-form, was mentally unstable; Miang explains that it was necessary to focus his rage on a singular point (Fei) to control him. She then humorously denounces Ramsus as the very definition of trash, and advises him to leave immediately.

As Krelian and Miang comically contemplate aloud what to do with them all, Ramsus wrathfully plunges his sword into Miang’s back, killing her. Miang announces she prefers her death this way (while Ramsus utters regret from his byzantine relationship with her); Ramsus then lunges at Krelian, slashing him deeply across the chest. Meanwhile, Fei and Billy attempt to untie Elly. However, once she is safely on her feet, she removes a gun from Billy’s side and shoots Fei (as her hair turns a brilliant purple). As Citan holds a bleeding Fei, Krelian rises again and informs them all that his body is composed of nanomachines that will allow him to recover fairly quickly. He also tells everyone that Elly’s true purpose is the “mother of all humans”. Elly then expansively fills the crew in on what they began to surmise from Razael's super computer earlier.

Deus was a inter-planetary weapon created by humanity a very long time ago. It was an artificial life form able to act upon it’s own will and take control of entire planets. However, during it’s test run, instead destroyed a planet instead. This left it’s creators to forcibly try and shut it down, as it’s immeasurable power proved to be far too much of a threat. It was then disassembled and placed on an enormous transport ship to be escorted to another planet (The Eldridge). Deus however, awakened and resisted this fate by attempting to take over the ship (the opening scene of the game). As a failsafe, the creators self-destructed the ship, which caused Deus to detach from its core (The Zohar). Elly also explains that the Zohar exists as a massive generator which globally transmits it’s energy to all of it’s slave generators (i.e. Everyone’s gears, global ether power, etc). The Zohar is simply put, an object with the ability to produce infinite amounts of energy.

Elly then continues, telling them that Deus’ core (Biological Computer Kadomony) crashed onto their current planet. It then activated it’s “Persona System” which can generate organic material. It used this to set forth a plan which would ultimately culminate to it being resurrected one day. The first humans to be created were Emperor Cain and the Gazel Ministry from the “womb” of Miang. The Gazel sought the team’s bodies because Deus was originally composed of organic elements. The anima (female) and animus (male) elements have an added function to become mobile weapons by merging with machines designed as terminal interface weapons (the gears). The ministry (Animus) sought to become one with everyone’s Omnigears (Anima) in order to resurrect Deus (god). After losing their bodies in war, the ministry then set forth a plan to perpetuate their genetic material so they could eventually merge with their Anima again (which means the entire team is descended from the Gazel Ministry and Emperor Cain). The persona system was specifically designed to propagate a multitude of organic life-forms in order to serve as replacement parts for Deus eventually. This means the entire population of the planet was created to be new parts for “god”.

However, a hitch in Deus’ plan presented itself when “humans” began transmigrating to other bodies (dwindling the numbers of the race itself). Krelian eventually created nanomachines that made up for that deficiency. Elly then announces herself as Miang, the representative for their god, Deus. Miang explains that she was created to be the caretaker of humanity, guiding them towards an eventual return within Deus itself. Elly was taken over by her because Miang’s genetic material exists in all women ever created. Whenever Miang dies, her persona simply moves to another female body, as designed. Miang then departs with Krelian in order to awaken herself and become one with Deus, leaving Fei and his friends to watch. Suddenly, Fei leaps after them, pursuing Deus. Merkaba then activates and proceeds to absorb the entire human population. For those who didn’t mutate into Wels and thus could not be absorbed into Deus, they were deemed eventual threats by the self-aware system. A plan was then set in to motion to simply exterminate everyone who was left by use of Merkaba’s weapons which ascended from it, the “Seraph Angels”.

The team is eventually able to find Fei, but he is unable to regain consciousness. As they bring him back to what’s left of the human race (basically just Shevat), they decide it’s best that he be put into carbon freeze as initially decided. It is told to Citan by Queen Zephyr that Shevat froze Fei not because of fear of Id, but because of the nation’s guilt towards their own wrong doings. Zephyr tells Citan that Shevat made an agreement with Solaris 500 years ago that resulted in the war (most likely manipulated in secret by Miang), leaving Lacan (Fei’s fourth incarnation), Roni (Bart’s ancestor), herself, and Krelian facing imminent death. Sophia (Elly’s fourth incarnation) then appeared, and sacrificed herself so that they all could retreat to safety. However, Krelian and Lacan (who were both deeply in love with Sophia) were deeply scarred by Sophia’s death. Krelian renounced all of his faith and after spending his entire life worshiping a god he now knew did not exist, he set out to create god for himself…then mysteriously disappeared. Lacan on the other hand, was disgusted with his lack of power, as all he could do was watch Sophia die right in front of him. He began searching for the Zohar, as he found out it was a source of infinite power. After making contact with the Zohar, Lacan became Grahf. Zephyr reveals her excuse for freezing Fei stems from a desire to seal up a terrible power that was only born because of them.

Fei, who is in carbon freeze, meets with his “Id” persona (that appears in Fei’s subconscious as a small child version of himself). It introduces him to the “coward” persona, which is shutting the entire situation out so he won’t have to deal with it. Id then relates the memories of Lacan to Fei. It is then shown in an extensive series of flashbacks, how Krelian lost his faith (solely given to him by Sophia), and how Lacan’s inability to express his feelings for her ultimately end up in a state of perpetual anguish. Krelian’s love for Sophia was based more in worship itself, as she changed him as a person fundamentally. He was initially a violent assassin that most people feared, Sophia helped him gain a sense of peace and solace through studying and reading. Lacan on the other hand, was romantically in love with Sophia. He was an artist who spent a great deal of time purposefully stalling his job of painting Sophia’s portrait (he simply liked spending time with her). Roni Fatima (Barts ancestor) and Krelian point out to Lacan that his love is obviously reciprocated by Sophia, as she personally requested he paint her (noting her particular melancholic smile as one Sophia ONLY showed to Lacan).

The friendship is then shown between Roni, Krelian, and Lacan as the ensuing war escalates, threatening to involve them all. Krelian does however, harbor slight contempt for Lacan; not because they both loved Sophia, but because of Lacan’s inability to express himself to her. He already knows who Sophia wishes to be with, and is irritated she can’t be happy because of Lacan’s insecurities. The escalating war then comes to their homeland and Fei is forced to abandon his portrait of Sophia (leaving it infamously unfinished). Though Lacan unintentionally declared his love for Sophia (he thought she was asleep), the ongoing war then presented a situation, threatening the lives of Krelian, Lacan, and the rest of Nisan. In the midst of an oncoming assault, Sophia is shown piloting a cruiser by herself while leaving her final transmission for them. She successfully saves them by slamming her ship into the hull of the enemy’s main cruiser, sacrificing her life so that Lacan could live. After witnessing what he perceives to be a total lack of god, Krelian sets out to “create god with his own hands”. Lacan wanders off in emotional torment, and after desperate searching, he comes across the Zohar’s energy, buried deep within the arctic.

After this story is conveyed, the clock swings back to the present, showing Dan alive and aboard Shevat as well. As he wanders into Fei’s frozen chamber, he looks on his frozen body and realizes that Fei’s current state is Shevat going too far. Midori (Citan’s daughter) then enters the room and speculates that Fei will soon wake up (her slightly psychic nature allows her to see that Fei is “crying”). Suddenly Fei’s body begins to glow and as he awakens. He begins to scream at the two children, urging them to run from the room immediately. As they watch, Fei or rather…Id awakens and smashes out of his imprisonment…and immediately sets out to find the Zohar…

Notes and Observations

Consistency in The Quest
Something that’s easily definable in RPGs is how the main narrative always finds away to split itself into sidequests. Most games do this anyway (at an attempt for pacing), but RPGs run up front because of how much has to go into them. For 40+ hours of playtime, it’s to be expected, but it does disseminate one’s own immersion into the narrative itself (which in turn hurts the experience for most). Xenogears avoids this by simply not avoiding it at all. Of course I could argue that by defending that the game gets away with this because it answers all of it’s own questions at some point. I’m not saying Xenogears gets it right by any means, I am however saying that it gets a lot done by simply handling a lot more (insert irony badge here). I pointed this out in a previous fraction a few times before; the game does this by the having the player deal with Aveh, Shevat, Solaris, Nisan, and Kislev directly. Xenogears manages to maintain itself while the main narrative has no makings of stretches that “seem like sidequests”. There’s plenty of reasons I’m seeing this as a strength of the game (Citan, “Nation Juggling”, considerable length, etc.) The only thing that hurts it is most of disc 2, where as I previously described, the perception of time is hurt. Xenogears compliments it’s own crushing story with a cushy pillow, not something I expected, but it was something that almost perfectly held it’s own weight.

All is Eldridge
There's a lovely thematic here that further illustrates Xenogears' innovation in it’s thematic/visual/classic design. It’s actually "retroactively reworked"; where most RPGs try to operate off some medieval/classical period meshed with decorative futuristic motifs, Xenogears is actually the exact opposite (Men don’t become God, God becomes man). It started as a hyper-advanced civilization and regressed into the remnants of that fallen civilization; THEN it tosses the player back into that civilization building itself back up. Of course the game can all be viewed to be same as the rest of them in a very general sense I guess. However, something about the nature of the Eldridge starship caught my eye in a very positive way. The opening scene finally starts to make sense. The game also suggests that the entirety of the planet’s nations and cities are actually just pieces of the scattered Eldridge. Contrary to what I expected, this actually DOES capitalize on the Gazel’s formerly mentioned plot point I mentioned earlier in Fraction VII.

The Opening Sequence
This note is incredibly dangerous even to imagine, but coming off my previous one, it leaves me bloodthirsty for more. After the opening sequence was introduced in it’s full relevance, I began to wonder how clues could be scattered throughout the game alluding to it’s origin without giving anything too damaging away. Sure, one could make the argument that it is there (example: The Yggdrassil’s out-of-nowhere compatibility with Kislev’s capital). Any visual cues between the opening movies and the game’s structures are up for grabs (though I have heard that exact argument on Shevat’s saucer form being seen on the Elridge somewhere in the opening).

The Connection Gear
The awe that comes with transitioning from normal gear to omnigear is pretty much lost when the connection to the first gears wasn’t played up to begin with. Much like the correlation between the gear and pilot, the emphasis is only there in a visual sense. I suppose a lot of this can be attributed to the scaled back development in the game’s waning development phase (i.e. Emeralda had an omnigear in the designs but it wasn’t present in the game). With the awe that comes with aligning anima relics, this is something that should have felt wonderful when it simply became the next step up on a flight of stairs.

The Entirety of Flashbacks
The flashbacks centering around Lacan, Sophia, Krelian, etc. were all fine in the context of the story, but my usual complaint arises here…yet again. I’m not allowed any playtime with this area whatsoever and it becomes troublesome after a certain threshold of “view2play”. Even when looking at this in the context of Fei experiencing his past lives, it just simply makes more sense to actually play these areas rather than watch. There is also an issue of “linear absurdity” here as well. For example, I argue that the player should be allowed the feat of sacrificing Sophia’s life. The problem with that is the horrible disconnect that would occur if the action itself totally flew over the player’s head. The entire nature of her tragedy stems from the graphic finality of her solution and forcing a cue over the scene would kind of kill it (i.e. forcibly cueing it to happen if the player just “didn’t get it” for whatever reason). If they didn’t know where to go, where to crash, IF to crash, everything about the nature of the scene being playable would be lost (because a flashback is dictated by what HAS to happen). Of course my solution for that would be placing control over Lacan, simply to watch a scenic view of her crashing into the hull. There’s certainly a lot to consider for any moment one gives playtime to, but don’t throw up the big shield of cowardice (a.k.a. cutscene).

“Project - 0808191: Ramses” (Kahran Ramsus)
Now, Ramsus actually IS a character who is sad in the romantic sense, just barely though. What I did take from that was accompanied solely by the fact that Miang actually may have harbored some capacity of “feelings” for the man she twisted, dejected, and hurt for indirect purpose. The best line I’ve heard used to describe Ramus & Miang’s relationship in Xenogears is: “She loved him as much as she could”. Miang is only an amalgamation of every woman in humanity’s history, she’s not her own self, and whatever IS actually her is buried under ten millennia of other female personas. Going from how twisted I desired Ramsus’ flashbacks to be in particular, I thought it would have been nice to give control over him as well. This would tear down (or at the very least begin to blur) the black and white preposterousness of coloring out “antagonists” and “protagonists”. Ramsus is the character that the player sees in his/her most vulnerable state (anybody that argues Fei should be slapped).

The Nature of a Main Character
Fei truly earned his role in this game (the next entry explains his origins entirety). The problem I had with a lot of the Xenosaga games was that Shion Uzuki never established herself as a main character (other than running around whining about her astraphobia). In addition to that, it became troublesome when all the other characters could easily fill the spot (i.e. anyone can make the argument that Xenosaga is actually about KOS-MOS, chaos, or Wilhelm). Xenogears has a lot of interesting and memorable characters that easily compete with Fei, but he always ends up solidifying himself as the main character (the avatar I’m playing as is such an irrelevant point of argument in these games). My only issue is that he be given even more dialogue (or better…). Punching up this game’s hero or “slayer of god” is something the tale could have benefitted from greatly. As a closing statement that won’t make any sense until the next entry, is how I desired to be Abel first coming across the Zohar 9,999 years ago. That could potentially be a mind-blowing moment.

Friday, February 13, 2009

DFB – Xenogears Fraction VIII

*Warning, this is strictly a story-related summary. Skip down to notes and observations if you want to avoid spoilers and such.*

Chapter VIII: “Hello Disc Two”

Fei stumbles out of the destroyed Wetall with a bleeding and unconscious Elly in tow, but doesn’t make it very far before passing out. While sleeping, Fei has a vivid dream in which he experiences the romantic emotions of a man named Lacan towards Sophia, the past mother of Nisan. Elly also experiences the memories of Sophia as well, and they both recount very specifically a moment in which Lacan is painting the unfinished portrait seen in Nisan’s cathedral early in the game. It’s all but spelled out at this point that Fei and Elly are beings reincarnated (the game refers to it as “transmigration”) from the following people.

Fei then wakes up to find himself healing in tube. A man then lets him out and informs him that Elly will need more time to recuperate. As Fei follows the man into the next room, Citan greets him and the man who rescued them is introduced as Taura. Fei notices that the technology used to help him recover (by use of nanomachines) is the same technology that Krelian was using in Solaris. Taura tells Fei that this is because Krelian was a past student of his, which comes as a surprise to him. Not too long afterwards, Elly awakens and is let out of her recovery tube as well. Taura then tells them to go outside for some fresh air while he and Citan recount matters happening across Ignas.

While outside, Fei and Elly try and piece together what memories are left from their earlier dreams. They both acknowledge their budding emotions towards each other as Taura calls them back inside his cabin. Back inside, Taura states to the team that they can use a mass-driver to scatter Taura’s nanotechnology particles into the atmosphere. This will disable the population’s limiters. He also tells Fei that he can use a wristband given to him to suppress Id’s appearance as well. There is also a feature that allows Fei to tap into Id’s power (though they all acknowledge it’s use as a last resort). Suddenly, a Shevat emissary storms into the cabin and begs Fei for his help. Taura is furious at this act, as he knows they only request Fei’s help now because word has spread that Id can be suppressed (Shevat was just about to freeze him to death earlier). Elly then tells Fei to go help Shevat and she will proceed with the mass-driver scheme. Despite Shevat’s selfish actions, she acknowledges that innocent people shouldn’t be ignored for the actions of a few. Fei is worried about Elly going by herself, but Citan steps in and tells Fei that he will accompany her. Citan also states that he brought his own Omnigear this time (Fenrir), as he had always kept it in Solaris for safekeeping before the city’s fall.

As Fei departs, Taura informs him that he and Old Man Bal, restored and upgraded Wetall for him. Emeralda is also present, but suddenly rushes off to join Elly in her plan. As they all leave, Grahf can be seen conversing with Taura (and is acknowledged directly as Lacan himself). It is shown that most of Solaris’ high-ranking officials have escaped, and are regrouping to plot their next move. Krelian can be seen conversing with the Gazel, and when they find out that Fei is still alive, they officiously demand he be dealt with. Ramsus is still obsessively in pursuit of Fei and Krelian still expresses his top priority on getting Elly back. As Ramsus confronts Fei’s Wetall2 with Vendetta, Fei releases a newly acquired feature of Wetall known as “System Id”. This allows him some reign over Id’s strength without losing his will to his alter ego. With Wetall2, Fei is easily able to dispatch Ramsus, even aboard his own omnigear.

Elly in the meantime, travels with Emeralda and Citan and they release the mass driver into the atmosphere, which frees everyone from direct control of Solaris by breaking down their limiters. Meanwhile, the remaining force of Solaris launches the rest of it’s military might in the form of a Mobile Surface Supremacy Weapon. The MSSW decimates most of Nisan/Shevat’s troops and proceeds to launch an assault against Nisan itself. Bart on the other hand, has taken to fusing the Yygdrassil with Kislev’s main capital fortress (revealed to be designed specifically for such a purpose by his ancestor Roni Fatima). This fourth iteration of the Yygdrassil allows it to competently do combat with the Solarian MSSW. The defeat of Solaris’ final force, in conjunction with the mass-driver release, means that Ignas is free from Solarian control and finally achieves peace. Without Solaris’ manipulating the planet, Shevat, Nisan, Aveh, and Kislev are able to sign treaties, granting a window of solace to the ravaged planet.

Miang can be seen confronting Krelian, who reveals he had also anticipated the limiters being broken. As a result, he placed technology into Solaris itself to be dispersed, should it be necessary (though he acknowledges this as being a close call still with the nation’s destruction). As Krelian continues to denounce the Gazel and their aim (claiming the “ark of god” is his), Miang simply states she will just side with the “more certain side” anyway. As Krelian’s plan counteracts Fei and co.’s victory, the human population begins to mutate en masse into Wels. As a result, those who were only partially mutated sought out treatment in the abandoned Solarian Soylent facilities scattered across the globe. It is revealed that the Krelian manipulated matters so that human population would be forced into seeking help from the Soylent facilities, which is in actuality just a cover for the “M System”. This system is elaborately designed so that the human race would be transferred on a global scale into becoming “the body of god”.

As Fei’s team arrive at one of these facilities, they are forced to face the “Sufal Mass”, which was created when many Wels were merged together. Upon defeating the creature, they all help the remaining human population into the city of Nisan. With the help of Taura’s technology, they’re able to prevent these people from being lost entirely. Elly has taken a prominent stance here, helping what’s left of the planet within the city of Nisan (reflecting her past life as Sophia). As things calm down, it is decided that the crew should attempt to find the remaining anima relics to prevent them from falling into Krelian’s hands. As they scour the planet searching, they come across one and it merges with Billy’s Renmazuo gear, transforming it into the Omnigear, El Renmazuo.

Upon departing the site, the crew runs into all four of the Elements, acting under the will of Ramsus. Though not wanting to fight them, the crew is forced to defend themselves. After defeating them, the elements retreat to their gears and repeat their attack, but combine their gears into one massive mechanical monstrosity (G-Element), which proves a lethal force for the crew to deal with. After finally defeating their combined might, Fei and company set off, refusing the fight the Elements anymore (as at this point they’re not really enemies due to Ramsus’ haphazard loyalty towards Solaris). While retrieving the second anima relic (Transforming Rico’s Stier into “El Stier”), the team comes across Hammer, who is now merged to his gear (thanks to Krelian).Though he provided the crew with a challenge, he wasn’t able to defeat them. Upon his defeat, Hammer requests that Rico return to Kislev, as he secretly knew that he was next in line for Kaiser. He then falls into a nearby chasm to his death, content with having played a significant role in matters.

Meanwhile, the Gazel Ministry has been plotting to use the Gaetia Key (which only they can use), which will mutate all humans back into Wel form (so they can merge with “god”). However, Emperor Cain’s power prevents this from happening. Both the Gazel and Krelian decide to use Ramsus to assassinate Cain, as he’s the only one who can stand to nullify Cain’s defense (Kahran is secretly a clone of the Emperor). As Ramsus stands before Cain, Krelian appears and reveals that he has no intentions of letting the Gazel use Mahanon for their own ends. Emperor Cain is astounded by Krelian’s treacherous nature and reprimands him about his motives to further humanity’s existence. Before Krelian offers a response, he dryly orders Ramsus to kill Cain, and Ramsus thrusts his sword into Cain’s skull. The Gazel Ministry then proceeds to use the Gaetia key; this causes what’s left of the human race to revert to Wels. It also summons Mahanon from the ocean and the crew watches as the gigantic mass rises from the waters.

As the crew decides to set out to deal in order with this, Fei forbids Elly to accompany him. He recognizes her worth to what’s left of the population and decides that they can’t afford to lose her at this time. He even goes as far as coldly criticizing Elly, which sends her from the room in tears. As everyone in Fei’s party explain to him that he went about his actions in the wrong way, Fei leaves the room to apologize to Elly. After he relates his feelings regarding the situation, Elly agrees to stay back in Nisan. The two finally consummate their relationship, and the next morning Fei leaves with everyone else heading for the Mahanon.

As they pass over the gigantic landmass, they notice that it is actually the hull of a massive spaceship. The words “Eldridge” are still visible across it’s exterior and as the team begins venture into it, they speculate that they may indeed be the descendants of a crash-landed alien race.

To be continued...

Notes and Observations

I’m not suggesting something as ludicrous as Max Payne's dream sequences, but manipulating the degree of “sense” while playing with memory/dreams is not something to cast off. It doesn’t even have to make perfect sense and can be ambiguous enough to let people interpret their own takes on it. The object of Fei and Elly's dream is to convey love. That said, there's room, even with the at-the-time-technology to play around with such a setup. Particularly in that the scenes are focusing on Lacan painting a picture of Sophia (*hint hint*). Everything ranging from the camera to the actual action going on (which in the game is conveyed by the "textbox cutscene" as usual). I've now described this twice with Kahran Ramsus, and I'm sure I'll have to hit it again before I'm done with these. I don't like that the purpose of most flashbacks is to help the audience formulate an objective viewpoint anymore; empathy is more important here. Give me rage, give me passion, give me...bias.

To hell with play….Woe for the Creators
In some ways, this part of the game (Disc 2's sudden switch to cutscenes) doesn’t fundamentally bother me, because "it knows what it is". More importantly I KNOW what it is. It’s too obvious at this point that the creation of this game was suffering. Does that grant it my leniency? Yes, SHOULD it grant it my leniency? In my little world, my word IS god’s law, so yes. To detail specifically what I'm referring to is what I'll acknowledge as Xenogears' biggest and most detrimental weakness: The entirety of disc 2. Once disc two starts, the game takes all previous sequences of interaction away from the player, opting to tell the "relevant filling" portions of the story through pure storytelling (you only get access to the world map once or twice from this point to the end of the game). Fei or Elly is literally sitting on a chair while the text propagates itself on the screen overlaying a topical image in the background. The game still lets the player explore and play of course, making their way through dungeons and what not, but they're strictly controlled at this point of the game. It's so sad that it happened when one considers the future of this particular department at Square. They left with what they had to regroup in what eventually culminated as Xenosaga, another batch of titles crippled by their own narrative and sales figures.

Tightly Wound Narrative Strings
This is coming, I know it. The game has been busting it's ass trying to illuminate the player on how large the scale of the narrative actually is (i.e. reincarnation). What I'm already seeing is how it will all coalesce as it nears a conclusion. I'm particularly suspicious of how the role of Lacan and Sophia will culminate. As far as that goes, my only substance in this note is that I'm suspicious, nothing more.

Non-Engagement Scenes
I wonder how sensitive emotional scenes are in games. To be more specific, actions themselves (i.e. Fei kissing Elly) tend to cause me unease when I consider how it should be played. Everything about it seems like an offensive gimmick when considered otherwise. Subtlety in design would go a long way here I guess, as long as the action itself isn't trying harder than it should, I'm fine. Even something as simplistic as providing movement during a conversation would help me here.

I Can't Feel Time
This is another by-product of Disc 2's atrocities. It's a beautiful novelty that all games possess. When one is actually "playing" through something as epic as Xenogears, it's easy to extrapolate one's own perception of time into a set period of play. However, when the game specifically tells you through storyboards that "two weeks have passed" it's hard to wrap any grasp around that in the narrative arena. There's simply no playground to serve as a vehicle for that time period, so it's lost.