Friday, February 6, 2009

DFB – Xenogears Fraction V

*Warning, this is strictly a story-related summary. Skip down to “Notes and Observations” if you want to avoid spoilers and such.*

Chapter V: “Men of the Sea, Women of the Skies”

Fei and Elly are eventually rescued by the Thames, a massive floating ship that is essentially acting as a small city. Though initially suspicious of why they were rescued under such generous manners, Fei and Elly learn that the captain of the ship is simply a friendly old lush with a lighthearted sense of nobility. While having dinner with the captain, the Thames begins to shake under the presence of a nearby fight. The Captain, Fei, and Elly discover that it is the Yygdrassil II, and proceed to board their gears in an attempt to go help Bart. Meanwhile, Dominia who is now acting with another Elements officer (Kelvena) are using an underwater gear to do combat with Bart. Bart, who predictably rushed in to fight the two Elements, is crippled as his gear isn’t setup at the moment to do combat underwater. Finally, Fei and Elly reunite with Citan and Rico on top of the Yygdrassil. Citan suggests that Fei and Elly go help Bart, as their gears are better equipped underwater. As Fei and Elly show up, Dominia proceeds to scold Elly for her treason (letting her prejudice against land dwellers show itself in full glory). Elly valiantly believes now that she is no different from Fei or anyone else from the surface, and she denounces Dominia’s lecture. She then proceeds to do combat against her with the help of Fei and Bart.

After the Yygdrassil offers some additional aid, they’re able to overcome Dominia and Kelvena. Dominia is outraged in her defeat and proceeds to capture Elly as they retreat. As Bart and Fei make their way back to the Yygdrassil, Fei expresses concern for Elly while Bart still mockingly expresses his distrust of her (implying that her “recapture” was a ruse). The Yygdrassil then docks with the Thames for repairs. The captain immediately shows his eccentric hospitality towards his new visitors and he and Bart get run off to get drunk. Back on Ramsus’ ship however, Dominia is seen beating Elly in a corridor for her treason. As she unsheathes her sword, Miang suddenly steps in and trenchantly criticizes Dominia’s insulting manner. Dominia, still volatile over the situation, threateningly steps in Miang’s face, as if to challenge her. Dominia immediately backs off however, as Miang’s eyes suddenly cause her great unease. Miang then graciously helps Elly up and takes her away to assess what happened without Dominia’s bias. Miang later meets with Ramsus to inform him that Fei and crew are most likely aboard the Thames. Ramsus, still eager to confront his unspoken discomfort with Fei, immediately orders his ship to proceed to the Thames. Meanwhile, Elly has supposedly snuck out during the night hours and meets back up with the Yygdrassil (though she’s suspiciously acting very dryly towards everyone).

As Ramsus and Miang head towards the Thames, they are picked up on radar. Elly’s sudden return to the Yygdrassil is revealed to be a ploy, as she was unknowingly hypnotized by Miang and was subsequently forced to sabotage the Yygdrassil’s engine. Bart refuses to let the Thames turn into a battleground, so he, Fei, and Elly (determined to prove her loyalty to them despite the situation) rush to meet their gears in combat. As the battle drags on, Ramsus gains the upper hand. He then launches a devastating assault on Fei. The battle is taking place underwater, so Fei’s gear is damaged so that it’s not pressurizing properly. This leaves Fei injured and in the face of imminent death. Elly then desperately counterattacks Ramsus in order to protect Fei, and in doing so she’s able to damage him enough to force him into retreat. After placing Fei under the care of the Thames’ doctor, they learn that he needs better care if he is to survive. The doctor suggests the Ethos’ help in order to help Fei recover. Fortunately, the Ethos is conveniently meeting with the Thames in order to inspect an excavation being carried out. While looking for the Ethos officials, Elly and Bart stumble upon a small mute girl being harassed by a Thames passenger. After successfully causing the offensive person to leave, they meet with Jessiah, a loud and foul mouthed ruffian who is also the small girl’s father. After this confrontation, a young Ethos priest appears and identifies himself as Jessiah’s son and Primera’s (the small mute child) brother, Billy.

The air between the father and son is obviously past estrangement, and Billy doesn’t seem too pleased to see him. However, after a request from Bart’s gang, Billy advises them to head to the Ethos HQ, as Fei may be able to find help there. As the crew enters the Ethos HQ, Billy greets them and they proceed to a room where Fei is helped. Eventually, Fei is stabilized and released back into care to the Yygdrassil’s medical bay (though still unconscious). In order to thank Billy for his help, the crew journeys to his home (which also serves as an orphanage). While there, they play witness to an uneasy confrontation between Billy and his father. Jessiah then accompanies Bart’s crew back to the Yggdrassil (being revealed as an old senior/accomplice of Sigurd and Citan). While the three waste their time getting sloshed, Bart and Elly go back to Billy’s orphanage. While making their way around the orphanage, a bishop calling himself Stone visits and requests that Billy investigate a large ship in the middle of the ocean. The ship is suspected to be infested with Wels mutants, and Billy is well-versed in combating them. Though reluctant at first, Billy allows Citan, Bart and Elly to accompany him in order to show their gratitude.

While aboard the ship, they all find that it is indeed infested with Wels mutants. After clearing it out (thanks to Billy’s newly revealed Gear), they escort him back to the Ethos HQ. After they arrive, they find numerous bodies littering the halls, and assassins are running rampant throughout the complex. After fighting off the assailants, they all discover a highly sophisticated bunker deep within the Ethos HQ’s basement (which Elly immediately identifies as using the latest Solaris equipment). After some digging around within the archives, Citan and Elly discover that the entire Ethos religion is a subterfuge. It exists in reality as a subsidiary to Solaris. Further investigation reveals that the Ethos has been trying to break away from Solaris’ rule (to achieve it’s own form of global power). As they flee the scene, they run into Bishop Stone, who is revealed to be behind the attack. Loyal to Solaris, he reveals that the Ethos was designed as a faux-religion to manipulate the masses as well as those within the Ethos itself. Billy who is crushed by having his entire faith torn apart, watches as his father enters the scene to question Stone. Jessiah, and the rest of the crew then attempt to stop Stone, but he escapes in an extremely large gear (Alkanshel).

As Stone flies off, he and a large black ship (dubbed “fishbowl”) launch a massive assault (by use of Wels mutants) on the Thames (and the Ethos fleet escorting it to an excavation site). The Thames survives, but suffers a significant amount of damage. Aboard a Solarian ship, the highest ranking individual Solarian official is revealed. Known as Krelian, he leads the assault/pursuit to the excavation site. The Thames assault is also being observed by the same mysterious individuals who were seen earlier discussing Kaiser’s Sigmund’s importance. These individuals are now all but directly revealed to be the Gazel Ministry, the main governing body of Solaris. It is also revealed that Krelian revived these individuals so that they only exist through an intricately designed super computer (the SOL-9000). Krelian seems to harbor disdain and contempt for them, and clearly showcases that he’s the true governing force behind Solaris’ current actions.

I don't have much to say about Krelian right now, I haven't seen enough of him to comment. I am prematurely questioning his use as the "main antagonist" though.

Meanwhile, while chasing the Solarian forces to the excavation site, Billy agrees to accompany the team from now on. Upon their arrival, they find a large city of ruins buried deep underground (known as Zeboiim). As they make their way deeper into the facility, they discover a small girl created using nanomachines. After releasing her, two Elements officers (Tolone & Seraphita), who accompanied by Stone, show up and assault the team while Stone escapes with the small girl. Fortunately, the team is able dispatch them in time to catch up to him. However, as they’re all crossing the bridge overlooking the enormous city of ruins, a voice suddenly calls out to Stone, uttering only to give the little girl back. Suddenly, the same scarlet gear that decimated everything in it’s path earlier appears alongside the bridge. The pilot then finally revels himself as the same red-haired individual from Kahran Ramsus’ nightmare. He repeatedly demands that Stone give the small girl back (as it belongs to him), and when questioned about his identity, he gives only the name “Id” before viscously assaulting Citan and company. After the fight, the Wiseman shows up in a gear to do combat with “Id”. He presses that the team pursue Stone while he holds off “Id”.

As the team arrives back at the Yygdrassil, they find Stone ready to confront them all, while aboard Alkanshel. Before the fight, Grahf suddenly shows up and grants Stone the same monstrous power he granted Vanderkaum earlier, which prevents the party from damaging Stone at all. Luckily, Jessiah turns up and offers his help in the form of a large gun (formed from his own gear) to allow damage upon Stone’s gear. With his help, they’re able to defeat Stone (though they were unable to prevent him from passing along the small girl to the Solarian “fishbowl” ship). After the battle, Jessiah fills them all in on how he suspected Solaris’ intentions all along and spent his time trying to get to the bottom of it. It is also explained that Stone had Billy’s mother killed out of vengeance towards Jessiah (whom he had loved himself). Billy is now able to understand his father’s departure and Primera finally begins to talk again. What Jessiah found out suggested that they all needed to visit the city of Shevat. Shevat, which is a gigantic floating city (the enormous flying saucer Fei saw in the desert near the beginning of the game), can only be accessed by proceeding to the top of Babel’s Tower. The crew then launches the Yygdrassil and proceeds to the large tower, which reaches high above the clouds.

Bartholomew "Bart" Fatima, the crown prince of Aveh has strong ties to the U.R.T.V. Rubedo of Xenosaga. He's lovable right down to the impulsive short-sightedness that both characters exude constantly, act first...think later.

To Be Continued…


Notes and Observations

Aesthetic Accomplishment
This is not Xenogears’ fault for what it is, but I cannot stress the importance of how significant visible equipment is for an RPG now. Maintaining weaponry, items, and outfitting are all mainstay allures for most contemporary RPGs. It’s nearly a meta-game in itself; micromanaging one's status and outfitting, but when a game solely operates on the names (i.e. “I have Vanir’s Armor only because a menu says I do), it strips the appeal drastically. It’s very ironic because, this is a very superficial aspect that generates substance in the player. Would this in turn affect the pacing? Who knows, but I do know it’s a contributor to the menu-based “play” RPGs are disgustingly bogged down in.

Cat Fight
Something that doesn’t get treated with enough care (as my regular readers are probably sick of hearing me bitch about) is the appearance of female characters in video-games. Although Xenogears operates off contrived archetypes, their characters are still more than effective. What’s even more ironic (other than there’s two teenage girls fighting on the T.V. show I’m watching at this moment) is that a good deal of Xenogears’ standout characters for me are high ranking females:

Elhaym "Elly" Van Houten – The game spends the first 25% of it’s time running the player into Elly every few hours for the sake of the story. Although I could go on at length about it’s significance, I think I’ll let the story summary speak for itself there. Elly is a character that feels like she should have been with the player since the beginning of the game, and once she finally joins the party, it’s actually “filling a longing” of sorts. For right now though, she’s a piece of the game that functions as a “carrot on a stick” from Fei’s perspective (her hair is almost poetically orange too). I’ll have to come back on Elly as the game climaxes and concludes, but for right now I’ll stand by my opinion of me enjoying not hating her.

Miang - (Covered Below)

Zephyr & Maria Balthasar - (Both appear in the next entry)

The Elements

Dominia – Assertive and domineering, the thematic Dominia plays up when associated with elements usually goes with Fire, but Xenogears hands her Earth instead. She’s very stalwart and physically orientated. Her resolute authoritarian image is probably emphasized the most out of all the elements, and she’s the first one the player comes across as well. Though colored as being ridiculously prejudiced and forceful, she’s actually very “grounded” in how she plays out in contrast with Kelvena.

Kelvena – This is the unofficial leader of the elements, and her influence and standing over the other three is clearly defined even when she makes her first appearance (Dominia actually listens to her). She’s actually the exact opposite of Dominia as well. Her power stems more from the mind, and her physical appearance consists of a unassuming, blue haired, level headed girl that keeps her eyes closed constantly. At first, this led me to assume she was blind, but it was later brought to my attention that she does this to keep a focus check on her own raw power (which runs far in the lead out of all the Elements). Her dialogue and speech with Dominia and Elly makes her one of those warriors that a person is actually proud to fight. Her calm demeanor and sensible nature immediately attributes the Water element to her.

Tolone – The latter two haven’t shown me anything I can really work with yet, but Tolone represents the Wind element; she can usually be seen paired up with Seraphita (as Kelvena and Dominia usually are). She operates and speaks in the manner of cold logistics and figures, and instantly displays an obstinate superiority in combat against her opponents. Her compliment with Seraphita contrasts her as the “Brains” of the Elements.

Seraphita – I don’t understand this one at all, but I assume it’s a Japanese cliché to place a powerful dunce/ditz in the way of the player sometimes. What’s even more surprising is that her element is fire, which is usually touted as the Element of power and life. She constantly makes silly comments (which are immediately reprimanded by Tolone). Though she is still a formidably powerful force, she constantly acts childish and idiotic, especially when contrasted against Tolone.

Marguerie “Margie” – Holy Mother of Nisan – Margie is not a very pronounced character, but like I previously mentioned, she operates thematically as an adjunct to Bart. She’s just below being a main playable character in the game, as she occasionally appears as NPC healer for the main party. She successfully fills out the role of being a pacifistic young woman, but it worked more for me to constantly consider her in relation to Bart.

Both Xenogears and Xenosaga use the “Anima” and “Animus” as vehicles for plot points, usually strictly concerning the gear units that both games rely on greatly. These concepts are also directly manipulated (in reference to their source material) in Xenogears to a mentionable effect. Sometimes, you can find this concept in most tales of arguable ”quality”, but not too many use it as much as I initially assumed. The names originated from Carl Jung’s teachings of analytical psychology. The animus is showcased when a female unconsciously exhibits masculine qualities in her personality, and the anima exists vice versa for males. Xenogears manipulates both of these to varying degrees of success. Of course, psychology is written off by most as jargon people get paid undeserved amounts of money for, but I’ll be the first to jump on the table in saying that it makes for a fascinating tool for narrative to develop (it is a fascinating academic as well, given the person is not idiotically assuming it as law). Characters like Citan, Bart, Dominia, and Miang all showcase these types of personalities. Fei himself…well that’s a tangle of string I have set aside for one of the later entries in this series.

Gear Thematics
It’s already there, which is a compliment in itself, but I always feared it was walking a line between tasting brilliance and simply being too power rangerish for it’s own good. This would be the relevance of the gear units themselves in relation to their character. Most of the playable characters of Xenogears possess their own gear and will spend a significant amount of time in them. Something I think that isn’t used enough in this game so far are cockpit shots, as it’s a far more intimate view from inside the pilot’s seat of a massive mechanical power. At first, I had all the gears and their respective pilots listed, but I decided to scrap the explanation, as this is a part of the game "I want to admire more than I do", so I don’t feel it deserves the attention it SHOULD scream for itself in this area. Everything from the battle system itself to the correlation between the gear and it’s pilot needs a drastic re-tooling for my enjoyment/praise.

Submissive Submission
Altering the fights in underwater portions runs the risk of them becoming just like any other under water portion in most other video-games, reviled. Anything dealing with this would have to be incorporated to operate with the battle system (which I already suggested needs a total overhaul outside the on-foot portions). Xenogears never really plays with this, not to my knowledge anyway (unless it effects gear speed), and it’s actually something I prefer the game didn’t mess with at all (other than visually). Having convenient “gimps” pop up in the middle of a fight annoys me to no end and only serve as a superficial means to remind the player that they’re being gipped for no good reason. This is something that I’d imagine a P.C. game being able to deal with much better, as what I’m envisioning involves simultaneous strains on actual gear parts (i.e. pressure gauges and such). Of course that’s unrealistic for a game in this time frame, but having to “actually compensate" for being underwater is something I haven’t seen yet in an RPG.

Ocean-Faring Spectacle
When a game gives the player some new background area too look at (visually pacing itself), it’s to be commended. Although it made me long for my previous problem with the “War with the World Map”, having the game move during this transition is something I noticed instantly. Even Bart’s character acknowledges his transition in piracy from sand to sea, and it’s something I appreciated the second the Goliath was shot down and the game transitioned to the Thames and underwater combat. Given the mythos of this game, it’s only a matter of time before it moves to the air; so anything not artistically perverse, yet not plain and dull, is WELL appreciated. What’s really interesting to note is that the game (or it’s spiritual narrative) actually starts in space, and reverses itself to end up back in the same final frontier eventually (Xenosaga). I suppose that's yet another reason the fanbase for these games try fruitlessly to jam Xenosaga and Xenogears together.

Ethos is just another Religion
Though the Ethos twist was expected, I was left disappointed at the game’s attempt to hide it. The player really has to actually try and empathize with Billy’s loss in the above situation. The game does make some allusions to how saturating the Ethos actually is earlier on, but it never tries to engage the player through it, so when the twist actually happens, it just leaves the sense of expectancy and nothing else. The “faith” that the Ethos was created to manipulate, should have been more prominently showcased earlier in the game. It would help the shock of the situation when the Stone finally makes his move and it would also help with Billy’s characterization as well. It’s not like it would be easy to do either, I don’t envy having to balance all the crap Xenogears tries to tell, which starts the second the game begins with Fei painting. This is just a small part of how it’s thematic-narrative becomes dingy.

Villianesses - Miang
I am known to have an almost innate affinity for admirable villainesses. Specifically women who’ve carved themselves out roles as antagonists are usually my first eyebrow raisers in any tale of any medium. I usually prefer it to not soley be seated in some gender based hatred (i.e. a feminist off her rocker), but I’ve been known to be happy with what I get sometimes. Xenogears is pleasant with it’s girls however, and though I still have a long way to go, I’ve already picked out my two favorite characters of this game. Miang ranks #1 through her subtle and obviously secretive manipulation of every single event going on (and I don’t even know what the hell she’s doing yet). Everything I’ve “sucked in” for this game suggests that Krelian is the main antagonist of Xenogears. To be fair and honest, he technically is the main antagonist. Being that I still have a lot left to accomplish in this game, I’m sure the motives of his role will begin to solidify more. However, when think of the phrase “Xenogears’ Villain”, it’s almost an instant imagery for that Gebler jacket and purple hair. Every piece of her localization-crippled, text-box dialogue, communicates a radiant character weaved in and out of every event taking place in Ignas. The second I saw her compliment Fei’s handsomeness in the Aveh tournament, I knew who I’d be sticking with.

Climatic Boss Fights In Conjunction With Music
Climatic Boss fights are some of the most memorable moments in RPGs. This has been the case since “ye olde nineties” as well. So far, confronting “Id” on the bridge overlooking Zeboiim manifests itself as the pleasure center of my experience with Xenogears so far. I got exactly what I wanted here, a boss battle that “spoke” and didn’t have to force it (overtly) to communicate that “this fight means something”. I could beg for the fight to be harder than it was, but given that the player is giving chase at the moment, that most likely would have interrupted the pacing. Music is immensely important in these area for RPGS in particular, as the right melody can manipulate the methodology of every action you take in that battle (I chose my moves in the menu very slowly in tune with the music). Yasunori’s Mitsuda’s “The One Who is Torn Apart” (which is on my player on the right side of this page) is pretty much “Id’s” theme song, and consists of a haunting and somber melody that is evocative of “everything that is nothing” and considering what “Id’ actually is, I think that’s amazing.

Miang and ID
Again, you’ll notice at the top of this page that I’ve plastered up my two favorite characters in this game (Miang and “Id”). I don’t necessarily consider this part spoiler as I don’t think anyone is actually clueless to who "Id" actually is now…come on. I don’t explain why yet, I just explain it’s purpose in the game.

“Id”

Id’s ominous force of strength is emphasized to the point of being cliché earlier on in this title when he shows up and decimates everyone and everything without even trying for no real reason. When he reveals what can be taken to be his name, his purpose becomes far less cliche, and more thematically pleasing. His sfx are particularly striking and distinctive. While I love the way his sprite animates, I'm not a big fan of the way the sprite betrays his actual appearance. His initial on foot fight was epic and it had no other reason to be than his character just forcing it's presence. If this game ever did get a hypothetical remake (of which I demand voice acting), they would have to choose a pretty talented voice for him (as he’s obviously some part of Fei’s subconscious). At this point, I’m not even near the end of the game, but I think there should be an almost innate need for the player to gain access over "Id" at some point in this game (and not just because he technically IS the main character). The name he gave showcased his very existence (according to Freudian terminology of course). According to his analytical psychology theories, Freud proposed that the “Id” is the base drive humans all exhibit throughout their lives. It reacts on pure impulse, desire, and has no collective will.

It’s the manifestation of what humans immediately classify as “chaos”. Id is in actuality, just a part of Fei himself, and therefore a characterless character. The “Id” is most prominently showcased in humans during their infancy or childhood years, where we use this part of the “psychic apparatus” constantly. Children (most of them anyway) have no grasp on nuances of human interaction and act solely on impulse and basic drives ("I want this, I want that"). Why this is relevant is because I think the player needs to gain access to this character in particular (and maybe it will happen later in the game, I don't know yet). Gamers have a bad stereotype for being big children, when in actuality we just have access to pleasure parts of our personalities that is very evocative of how we grew up (child-esque, not childish). This is prominently driven (in theory) by the “Id”, and therefore should resonate specifically with gamers, more so than a book can borrow, and even more so than a movie can muster. I’m not suggesting an extremely extended amount of playtime with him, just something to let the player get his/her feet wet. I can go on about why I personally find the character fascinating, but that’s a line I refuse to cross in a blog….I have a strict line with personal perspectives, and I draw it here.

Miang
This gal’s pure ice and I love every inch of her. The icy, yet warmly condescending demeanor makes her that character most people just love to hate. I have a particular penchant for “bitches” though, and she is running the pack in this game (very subtly). Even in her initial appearance, her “outside view” is already apparent. What she actually is, becomes very important here, but I think it’s of more value right now to cite how her dialogue has suggested what she is and how she's operated ever since she’s first seen courting Ramsus. She’s the character who I perceive to have a constant “big picture perspective” of what’s going on during the course of the game. She prefers to work in dimness of everything else going on around the player, and it’s actually what the player remembers about her character the most. She’s always there, and yet she’s not there at all.