Monday, February 9, 2009

DFB – Xenogears Fraction VI

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

Chapter VI “Taking To The Skies”

Everyone arrives at Babel Tower, as information revealed that Shevat actually sat atop it as a part of the city proper 500 years ago. Supposedly at the top, there rests some equipment to make contact with Shevat. The Gazel Ministry can be seen during this time, denouncing Ramsus for his failed attempts to kill Fei. Ramsus is infuriated at their insinuations, and rushes off to prove them wrong. Not too long afterwards, they confront and assault Fei and crew as they’re scaling the Babel. After being defeated once again, Ramsus very reluctantly retreats with Miang. Afterwards, the crew finally arrives at the top of the gargantuan tower and finds a large and powerful hostile gear rushing to confront them.

Though this new gear is formidable, eventually the crew is able to overcome it. They learn upon it’s defeat that the pilot is a young woman named Maria Balthasar who is testing their strength. Fei immediately recognizes her surname in relation to “Old Man Bal” that he and Bart ran across in the caves shortly after meeting each other. She reveals herself to be his granddaughter, and subsequently invites/escorts the team to Shevat, the floating city. Digging around the massive floating populous reveals it’s existence as a nation that stood as Solaris’ primary rival 500 years ago. After the two aerial nations went to war, Shevat was left defeated and forced into it’s present nomadic state. Most of the inhabitants seem weary, scared, and melancholy about their entire civilization, as it exists as little more than a floating tombstone for what it once was. After the crew reflects on the nature of the planet’s hostility towards one another, Maria appears and informs them that the queen would like to see them.

In the meantime, the Gazel Ministry has constructed plans to make an effective attack on Shevat, knowing it’s where Fei is presently located. They immediately discern that the generators are to be taken down first, and afterwards a full on assault will be initiated. Meanwhile, back at Shevat’s royal palace, Fei arrives outside the queen’s chamber to find the Wiseman waiting there. Though the Wiseman presses the crew to proceed on to the queen, Fei is startled by his appearance. In the chamber, the queen reveals herself to be Zephyr, who has undergone life extension (thereby appearing as a beautiful young woman even after centuries of rule) out of duty to her nation. After a conversation with the queen involving Fei’s past, it’s revealed that the nation’s generators have been crippled, leaving them wide open to attack. Maria then escorts Fei through a passage leading to the hangar so they can use Maria’s gear to defend themselves. Upon arriving, they find Dominia there, who informs Maria of the nature of her gear, Siebzehn. Supposedly, it was a prototype gear made by Maria’s father to specifically focus on connecting the mind of the pilot the machine itself. Dominia then escapes, and everyone rushes back to the queen’s chamber to plan their next movie.

It’s decided that everyone will head off separately to individually defend the generators. After successfully holding off the attack, Maria rushes off to face the gear leading the assault, Achtzehn (it has frozen the abilities of all the other gears participating), which is also Siebzehn’s sister gear designed by her father. Maria instantly notices what she believes to be her father (who was taken and most likely brainwashed to create gears for Solaris), announcing an oncoming attack. As Maria’s does combat with the gear, Achtzehn initiates a program which transfers Maria's father's final words to her in case the two models ever met. It pleads with Maria to completely destroy Achtzehn. Though she initially refuses, recognizing her father’s actual “voice”, she is forced to destroy the gear, successfully saving Shevat from the assault.

As everyone recuperates in the Queen’s chamber, they find out that Shakhan has just invaded Nisan. Bart, outraged at this news, rushes off to help and the team accompanies him. After arriving, they clear out the city and assume that everyone has retreated into the mausoleum. They also reveal the secret behind the Fatima jasper and formulate that Shakhan must be after the Fatima treasure. In actuality, the key to open the vault into the Fatima’s chamber is none other than the genetic identity of the Fatima family itself or more specifically, their eyes. They believe Shakhan will force his way into the mausoleum and steal the preserved body of the latest deceased Fatima family member (which is in this case, Margie’s late mother). Escorted by Fei, Bart and Margie make their way to the mausoleum to find the inhabitants of the nation safe, and the tomb of Margie’s mother left intact.

The three then make their way deep into the mausoleum and open the vault to the Fatima treasure. After they discover it (revealed to be an extraordinarily advanced gear), they decide to power up the huge underground facility and use it to help Sigurd and Citan (who rushed off in a re-attempt to take back Aveh in Shakhan’s absence). After powering it up and realizing the mausoleum itself is a huge mobile fortress, Shakhan finally occupies his suspicious absence. He manipulated Bart’s impulsive nature so that they would open the vault for him, thereby granting him access to the facility (which Bart acknowledges as “Ft. Jasper”). On their way to take back the new gear before Shakhan can have it, they run into large force of soldiers led by Shakhan himself. Though they are clearly outmatched, Margie suddenly bolts through Shakhan’s troops into the treasure-gear’s resting chamber (causing most of Shakhan’s guards to give chase). Sigurd and Citan suddenly arrive earlier than expected to help, as they found the Aveh easily occupied in the absence of Shakhan. While making their way to the chamber, they all discover that the door is sealed and needs to be unlocked again using their retinal pattern. This creates a problem, as two members of the family (or at least two eyes) are needed to open the vault again. Bart is immediately annoyed as he’s already lost an eye and is hectic to rescue Margie.

Sigurd suddenly steps up to the scanner and advises a now horrified Bart to stand in place for the sequence. The door unlocks and although Bart is still shocked at Sigurd’s now-confirmed status in his family, he rushes to help Margie. As they make their way to the chamber, they discover Margie has sealed herself inside the gear and is erratically fending them off with it. Bart arrives inside the machine to find Margie (who was shot in her leg) and no way to actually control the gear. Citan instantly recognizes the technology, and advises Bart to use his mind to control it. In doing so, Bart dispatches the immediate threat (though Shakhan flees the scene) and finds out that despite Margie’s wounds, she’ll be fine. He also finds that this treasure-gear is actually an Omnigear (Andvari), a far mightier gear model than his old one (Brigandier). Upon resurfacing, the team finds out that Shakhan hasn’t tried to take back Aveh yet and is retreating nearby. Bart is now ready to finish him off and gives chase, pursuing him into the cave of a large generator (revealed to be one of the gates keeping Solaris out reach of the surface). Grahf suddenly shows up, granting Shakhan power to overcome his opponents once again. Though he is aided by Grahf’s gift of destruction, Shakhan is still defeated.

The crew then makes their way back to Aveh, where Bart finally assumes the throne. Though he initially grants his father’s last wish to renounce the throne and make the nation a republic (shocking everyone present), he is still placed on the upon it by the people of Aveh for his efforts. Later that night, Bart recounts and very awkwardly announces to Sigurd that he is going to share his fortune with his newly revealed brother. The next day, the crew immediately enacts a plan to excavate and destroy the second gate of Solaris (known already to be deep under the Ethos HQ). This involves a delicate plan which requires that Bart and Billy fire a massive shot onto a reflective portion of Babel’s Tower, diverting it just near the Ethos HQ and destroying the gate. Though the plan is successful, they are tripped up once again by the Elements attempting to stop them. Next, the team uses some simple triangulation to determine that that third and final surface gate guarding Solaris lies deep under water. With the help of the Thames, they are able journey deep underwater to the facility housing the generator. Once they arrive however, they find the young girl taken from the Zeboiim ruins waiting for them in a formidable gear. After she is defeated and the gate is destroyed, she is taken back to the Yygdrassil to join the team. Her name is Emeralda and it appears she was brainwashed into standing guard over the gate by Krelian. She seems to already know Fei, and has an attachment to him (though Fei has never met her before).

With Solaris now accessible, the crew bypasses the defensive gate with the help of Maria aboard Siebzehn. Citan, Fei, and Elly are sent into infiltrate the lower level of Solaris, but are separated early on because of Fei’s dimwitted examination of Solarian equipment. Though he is able to meet back up with Elly, she informs him that Citan was also separated from her and they very slowly make their way up to the civilian area of Solaris. Upon watching a ceremonial speech given to the nation by Cain and Krelian, Fei experiences a flashback that suggests he knows Krelian from long ago (despite them never actually meeting). Fei and Elly also find out that Bart and the rest of the team have been captured. Fei, casting off all traces of subtlety, draws the attention of Solarian forces, which leads to him and Elly having to flee. After making their way through the lower areas, Elly leads them both towards her house. While Elly uses her father’s computer to help locate Bart and the rest of the crew, her father walks in and immediately triggers an alarm, assuming Fei to be a thief. After Fei explains himself however, Elly’s father seems to understand and allows him to escape. Though Elly’s father refuses to let Elly accompany him, Fei agrees and advises Elly to stay home, realizing her parents are good people. He acknowledges not wanting her wrapped up in his problems and that she belongs in the safety of her home.

While wandering through Solaris on his own, Fei is accosted by a guard who forces him into a room. After they are alone, the guard reveals himself to be Citan in disguise. With the help of Citan, Fei makes his way back down to the area they initially arrived in, and they both proceed to use the dust chute to make their way towards Bart’s holding area. Along the way, they find out that they won’t be able to proceed without a keycard, but Elly suddenly shows up with the access that they need. She recounts how soldiers came to her house shortly after they left and her father refused to let them take her, he then gave Elly a military card and helped her escape, advising her to follow her path with Fei. As Fei, Elly, and Citan make their way deeper into Solaris’ facility, they begin to notice that the Wels (revealed humans mutated by Solaris) are being recycled for food (which disgusts Fei as he unknowingly consumed some recently). It is also revealed that “Limiters” were also placed within the food (which is distributed across the entire planet), which inhibits a person’s psychological and physical capabilities when it comes to dealing with any part of Solaris or the Gazel Ministry itself. This entire process is known as the “Soylent System” and is a smaller portion of how Solaris’ maintains absolute control over the planet.

As they descend deeper into the facility however, Elly begins to grow increasingly suspicious of Citan (who revealed the purpose of the Soylent System to them). After realizing that Citan must have passed a P4 level access door earlier (which doesn’t even grant access to high-ranking citizens of Solaris), she stops to confront him. Fei is initially defensive of Citan about the situation, but begins to lose footing as Elly’s argument starts to make sense. Just as Elly realizes Citan shouldn’t have access to the degree of knowledge that he does, the lights in the entire facility go out. Fei is suddenly left by himself, and as he feels around in the dark, he stumbles into a room full of monitors. As they all begin to turn on, Fei finds out that he is face-to-face with the SOL-9000. He then passes out briefly and wakes up noticing that he is imprisoned by a machine inhibiting all his neural signals (meaning he can’t move at all). As the monitors around him finish turning on, he finds himself observing feeds of Citan (whose real name is revealed to be Hyuuga Rikudou), The Gazel Ministry, and Krelian himself.

To be continued…


Notes & Observations

One Town To Soothe
Throughout the course of RPGs, the player is going to visit new places and see new vistas. The amount of balance and variation in harmony between them as a whole should be something of a privilege when I think about it. Xenogears does this well because it doesn't do anything shockingly new, and I have no problem with that. There should always be one town that sticks out and provides a sense of travel realization. For me, this was Shevat the floating city. Although the mood throughout the entire nation was less than somber, it was something I could suck up entirely. I actually grasped the sense of "this is a long way from Lahan...".

“Home”
This is ironic in that it can diametrically contradict the previous note. It’s notable when an RPG gives the player a home. Mostly they focus on obeying the gamER’s will of mixing things up and constantly pleasing them with new lush and interesting environments. Don’t get me wrong, that’s fine, but sometimes games (RPGs in particular) never give the player a home. In Xenogears, the player is granted the Yygdrassil, which isn’t intricately explorable, but still a pleasure to be aboard nonetheless. Particularly with how taxing the experience of the game can become, it’s nice to be able to have a place to rest in (while still “in character”). Sure I’m being picky, as the player can pick whatever town they like and call it “home”, but there’s no need to constantly force the characters to be locked into becoming nomads.

Language Barrier and Refreshing Goofiness
When I noticed that Solarians use a different language, I instantly thought how cool it would be for the game to actually try and use it. Xenogears surprised me by actually trying it. Once Fei leaves Elly at her house, he has to walk throughout the city without her to translate people's speech for him. What's really nicely done as well, is the stripping of Solaris' ominous visage as the super-tyrannical nation. The game does this with it's delusional and out-of-touch-with-reality theme song for Solaris, which sounds like the opening to a Nick Jr. show. For all of Xenogears' preaching, this is an area of the game that leaves a smile your face for a very cleverly concealed stupid reason.

Party Splits
Something about this does rub me the wrong way, but I won’t deny that this is also something I’d hypocritically suggest if it wasn’t present. When the game takes your full party and decides to split them for the sake of a contextual plan, I instantly get annoyed. This is something a lot of RPGs use, but I can't think of anything to specifically deal with it. I also question the fact that it may be the desired effect as well. I like sticking to a certain character roster and once it's forcibly interrupted, I feel a little naked. Something about that...just doesn't set well with me at all.

Scary Wel-Making Facility
An out jutting sequence of Xenogears, simply because of the antimony of what I was fighting. When navigating the halls of Solaris' Soylent System facility, the player confronts certain monsters that bring into question:

"Why the hell is this here?"

It was this part specifically, mainly because I thought it was an excellent point in the game to stick in some means of eeriness for the player. Everything including the purple-facility palette, the information of Citan's revelations, and the music itself suggested that the area should have been a great unease to navigate, but it wasn't. It was just another dungeon...Of course there are going to be dungeons, but it's a great gift when they all don't feel so damn formulaic (not to mention lengthening the situation of Fei being stranded in the dark before bumping into the SOL-9000).

Sync Necessitation
How I approached the cinematic scenes in Xenogears (which only progresses by moving through the text-boxes) stands in direct contrast with Xenosaga’s prime crime of cutscene use. Syncing and manipulating the leitmotifs of music in Xenogears with the action itself became an almost unconscious action I began using constantly. I noticed this with the track “Flight” (also in my player on this page) which is used primarily in Maria/Siebzehn scenes. Though I still stand against the text-boxes, I do enjoy the metagame I created for myself in making the music match with scenes.

Cutscene Cut Down
Xenogears very rarely presents “actual cutscenes”, but it still uses them in full glory by making the player navigate through cinematics by use of text boxes. Even for the timeframe, I wonder how the enormity of the game’s story would communicate by stripping the “actual cuts” to moments of the player actually having to make their way towards something. An example would be how the attack on Shevat is navigated by constantly moving scenes, once Achtzehn makes it’s appearance. The attack basically plays out such as:

Are you ready for the defense plan?>Choose Yes>fight at generator 1>fight at generator2>fight at generator3>fight at generator 4>”textbox cutscene”>fight with Achtzehn.

At this point, keeping the game from becoming long is moot, it’s already ridiculously long, either you like it or you don’t. The above progression needs to be smashed and reassembled entirely. In some areas of this game, random battles are not necessary at all, so when the initial attack starts, the game could have given the player a random battle-free run to acquire their gears and meet the generator assailants themselves. The same goes with Maria’s obviously emotional confrontation with Achtzehn (housing what’s left of her father). Sometimes it’s far more necessary to let the player actually walk through the door than oppressively make them assume that “oh I already walked through it…I’m here now”. Time-old saying…the journey IS the destination.