Wednesday, February 11, 2009

DFB – Xenogears Fraction VII

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

Chapter VII – “The Truth, Some Of It Anyway…”
The monitors around him begin flashing images of the scarlet gear as Fei awakens and begins to question where he is. The Gazel Ministry then coldly explains to him that their aims are for “Mahanon” and Fei recognizes this as as "god’s paradise". The ministry then states the exact reason of why there are no records of the human race on the planet before 10,000 years ago (cited in a few places over the course of the game). Supposedly humans are an alien species that "fell" to their current planet along with “god’s resting place” (Mahanon). The Gazel then states that their purpose is to return to the fallen Mahanon and resurrect god. The purpose of Fei’s crew and their capture was that they all possess certain biological necessities (Anima/Animus) needed for god’s resurrection. Fei knows this involves everyone on his team being turned into Wels, and is outraged as the Gazel further implies that their aim is not just a global one, but universal.

It is also revealed to Fei that Citan was specifically placed in Lahan to watch over him. Citan notes that his spying was to observe Fei’s worth as “friend or foe”. The Gazel then acknowledges Citan’s well done job, especially after the incompetence of Ramsus. It is then shown that Elly is under captivity of Krelian and he begins to explain her past outbursts of latent energy. He also announces his disdain for some of Solaris’ experiments and introduces himself as a scientist of nanotechnology. Afterwards, he states that Elly possesses the “Urobolus Ring” in her introns which is definitive for his experiments (which is also compatible to the Gazel’s aim of resurrecting god). Just before Krelian leaves the room, he showcases a very prominent sentimentality towards Elly, noting how beautiful she is. Ramsus then enters the room and acts in a very peculiar fashion as he begins to question her. Elly notices that he’s taking drugs to stabilize his personality, but Ramsus’ only concern are the whereabouts of Fei. He leaves the room suddenly and attention is brought back to Fei in front of the ministry. Citan then enters the room and coldly questions Fei’s purpose and role. He incisively criticizes Fei’s worth as a person and trenchantly cuts him down, referencing how he failed to save his friends (after which Fei passes out).

After Fei comes to, he finds himself free in front of Citan, with Billy and Bart at his side. Fei immediately rushes at Citan furiously, but Billy and Bart hold him down. They both explain how Citan’s plan involved this, as it was the only place to remove the limiters placed in their bodies by use of the Soylent System. As Fei takes in the entirety of the situation, it is shown that Citan feels extremely guilty over the plan, as it required the manipulation of both his loyalties to his home nation and the trust of his friends. Citan then unsheathes his sword (which he vowed never to use again) and announces that morality doesn’t enter into the current severity of the situation. The doctor sets off to enact another portion of their escape, announcing that he also had a personal matter to attend to while in Solaris. Bart, Billy, and Fei then proceed to rescue Elly from captivity in Krelian’s lab (Citan revealed that there is no limiter present in Elly which makes matters easier). After successfully rescuing Elly, the crew then proceeds to rendezvous with Citan and the others. Citan later meets up with Jessiah fighting off Solarian guards. As they flee the scene, Ramsus appears and furiously demands to know where Fei is. Citan demonstrates that he has chosen his side, while expressing his sorrow for what Ramsus took to be betrayal. As they leave Ramsus in the exploding facility, he wrathfully bellows his contempt for his former colleague. Everyone meets up and the entire party is shown to be prepared for a forced escape. Hammer is also revealed to have helped Elly’s parents join them in their getaway as well. Citan advises the team to split up and they all set out to escape Solaris.

As they cross the hangar’s bridge leading out of Solaris, Hammer suddenly stops and holds the crew at gunpoint while taking Elly in hand. He demands that Elly be taken back to Krelian. Despite everyone’s resistance, Hammer explains to them that he’s too normal not to succumb to the threats made against him by Krelian (not being as strong as Rico or as smart as Citan). Elly’s mother Medena suddenly steps up and states that she refuses to let Elly be taken away. Though Elly is released, Hammer loses himself in fear of Krelian and shoots Medena, killing her. As Elly stands over her mother’s body, Grahf and a maksed, unknown Solarian soldier (who was also seen escorting Fei to Kislev after Id’s assault earlier in the game) stand in the crew’s way. Fei and company immediately rush to combat them. As they repel the the two powerful individuals, Elly’s father Erich shows up in a standard gear to hold them back. The unknown Solarian soldier makes note of the man “doting” his daughter and then uses his/her power to completely destroy the gear, killing Erich as well. Elly, now having seen both her parents killed right in front of her, breaks down and her latent energy begins to exude. Though Elly is still able to control herself, she is still too burdened with grief to do anything.

As everyone around begins to submit to this duo’s assault in the ominous situation, Fei begins to feel himself losing control again. Suddenly there’s a large explosion, and the bridge is destroyed. Elly, Bart and the rest of the crew were rescued by Maria in Seibzehn at the last minute. Elly, inquires about Fei’s safety, asking where he is. Citan solemnly assures he’s safe and directs her attention to Solaris which is now under assault of the scarlett gear. Citan reveals that Fei is indeed "Id" himself and they retreat. The crew then watches from the bridge of the Yggdrassil as Id single-handely destroys the entire flying nation of Solaris. While escaping Solarian airspace, Elly goes out on the deck of the Yggdrassil in her Vierge as Wetall-ID approaches the ship. Elly, who is now willing to die in order to help Fei, desperately clutches Wetall-ID as it brutally assaults her gear. Just as it finishes Elly’s gear off, Fei begins to awaken which causes Id and his Wetall gear to dissipate.

As everyone recuperates in Queen Zephyr’s chamber, Citan continues explaining Fei’s situation. Fei apparently has Dissociative Identity Disorder. Usually the result of childhood trauma, it is described when a person displays multiple distinct personalities, each with it’s own individual perception and interaction with it’s surrounding environment. It is then revealed what personal matter Citan visited while in Solaris earlier. Just before Fei was freed, Citan brutally and aggressively attacked Fei verbally which caused him to pass out, thereby dragging Id to the surface. Realizing this was his only time to talk to Id while he was neurally restrained, Citan uses the situation to have an extended conversation with Id. The psychotic persona reveals that Fei himself actually exists below Id in terms of how “Fei’s” entire personality is composed. Citan compares the Fei they all know to a new persona being written over an already in-place Operating System (Id). Id also suggests the existence of a third persona within “Fei”, which acts as a catalyst between his own appearance and Fei’s (Citan acknowledges this third persona as the “coward”). The doctor also explains to everyone that the “Fei” they’ve known has only existed for three years (while he was in Lahan). This Fei can only exist while his existence isn’t being threatened (in otherwords, a place of peace). It is also revealed that Citan telepathically explained to Emperor Cain that Fei is not their enemy. Cain accepts this, but acknowledges that Fei is indeed the “Contact” (though Citan doesn’t know what that means yet).

Everyone present is apprehensive over the whole situation, as Id was cause of the first Yggdrassil’s first sinking (and it is revealed that Id was actually the one who killed Rico’s friends in Kislev). Citan also reveals that it was Id (under the manipulation of Grahf) that wiped out Dominia’s entire civilization a long time ago. The inhabitants of Shevat aggressively assert that Fei be placed in carbon-freeze to keep Id from surfacing again. Citan takes everyone’s hesitation as a decision and the Queen announces that Fei will be frozen the next day. Later that night, Elly confronts Fei and convinces him to escape with her (she’s the only one who won’t even consider freezing him). In the hangar however, Citan steps out of the dark anticipating Elly’s actions. Though Elly defensively asserts she won’t let Fei be frozen, Citan says he’s only there to see them off, telling them he’s already refueled Wetall for them. Billy and Bart appear and apologize for their hesitation earlier as well. Elly and Fei then depart in Wetall.

It was revealed in Solaris (before it’s destruction at the hands of Id), that the mysterious person accompanying Grahf was Miang. She speaks with Krelian about Id’s power and Krelian relates his desire to see “her” again. Miang suggests Ramsus be given another shot at killing Fei and they both leave Solaris before it’s destruction. The Gazel Ministry is discussing the nature of their situation while Krelian speaks to them (the Gazel once again questioning Krelian’s goals). Ramsus is then shown traveling in his gear, while receiving transmissions from Krelian and Miang. Miang informs him she has faith in him, while Krelian tells him he merged his old gear with an anima relic, forming the gear omnigear Vendetta. Krelian then informs Ramsus that if he still can’t defeat Fei with this power, then he is indeed what the Gazel Ministry deemed him as, “trash”. Krelian also orders that Ramsus take Elly from Fei and bring her back to him. Ramsus soon catches up to Fei and easily destroys Wetall with Vendetta. He arrogantly ignores Krelian’s orders and relishes in his defeat of Fei. Fei and Elly are then shown crash landing in a forest. Fei removes Elly from the remains of Wetall, but notices that she’s losing far too much blood to last much longer. He then proceeds to carry her through the woods...both of them on them verge of death.

Notes & Observations

Ramsus’ Peculiarity
As much as I prefer the look of Xenogears’ I instantly noticed the limits of the aesthetics here. The sprite tries to communicate an oddness to the Gebler commander's behavior, but it only does so fundamentally. There was no grasp of him becoming insane on screen other than the fact that his sprite was constantly laughing. It's not as trivial as I originally assumed as well, as I think Ramsus specifically is an persona that the player should be able to empathize with on a deeper level. The nuances required to respectably understand Ramsus’ unstable nature would require far more than the Ps1 was capable of, so I can't remain too harsh here, it was a disconnect though. All the player is aware of at this point is Ramsus' is growing worse. There's room for stylishly distorting the perspective to fit his obsession with Fei. I mentioned this in a previous fraction as well, suggesting how using his dream for optional skewered playtime would benefit his characterization greatly.

Robots with Wills
Anytime there are robots or “synthetic creatures” displayed in games, they usually come under praise for how closely they straddle humanistic characteristics (i.e. GLaDOS). Though I’m not entirely sure yet with Xenogears, something does smell fishy about the “purity of humanity” in this game. From what the Gazel is suggesting, I'd imagine the entire race as up for grabs in being "synthetic". This is not unlike the wills of U.R.T.V.s and Realians of Xenosaga fame. It's a nice tool that brings into question an actual moral dialogue between the player and the game. The Xeno games specifically operate on a very critical characterization crux, and once the player find at least one of these sprites to truly connect with, the resonating that will ensue is guaranteed to move this side of the industry forward on an solely individual-gamer level.

Built in Reverence for Religion
Xenogears uses a simple thematic which brings to light the time old gentlemen’s agreement of humanity: Science and Religion. While it isn’t exactly new, it’s still an admirable feat to watch a game try and accomplish. I read somewhere a while back that the human brain is actually developed to house "faith". It's actually a built in means that psychologically aids the human race in preserving itself (ironically it was written by an atheist scientist). This is also another reason why I'd give a child Xenogears before I give them the bible. It encourages faith without the distortion of what metaphysical life entails. Sure it gives some direction, but for all intensive purposes, it isn't delusionally oppressive with it's spiritual undertones. That's not as much of an cheap shot at Christianity as it is towards this "atheistic-wannabe" population that everyone is trying to evolve in.

Area for the "Player’s Id"
Remember when I said the player should have a brief period with Id's force to constructively correlate between the gamer's literal Id and the game's character? Well I found the perfect area for this to happen. Ironically, it's constructive while the actual act is destructive: The player should be allowed to destroy Solaris, case closed. This is the perfect area for the player to assume the role of Id. It’s narratively relevant, as the game is finally revealing what and who Id is proper, and it’s such a large set piece. Solaris is the antagonistic nation of the entire game so far. It would actually end up being pretty cool and complex from a storytelling standpoint (JUST for a game as well). This would involve the player assuming the role of a villain while still in the body of the hero, fighting an "evil" nation that’s been revealed to produce good people despite it’s elitist national status. There's no way that WOULDN'T be a brilliant display of gameplay.

Relevance of a System
I’ve been trying to come up with a way of hypothetically making the gear combat more enjoyable for me. My front runner thus far is stripping Xenogears of the system itself and making the gear combat (just the gear combat) strictly contextual. The maintaining and upgrading can remain the same, but the gear combat just slams against so many places when it's muscling in on the narrative. Whether it's realtime or turn based is irrelevant here to me at this point. The on-foot system is now my new favorite console turn based system, but it just doesn't translate as well when everyone hops in their gears. The main problem is that it's such a important part of the game narratively and it doesn't respond well when the reality of it's combat presents itself. Fighting in big robots should be far more kick-ass than this...and I can't expect a Ps1 game to do too much, but after something like Zone of the Enders...I expect more from big robotic combat.

These Scenes Should Bleed
As much as I love the story-heavy games, I think it’s imperative for the industry to get out of the rut they’re in with scenes. There’s an obvious comfort zone that’s apparent with cutscenes on principle. This certainly was certainly more tolerable in 1998, and I’m not trying to crucify Xenogears for it. It does however, unwittingly "carry the cross" for itself when it comes to how the industry can’t tell a story now without entirely taking control from the player's hands. Carrying Elly’s bleeding body from Wetall should have been an action engaged upon by the player. With something like Prince of Persia's controversial ending, I think this speaks volumes, as this act takes place just prior to transitioning to the second disc.

Gazel is soooo Gauche
The Gazel Ministry , when seen in their dialouge with Krelian this chapter, showcase hubris in their existence. Though it’s horribly formulaic to have a computer play a villainous role, they got away with pulling their conflicting ideals off as worthy of standing against. They very directly outline that their current state as computers as far more desirable than that of human weakness and emotions. Krelian, who has already shown to be exasperated with their pride, dangles irrational desire in front of their face and constantly enforces himself as the one actually in power. If the game finds a way to capitalize on the Gazel’s one-track mind of power, numbers, and logic (“God as a Machine”), then I’ll be extremely impressed with it. With the right dialogue rewriting, this could actually have a lot to say about the current state of objectivism in the world itself. 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.

Pacing Punch
The problem between watching and playing for me is a matter of biological pacing. It’s nice for a videogame to have cinematic scenes sometimes, but when I watch half an hour of them, suddenly giving me control over my character is nothing less than befuddling (they’re two different neurological actions for entertainment). This is a fundamental problem that I think most people have with scenes in general, but it’s one I don’t mind becoming righteous about as well (despite the fact that I really don’t care how I’m told a story). Most people have strictly drawn lines they refuse to cross when it comes to scenes in games and it determines just as strictly the enjoyability that they’ll get out of it. Something I think I’m good at as a gamer is the versatility in moving my own personal line.

This is why I gravitate towards games that usually rely on ridiculous cutscenes (MGS games, Xeno Games, etc.). The Xenogames are generally taxing and demand a certain degree of reverence for the subject matter. Metal Gear Solid is far more saturated in the industry simply because it’s scenes are shorter (sad but true). It’s still no exemplar for scenes in games, but its far better paced than say…Xenosaga, where the cutscenes can quite frequently, literally take up the better part of an hour. Narratively based games certainly need to evolve, and to do this, it’s absolutely definitive that they learn to master their pacing of cutscene use, even if they have to use a quota. There are also certain small moments that instantly raise the importance of nuanced action within emotional scenes (i.e. Medena’s death). These can still remain scenes, but come across very oddly in their actual state. Hammer comes off more insane that frightened by his killing of Elly's mother and that's because of the the scene itself. That stuff said, the day will come when people will look back at Xenosaga/Xenogears and it’s use of scenes will be so archaic they will become a novelty, generating yet another layer of cult fandom. One day, someone like me will be able to speak more about what I play rather than what I watch. Too bad it just isn’t now…

Scenes in this chapter that I'm absolutely flabbergasted at because they aren't player-controlled:

Wetall vs Vendetta

Vierge vs Wetall-ID on the deck of the Yggdrassil

The destruction of Solaris

Citan's Questioning of Id (My favorite moment in the game so far).