After screwing up my courage for years after the mess that is Xenosaga 2, I finally got around to playing and beating Xenosaga 3 recently. While the phrase “narrative clusterfuck” is a tremendous understatement when describing this game’s plot and characters, and I’m fairly certain I could easily create a list of 50 mistakes Xenosaga 3 makes in its storytelling just off the top of my head, I actually did enjoy it a good deal more than Xenosaga 2, and I’d even say it has some worth and meaning in it...if you really, REALLY go diving in deep for it. But heavier discussions such as those are for another day (or maybe never; if I got started talking about the problems with Xenosaga 3’s story, I might never stop, and I’m saving my “Never Ending Discussion of Why it’s Stupid” energy for an eventual rant on the Synthesis option of Mass Effect 3’s ending). For this rant, I’m just going to pose this annoyed question, instead:
Why the hell can’t the player ever seem to actually win in this game?
I’m talking about the boss fights, specifically. Oh, sure, you get into a boss fight in this game, well, you can pretty much always actually beat the battle itself (kinda have to, or it’s Game Over). I mean...okay, look, there are, basically, 26 bosses in this game, not counting the 2 super special ultra bosses. Now, after winning the boss battle, these are the bosses who are, once the battle is over, completely gone, completely dead/destroyed, or thoroughly defeated and unable to fight more or flee: Sigdrifa, Aludra Calf, ES Nephtali, Mai and Leupold, Pellegri, the three Asura Series 27, Citrine, each of the 4 elemental thingies in Abel’s Ark, ES Gad and ES Joseph, ES Issachar (piloted by Pellegri), ES Levi (piloted by Margulis), and the final boss, Zarathustra. That’s 15 of the boss battles in this game where you actually can beat the boss. Just a little over half.
That means that almost half of the rest of the boss battles in this game end up having the enemy either being quite strong enough to escape, strong enough to keep fighting, or, most often, shrugging the whole fight off and behaving as though they were not hurt at all. The first time your characters fight Margulis in the ES Levi, he is, immediately after the boss battle, still up and ready for more. The Omega Universitas is clearly damaged by your boss fight against it, but more than capable of escaping (which seems pointless; it’s never seen again to my knowledge, so why not just have it get scrapped?). Beat Virgil and Voyager in combat, and each time they’ll obviously be totally unharmed afterwards, taunting the player’s characters about it. Yuriev is only defeated when an outside party steps in after the battle (as was the case with Virgil and Voyager, for that matter). And so on.
I mean, alright, this sort of thing is not exactly unknown to RPGs. It’d take me a while to name a full dozen RPGs in which there are no instances of the plot dictating the heroes be unable, at one point or another, to defeat an enemy. Lavos is supposed to win in the Ocean Palace in Chrono Trigger, Kefka perpetually gets away from every battle he loses in Final Fantasy 6, and and the Exile can’t manage to counter Darth Sion’s regenerative powers during their first battle on Korriban in Knights of the Old Republic 2. And those are all games of distinctive quality. Plot happens, certain individuals can’t be eliminated too early, I get that.
But 11 times in one game? And nearly always these instances occur when the Xenosaga cast is engaging in combat with anyone of any significance. I mean, most of the boss battles in Xenosaga 3 that you CAN beat are just the random filler enemies--large monster-ish things, momentarily misguided good-guy NPCs, flunkies, etc. It seems like any time you actually fight someone that matters, it’s utterly pointless; they’re either going to be totally fine after the boss battle and get away, or they’re going to be totally fine after the boss battle and require defeat through some other story-driven means. What’s the point of fighting the game’s villains at all if you’re never going to be the one to actually defeat them?
Is this a small gripe? Well, yeah. Certainly not worth even the time it’s taken to write this rant. But all the same, it DOES get annoying at a certain point, and I believe that it does lessen the narrative strength of the game (in addition to the countless flaws that already turn Xenosaga 3’s storytelling into a horrible mess, I mean). Because after a certain point of watching deus ex machina get called in for the tenth time to take care of an enemy that you just spent 20 minutes beating on, you start to wonder why the hell you’re being partnered with heroes who can’t actually accomplish their goals themselves, and question the strength of a plot which would necessitate so many of its important conflicts be rendered bogus.