Thursday, April 18, 2013

Xenosaga 3's Scientia

Oh, dear, I think it’s that time again. Yes, you know the one. It’s time to talk about the frenzied insanity that is Xenosaga 3’s narrative.

What to talk about today, I wonder? Perhaps the way that the series’s subplot questioning what human rights Realians deserve just fizzles out after a while? Or I could mention the meaningless, canned symbolism of having the Elsa sprout wings in Xenosaga 3’s ending, which doesn’t even make sense since wings shouldn’t really increase one’s speed in outer space. Maybe how distracting it is for the U-TIC Organization’s battleships to look like huge barbed penises? And then there’s the absolute jaw-dropping absurdity of resurrecting Albedo, the main and iconic villain of both Xenosaga 1 and 2, and then having only one single scene in the entirety of Xenosaga 3 in which he is at all relevant--and having that scene be his redemption through (sort of) death, which comes, from the perspective of his total screen time over the course of all the games, about 10 minutes after his death as a disturbed and evil villain.

Wait, I know! I’ll rant about Scientia! That’ll do nicely.

Ah, Scientia. Where would Xenosaga 3 be without Scientia, I wonder? Actually, I don’t wonder that at all. I know where Xenosaga 3 would be without Scientia. It would be more or less at the exact same place.

Seriously, why is the Scientia organization even included in Xenosaga 3? The biggest contributions to the plot that Scientia makes is that its leader, Doctus, helps Shion and Miyuki to hack Vector during Xenosaga 3’s opening, later on Scientia analyzes some of the information Shion helped to extract (which turns out to be information relating to overly complex and largely unnecessary plot threads, just like every other goddamn thing in this game), and also Doctus has a hard time remembering Canaan’s name because it is super important to establish that she is too cool for school. Or maybe that her brain is so incredibly hard up for processing power that it could crash just from trying to remember those 6 letters in order. Hard to say, really.

But yeah, that’s pretty much it for Scientia. Doctus and her group (a group we never actually see much evidence of other than Doctus, incidentally, lessening even further its ability to make an impact) do almost nothing overall, and spend the majority of the game completely forgotten by the main plot. Yeah, okay, the group’s goal is discovering the truth about, warning people away from, and seeking the destruction of the U.M.N., the cosmic network that all human culture is dependant upon in the future, yet even after being detailed and explained over the course of 3 separate games still is incredibly vague and puzzling in nature (the best way of going about understanding it, really, is to think of the U.M.N. as a magic psychic internet). And a (sort of) major plot point of Xenosaga 3 is discovering the problems and darker parts of the history of the U.M.N., so you could, I guess, say that Scientia has some relevance by introducing you to the idea that this inexplicable interweb could have drawbacks early on...but that’s a real stretch. In reality, Scientia is a mere shard of plot that slips through the fingers of a game trying to hold way, way too much stuff at one time.

Additionally, one has to wonder just how much need there was for Doctus and her organization even in the extremely small role they serve. I mean, does Doctus really have to be there in the game’s opening to start with? Since Xenosaga 3 already is jarringly putting forth the idea that Shion is secretly working against Vector now anyway, it would be as believable to have Shion and Miyuki doing their raid on Vector without Doctus’s help--Shion’s intelligent enough that it would be entirely feasible for her to be the one fronting the technological and intellectual resources necessary for the operation herself. There are other, better-established avenues and characters for going over the data she obtains in this event, so it’s not like Scientia’s organization is particularly necessary for that, either (hell, a simple time-consuming plot-convenient automated program would have worked just as well). And since the idea that the U.M.N. is something more than just Magical Space Internet is only truly being introduced and explored in this installment anyway, it’s a conclusion we could just as easily believe Shion or some other pre-established character coming up with themselves, rather than inventing an entire organization for it if that organization is going to lose relevance in the next 5 minutes.

The real problem here has its origins in the between-games story of the Xenosaga series. As you probably know already, the Xenosaga series was originally meant to be 6 games long, instead of 3, which explains a lot of the major flaws in Xenosaga 2’s mashing so much plot nonsense together and monologuing a full month forward at its halfway point, and more importantly explains why Xenosaga 3’s codex includes within it the details of an entire game’s worth of plot that happened between the second and third game that we’ll never actually see. Rather than doing the sane thing and trying to adjust the original 6-game-long story of the series so it would properly suit a trilogy by dropping its extraneous material (and there’s a LOT of that), the Xenosaga team tried to jampack every part of it they possibly could into half the games. I mean, obviously it would have been best if the series had had its full 6 games to develop over, but if they’d at least just tried to cut down on some of the peripheral plot arcs and ideas instead of smush everything together, the trilogy might have at least been comprehensible.

Anyway, this between-games story arc (let’s call it Xenosaga 2.5) is, according to the codex in Xenosaga 3 that summarizes it, where Doctus and Scientia originate in the series, and where they had a major role in Xenosaga’s events. Under normal circumstances (as in, Xenosaga 2.5 having been its own game), Scientia’s small role in Xenosaga 3 would actually be fairly sensible. I mean, the plot of Xenosaga 3 doesn’t require them in any real capacity, but if they were an established sect and Doctus an established character, as would be the case if Xenosaga 2.5 had been its own game, then the writers wouldn’t want to just drop Scientia altogether, because players would wonder why this group that was so important the last time was suddenly gone and forgotten. Abrupt absences like that actually tend to irritate returning audiences. So to have Scientia at least acknowledged, even if they aren’t important, and then have them relegated to non-screentime importance would have been a good way to get on with things without having the players wondering in mild annoyance where the group went.

But that’s IF Xenosaga 2.5 had been an actual game as was the original intent, IF it had been an actual product that the players had experienced to its fullest. And that isn’t how it wound up happening. So what would have been a minor but appropriate return of a previously well-established important group and character turns into an inexplicably important-seeming introduction of a character and group that has very little to do anything, and even what minor relevance they have seems forced.

So that’s the problem with Scientia. Like so many of the unnecessary and confusing variables of the Xenosaga series, Scientia is, in the end, basically unimportant and should have been removed altogether for the sake of a clearer and more sensible narrative. Given Scientia’s origin in Xenosaga 2.5, you can say the fault lies in Namco for refusing to give the series the time adequate to tell its story. But you can also say that the writers of Xenosaga are at fault for being unwilling to give up the extraneous details that had been planned, trim the fat of the plot so to speak, and/or for having no rational understanding of what plot devices are necessary and effective for a well-told story, and which devices just distract from and convolute it. Either way, it’s just another of the countless storytelling bungles to be found in Xenosaga 3.


  1. I get the feeling you could rip on Xenosaga 3 forever, sir. Unfortunately, that gives the impression that it's deeper than it probably is.

    I've long given up on meaningful Christian symbolism in JRPGs. Or games in general. There are notable exceptions, but they defy a very solid rule. hurrdurrangelwingz, etc.

    Giant barbed penis ships, huh? And here I thought Alien was egregious.

    Anyway, I'd chalk it up to large ideas not going through the pruning process properly, and people not being able to see outside the context of their full knowledge as a creator. Happens a lot in writing. Not that Xenosaga needs reasons to be completely insane.

    1. I really could. The point of opening these Xenosaga rants the way I do is so I can convey just how stupid and endless the rant material is with this game without actually having to write a rant on each and every one of these issues. That said, Xenosaga 3 has, beyond all expectations, actually begun to make even ME tired of hearing me talk about it, so I'm not sure that there will be too many more. The material's there (and whenever I run out of problems I can recall off the top of my head, all I have to do is watch 10 minutes of a Let's Play to remind myself of so, so many more), but the interest wanes.

      Yeah, I'm with you on Christian stuff in RPGs as a general rule. Thank goodness for Shin Megami Tensei, at least.

  2. Man...

    These posts on Xeno3 really remind me that I get around to starting it one day.