Say, is it...why, yes, it is! It’s time for another discussion of the utter chaos that is Xenosaga 3’s story and characters! Oh, BOY!
Hey, let’s do something different today. Instead of just naming off 4 or 5 of the flaws to be found in Xenosaga 3 before I make a proper rant out of the last one, this time around why don’t I have some fun and give a proper little paragraph to a bunch of them? It’ll be a blast, I’m sure. So without further ado, here’s another compilation of the many storytelling mistakes, big and small, of Xenosaga.
Scott and The Professor: The new role given to The Professor and Scott in Xenosaga 3 is rather strange, even jarring. In the previous games, these 2 have consistently been comic relief characters whose only significance was in relation to tongue-in-cheek sidequests that were almost entirely discordant to the actual plot. Yet now, in Xenosaga 3, these previously optional, out of synch background characters are not only fully validated parts of the plot--they’re actually some of the most important NPCs of all! They hang out in the main characters’ ship and take on most plot-relevant science tasks, such as explaining some of the plot’s events and repairing and upgrading KOS-MOS. It’s like...okay, in Fallout Tactics, you could get into a random encounter where you’d witness Phil the Nuka-Cola dude on his bicycle, riding across the wasteland to deliver Nuka-Cola refills to the various vending machines scattered across the country. The encounter and character are very, very obviously there solely for a quirky laugh, and the circumstances of that laugh are almost certainly not meant to be taken as a serious, official part of the series canon. It wouldn’t fit in correctly with the Fallout series for a variety of lore/atmosphere/logistic reasons. Well, putting Scott and The Professor onto the Elsa and giving them a legitimate role in Xenosaga 3’s plot is basically like if you were to make a Fallout game where Phil the Nuka-Cola dude was an actual, story-significant party member. It’s weird, it’s wrong for the characters, and it gives too much officiality to their previous roles, roles that didn’t mesh especially well with the actual, legit Xenosaga lore.
MOMO’s Abilities: You know what’s kind of dumb? Making all of MOMO’s regular attacks and special abilities too rinky-dink or variable to translate effectively into your FMV cutscenes. I mean, you watch the video footage of the Xenosaga series, and you see Jr. firing his pistols, Ziggy throwing his cyborg weight around, KOS-MOS doing all her crazy super-fighting, Jin slicing things up on occasion with his sword, and even Shion has a couple moments when she actually does stuff. chaos has powers that could easily and effectively be used in the various battles we see the team engaged in during cutscenes, even if for some reason he never does use them. But MOMO? Throughout the series she’s used a lame little staff and a bow* for attacks, and performed special attacks that even Sailor Chibi-Moon would turn up her nose at for being too cutesy. And hey, okay, I guess that’s okay for a little girl character in RPG battles, which are generally kind of weird anyway. But Xenosaga’s a series where you literally watch hours and hours and hours of cutscenes. Cutscenes are the main vehicle of the game’s storytelling. And while no one questions her being able to shoot little star arrows at giant mechanized monsters of destruction and cause damage inside the game’s battle system, where everything is reduced to how many white numbers you can make appear over your enemies’ heads, that shit is not gonna cut it in a cutscene where things are supposed to appear relatively believable. Hell, Jr. packs a pair of pistols and even those seem ridiculously inadequate whenever we see him firing them in the game’s cinemas, so what the hell is MOMO supposed to do with the ability to make a Lite Brite picture of her head to hit someone with? And as a result, every time anyone’s gotta fight in an FMV sequence during the Xenosaga series, MOMO’s just stuck sitting it out. I mean, sure, there are times in the FMVs where she can serve a legitimate support role, such as the awesome car chase early in Xenosaga 2, when she takes the wheel of the car so that Jr. and chaos can concentrate on stopping their pursuit, but generally speaking, if you were just watching the FMV sequences of the series and had no contact with the battle system, you’d have no idea what MOMO is with the group for. Is MOMO a capable member of the team or is she just some NPC the group’s dragging around, Namco? Your games don’t seem to have a sure answer.
For Aslan’s sake, Allen is seen fighting enemies in cutscenes more often than MOMO is. Fucking Allen.
Number of Villains: There are too many villains competing for top billing in this series. Margulis and his UTIC organization, Albedo, Yuriev, and Wilhelm are all given enough screentime, seeming plot importance, and grandiose plans and speeches that it seems like there are half a dozen different galaxy-shaking villain schemes all crammed together, each trying to claw its way to the top of the plot. It’d be one thing if they were each confined to their own game, like the villain of the between-games episode seemed to be, but no--you’ve got Margulis and his organization being sinister and super important from the first game on, Albedo jumping around in the villain spotlight for the first 2 games and then misdirecting us for much of the third (since we don’t know until the moment it happens that he’s not actually being evil, the overall effect is that of another villain running about through the third game), Yuriev shows up in Xenosaga 2 but relates very strongly to the U-DO and URTV subplot that’s given such large focus in all the games including the first, and Wilhelm’s been a point of villain interest since the first game’s end and is ultimately the true villain of the series. It also doesn’t help that they all end in quick succession, either. If 1 or 2 of them had been taken out earlier in Xenosaga 3, there’d be less confusing competition for the player’s attention, but no, each one is only concluded at the end of the game. Yuriev is taken down at the end of the second to last dungeon, and Albedo with him. Then you finish up with Margulis and his forces about a third of the way through the last dungeon. And then, of course, you handle the final villain Wilhelm soon after. They’re all vying for attention right up to the very end. A couple competing villainies at the same time is manageable; 4 that span the entire series and all only conclude at its very end like dominoes is distracting and confuses the player as to what the true thematic conflict of the series is meant to be.
KOS-MOS’s Third Body: Out of place, completely unnecessary sexual fanservice continues to cheapen everything it touches. Or maybe there’s some combat advantage to having your battle ‘bot brazenly bare her barely-bound boob valley when she’s fighting space ghost-angels that I just don’t get?
6 Games? Really?: I’ve mentioned before that the Xenosaga series was meant to be 6 episodes long (with each game being an episode), and that a HUGE amount of the problems with the plot, storytelling, and characters can be traced back to the writers simply not having the time they’d anticipated and needed for all their ideas to be properly shown and worked through. Another case of the corporate part of a company ruining the integrity of the product. Bad Namco! No biscuit!
But here’s the other side of the matter. Who the bloody fuck writes a story with the serious intent on taking 6 game installments to tell it!? It’s usually pretty ambitious to write a story with the intention of telling it in even 2 parts! I mean, think about it: how many RPGs are there out there that were designed from Day 1 to be incomplete without the next game to follow it? The Golden Sun series, Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch, and Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 and 2 are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head that were clearly intended from the get-go to have incomplete stories to be concluded in a later game, and those are all just 2-parters! Obviously any writers are going to hope that their game does well enough to warrant sequels, and will have ideas for what can be done, but they’re usually reasonable enough to take these things 1 or 2 games at a time, because you never know how players will receive your product, and what the corporate atmosphere will be with your company in the future. Mass Effect is a series that spanned 3.5 games, but Bioware wasn’t brazen enough to just assume from the moment they began work on ME1 that they’d get the opportunity to make a trilogy out of it, and they planned accordingly. ME1 concludes with the promise of more to come, but it clearly would be able to stand alone as its own game if need be. 6 games to tell one overall story! 6 games, each with hours and hours of FMV! Do you have any idea of the resources it takes to make 6 games happen? How many game series do you know that even keep the same SETTING for 6 installments, let alone the same continuing story? Ultima, The Legend of Zelda (which almost doesn’t count given how tenuous the connections are between most of its games), Kingdom Hearts, and sort of Nippon Ichi’s titles are the only ones that come to mind, and you can bet none of them started out by saying, “This thing is ONLY going to work if we’ve got 6 games to devote to this series.” Because that would be fucking insanity. So yeah, forcing a 6-part story to be crammed into 3 games is obviously a bad idea and will ruin the damn thing, but what the hell were they doing with an inflexible planned length of 6 parts to start with?
Shion x KOS-MOS: I know I mentioned this in passing during my rant on how stupid Allen x Shion is, but I’d like to say again how utterly bizarre it is to witness the interactions of KOS-MOS and Shion throughout the series and scenes like the one where Nephilim tells Shion that she’s “the only one who can open KOS-MOS’s heart,” or where Juli voices her belief that it’s Shion’s wish for KOS-MOS to have a heart, and then not only not see them get together at any point, but also not even have the games acknowledge the possibility of a romantic love between them. I mean, maybe it really is just me here, but I would swear the entire damn series consistently has them say and do things, and have things said about them, that in any other RPG or anime would be considered, would be MEANT, to be evidence of romantic attachment. It’s like watching interactions between Bastila and a female Revan in Knights of the Old Republic 1--you’re seeing 2 characters who are written with the express intention of falling in love, engage in dialogue written with the express intention of causing them to fall in love, having been put into a situation that was created with the express intention of allowing them the circumstances necessary to fall in love, only for no apparent reason, they don’t fall in love. It’s weird and it’s inconsistent with the characters and their relationship to one another.
Sellers: Where the hell did Sellers go? I mean, seriously, what happened to him? The guy’s introduced as a sinster-ish lesser villain scientist guy working for Yuriev, we see him several times as Xenosaga 3 progresses, enough to be quite convinced that he’s reasonably important, he’s got back history and overall plot relevance, and eventually the characters come face to face with him, at which point he gives some exposition and they have to leave to stop Yuriev. And then...Sellers is gone. Just completely gone, forgotten by the plot entirely. We don’t see him again, we don’t hear of him again, there’s no mention of him doing anything further in the codex, nothing. The writers just drop him and forget he ever existed. Every other villain, no matter how minor, is wrapped up by the game’s conclusion--they even include those 2 obscure Richard and Hermann pilot guys, whose roles in the series are so negligible that I just spent about 10 minutes of searching through the Xenosaga Wiki trying to find out what their names were. But Sellers just stops existing in the plot altogether after that first and final meeting, like Rowd in Suikoden 2 or that armored nitwit in Grandia 3.
Vague, Ambiguous Dialogue: This is a pet peeve of mine for RPGs in general, but Xenosaga 3’s got more than its fair share of awkwardly vague, unspecific dialogue exchanged between sinister groups of villains. I think this is best illustrated with an example, so go here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80uG40b3fl4 and watch from 4:38 to 6:01. Now, did you follow ANY of that? I’ve played the damn game from start to finish and even I don’t follow half of it! How does Blue Testament know things are going smoothly just because Red Testament happens to be staring down at the coffin thing? What about the coffin and Red Testament staring at it implies that he’s “pulling out the big guns?” Why won’t he refer to specific objects and people by their designation/name even once, instead ONLY using elusive terms like “this thing” and “she” and so on? What is the nature of the errors you must correct, Red Testament? What does “So you knew all along, huh?” mean--was Red Testament not supposed to know about these errors we know nothing about all along, or is it something related to this situation and/or the errors that they didn’t think he knew about, and if so, what the hell is it, exactly, that he knew all along? Why does having this totally undefined knowledge make him a scary guy? The look on whose face when she knows everything about what, and what does it have to do with Red Testament? Is the “she” they’re referring to meant to be the vaguely described “princess” they then indicate is in the coffin, or is this someone else now? What does she have to do with anything? What the hell is Blue Testament doing sniffing at whatever’s in the coffin and why does no one find this act a little unsettling? And why are the White and Black Testaments present if they’re not even going to say a single goddamn line of dialogue?
Only some of these questions are actually answerable if you’ve played the game, incidentally. I could not, for example, hazard a guess about why the Red Testament’s knowing about the situation would prompt the Blue Testament to proclaim that he’s one scary guy.
Anyway, do you see what I mean here? Thanks to the excessively vague and ambiguous dialogue here, the player gleans almost no information whatsoever from this scene. About the only pieces of info related to the game’s plot that an audience can safely gather from this is that there is a “princess” of some sort inside the coffin, it/she has something to do with the Testaments’ plot, and, most memorably, the Testaments are sinister dudes planning things secretly (which was already established previously in the Xenosaga series, so there’s no need to establish that anyway). This scene will be almost entirely forgotten by the time the player reaches the point of the game where its relevance can be shown, largely because there’s so little about it that we can grasp onto and understand, and when the plot’s ready to do so, the situation this scene is relevant to will be described much more comprehensibly, meaning that this scene is meaningless and redundant anyway. So it’s as useless as it is poorly communicated on the level of actually conveying plot meaning, which is its primary purpose, and as far as just watchability, it stinks. I mean, look at that dialogue. Who the fuck talks like that, even IF they’re trying to reference secret things without actually saying what they are? It’s like whichever writer put this scene together was using this little gem of translation as a cipher! This is why I hate it when RPGs do this shit, include these scenes of evil guys sinisterly talking in ambiguous terms about plot points that the player isn’t supposed to know yet, because to pull it off, you have to forcefully twist the dialogue into something so completely awkward and bizarre that even when you DO know the plot points they’re vaguely referring to, it still reads like a fucking space alien wrote it!
Scrapping KOS-MOS: So...a subcommittee voted that rather than try to fix the ridiculously advanced combat robot that has proven monumentally effective at combating Gnosis in the past couple years or so after she was damaged protecting a bunch of people from being vaporized by a stray laser during a military demo gone wrong (more on that scene in another rant), they’re gonna scrap her instead? I mean, yeah, I understand that the idea is that the new T-elos model is more advanced and effective and thus will replace the KOS-MOS project, but who the fuck were the morons on that subcommittee? This has to be a committee so short-sighted, brainless, tasteless, and lacking in basic human comprehension that I wouldn’t be half surprised to find out it was also the committee that handed out the Oscars in 2012. When you have a galaxy-wide threat of space monster angel things, you don’t just scrap one well-proven-to-be-effective weapon against them as soon as the next one comes along! The entirety of your galactic civilization is a lot of distance for 1 humanoid robot to protect, don’t you think? Why the rippin’ flippin’ hell wouldn’t they keep KOS-MOS so they could have 2 effective combat robots dealing with the Gnosis threat instead? I mean, for fuck’s sake, T-elos is still only in development when the subcommittee votes to melt KOS-MOS down; they’re getting rid of her before her replacement is even ready to assume duty! It’s not even like it would be difficult to repair her after her loss during the military demo, because when the heroes find her on the scrap heap later on (and by the way, why the hell is she in with all the garbage? You can’t tell me that this kind of super technological hardware wouldn’t be dismantled and disposed of through different means from the rest of the trash), she’s (strangely enough) virtually undamaged and can be booted up with no trouble.
I realize that the real reason for the existence of KOS-MOS and T-elos is, of course, the secret overly complex and weird hoopla about the resurrection of Mary Magdalene and rebooting the universe and so on, not the surface story about them being anti-Gnosis weapons, but it’s pretty safe to assume that since the only ones privy to all of that are the main bad guy Wilhelm, his Testament henchmen, and chaos, the idiots on the subcommittee knew none of that stuff and thought the anti-Gnosis weapon stuff was all on the level. It’s like if you were walking along and happened to see a $20 bill on the ground, and after picking it up, you threw out the $10 bill already in your wallet simply because the 20 is better. KEEP THEM BOTH, MORON.
And I think that’s enough for today. I keep thinking that I’m going to stop being able to think of/remember problems with this game and series, and I keep being proven wrong. I’m already halfway done with the next Xenosaga 3 rant as I finish this sentence, so expect to see more soon.
* Yeah, I know I’ve said repeatedly that bows are badass weapons and I’ll stick by that, but that’s in the context of a more traditional RPG setting. In a futuristic setting with lasers and androids and guns and all kinds of other crazy shit, a bow isn’t gonna do shit.