My goodness, can it really be that it's been 3 months since I last did a rant on the most numerously flawed RPG series ever? Well, let's fix that!
Hey, remember that time I did a series of little rants about Xenosaga 3’s problems instead of a regular-sized rant about only 1 of those issues? I do. It was fun! Well, not exactly, but it wasn’t tortuously awful, either, so what the hell, let’s do it again!
Dying of Plot Plague: So, according to Kevin, Shion’s connection to U-DO (which just seems to be her being able to talk to him/her/it any time she passes out) makes her sick, for some inadequately-explored reason, as it did with her mother. KOS-MOS apparently runs by drawing power from U-DO, a convenient fact which I don’t think has ever been mentioned up until this moment in the series. Thus, because of Shion’s connection to U-DO, her close relationship with KOS-MOS is slowly killing her.
Wait, what? How the hell does that work? Shion just communicates with and gets passing-out headaches from U-DO (which happen whether or not KOS-MOS is nearby, using any unusual amount of energy, or even switched on, so that negative effect has to just be from U-DO in general). She’s not otherwise said or shown to have any particular connection to U-DO. If she did, she should presumably have some sort of negative reaction to Jr.’s abilities, since Jr. is a being specifically designed to combat U-DO (and he’s the strongest of such beings, to boot), but she doesn’t. So why does KOS-MOS running on U-DO juice have any sort of negative effect on Shion? If I’m chatting with my friend Varanus on Skype when an overzealous Red Cross worker bursts into his home, ties him down, jams a needle in his arm, and extracts a gallon of blood, leaving Varanus a withered husk of a human being, I don’t magically start losing MY blood too just because I happened to have a line of communication open with him when it happened. So why is this the case with Shion? Additionally, how does this relate to KOS-MOS and Shion becoming closer and having their wills align? If KOS-MOS uses U-DO as a source of fuel either way, then how will Shion’s condition worsen by deepening her relationship to KOS-MOS? What about that exacerbates the condition? I’m not unwilling to believe that it COULD make the situation worse, but I’m gonna need SOME reason, even if it’s magical sci-fi bullshit, for that to happen. But I won’t get one. Because the game stops directly acknowledging this situation of Shion slowly dying fairly shortly after the scene where it’s introduced. And why is that?
Because Xenosaga, that’s why.
Oh yeah, I love the part after Kevin tells Shion and company about this U-DO-Shion-KOS-MOS death connection stuff, and Jin warns Shion against taking it at face value, even though it “may seem plausible enough.” Does it seem plausible, Jin? Does it really?
What’s He Even Doing, Again?: Kevin wants to save the universe. Kevin wants to destroy the universe. Kevin wants to save the universe BY destroying the universe. Kevin wants to save the universe by destroying the universe, but only for himself and Shion, so for everyone else, he’ll be destroying the universe by destroying the universe. Even by Xenosaga terms, his purpose is about as rational and coherent as the intro for Team Rocket.
Blood Censorship: Censorship is rarely a good thing, but most of the time, I don’t really care if some blood and gore are removed when a game’s transitioning from the too-lax lands of Japan to the too-uptight lands of the USA. The overbearing creative deadzone that is United States Entertainment Culture has not yet managed to kill my imagination off, so if you show a guy getting stabbed with a sword, I don’t necessarily HAVE to see the blood from the wound to know he’s probably not feeling all that great about it. There are, however, some scenes that really HAVE to be free of censorship or else they’re significantly damaged, and the scene in Xenosaga 3 in which Little Shion is futilely, uncomprehendingly trying to catch her murdered mother’s blood in her hands in the hopes of putting it back into her...damn is this ever an example of why censorship is a bad thing. If you watch the scene from an original Japanese copy of the game, it’s very impressive, very emotionally painful and powerfully dark to watch. I’ll give this game credit where it’s due, and here, it’s very due.
Buuuuuuut, try playing an American copy of Xenosaga 3 through to this scene, and...well, the game was censored to have all blood removed from it.* So you sit there and you watch it, and you frown in mild confusion as you see this stricken child making inexplicable hand motions and muttering about putting something back in that doesn’t seem to exist. The entire mood of the scene is destroyed. I’d even go so far as to say that it actually looks silly. Man, even when Xenosaga 3 gets something right, it can’t get it right all across the board.
Voice Acting: The English voice acting in Xenosaga 3 utterly confounds me. I mean, in theory, it should be great. Pretty much every voice is a perfect match for its character. KOS-MOS is appropriately feminine yet robotic. Jr. is appropriately young but gruff. Captain Matthews is appropriately rough. Shion is appropriately normal yet somehow annoying over time. And so on. And a lot of these voice actors have got a lot of talent and experience under their belt, too. The woman who voices Jr., Brianne Siddall, has voiced a ton of lads and done a fine job each time. The guy who voices Margulis, Michael McConnohie, has, I think, voiced roughly one third of all RPG villains to date. Kirk Thornton, who plays Captain Matthews, has been in so many shows and games and such that it might actually be faster to make a list of things he has not done vocal work for. And yet, the voice acting for Xenosaga 3 just plain stinks!
It doesn’t stink in the usual way. I mean, like I said, these people are right for their roles, and they’re pretty much all quite good at what they do. But...I don’t know how to describe this. It’s like they’re doing a good job, but in the wrong way. Let me pose an example to you. Take this sentence: “What are you doing?” Now, there are a LOT of ways you can read that, a lot of scenarios that it can belong to. That could be a question of simple curiosity by someone passing by. Someone could be screaming that in horrified disbelief as they witness a terrible event. You could particularly emphasize any one of the words in it to get a different implication--”What are you doing?” implies extreme puzzlement and likely some dismay or disgust over what the speaker is witnessing, “What are you doing?” has a sort of snobby air to it, “What are you doing?” can imply some disdain for the doer being addressed, as though it’s laughable or unusual for the person to even be present, let alone doing something, and “What are you doing?” implies extra incredulity of some sort of the act itself. You could speak the sentence quickly and with little interest, and it becomes an apathetic moment of slightly sarcastic disregard for the other’s actions.
My point here is that practically any given sentence a voice actor reads can be used in many different situations in many different ways, and thus it needs to be spoken in the right way for the situation’s context. And that consistently does not happen in Xenosaga 3! These well-chosen, competent voice actors are delivering their lines well, but those deliveries are very often inconsistent with the situation in which the characters are speaking them. The inflections and parts emphasized are all over the place, and only seem to hit the mark for the characters’ situation and emotional state half the time, 60% at the most. It’s distracting. I can only assume that the voice actors weren’t properly directed while they were recording, weren’t given the proper context of the lines they were recording and weren’t told to re-record lines that weren’t going to fit in correctly. I can’t really think of any other reason for why this should be such a problem all across the board.
Jr.’s Guns: You know, the last time I did a series of mini-rants for this game, I talked about how useless MOMO seems in the cutscenes, but when I think about it, Jr.’s not a whole lot better. Like MOMO, Jr. is a fine fighter in the game’s actual battles; his abilities and his skills with his handguns are adequately effective, and you can quite easily use him efficiently as a party member. But like MOMO, if you go by all the instances of storytelling--actions taken outside the battle screen, and the content of the cutscenes--Jr. doesn’t seem to be able to do jack squat, at least not with his handguns, which are all he really uses outside of special situations with his fellow URTVs. He fires at giant mech suits, and, predictably enough, does no damage. He fires at T-elos, and does no damage. He fires at Voyager, and does no damage. Any time we see Jr. shooting at anything more than a faceless grunt enemy, there’s no damn effect. Being an effective fighter in the battle screen really doesn’t cut it with Xenosaga, as I mentioned before with MOMO--this is a game series with hours and hours and hours of cutscenes. They are the games’ primary vehicle of storytelling. And as Jr. cannot inflict damage on any significant foe throughout the Xenosaga series’s cutscenes, he comes off as useless to the team’s combat dynamic. It’s not as bad as with MOMO, since at least Jr. gets a chance to TRY to attack enemies here and there, but going by the storytelling sequences of the games, you would think him just as useless as you would think MOMO. They really should’ve given him a more appropriately dangerous armament--antique handguns just don’t cut it in a setting of giant mech suits, super robots, and lasers freakin’ everywhere.
Do You Know What Being Alone Actually Is, Shion?: Uh...okay, if Shion’s greatest fear is, indeed, of being alone, as is indicated by one of her little fireside chats with U-DO, then why does she later want to leave her friends and family to help Kevin? Yes, she’ll have him (and what a fucking prize he is), but in the process she’ll give up everyone else who cares about her and has been there for her. Not only that, but if Kevin were to successfully work his universe reset voodoo, she’d REALLY be alone with him, as they would be the only 2 people in the entire universe! That’s a pretty lonely scenario even with your precious boy-toy by your side, and what if something happens to him again? Seems like a hell of a counter-productive gamble for her to take if her loneliness is her greatest fear.
And Why Did All Of This Happen, Again?: The millennia-spanning ludicrously complex plan of Wilhelm that involves all the hogwash of collecting relics of God and souls of dead Bible women and giving abusive boyfriends superpowers and making little boys who are also sort of God into robot pilots and so on...it all stems from the one, single problem that the universe is, over time, dying. But the game never, to my understanding, has the courtesy to specifically explain to us exactly HOW the universe is dissipating, what’s causing it and why. First it’s blamed on the wills of people who don’t feel like they fit in (the Gnosis), and then it’s blamed on chaos’s existence, but not once do we get any idea of how either of these things, or anything else, actually translates into the end of the universe. What is it about the mere existence of the Gnosis and/or chaos that makes this happen? The Gnosis are fairly destructive in general, but that’s just on the normal human scale, like the way an all-out nuclear war in real life would devastate the society of man and its creations, and wreak havoc on the Earth’s surface, but would not actually, so far as I know, really damage the Earth itself, only the stuff on it. We never see the Gnosis doing anything that could even faintly connect to destroying the universe itself. And chaos is just bumming around, not bothering anyone. So how do either the existence of chaos or the existence of the Gnosis hasten this universal collapse that Wilhelm’s trying to circumvent?
And here’s the other thing about that situation I don’t get. Once Shion and company have defeated Wilhelm’s plans, chaos and Nephilim begin to summon all the Gnosis to them, with the intent of sealing the Gnosis and themselves on Lost Jerusalem (Earth) so that the destruction of the universe can be slowed, to buy humanity enough time to hopefully come up with a true solution to the problem. Well that’s all fine and good, very noble and all that, but, uh, why should that make any difference? I mean, all we can glean from the game’s information about how the universe is dying is that it’s the existence of chaos and/or the Gnosis that causes it--and since chaos is a good guy who would never actively destroy the universe, and as I said we don’t see the Gnosis really do much besides destruction on a human scale or just sit around in space, it seems like the only logical conclusion really is that just chaos and/or the Gnosis existing is all it takes to be detrimental to the life of the universe, even if, as I said, we have no idea why that is or how it is done. But if just existing is enough to bring about the universe’s end eventually, then why does sealing chaos and the Gnosis on Lost Jerusalem make a difference to how fast that happens? Lost though it is, Earth is still IN the universe, so, sealed there or not, the Gnosis and chaos will still be existing in the universe. If their mere existence is enough to hasten destruction, how can it matter which planet that existence happens to be taking place on?
The Ambitions Of Sellers: During the heroes’ final meeting with Sellers, before he just vanishes inexplicably from the plot altogether, the guy makes a bunch of grandiose statements about how he has no loyalties to Ormus or the Federation, and that he’ll happily use any powerful organization as a vehicle to advance his goals. He also talks about how sacrifices are acceptable and trivial in order to accomplish great things. Okay, right, amoral mad scientist schtick. Yet do we ever get any clear idea, anything but the very vaguest of notions, of what those goals and great things are meant to be? I mean, I’m willing to allow for some non-specific mad science-y ambitions, a la Hojo from Final Fantasy 7, but we should be privy to at least a general idea of what it is that Sellers is trying to do. I think we kinda get an idea that he’s trying to surpass his old boss Mizrahi, but in what way? Why? How? What is it that Sellers finds interesting about his work? What are the results he wants to see? What are the results he’s even observing? Again, a case where Show, Don’t Tell would’ve been the right move--Sellers can go on and on all he likes about his goals and ambitions and science crap, but we’re given nothing specific to qualify his statements.
This Guy Are Sick: Most of the time, when a character in Xenosaga says something that doesn’t make any sense, it’s not because it’s badly translated, it’s just because they’re spouting the usual over-complicated nonsense that is the signature of Xenosaga. There are, however, some occasions in the game that are just silly gibberish that doesn’t seem like it could make sense even by that standard.
For example, when Helmer talks about how his planet, Miltia, is evacuating its population as quickly as possible in light of the danger of Abel’s Ark, Canaan says “You humans are hopeless. It’s times like this when you should be working together.” Where the hell did THAT come from? Wouldn’t expedient planetary evacuation imply at least some form of cooperation? Does Canaan mean that they should instead be working together toward some different solution? What the hell does he think Helmer and the regular military and citizenry are going to be able to do? All the bullshit magical hooplah that has to do with Abel’s Ark is way beyond conventional resistance. I have no idea what prompted this statement by Canaan, what the intent of the statement is, or why everyone around him just seems to accept it as valid.
Or as another example, Albedo’s line when he shows up during the confrontation with Yuriev: “I’m so happy to be able to see you again. It’s rather amazing. I feel like thanking the laws of this universe.” What the fuck does that even MEAN? It’s like something some weirdo would say in Earthbound! Granted the laws of the universe are sort of behind anything and everything that happens, so you COULD thank them for virtually anything, but to my knowledge, no one ever goes around doing that. And for that matter, Albedo is only able to see Jr. again here because Wilhelm BROKE the laws of the universe to make it happen--Albedo DIED, and Wilhelm brought him back. If there’s any time where the normal laws of the universe actually weren’t responsible, it’d be this one! But that’s beside the point. The point is, what the fuck are you talking about man.
Well That Was Convenient: After the heroes defeat Citrine and try to stop Yuriev, Yuriev shoots the panel controlling the door he’s exiting from. Now, I understand why he does this--it’s to stop anyone from being able to open the door to follow him. What I don’t understand is why, after he has shot it, the door opens one last time for him? He shoots it while the door’s closed, then it opens for him after the damage has been done to it, and only THEN, after he’s made his getaway, does it seem to realize its control panel has been destroyed and refuse to open. Look, Namco, either shooting the damn thing breaks it or it doesn’t. You can’t change your mind halfway through the scene.
Ehhh, I think that’s enough for today. Hope you’re not getting tired of Xenosaga, though, because there’s more to come.
* I can’t even understand why that is. This is a game made for adults, it features a nonstop barrage of adult themes. There is enough mature-themed shit going down in this series that a little blood should not be the breaking point.