Oprainfall Origins: Xenogears

Monday, January 7th, 2013

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This article is part of an ongoing series. Click here to see an archive of past articles.

Xenogears Logo

There have been many games that have passed through my hands over the 30 some years I have been gaming. Some stand out more than others, as is the case with everyone.  I cannot easily count the number of games I have finished. When I begin to think about the games that stand out most, Xenogears is the first one that comes to mind. It came along during the great JRPG boom of the PSone era; it had a lot of competition. One would think that it would be eclipsed by the juggernaut that is Final Fantasy 7, and I am sure some people feel that way. There are, to me, several reasons why I feel this game goes above and beyond that in depth and scope. I will get into all of those details shortly.

First off a little background on Xenogears: few people know that the project was originally pitched to be Final Fantasy 7. It was decided that it was too dark and complicated for a Final Fantasy game, but the team was given a green light to pursue it as a new project. (Boy, if only they did that these days, right?) At this point Takahashi-san and his wife Soraya Saga began to write a screenplay complete with full dialogue and cut scenes. The rest is history.

Xenogears screensshot

When I first learned about the game, it was in the imports section of EGM magazine. They showed some screens of the beautiful anime style cutscenes and giant mechs doing battle. I was stoked right off the bat. I was just really starting to get into anime in those days, and hey, what guy doesn’t love giant robot battles? When I read the piece further, they said the game would likely not be localized due to highly religious overtones, which in those days were a big deal. I am so thankful that Square and Sony took the chance to bring this over here, or we would have missed out on one of the greatest JRPGS of all time.

In my mind what makes a great game is the story. With a good story and characters to build on you just really want to invest your time in it to see how it all comes out. This is especially true in RPGs. If you have no attachment to the characters, then the rest of the game is most likely going to be a painful experience. Xenogears not only delivers one of the most in depth, epic stories in gaming history, but it offers some of the most memorable characters as well. Until I played this game I had no idea how deep a story could go in a video game. Some would call the massively complicated story convoluted. To a point, I can agree with that, you have to do a little extra research to fill in all of the details left out in the game. In the end it will be well worth your time. Here, you can find the Xenogears Perfect Works guide book. Reading this will help you fill a ton of the story gaps and questions, but be warned: this is intended for people who have finished the game. If you haven’t finished the game and do not wish to be spoiled, I strongly suggest finishing before taking a look at it. Takahashi-san had hoped to do a prequel and a sequel to this as well, but unfortunately that never panned out. This was the first of his two unfinished masterpieces.

Xenogears Mecha

What makes this story unique are the issues that it deals with such as religion, love, loss, facing one’s own demons, and the feeling of being alone. These are deep issues which, at the time of its release, were not really touched on in gaming a whole lot. Yes, Final Fantasy 7 did deal with some of these as well, but in my opinion, it wasn’t in the depth that Xenogears does. Religion was something gaming did not dare touch on back then. This still shows in translation where lots of religious names have been misspelled on purpose to keep the faithful from not blowing a gasket at a story based around some of the ideology or even to question some of it. Click here for a full list of changes and purposeful misspellings. I found this link very informative.

Aside from the religious tones helping it along, this was one of the first games that I can say made me feel for the characters. They are so well written that you feel like you know these people after a while. The banter between them helps this along tremendously. This is definitely what separates a mediocre RPG from a epic one: when you are so caught up in the characters and the story that you tend to easily become completely focused on the game, ignoring your other surroundings.

The gameplay is just as immersive as the story. The combat system of this game is one of the best that has ever been designed. You will engage in combat on foot and in the giant mecha called Gears. On foot the game uses an AP system in which attacks use AP depending on the button your press. Pressing a certain combination of buttons will grant you a combo finisher for bigger damage. By trying out different combination you will learn more finishing moves. AP can also be stored each round then unleashed in a plethora of finisher one right after another to dispatch bigger foes. This provides a strategy to each battle as some finishers will also have elemental properties as well as, always in a RPG, hit the enemies weakness for bigger damage. When fighting in Gears the AP system is replaced with a Fuel system. It works in basically the same way but you will have to be careful as your fuel does not replenish after each battle. So when in a bigger dungeon you will need to try to conserve as needed.

Xenogears combat shot

What is an RPG without great music? Xenogears has some of the greatest music in gaming history, or so I think anyways. The fully orchestral sound track is just as epic as the story it accompanies. Composer Yasunori Mitsuda delivers on every level. Each track is masterfully crafted to add to the games atmosphere and emotion. I cannot hear A Faraway Promise to this day without tearing up a little bit. That is the mark of a good OST: when you hear a song from it and the emotion of the game comes flooding back to you. Not to spoil anything but the game’s ending track is one of the most fitting ending themes I can think of… truly epic.

Xenogears Cast

Xenogears showed me a great number of things that could be accomplished in games as a medium. With its depth in story, characters, and the fact it was not afraid to delve into controversial issues, it showed that gaming was growing up. It made me question not only the way people look at faith and other philosophical issue but, in some ways, the way I look at life in general. It is not only one of my favorite games of all time but it made me a fan of the Xenosaga series in general which eventually lead me here to Oprainfall, where I met some of the greatest friends I have ever had. I have much to thank Xenogears for. I look very much forward to Takahashi-san’s next project. I know it will be just as epic and thought provoking.

Source for all information in this article: Study Guide for Tetsuya Takahashi’s Xenoverse. Everything you ever wanted to know about Xenogears or Xenosaga can be found there, if you’re curious. One of the best resource sites of all!

About Steve Baltimore

Steve started with oprainfall not long after the campaign moved from the IGN forums to Facebook. Ever since, he has been fighting to give all non-mainstream RPGs a fair voice. As the site admin, he will continue to do this and even show there is value in what some would deem "pure ecchi." He loves niche games and anime more than anything... well, except maybe Neptune.

  • Mast3rh3nx

    Might be my favorite RPG of all time. It’s almost perfect.

  • Favorite game period. This game, I cannot describe what it was to me. In times when I thought I wanted to die. This game kept me living. 

    God, I wish Takahashi could have made that prequel and sequel. I would give anything to play them. Anything.

  • Joman13

    Xenogears Disc 1 IS perfection.

  • Agreed. This game is near flawless. Never played a game like it. And to think that this was made from FFVII’s scraps! FFVII wasn’t half the game this ever was.. 

  • JRPGmaniac

    Although I start playing JRPGs with FFVII & Xenogears came a little later it’s still one of my all time favorite games along with FFVII, if u ask me which I like more I seriously cant give an answer those 2 games will always be my favorite most loved games ever, but the soundtrack & story of Xenogears is imo a tick above FFVII, especially the soundtrack I agree with u that it’s the best the gaming industry have ever see, truly a MASTERPIECE!

  • I’ve still yet to beat xeno gears. No idea how far I’m in. Not even on disc two yet.

  • Demario Greene

    I think this is my favorite RPG of all time. The ending song makes me teary eyed everytime I hear it. 

  • Aiddon

    Xenogears, the last good game Takahashi ever made. Seriously, definitely one of my favorite games ever with Fei being one of the most complex protagonists in gaming and having nothing short of the greatest love story I’ve ever seen done in the medium. Come to think of it, a lot of my favorite games were from Square in that stretch from ’97 to 2000. Pity that Takahashi dropped the ball so hard with Xenosaga that the ball drove itself a mile underground. Dear god were those titles a mess.

    • Well Xenosaga really wasnt his fault Namco came in and took control over it during episode 2’s production. Things went downhill after that but episode 3 is still and epic game that shouldn’t be missed.

    • Aiddon

      I’ve had issues even with the first game; they’re not terrible, but they have serious problems and it’s really bad writing when your protagonist doesn’t really have a role in the grand scheme of things. The worst thing was that Shion was the most INSUFFERABLE heroine I’d ever seen in an RPG and it baffled me as to how the same team that wrote Elly wrote her. Christ, either Xenogears was a fluke or there was another writer who Takahashi screwed out of giving credit. The supporting cast were more sympathetic and better written than she was.

    • Haven’t played Xenosaga, but what’s so wrong about a protagonist who doesn’t play a role in the grand scheme of things? I mean do you imply that a protagonist must be some chosen one, super tragic backstory, family of a villain and not an everyday person?

    • Blackstar

      Shion was the chosen one for the Xenosaga series. If you play through Episode 3, it explains how pivotal her role is and why she was the catalyst for everything that was going on.

      Personally I loved the direction of her character in Episode 1. She was written completely differently to Fei Fong Wong. Instead of being depressed and hating her life all the time, she took everything in stride and was kind to everybody she met. She was a bit whiny, but when you start to delve into her past you realize how strong she really is. She buried her past and made a new life for herself, and that sort of determination takes a lot of courage.

      I will agree that Episode 2 was a travesty overall. The music sounded like something from one of those weird Japanese dating sims, the art style was really bland, the combat was both punishing and boring, and Shion’s character changed completely from naive but sweet little scientist, to mega moody twat.

    • Zimmer Remmiz

      So you are on this website and you aren’t a fan of Xenoblade? What?…

  • Suhail Miah

    I’m actually working on my first ever playthrough of this, currently 10 hours in. ( Just arrived at Nisan) Great game , liking it so far!
    Definately agree about the music, it’s amazing.

    • JRPGmaniac

      w8 until u reach Shevat, the music there is godly! I remember that I was siting idle doing nothing for4ever with closed eyes listening the music again & again & again… Although I cant say if our taste in music is similar but seriously this music theme is so pleasant to my ears I never get bored of it, any1 else who like it so much like I do? 🙂

  • Played Xenoblade Chronicles. Amazing godly game.
    Have bought Xenogears on PSN. Still got to play it, though.
    I’ve already spoiled the ending for myself, but that isn’t really a problem with me to be honest. However, I’m quite reluctant to play the game because it sounds like Evangelion meets Square Soft. I love giant robots, but more of the Gurren Lagann type — you know, idealism, individualism, fighting against the power. From what I’ve read Xenogears sounds like some uber tragedy that’s relentlessly cynical.
    I don’t have anything against dark stories, but I do prefer games that have a more balanced story that leans (eventually) to optimism or a story that starts like ”hell is taking over” but it concludes or goes to a point where the story is promoting/encouraging the will and ideals of the heroes.

    • Blackstar

      All of the Xeno games have one thing in common:
      God is a giant dick and the main character is the only one that can stop him. They all end with said main character defeating God and everything being okay in the end. So if you’re looking for that, you can take solace in knowing that Gears has a happy ending that promotes those ideals you were speaking of.