Xenosaga Preview

We track down the latest info on Monolith Soft's upcoming Xenosaga.

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Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht
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Developed by Namco's subsidiary, Monolith Soft, Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht is neither a sequel nor a spin-off of SquareSoft's Xenogears. Tetsuya Takahashi--who directed Xenogears and is now the vice chairman of Monolith's board of directors--claims that "Xenogears ended up differently from how I envisioned it. So we [Monolith Soft] have decided to hit the reset button and start all over again with a science-fiction [story], which will be presented through a series of episodes encompassing the beginning to the end of the universe." Either way, fans must be rejoicing--this role-playing title for the Sony PlayStation 2 both does his visions justice and gives birth to the Xenosaga series. Takahashi adds, "There will be six episodes planned in all, all of which are divided into three major parts. I already have the story plotted until the middle of episode five in my mind, but certain ideas may be perceived as old-fashioned as time goes, so we'll try to be flexible to changes." The series is certainly in good hands under the talents of Monolith Soft, which is mostly composed of former Xenogears development staff, with Takahashi himself as the director and scriptwriter. Returning to their roles in the upcoming game are character designer Kunihiko Tanaka, mech designer Junya Ishigaki, and composer Yasunori Mitsuda. Some new additions also include both Kouichi Mugitani and Takumi Sakura as supporting mech designers. Mitsuda's gorgeous compositions will be performed by the talented London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the game will be produced by Hirohide Sugiura, chairman of the board of directors.

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The theme of Xenosaga Episode 1 lies in its subtitle, Der Wille zur Macht, which is German for "will to power." It is taken from the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche (a 19th-century German philosopher) and basically means that "human beings are always attempting to inflict their wills upon others." Based on Nietzsche's words, the reasons for each character's actions in the game are due to the will to power, which will be a running theme throughout the game. In the year 20xx, Zohar--an unknown entity that was in existence since the birth of the universe--was discovered. The story unfolds when Zohar, later classified as an infinite energy generator, is drifting in outer space. Xenosaga's actual story takes place few thousands of years into the future, well after the human race had abandoned Earth for a "certain reason" in favor of the frontier of space. Earth was considered the "Lost Jerusalem," and humans were forgetting its actual existence due to their long journey in space. The game begins just as Zohar (a keyword that will be mentioned throughout the entire series) is discovered. This is also during the era in which the Unus Mundus Network (U.M.N.)--a time warp navigator that connects the star systems--and the Galactic Federation (a federation alliance formed by more than 500,000 planetary governments) are established. The Galactic Federation's main enemy is the Gnosis forces, whose identity is shrouded in mystery.

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But one thing is for certain--the human race is their enemy, and they'll work ceaselessly to eradicate its existence. They control battle droids (unclassifiable as biological creature or mechanical robots) and space-vessel-like objects that glimmer in outer space. They usually move in large groups, the size of their units range from a few meters to millions of kilometers, and their numbers are at least a hundred billion strong. They have destroyed many human civilizations throughout the universe. Upon building the U.M.N, the giant conglomerate Vector Corporation (which also belongs to the Galactic Federation) has taken much control over the military and network divisions, exerting great influence on the Galactic Federation. The corporation developed humankind's most important weapons in its struggle against the Gnosis--the Anti Gnosis Weapon System (or AGWS for short, pronounced "aye-gas") and the KOS-MOS battle system. The AWGS are the game's mechs, which were developed to battle against Gnosis, while the KOS-MOS battle system is actually a kind of female android. These mechs are not necessarily humanlike in form and are usually built in compact sizes to increase maneuverability. They are suited for all types of geography and are equipped with special sensors on their chest or abdominal section, called D.S.S.S. These are used to detect noncorporeal types of Gnosis. Further, there are two classes of AGWS--AG and VX. Ones with AG serials are used only by the Galactic Federation military. The AG series acts as a core unit in the Federation's military and includes arm and leg options. They can also equip a variety of artilleries for different battle situations. Meanwhile, the ones in the VX series are prototypes developed by Vector for consumer use. Though they are only for consumer use, their capabilities exceed those of the AG series. But because they are still in testing, only selected organizations and individuals currently use them.

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Like in Xenogears, you can expect to see a variety of faces with diverse personalities in Xenosaga. In Episode 1, the leading character is Shion Uzuki, a 22-year-old female. Though the name may ring a bell, Takahashi commented that "she is not related to Citan Uzuki from Xenogears." She is the chief engineer of the KOS-MOS Development Project, under Vector Corporation's Division 1 Development Team. Though her past is very tragic--she lost her parents during the war, and her first love was killed in an accident two years ago--she doesn't dwell on it and never shows despair in front of others. Her overly positive remarks may have you perceiving her as a happy-go-lucky type of person, and she is determined to not let the tragedies of her past define who she is today. She is persistent, has the ability to motivate others, and--though she doesn't admit it--is very skilled as well. She is also quite popular among the male employees of Vector. Our second playable character is one of the KOS-MOS battle androids, apparently female, who is 18 years old. She will play a key role in the entire series. But "KOS-MOS" isn't her name, per se, but rather the name of the her class of "battle system." Logic, establishment, and "mission" are her prime directives, and she is programmed to serve only Shion. To communicate with others smoothly, she is equipped with a "simulated personality OS." Lastly, we have Chaos, a 16-year-old boy, who will also play a key role. He has silver hair and translucent amber eyes, and he speaks in a philosophical manner and always seems to be filled with sorrow. Other than his name, he speaks neither of his past nor origins. Whether he is deliberately hiding it or is in a state of amnesia is currently unknown.

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The game system is divided into two--the event mode and the control-free mode. In both cases, the game will incorporate 3D polygons rendered in real time (though the former uses a higher-resolution model than the latter). The event mode is composed of cutscenes, which will further the game's plot. The dialogues will have voice dubbing, and characters will have detailed facial expressions, including fluid movement on individual strands of hair. According to Sugiura, "The total time in the event mode will be around seven hours. It will be like watching 26 episodes' worth of anime series. And if you add the actual gameplay time, it should go for around 20 to 30 hours in all." In the control-free mode, you take direct control of Shion or other playable characters on a 3D-field map. Though you can neither move nor change the camera angles, the game will automatically do so as you traverse the game's environments. To navigate without easily getting lost, a radar map is also displayed at the bottom right. The battles will not be random, as enemies are visible on the field map. "Each of these enemies has certain 'ranges,' and when the player is in 'range,' enemies will pursue the characters. When in contact, players will engage in battle. Players can choose to avoid them by moving out of range, or they can lure them toward you to set them up for a trap," Takahashi explains. "Your characters can also hop onto their own mechs only once during the battle. The mechs can either be purchased or acquired during an event. You can customize them with different sets of parts and weapons." Takahashi assures players that they will be able to use the mechs or the characters themselves and still be able to progress further into the game. So here's to hoping that we won't get stuck fighting bosses, like in Calamity!

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While it's currently only 30 percent complete, the game has already generated much interest among fans of Xenogears. Expect more screens and details when the first public unveiling happens this July in Japan. Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Will zur Macht for the PlayStation2 will span two DVD-ROMs and is scheduled for a winter release in Japan.

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