Alan Smithee

Games That Defined Me — Xenogears

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When I was 18, done with high-school, and enjoying the freedom that came from being a teen with a part time job and no real plans, I had my gaming to keep me busy. Every week it seemed, I would have a new game for my PlayStation that just NEEDED to be played.

I recall that I picked up Xenogears on the same day that I got Metal Gear Solid. To be honest, I was there for MGS but got Xenogears as well. I didn’t realize that the same game that I played on the demo that was included with Parasite Eve (if my memory serves me correctly) was already out…I just had to have it.

Lets just say, it was nothing short of spectacular. Who doesn’t love giant robots and martial arts in an RPG?!?

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The game starts off with a history lesson talking about the centuries old war between Kislev and Aveh. It then focuses on the out-of-the-way backwoods village where your character Fei has been living the last 3 years as an amnesiatic. The war spills over into your life when you find yourself hijacking a ‘gear’ (the game’s word for the mecha) to defend your fellow villagers. Worst part about the attack is that it happens right in the middle of everyone getting ready for your best friend’s wedding.

It’s not often that a JRPG causes you to have critical thinking. It’s usually so ‘on-rails’ that all you need to do is progress up to the bosses and beat the game. Xenogears was different because it had a deeper and more philosophical story than almost any game of the time. I mean, this game makes you seriously think, and was a major push for me towards atheism (even though the ending has VERY religious undertones).

Xenogears had some points in the story that made me think philosophically for months after I beat it about my own role as a human cog in the big machine of society.

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For me, this game was the complete package, great storytelling, great music, and pretty awesome graphics for 1998. If I had to list my favorite moment in the game were when *SPOILER ALERT* you find out that humanity wasn’t created by a God, but by a malicious entity that caused the crashing of colony ship millenia ago onto an un-named planet. It creates humanity so that it will eventually sacrifice all of the population in order to harness their energy/life to escape the planet. There’s only one hitch, your character (Fei) is the re-incarnation (with intact memories) of the only person to survive the initial crash-landing on the planet.

The theme of the game delves into some serious psychology and analytical philosophy. We’re talking Freudian psychology (the ego, the superego, and the id), Jungian psychology (dealing with the shadow), and some of the theories of Friedrich Nietzsche (god is dead, and the concept of the eternal return). The story is just so damned deep that many gamers hate it, especially the second disc which has tons of dialogue and little gameplay.

The composer for this game was none other than Yasunori Mitsuda my favorite video game composer. If you have no idea who that is then you probably don’t deserve any gamer cred at all. The man singlehandedly made games like Chrono Trigger, Tobal No. 1, Chrono Cross, and the Xenosaga series all the more memorable with his amazing scores. I know there are people out there that will disagree with me on this and list about a dozen other reputable composers, I personally think he’s the best in the industry.

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Graphically, the game is breathtaking for its time, the fully rotatable 3D environments with 2D hand drawn sprites is a killer idea, the lighting effects were great, and the few anime cutscenes made the entire game spectacular. The special effects in the battles are damn cool especially in the later levels when your character unlocks their elemental attacks.

There is one mitigating fact that I think kept Xenogears from becoming a smash hit, and that would be that this one had the misfortune of coming out on the exact same day as Metal Gear Solid. It’s unfortunate but there is nothing that could have stood in up to the might of that game back in 1998.

This is one of the finest examples of an RPG and is one of three games that has gameplay that took me well over 100 hour mark (the other 2 were FFVII and Grandia). With a final boss that is the creator of the bulk of humanity in the game (Deus), there is no bigger brawl than with a creation against its creator. I continue to listen to the soundtrack, a full decade after I beat the game…hell, even as I write this it’s playing on my iPod, thats how timeless this game is to me.

If you’re ever looking for a challenging, long, truly classic JRPG that actually makes you think and will keep you satisfied, take a trip to Goozex, E-Bay, Amazon, or any other local shop and try to get this game, I promise you won’t be sorry!

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