Caution: This preview contains Xenogears spoilers.

   Since its announcement at the Spring 2001 Tokyo Game Show, Namco's Xenosaga has caused substantial confusion. Was it a true Xenogears prequel or just a deft marketing move? An offical Square-licensed follow-up or just a "spiritual successor"?

   While Square is not involved at all with the production of the Xenosaga series, the game is all but an official prequel. Characters will have the same names and appearances in Namco's version of the story. A number of the original Xenogears team leaders are at work on the title, including director Tetsuya Takahashi, character designer Kunihiko Tanaka, art director Yasuyuki Honne, and composer Yasunori Mitsuda. Newcomers to the series are screenwriter Sei Sato, producer Hirohide Sugiura, and executive producer Masaya Nakamura. Xenogears script writer Masato Kato, lead programmer Kiyoshi Yoshii, and producer Hiromichi Tanaka are not involved with the prequel.

Oops, I said 'ensuing'
I never thought I'd hear you say "Earth parallel development" and mean it, Sam

   However, according to a Famitsu interview with director Tatsuya Takahashi, Xenosaga will "restart" the six-installment saga. In other words, Xenosaga will start a fresh take on the same timeline and won't always directly tie itself to Xenogears. Whatever changes in store for the series seem to be relatively minor so far, though; key characters like Abel (Fei's original incarnation) and Elly appear unchanged and the game adheres closely to the timeline laid out in the Xenogears art book.

   Developer MonolithSoft eventually plans to produce all six episodes of the Xenosaga in order. The game being referred to as just "Xenosaga" is Episode I, which takes place 10,000 years before Episode V. Because Episode I occurs before Deus landed on the Chu-chupolin homeworld and created the human population of Episodes II through V, there will be no returning characters outside of Abel and Elly. (One discrepancy exists between the two Xeno timelines. The original Xenogears game is heavily implied to take place on Earth, with the Zeboim era representing our present. However, Xenosaga and the Xenogears art book both have Episodes II through V set on another world after humanity has abandoned Earth.)

 Behold the majesty of these pointy stone things!
Sensitively rendered only after painstaking research, no doubt

   Xenosaga begins in the year "20XX" at Lake Turkana in Kenya. In the game's realistic pre-rendered opening cutscene, scientists excavate the mysterious monolith known as Zohar. We then fast forward several thousand years to the year T.C. 4767, at which point the game adopts an anime art style. (T.C. is short for "Transcend Christ", the new calendar adopted in A.D. 2510 -- in other words, T.C. 4767 is equivalent to A.D. 7277.)

   By T.C. 4767, Zohar-powered space travel has long since become commonplace. Humanity has long since abandoned Earth, which has since been termed a "Lost Jerusalem." Civilization thrives under the banner of the Galactic Federation, a group of 30,000 inhabited planets united by a transportation network known as the Unus Mundi System. However, trouble soon arrives in the form of the Pilgrimage Fleet, an armada bearing a hostile alien race known as the Gnosis that threatens the safety of Zohar.

   To fight back against the Gnosis, the Galactic Federation enlists the aid of the massive Vector Corporation and its chairman Wilhelm. Vector constructs giant robots known as Anti-Gnosis Weapon Systems (A.G.W.S.es, pronounced "Eggs"), which can detect the ethereal forms of the Gnosis. That isn't good enough, however, as conventional weapons can still not damage the Gnosis. Vector then begins work on an android known as KOS-MOS to actually battle the aliens.

   And, thus, after that long introduction, we finally come to Xenosaga's protagonist: Shion Uzuki, the 22-year-old engineer chairing the KOS-MOS project. Shion has a rather tragic past: her parents were killed in a war and her lover in an accident two years ago, leaving her with only her work and her sizable male fanbase at the 1st Development Bureau in Vector. Note that, as explicity confirmed by director Takahashi, Shion is not a relative of Xenogears' Citan Uzuki. Not only is Citan's real last name not "Uzuki", the latter character was born nearly 10,000 years later and is descended from the creations of Deus, not Shion's spacefaring people. Of course, the two characters may share a more spiritual bond by serving similar roles in the story -- Shion seems to share Citan's scientific mind, if nothing else.

Whaddya know?  A Walther 9mm automatic!
Come and get me, ya dirty screw! Tee hee!

   Shion's first companions will be the the blue-haired female KOS-MOS android, who fights with massive "Vulcan" cannons, and an amnesiac white-haired boy named chaos. These two character seems to be set up as counterparts of each other: "Kosmos" is Greek for "order" - the opposite of chaos. Furthemore, KOS-MOS has light skin, colored hair, and an all-caps name, while chaos has darker skin, silver hair, and an all-lowercase name. As the pair will be recurring characters throughout the Xenosaga series, it seems plausible they might be connected to the dichotomous male and female Anima and Animus forces.

   Two other party members have been announced. One is named M.O.M.O. (pronounced "Moe-moe"), short for Multiple Observative Mimetic Organism. M.O.M.O. is the prototype Realien, a new line of synthetic humans produced by Vector. She was created by the scientist Joachim Mizraki and modeled after his missing 12-year-old daughter. M.O.M.O.'s mission is to monitor the Gnosis, a task she pursues with great zeal, believing that will enable her to go to heaven and be reunited with her now-deceased father.

   The other new character is Jr., an apparently human boy who looks to be 12 years old. Despite his youth, Jr. speaks wisely and directly. He fights with guns and collects old books a hobby, making him rather similar to Xenogears' Billy Lee Black. The identity of Jr.'s father is a mystery that will presumably be revealed as the plot progresses.

   Another pair of characters -- not yet confirmed as playable -- should be familar to Xenogears fans. Abel, the first incarnation of Fei, appears in the game as a young boy, as does his mother, the first incarnation of Elly; both characters look unchanged from Xenogears. What role these two play in the Episode I isn't known, but Abel's eventual fate is a given: He is the sole survivor of Deus' take-over of the Eldridge and witnesses the divine Wave Existence trapped inside Zohar during the ship's collapse. The Wave Existence grants Abel's wish for companionship by recreating his mother as Elly; the pair are then reincarnated several times on the Xenogears planet until they become Fei and Elly Van Houten in Episode V.

 So what?
I feel kind of bad, beating up on superior alien beings

   Indeed, the creation of Deus looks to be the focus of Episode I. In the Xenogears version of the timeline, the terraforming weapon was created for use against an unknown enemy - likely the Gnosis. After its creation, however, Deus was deemed too dangerous to put into action and was placed on the Eldridge to be shipped off and destroyed. Realizing it was about to destroyed, the self-aware weapon attacked and destroyed the Eldridge, then crashed on a nearby planet, taking Zohar - its power source - with it.

   This set-up seems to echo what's known of Xenosaga's plot. According to Takahashi, the central conflict in Episode I will not actually be between the humans and Gnosis, but between two human factions - Shion's Vector Corporation and the Galactic Federation. This strife could well center around Deus' construction. (Interestingly, the differences between these two factions will be accentuated by the different art directors working on the Vector and Galactic Federation creations.) One possible villain, an imposing-looking man with glasses and dark hair and clothing, has been spotted in the released footage.

   However, there won't be any truly "evil" characters. Like Xenogears, Xenosaga will have no ancient demon kings or randomly destructive lab experiments; everyone on both sides has their own logical reasons for acting as they do. The game's theme and subtitle is "The Will for Power", a Nietzschean phrase reflecting the struggle for control at the base of the game's plot. The differing perceptions of reality will also be another key "theme."

   As befitting its story-centric nature, Xenosaga will be presented as cinematically as possible. The game is rendered in full 3-D, allowing for changing camera angles. Players will not be able to adjust the camera on their own; instead, the perspectives for each point are fixed. Characters have also been rendered with animated faces and hair, and the game will feature six to seven hours of voice acting.

Our Bewildering Universe
Try imagining how far the universe extends! Keep thinking about it until you go insane

   While constant random battles were the norm in Xenogears, Xenosaga will do away with them entirely. Enemies can be spotted roving the environments and avoided. A Skies of Arcadia-style radar in the corner of the screen tracks players' positions as they move about the 3-D environments. The environments will reportedly feature a great deal of interaction; for example, players can destroy objects to hunt for treasure or push around obkects to block the path of pursuing enemies. It's not yet known if Xenogears' jumping features will be included in Xenosaga.

   On the surface, Xenosaga's battle system is similar to Xenogears. Attacks are still created by chaining together hits with the Square, Triangle, and X buttons, though these buttons now represent short-, medium-, and long-range attacks instead of weak, medium, and strong blows. And as in Xenogears, each character also his or her own Ether (magic) powers that expend EP.

   However, a number of new factors have been added in an effort to add more strategy to the series' combat system. Character positioning is now a factor and will be partially determined by how the player's party and monsters meet on the field map. Some Deathblows now cost EP as well as AP to use. And the speed at which players complete battles will affect what items and how many experience points they earn. (Xenogears players may remember a few similar but smaller-scale features in Xenogears.)

 You bust me up, li'l buddy
Hello, unsavory pals! What's new?

   Xenogears' A.G.W.S.es will also function completely differently from Xenogears' Gears. Instead of compromising a separate battle system, the A.G.W.S.es are used as summoned helpers during normal battles. Details on how this works are still sketchy, but it sounds like the A.G.W.S. will play a similar role to Final Fantasy X's Aeon summons. Each A.G.W.S. can be customized with up to eight different parts, which affect its attack type, special features, and how long it can remain on the battlefield.

   Xenogears was a fairly linear game with little to do outside of advancing the story, but Xenosaga looks to add a few more chances to explore a little. A "trading and collecting" mini-game that offers rare items will be included, and the team is even considering a two-player battle mode.

   For the most part, Xenosaga's plot and battles will remain disparate halves. While the trend for most RPGs has been to meld game and story into one cohesive experience, the MonolithSoft team is attemping to do just the opposite. Important story sequences will be separated entirely from the interactive portion of the game, such that - according to Takahashi - players could simply watch all the game's cutscenes in order and not miss any of the story. Surprisingly, Episode I will lack Xenogears' massive running time; Takahashi estimates the game can be completed in about 20 to 30 hours, about a quarter of which will be devoted to story scenes.

   One uniting element, however, will be Yasunori Mitsuda's score. The popular freelance musician is composing the game's entire soundtrack, which will include at least different 50 tracks. The London Philharmonic Orchestra is performing the compositions, possibly a sign that the score will move away from Mitsuda's usual Celtic style. Mitsuda has also stated that Gregorian chants will be used frequently to suit Xenosaga's religious atmosphere.

   Along with Final Fantasy X and Suikoden III, Xenosaga has quickly emerged as one of the PlayStation 2's biggest RPGs. Not only is it a sequel to one of fandom's most beloved games, Xenosaga's sci-fi aesthetics and innovative mechanics should make it an intriguing change of pace for even those aren't Xenogears fans. Tetsuya Takahashi and his team seem to have recognized Xenogears' flaws and have worked to correct them in their prequel; how successful they've been will be seen when the game debuts in Japan this December.

Preview by Fritz Fraundorf, GIA.
Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht
Developer MonolithSoft
Publisher Namco
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium DVD (2)
Platform PlayStation 2
Release Date  02.28.02
 Fall 2002
Xenosaga hands-on impressions
180 screenshots
Albedo character design
5 wallpaper images