Xenosaga - The Power of Will (2002)

The following is the translation of an article from a Swedish gaming magazine about Xenosaga Episode I.

Super PLAY magazine 04_2002

Original text: Martin Johansson

Tetsuya Takahashi does not intend to follow in the footsteps of Final Fantasy. When Square couldn't finance his visions he left the company, started his own and produced the most epic saga in the role-playing world. Super PLAY has met a man who knows what he wants.

In a growing turbulent gaming industry it's getting common that key staff members abandon established companies to start their own. The fact that people will change employment might seem like an obvious thing in the west, but in Japan this hasn't always been the case.
Square is one of the companies that have felt this new trend and Monolith Soft is a prime example of a group of individuals who had such a passionate fire in their convictions that they abandoned the world's largest fairytale-factory in order to visualize their goals.

Without Namco Monolith Soft would've had big trouble existing, and without Hirohide Sugiura the cooperation would've been impossible. It was the industry-veteran Sugiura who convinced the capitalists and Namco to invest in producer Tetsuya Takahashi's up-and-coming RPG project X, now known as Xenosaga. And it was not an easy task considering that RPGs are one of the most expensive types of games you could possibly produce.

"The reason I quit Square was that I wanted to make a series like Xenosaga and the executives claimed they didn't have enough money to realize my ideas", explains Tetsuya Takahashi to me when I meet him at Namco's head office in Yokohama.

The super team
The key members of Monolith Soft are experienced and many. The biggest drive behind Xenosaga is Tetsuya Takahashi who has got a wide experience. Tetsuya Takahashi began his carer at Nihon Falcom, more commonly known for the RPG series Y's. After that he went over to Square, where he was involved in the fifth and sixth succession of the Final Fantasy-series. In the latter game he served as graphic director together with Tetsuya Nomura and Hideo Minaba, which is very interesting. Some claim that Final Fantasy VI was the beginning of the end, and the start of the series and its creators going off in split directions. And as can be seen it was Tetsuya Nomura who then designed Final Fantasy VII, VIII and X, while Hideo Minaba was responsible for Final Fantasy IX. Tetsuya Takahashi would never continue his work on Final Fantasy, but rather develop his own RPG Xenogears. A game that was considered pioneering for Square, thanks to the unique battle system and graphics, but perhaps in most because of the anime cutscenes that carried the game's story. When Xenogears was released in 1998 it was unique and so far removed from Hironobu Sakaguchi's Final Fantasy legacy you could get. And despite the game only being released in Japan and the US, it is legendary today even in European gaming circles.

For Xenosaga Tetsuya Takahashi is responsible for the entire project as well as the script, while his patron of the arts Hirohide Sugiura serves as producer.

Yasuyuki Honne is the game's art director and has previously worked on Chrono Cross and Xenogears. Close to him is Kunihiko Tanaka, character designer of Xenogears, along with Norihiro Takamien; one of the strongest forces of Square - the guy who developed their computer animation capabilities with Final Fantasy VII and VIII. Together they've created amazing animations that decorates Xenosaga from beginning to end. The one who puts the scenes, music and graphics together as a game is Toshiaki Yajima who was responsible for Front Mission Alternative, and his team. Toshiaki Yajima may not have been involved with Xenogears, but he still decided to follow his colleges when they moved to Monolith Soft.

[Side Collumn: Xenogears]
The fact that quite a few Swedes went ahead and modified their PlayStation in 1998 for the sole purpose of taking part of the North American Xenogears speaks volumes about the game's popularity in a region that never had any official release.
      Tetsuya Takahashi's strange adventure did not follow the established template that Square's games tend to follow. Instead of obsessively hunting the game's villain for hours, Tetsuya Takahashi wanted to provoke players into question themselves and their existence in an extremely complex science fiction saga; part anime, part game. Xenogears was a game that never truly fit into Square's repertoire, which was one of the reasons a huge part of the team left for Namco and Monolith Soft.

Nietzsche as inspiration
The first episode in the Xenosaga series is subtitled Der Wille zur Macht, which is taken from Friedrich Nietzsche's book with the same name. It was based on his notebooks which were compiled by his sister Elisabeth after his death in 1900. Der Wille zur Macht, or "the will to power", was based around thoughts of non-existing values, in other words nihilism – where the individual himself determines his own moral judgements.

"I read a lot of Friedrich Nietzsche during university", explains Tetsuya Takahashi. "Fear is a main theme in the game. It's only by overcoming their fear that the game's characters can save themselves."

Tetsuya Takahashi does not stop there, but also borrows inspiration from zen-buddhism and philosophical theories concerning what happens to man when journeys into space and exploration of the cosmos becomes everyday life. The amount of existential questions that are brought up in Xenosaga are many, and they're all packaged into a seemingly classic science fiction adventure.

[Introduction of the story omitted, you all know it by now]

After having the extremely complicated story explained to me by Tetsuya Takahashi my notepad is glowing. He has left out a big chunk out of pure courtesy, but I am perplexed over his ability to so beautifully make the details fit together. He also tells me that the original idea for Xenogears was not his own, but that he had help from Kaori Tanaka. Building Xenosaga from [his own] foundation seems to have increased his level of ambition and when I ask how many parts he can imagine Xenosaga to go on for he answers without hesitation: "Six episodes."

Some elements that the player gets to familiarize themselves with in Xenosaga will continue to follow in the coming games and the idea is that the entire series will span unfathomable 7000 years, and that KOS-MOS and her antithesis Chaos will exist in all six games.

[Translator's comment: The 7000 year thing is confusing. In the Japanese interviews Takahashi specifically said that it would span from "the beginning to the end of the universe", and that covers a lot more than 7000 years - unless Takahashi shortened the time-limit of the collapsing universe from 10,000 years down to 7000 years originally and Koh Arai restored it to 10,000 years at the end of Episode III, but that seems unlikely. The series should span 10,000 years at the very least. Maybe the interviewer got the number wrong, or maybe he misinterpreted something. In a way, the first story arc alone covers roughly 7000 years (Time of the Messiah ~ T.C. 4767.) ]

Follows his own path
Tetsuya Takahashi is a careful storyteller but a man of few words when giving interviews. His answers are not exactly [giving new variation] and he's also not inclined to follow up on the questions. Perhaps he wants to let the game speak for itself by keeping himself out of the spotlight, because you really have to pull information out of him. The fact that Xenosaga is unlike any other RPG is very clear. It contains ingredients of a kind we've so-far never seen. The battle system, atmosphere and character design has an original touch that can't be compared to either Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. Or, as Tetsuya Takahashi describes it: "I don't think there are any similarities at all with those franchises."

What may speak for or against Xenosaga is the fact that the game is divided into two sections. One is completely interactive and the other tells the story in the form of cinematic sequences. Xenogears was constructed in a similar way, and divided gamers into two camps; those who loved it and those who hated it. It seems Hirohide Sugiura is well aware of the criticism, but isn't worried about Xenosaga's reception.

"We don't want to make a series only for our existing fans, but to also find new fans. At first we were nervous and wondering if we would be able to satisfy everyone, but now that we have completed the first episode we feel completely satisfied."
Xenogears contained anime sequences only, but these have now been replaced by computer animation. Tetsuya Takahashi did not want Xenosaga's content to be associated with traditional Japanese animation, but rather with cinema.

"It might look like anime, but if you look at the scenario, camerawork, and the clips you'll clearly notice that inspiration is borrowed from various existing movies."

Hirohide Sugiura and Tetsuya Takahashi made a bold decision when they took their expertise and colleges and abandoned a secure employment at Square. They took a step that few developers dare do, and left their fear behind them in order to make something they believe in. There are clear parallels between their lives and their game, in which the characters have to constantly make difficult choices. And perhaps it was Friedrich Nietzsche's doctrine of "the will to power" that made Hirohide Sugiura and Tetsuya Takahashi leave their secure existence in order to build something completely new.

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