"Xenogears is basically a story about 'where do we come from, what are we, where are we going'."
Developer: Square Product Development Division 3
Director: Tetsuya Takahashi
Producer: Hiromichi Tanaka
Writer(s): Tetsuya Takahashi, Kaori Tanaka (Soraya Saga), Masato Kato
Composer: Yasunori Mitsuda
Platform: PlayStation One
Story and Background
Xenogears is a sprawling Sci-Fi JRPG set on the continent of Ignas. The game centers on Fei Fong Wong, an adopted and mysterious man brought to the picturesque village of Lahan one rainy night. His quiescent lifestyle is broken when a giant fight breaks out by invading forces. To fend off the attackers, Fei is compelled to enter a robot gear unit which falls inside the village. He accidentally destroys Lahan in the process and, traumatized, leaves in disgrace. He soon meets the enigmatic Citan, a man tasked with watching him from afar. As well as Elly, a hard-headed redhead who originally fights for the antagonistic Gebler military unit.
As the story unfolds, we’re made aware of a centuries long struggle to control the world, centering on ancient civilization called Solaris. Their mission is to control the human population, which they do through a proxy quasi-religious group known as The Ethos. This is the point where the game breaks down that Fei is a descendant of an ancient race who crash landed on Ignas 5000 years ago. In their grasp was an interplanetary weapon known as Deus. It uses its powers to manifest the creation of an entirely new race, designed to return to another dimension. No spoilers intended but it turns out that Fei himself has a significant relationship to it.
Xenogears is the brainchild of Japanese game-maker Tetsuya Takahashi (now currently head of Monolith Soft) and his wife Soraya Saga. Tetsuya originally put the game forward as an idea for Final Fantasy VII, but it was rejected for being too dark. Their idea was then considered as a potential plot for Chrono Trigger 2 (Chrono Cross), but was similarly cast aside. Soraya outlined that the concept for was about a “young soldier of fortune with multiple personalities”. The original script was written in 1994, with the game finally being released on Sony's PlayStation One in 1998.
The game started life under the title “Project Noah” - a nod to the religious iconography involved. It took two years to produce, by a staff of thirty developer working in a new team at SquareSoft. Takahashi is said to have created the idea because he was becoming frustrated with the approach of Final Fantasy - Square’s biggest series at the time. He envisaged a game rooted in high-concept Science Fiction, inspired by books like Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. Both he and Sorayaga Sage were influenced by philosophical and psychological theory, including Karen Horney and Claudio Naranjo's "Theory of Neurosis" - an interpretation according to which all psychopathology is rooted in the loss of being. Other ideas include the work of Freud, Jung and Nietzsche.
It was released at a high-time for experimental narratives in Japanese media, owing to the release of Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1997. Comparisons between the two are frequent but in this critic’s humble opinion, these comparisons are a little bit superficial. Hideaki Anno’s show is about people who struggle to form relationships with each other. Xenogears on the other hand, is about the never-ending search for happiness, and about how our lives are guided by faith in systems that don't necessarily create it.
It's a turn-based JRPG so takes its cues from many similar games. The battle system is a variant of the ATB system used in Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. Fights are split between ground combat and in-Gears battles. The former uses a combination of martial art moves, magical attacks and ‘Deathblows’. Actions are performed using points built up over battle. The gears battles do away with these in favor of Fuel. Effectively, you have a finite amount which acts as both your health and attack power. You can also boost yourself to increase power, but this has the consequence of draining fuel quicker. When this reaches zero you can no longer fight and have to recharge, leaving yourself very vulnerable.
It’s also worth mentioning that the game becomes less traditional as it goes on. The development had a protracted length meaning a lot of the gameplay had to be cut in order to ship the game. This resulted in the second disc being limited to main dungeons, with the in-between parts being told through a lot lengthy dialogue. It means that the latter part of the game is much less exploration-driven (i.e. there's basically no overworld at that point).
The music was composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, who was the composer for Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. It was designed with traditional and Irish music influences. The opening and ending tracks are sung by Irish singer Joanne Hogg. It uses a mixture of choral and instrumental tracks, including some instances of Bulgarian language.
An album version reached #55 in the Japanese charts. A blu-ray remastered version was released in 2018, entitled Xenogears: Original Soundtrack Revival Disc.
- Prior to release, Xenogears was dubbed Ura FFVII (Bizarro FFVII) in Japan because development on the two games began around the same time.
- Square decided that a sequel to the game would be made if it sold 1 million copies, but in the end it only reached just shy of 900,000, so the plan was dropped.
- One of the main antagonists of the game, Grahf, was created as an homage to Darth Vader. They share a similar mask design, as well as a desire to control the universe.
- Xenogears was accompanied by a book called Perfect Works. Released six-months later, it details the setting and background in much more detail.
- In the village of Lahan in the beginning, you can bump into Lucca, one of the main protagonists of Chrono Trigger.
- Some of the dialogue originally intended for Xenogears was cut and used in Chrono Cross, hence the weird relationship between the two series.
Xenogears 20th Anniversary Retrospective - USGamer.net
Kat Bailey talks about her experience playing Xenogears as a kid. She also details the problematic development, as well as muses on why it picked up a similar audience to Evangelion.
The Real Story Behind Xenogears Unfinished Disc 2 - Kotaku
Jason Schreirer from everybody’s favourite website Kotaku interviews Tetsuya Takahashi and finds out the real reason why Disc 2 was unfinished.
Critical Compilation - Xenogears, Xenosaga, Xenoblade - Critical-Distance.com
A comprehensive review of available articles about Xenogears and Xenosaga. It’s dense and academic, but an invaluable source of reference.
The History of Xenogears and Xenosaga
A man called A.C. provides an unbelievably in depth and book-length overview of the creation and development of Xenogears and Xenosaga. It’s really, really, really impressive.
You, I Want Your Thoughts!
What are your thoughts on Xenogears?
Is this the best JRPG you’ve potentially never played?
Is it, in your humble opinion, better or worse than Final Fantasy VII?
Is it pretentious crap or an unbeatable masterpiece?
Are you a man of the sea?