a review of xenosaga episode iii: also sprach zarathustra
a videogame developed by monolith soft japan
and published by bandai-namco games
for the sony playstation 2 computer entertainment system
text by tim rogers
Xenosaga Episode III is made by a staff of lobotomites — figuratively, that is, I mean, I’m sure they’re nice people who eat unsweetened yogurt with bran flakes for breakfast every morning or what have you. Someone probably gives them cookies before they go to bed or whatever; what happened to them at their initial wiring stages to make them think that making giant robot schlock games with Jesus cameos is a profession worth falling in love with, I don’t know, and I for one am not going to deny them the pleasure of a hot bath.
Xeno– is a series that got started with one man — Tetsuya Takahashi — receiving the compliment of his life: the chance to make his game about biblical robots. It unfolded like something Shakespeare would chuckle about if we’d get around to cloning dead people and it were a Salon.com article: Takahashi didn’t get enough money, he didn’t get enough time, he had trouble communicating his ideas, he lost his car keys on the wrong day, I don’t know. Eventually he got forced into retirement because his game didn’t make the front page of the hecking New York Times. Squaresoft were overestimating everything back then; Namco offered to publish the continuation of Takahashi’s aborted opus — then Squaresoft got all ex-girlfriendly and told him he could have the car if he’d let her keep the tires.
The result was Xenosaga, one man with a real budget, playing fiddle before the king in a country that wanted two big RPG franchises (the whimsical one, Tales of…, and the broody one, Xeno-) so they could finally be provably better than a company whose only attempt ever at a driving game (Emotion Type-S) sucked violently.Eventually, when Xenosaga failed to make the front page of the hecking Washington Post, Takahashi was on the street and one or two members of the team were blogging about considering suicide. Really, though, robots and the Bible? Evangelion, hello? I hecking hate anime and I know what Evangelion is. I guess Evangelion didn’t have space, a prophetically boring battle system (twenty pages of tutorial text, followed by a press of the X button and the death of your enemy) and/or robotic little girls’ panties. There’s talk these games about videogames kind of maybe taking steps toward a new kind of literature-interpretation, to put it lightly, or maybe that they might be art, though let me tell you, if you brought any member of the Xenosaga series to your Nietzche-hugging philosophy teacher and presented it as a candidate that thought concerning robotic lesbians has recently arrived to a new plateau of understanding, he’d probably punch you in the neck, and then promptly call your mother and tell her to have you neutered.
Suffice it to say, Xeno– was doomed from the concept stages, noble and bold and daring as its first installment might have been. And then, In 2006, I had the extreme displeasure to play Xenosaga Episode III (*), the angry Namco’s banging gavel declaring the death sentence on the series two episodes too early (or three too late). I thought it was hilarious enough to play for three hours in which I hadn’t a clue what in the flaming heck was going on. The battle system is like playing War! with the bad half of a deck of cards and a brick wall. The main character, originally a bespectacled scientist in a labcoat and everything, was now wearing a fur-collared monsterpiece with segmented aluminum black tights that revealed inguinal foldage. The characters talk about hecking nonsense and the whole thing feels vaguely like terrorism plotted by a supercomputer.
There’s not a speck of life; the game is that shopping mall by the highway in Kentucky where every store is that seasonal store that sometimes sells Halloween costumes, and it’s the middle of August and there’s a single senior citizen power-walking laps; you can’t tell if it’s an old man or an old woman, though you follow him or her around for a while, kind of wondering if he or she is about to keel over. Playing the game is like being sixteen, having a birthday in July, and receiving a gift-wrapped fat stack of spiral notebooks and other assorted school supplies as a present from a grandma who was supposed to have died ten years ago.