Xenosaga is a series of turn-based rpg games released from 2002 to 2006 under Bandai Namco on the PS2. The main games are chronological sequels of each other. An anime and manga was also released that loosely covers the events of the first game. It was co-created by Tetsuya Takahashi and his wife Sorya Saiga.
The series follows a young woman named Shion Uzuki in the far future where interstellar travel is common and the universe is under attack strange alien beings called the Gnosis who are after an infinite energy generator called the Zohar. Over the course of the series she tries to uncover the secrets of the artificial being in her care called KOS-MOS while juggling the horrors of her past and present.
The plot is incredibly long and complex, and involves a lot of politics between different factions fighting for the Zohar and for custody over KOS-MOS. Like Xenogears, this game series also gets quite dark.
Some major themes include: How to live after trauma, the importance of connection to others, various religious motifs and commentary, metaphysics, philosphy, and cool gun fights in space.
Like Xenogears, this series also had a troubled production- though less so than its predecessor. After the first game, Namco forced most of the original team off the project (including Saiga) and its original six-part structure was cut by half. This caused some clear quality and direction differences between the first game and the two main entries in the series. Critics often deride Xenosaga for being 'too ambitious', and like Xenogears before it was was considered a commercial flop. It however, remains a cult classic among its fans.
Characters from Xenosaga have gone on to have many crossover appearances in other games due to their popularity.
Xenosaga I: Der Wille zur Macht
Follows Shion and KOS-MOS after the spaceship they were travelling in was attacked by Gnosis. Pulled into the conflict between several factions waging war on each other, they keep getting waylaid as they try to get to the planet of Second Miltia. As they gain more allies, they start uncovering the mystery surrounding the conflict they find themselves in and what the plans are of a man named Albedo.
Xenosaga II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse
Continuing from episode I, II follows Shion and Jr. continuing to try to unravel the plots happening around them. The story focuses on the origins of Jr and Albedo, as well as the pasts of other characters in the party. There is yet more faction war with the protagonists in the middle of it.
Xenosaga III: Also sprach Zarathustra
A year after the events of episode II and Shion quitting her job, Shion decides to investigate further into the faction war brewing. Along the way she and her friends uncover the horrible truth of the Gnosis and Shion's past, what all of the factions were doing, and KOS-MOS and her's destiny.
Xenosaga Pied Piper
A Japan-only mobile side game following the past of Ziggurat 8 a century previous to the main game. Sorya Saiga worked on this game, and soon after Namco cut the team. It elaborates on events referenced in the main game.
Xenosaga I & II
Produced for the DS, this game is a retelling of I & II with new graphics and further elaboration on some aspects of the plot. It was released in japan only.
A supplementary disc released in 2004, it features a visual novel segment, a dictionary for some of the game's terminology, a minigame, and a demo for episode II.
Other Official Content:
Anime + Manga
The first game was adapted into a three-volume manga by Atsushi Baba and a 12 episode anime by Toei Animation. It was later dubbed in English by Funimation.
Getting into it
A long game series like this with an incredibly complex plot can seem very intimidating, and it can feel hard to judge if its worth your time to get into from abstract blurbs. Fear not, this section is to help you determine that!
If you like:
- Space-based Sci-Fi
- Robots and androids
- Complex plots that get into politics and have heavy worldbuilding and exposition
- Story-driven character-rich games
- Complicated in-universe physics
- Stories that you have to pay attention to understand
- Complicated and very well-developed female characters with realistic depictions of trauma
- Anime Flavor
Or if you liked:
- Star Wars for the sprawling space opera with multiple factions setting
- Any of the other Xeno games in general
- Revolutionary Girl Utena for the psychological surrealism and mature topics
- Mass Effect for the space war setting
- Homestuck for the gnostic symoblism over an absurdly complicated plot
Xenosaga may be for you!
If you do not like the above things, you may not have a fun time with Xenosaga.
Content warnings accross the franchise include but are not limited to (possible spoilers hidden unless hovered over):
- Accessability: A fair amount of reading required with no audio component and some flashing lights in unskippable cutscenes
- Violence: Mass death, on-screen pet death shown(cat), gore, body horror, child death, murder, and war
- Abuse: Domestic abuse by a man to a woman (Boss/employee relationship, emotional abuse, and manupulation as well as implied grooming), domestic abuse by woman to man (manupulation, emotional abuse), man murders wife in a fit of rage, child abuse, scene of a villian pulling memories from a young girl that strongly parallels rape, villian being creepy towards a minor, psychiatric abuse, systemic abuse and oppression, medical experimentation, an abuse victim goes back to their abuser briefly, severe psychiatric abuse, nonconsensual magical lobotomy/ego death used as punishment
- Gorvernmental Oppression: Fantastic racism towards androids, sapients being treated like property and this being legal, sapients being treated like property as a punishment, capitalist hellscape problems shown
- Mental health: Heavy focus on the effects of many kinds of trauma- particularily chronic lifelong complex trauma, mental breakdowns shown, flashbacks shown, suicide shown and discussed, abusive treatment towards the mentally ill by the psychiatric system
- Other dark topics: Alcohol and drug use shown on screen, terminal illness(averted)
- Downers: Bittersweet ending, party character death
- Suggestive themes: Implied off-camera sex scene between an abuser and his victim, references to sexual topics, some censored nudity, some 'fanservicey' outfits
- Religious themes: Jesus and Mary Magdeline are actual extant people in the game, heavy focus on religious symbolism common to Christian, Jewish, and Gnostic theology, church as antagonist
- Dated Content: Dated gender essentialism and sexism unremarked upon
Yes, like Xenogears before it, This Series Is A Lot. If that doesnt turn you off, then this game may be a good fit for you!
Where to find it
Unfortunately all of the Xenosaga games are fully out of print and as they are under copyright limbo and were considered relatively unsuccessful, they are unlikely to come back into print anytime soon. Because of this, legitimate copies are difficult to find and incredibly expensive and do not put money in the hands of the creators.
All that is really left at this point that is accessable to the layman is the less than legal route or to watch an LP on youtube. Unfortunately, Namco is copyright claim happy even still with Xenosaga and its difficult to get access to the unmarred audio of the game cutscenes on youtube in english OR japanese. This leaves emulation as the only way to have an uninterrupted experience. Vim's Lair is again an invaluable resource to preserving the series, as all three main games are on it.
Put thinky thoughts here WIP