‘Xenosaga’ Revisited, Part 2: Beyond Good and Evil (and creative control)

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Xenosaga, Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse
Monolith Soft
Namco Bandai
PS2, PS3, DS

As mentioned in the first part of this series, Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille Zur Macht had debuted to middling sales in spite of its high critical acclaim. Unfortunately, this lead to interference from Monolith Soft, and Episode II was heavily altered leading up to its release.

The first, and most noticeable, shift was that of the art style. While the original title painted itself with an anime aesthetic, its sequel was revealed to have surprisingly realistic character models. Granted, the game was by no means ugly, it did, however, come across as bland in relation to its predecessor, and even rendered some of its characters unrecognizable. Consider the main character, Shion, for example. Here she would be introduced without her trademark glasses, in different clothing, with a different hairstyle, and completely different facial features.

Monolith Soft had surmised that the anime style of the original game had gone a long way toward hurting its sales in Europe and North America, and, as such, had changed it dramatically for the sequel. Ironically the plan backfired, and Episode II actually sold even less than the first game. Even with the improved battle system, less re-using of music, and many strong additions to the series’ lore and characters, Jenseits von Gut und Böse would be viewed as a financial failure, one that set a gravestone for Xenosaga, and matched its name to it’s resting place.

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The plot this time around centered primarily on the perpetually youthful Jr. and his siamese twin, Albedo, the first game’s main antagonist. Part of an experimental unit of 669 genetically altered clones, Albedo and Jr. provided a rich history as two of the the unit’s only survivors. Their intense rivalry fueled much of the first volume, and even spread into the third, and final volume, after Albedo’s “death” during the game’s climax.

New characters were introduced, including Shion’s brother, a katana-wielding book-salesmen named Jin. The idea that books were a sort of rare antique in the future, collected primarily by hipsters and purists, was only one of the story’s creative masterstrokes.

Episode II would follow the credence of many effective sequels in a few other ways, as it answered several of the key questions posed by the original game (the origin and nature of the U.R.T.V.’s for one), while trailing tidbits on a few others (like chaos’s (sic) nature as a holy figure), and even introducing a few new ones (Albedo’s seeming rebirth at the game’s finale stands tantamount among these).

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As the series cult following only intensified with the second volume, the vast remainder of gamers were further intimidated by the heaviness and foreign nature of the content, confused by the artistic shift in design, or simply distracted by the bevy of great games released during the same time period amid the PS2’s heyday.

Xenosaga Episode II‘s lowered sales lead directly to the firing of scenario-writer Soraya Saga, much of whose work was cut, shifted, or altered, and the announcement of the end of the Xenosaga series was levied as a final consequence.

In the end Episode III would be saddled with the unfavorable responsibility of condensing the plot of the 4 remaining planned volumes, tying up the storyline and lore in a manner that would be acceptable to fans, and increasing sales for the property, all on a minimized budget.

To see how it did we’ll return next month with the final part of Xenosaga Revisited.




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