Xenosaga, Episode III: Thus Spake Zarathustra
With the abridged and anticipated close of the Xenosaga series on the horizon, the final volume had the unenviable position of wrapping up two games of plot, starting and completing its own arc, and cramming in the major beats of the remaining three planned volumes. As such, it is ultimately the most uneven and overstuffed of trilogy, but also perhaps the most emotionally satisfying.
Picking up from the grim conclusion of Episode II, this saga-ending chronicle began with much table-setting. To start with, much of the cast is split up and spread apart at the outset of the game. Furthermore, there is a time jump, and even more new elements are introduced. For any newcomers who might be brave enough to jump in at this point, this was obviously a major problem.
Xenosaga had a very dense mythology, and even the most devoted of fans would have a hard time summing up and explaining the various odds and ends of its vast universe. This made it an almost impossible sell for the marketing team at Namco Bandai. Though it was clearly the darkest and most violent of the three volumes, the above facts would lead to it being heavily censored, even more so than the previous volumes, in hopes of maximizing profitability with another “T for Teen” rating from the MSRB.
This idea, in and of itself, is incredibly problematic as the majority of retailers were not enforcing the MSRB ratings anyway. Unlike most age limits, the MSRB’s M rating was largely ignored, with titles like Grand Theft Auto III, Silent Hill 2, and God of War being widely sold to minors on a regular basis. As mentioned in the previous parts, this was a time of transition for the medium, and due to the social ignorance regarding gaming, they were still being sold mainly as harmless toys or means of innocent subversion.
This is, of course, not to suggest that games should not be edited and regulated by an independent body, only that going through such extraneous means to appease this body in order to affect further sales was the very definition of an ironic futility. It gave the final volume negative press from the gaming media that their story would be altered, and offered coverage from the mainstream media that the game was the sort of thing which required editing in the first place in order to be suitable for its arguably impressionable audience.
In terms of sales, the series would go out with a whimper. Those who had been with Xenosaga from the beginning were treated to hundreds of lines of text dialogue in place of its fully-voiced predecessors, the introduction of a short-lived mech-fighting mechanic, and an everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink finale that was as polarizing and divisive as it was conclusive.
The heavy religious symbolism of the first two volumes went into overdrive with the biblical revelations of several characters and set pieces, while the exhaustive lore was quickly broken down, analyzed, and reiterated as the plot came to a close.
In the end Xenosaga can be seen as an intriguing, if somewhat unsuccessful, experiment. Though it can be a t0ugh pill to swallow, especially in terms of its constantly evolving and reinventing of mechanics and aesthetics, the Xenosaga series will likely be remembered as a cult classic and not much more.
(Note: There is an ongoing movement to get the Xenosaga trilogy remastered in HD. Google “Operation Kos-Mos” for more details.)