In 1998, American shelves received a most silent and subtle occupant that promised mechanical battles mixed with carbon-based intrigue and a plot rife with complexities and words like 'rife'. Branded Xenogears, this hot little item carried with it the burden of what would blossom into nearly a decade of discussion, debate, misconception, and giant-eyed robot girls with trademark blue hair. Xenogears came laden with fragments of various philosophical notions, random placement of mythological and historical names, and a unique ability to confound the mind both on technical and contextual levels. Keep in mind, of course, that being confounded can also come from people failing to do simple addition as opposed to obfuscated ethical ideals. This is by no means meant to be a singular, definitive examination of the game, but I like to think it'll be a good first shot. As a forewarning, expect story summation for a good while. The philosophy doesn't start getting put in the atom smasher until Takahashi started running out of money.
The game is set on a planet whose name is some random jumble of letters and numbers (as scribed in Perfect Works) that I either fail or refuse to remember, and begins with a young man named Fei. I can skip some of the formalities of this, as I expect most of you reading have already barreled your way through the game at least once, but I like to set a standard. A very, very low standard. Anyway, our young hero is confronted by a seemingly random attack on the village, leaving him with an opportunity to play defender that goes horribly wrong and leaves the village a charred, crispy, baconesque version of what it once was. He is banished. The game starts off innocently enough (even for those of you who didn't make it through the first forest. Andrew, I'm looking at you), but as we move forward, it eventually becomes revealed that everything was distinctly planned out from the start.
This would seem to be a normal sort of plot device, except that Takahashi frequently throughout the game likes to mash some tenets of Gnosticism in your face without you knowing what Gnosticism is. The religion itself is pantheistic in a sense, with each of its Aeons deriving from a pure spirituality or Unknown God more characteristic of monotheism. There are different variations on what follows, but the general outcome of this is that Sophia, the youngest of the Aeons, produces the material world as we know it through her sinful desire to create as did the Unknown God. This matter then produced the Demiurge upon contact with Sophia's daughter, who is the antagonist of the faith. That said, you all who haven't already gorged yourself on this forbidden knowledge should start to be getting the picture. More on this later.
So Fei is banished from the village and is discovered by Elhaym van Houten, daughter of a Solarian executive and a lieutenant in Gebler. Their relationship is rather high-strung at first, but near the end when she's about to get turned into Rankor excrement, she relents a bit when Fei saves her by hopping in a giant robot. The gear, Weltall, is Deus ex Machinally supplied by Citan, the quiet intellectual whose flip-flopping intentions are continually convoluted till much later in the game. The next few hours of the game involve meeting the true king of Aveh, Bart, getting called the slayer of God by an old coot who lives underground, and attempting to recapture Aveh which is infested with Gebler forces. Elly turns sides, of course, and various flirtatious threats and back-pedalings go on between her and Fei. Hereabouts is where everyone starts wondering who that wicked guy in the red gear is, why he can toss a sand ship like a potato, and why Elly isn't taking her Zoloft.
This is about where things start to get a little deeper. We have the dark and mysterious villain archetype, but he seems to be hounded by another of the same archetype, who at the same time seems to be manipulating the arrogant power-hungry villain archetypes. Between Grahf, the Gazel Ministry, Miang, Id, and Deus, the game manages to develop a pretty neat story that certainly has more depth than your standard console RPG insofaras character interaction is concerned. As much criticism or praise as the game may receive, the presence of so many different and independent motivations and interactions cannot be denied, and that they were all fit into the game is certainly laudable. On face level, and aside from the fact that Takahashi apparently cannot keep track of how much money he has in his pocket, Xenogears is, at the very least, above average. The story moves well with enough side development (barring the stuff that was meant to be developed, but again with the money) to keep most of the characters in focus as actual people rather than instruments to propel Fei toward his destiny, and as Animus descendants they all have equal value as individuals if not as playable characters (How could they have not given Rico an electric shock attack! Oh, yeah, cause he'd probably turn all the boardies into quivering goo with something other than his linguistic skills).
Beneath all this, though, are those threads of disingenuous philosophical rumination that make me wonder if Takahashi doesn't sit around typing into his livejournal every time he buys a new book by Jung. Don't get me wrong; I like the idea of intertwining philosophy and expression of idea through detailed allegory, but when you start naming characters after dead German physiological mathematicians, you and I are going to start having some problems. Part of this I must, admittedly, attribute to Square's penchant for naming things after old mythological figures. I'd like to think it has something to do with the random Norse names strewn throughout the game, as my experience with Xenosaga seems to show that Takahashi gravitates toward more Kabbalistic and Judeo-Christian references. Then again, the man did name a giant robot after a constellation, so I could be wrong.
Most notable of this naming scheme is the Deus system. As I'm sure most of you know by now, Deus is Latin for God, which is Takahashi's not-so-subtle way of naming the creator of life on the planet. The Deus core is housed in Merkava (Merkabah, the Kabbalistic chariot of God) which also contains the Tree of Razael (angel of secrets, of which obviously the computer library in the game contains many). The biological system Kadomony (from the Jewish 'Kadmoni', essentially meaning first ever. Adam Kadmon is the first man of Jewish Kabbala) generates and maintains the biological portions of the Deus core, which eventually become humans in our current setting and are then remutated into their Wels-Reaper form to be absorbed back into Deus' main organic components. Then, there is the Zohar (holy Kabbalistic text) Modifier, which draws energy from random quantum phenomena -- primarily derived from a scatter matrix based on Heisenberg uncertainty as stated in the game -- and supplies Deus with an infinite energy source. The Animus and Anima are the primary organic circuitry of Deus, the Animus (the driving will, and the masculine personality in females in Jungian psychology) being the organic portion and the Anima (the soul, or the feminine personality in males) being the interface units. Got all that? I have to give Takahashi this: he's got a knack for lining up meanings, be they obvious or obscure.
More pronounced, though, than the seemingly random assignment of names are the broken bits of the aforementioned ruminations that permeate just about everything. Personally, I believe Takahashi had some very superb ideas, but his capacity to implement them leaves the game -- on a philosophical level, mind you -- reading like a broken set of parables for different ideas. Kind of like Scientology, only with more reasonable science (tin cans and ohmmeters are no match for self-contained, perpetual energy sources. Take THAT Hubbard). One of the principles of the Gnostic faith, as implied by the Greek roots of its name, is truth and power through knowledge. The presence of Elly, the Gebler faction, later Citan, and Fei's own lost father Kahn bring Fei into a world of conspiracy and concealed villains who manipulate and abuse the surface dwellers, yet whose truth has appeared for years to the surface dwellers as nothing more than rumor shrouded in skeptical breath. Knowledge is power. This, in and of itself, is a marvelous background and, as an allegory, would work fairly well when placed in a setting uniquely crafted for it. Now comes on the viscous layering of creamy overlap.
There is a clear instability in Fei throughout the game. He reacts emotionally like a child to almost every major event that happens, and most frequently reverts to the 'why me' and 'I can't/don't want to' forms of withdrawal; basically he's Squall with a personality, and this is due to the discovery that his persona is only three years old. This is coupled with the strange pursuit of the dark presence Grahf whose role seems to be fomenting the already unstable anger and negative emotion in Fei. The emergency gear crash that brought Weltall to Fei was engineered by Grahf. Shortly after this, the attack incited a change in Fei that destroyed Lahan. Grahf empowers Vanderkaum during the campaign to rescue the Holy Mother, and Vanderkaum proceeds to destroy Fei's friends while Bart and the crew back at the Yggdrasil are being assaulted. Again, Fei suffers an immense behavior lapse, and then we see Weltall leave the docking bay on its own immediately preceding the appearance of a red gear with seemingly infinite power. Okay, pretty obvious foreshadowing here, but it's still neat. Next, Grahf and Miang -- who at this point seem to be in partnership, with Miang double-agenting alongside Gebler's Ramsus -- engineer Fei's transfer to the detainment block of Kislev after he is discovered in Weltall far from where he was in the desert. The transfer leads to events which involve the sabotage of Weltall, injuring Fei, and again leading to the strange man in red murdering people in the sewers (No, it wasn't Redrum, just in case you were wondering. It's a convenient cover story for Id getting revenge).
The first incident of transformation we see without Grahf's direct intervention is undersea Zeboim, where the nanocolony Emeralda is found and Id seems to want her after Fei has a dream where his double is fighting to protect Emeralda. Again when Fei is 'trapped' by Citan in Solaris and Citan intentionally awakens Id -- which you probably already knew if you'd been paying attention -- and then once more visually after the death of Elly's parents. Then, of course, the final debut at the appearance of Xenogears where the Fei persona convinces Id and the Coward to merge together. So, what does all this long-winded explanation mean? It's Takahashi's primary venture into Freudian detail, right along side giving every character in the game some great psychological turmoil. As if naming it Id weren't enough, the alternate persona of course is the manifestation of all of Fei's anger and pain as a child, minus any actual semblance of ego or superego (because we wouldn't want to set a precedent or anything, just assign convenient terminology). Here's layer number one. Fei is traumatized as a child, creates an alternate persona, and blammo, a bad psych 101 class happens. Then you've got Ramsus who just wants to be loved, Rico whose dad the Kaiser abandoned him because he was a demihuman, but had too little funding to actually play out any finalization, Billy who hates his dad and almost single-handedly founded the tricks for toddlers program, Elly who went on a coke (Read: Drive) bender and killed a lot of people because she's transgenerational, and a bunch of other generally traumatized characters. Of course, the bright side of this is only one of Mike Tyson's happy pills would fix all of them. If only Punch Out were on the Playstation...but anyhow.
Grahf's pursuit of the psychward squad is facilitated both by his own dysfunction and a portion of the Kabbalistic and genetic memory threading of the story. Oh, and more Gnoticism. It's like a tasty layer cake with mealworm holes in it. Genetic memory is the idea that memory passes down generationally through the genetic structure. To anyone with an iota of science knowledge, this is pretty lame, and I prefer my own explanation to the transmittance of memory, but I can at least accept that the genetic link to the original Gazel Ministry is what kept Fei and the crew from becoming soylent snack cakes. The Deus system was originally designed as a terraforming system -- a sentient weapon that cleared out and reconstructed a planet for the former earthlings to inhabit, as good old Earth -- or Old Jerusalem -- was more or less scrap. The machine went inexplicably crazy and destroyed the test planet, however, so it was disassembled and shipped aboard the Eldridge. Reactivating on its own, Deus took down the Eldridge, which crashed on crazy-letter-number planet, and a young boy named Abel managed to survive.
He found the Zohar Modifier -- the source of Deus' insanity -- and contacted the essence that had evolved the system. This instilled Abel with said essence, and then created the mother persona, or Elly, in Kadomony along with the original intent, Miang. These two individuals, by virtue of their nature in the Deus system, remanifested over and over exactly as they once were, memories hidden but structurally the same. The manifestation of Lacan lost his complementing Elhaym, just as all the prior incarnations had, and went insane over his lack of power. In his resulting search for power, he made imperfect contact with the Zohar and made himself immortal in will. The body of the Contact eventually died, and his will lived on, realizing that though he had power, it was not enough. He needed a perfect contact with Zohar and the contained essence to gain the power to obliterate everything. He needed the next Contact, Fei.
Why was the Zohar so powerful? Because Gnosticism mixed with Kabbalah and butter make a good background. The principle of creation in the game is explained by a fourth dimensional wave energy - the Wave Existence - coming into contact with the lower dimension and thus spawning matter, just as in the story I mentioned earlier with Sophia and the Demiurge. The Zohar Modifier reached out and found this source in its examination of quantum phenomena, and the wave energy made the Kabbalistic descent of the Sefirot, the thirty two paths of wisdom that make up the universe, into the modifier. Also of note is the single pillar connecting Heaven and Earth in Kabbalistic lore, which may also account for the path. Another interesting little tidbit is that the Divine Breath is assigned to the manner in which God creates, as a glass blower feeding air. Grahf likewise feeds power of the ultimate existence that he draws from the Zohar into those he empowers. In any case, Zohar basically contains the true essence of all creation, and Abel managed exchange the desire of his will for the power of the Wave Existence, trapping it there and influencing the Deus system. Grahf wants to harness this to return all to nothingness, which also follows Gnostic belief that the original form of the universe was pure and that our reality is born of sin. Of course, it also follows any creationist structure that the return to the supreme is the ultimate goal. Krelian, I'll note, manages to follow this in a far more philosophical manner than his contemporaries, even if he is devious and underhanded.
So now we're all reeling. Freudian and Jungian philosophy have a field day plugging it to the Kabbalah with goofy scientific theories on biology trying to squeeze in the middle, all under the perverted watch of Mother Gnosticism and a lack of budget attention. Grahf orchestrated everything from the beginning so he could return to existence to void, Miang, following the will of Deus, orchestrated everything to repair the machine, Krelian, who I haven't even really touched on, just wants pure spiritual existence, God, so to speak, is literally IN the machine for once, rather than the stage, there's a schizophrenic with infinite power and an anger management problem on the loose, a giant pink fluffwad named Chu-Chu gets thankfully crucified with a bunch of robots, a small girl named Maria has no deathblows despite the fact that they're in the programming, a gear for some reason goes into a cocoon and emerges a beautiful butterfly with pointy wings, and I finally end this horrid sentence. What a relief. And you thought this was going to be confusing.
I could tack on some more information, like the Anima relics being named after the tribes of Israel which is amusing since Earth is Old Jerusalem (I know I mentioned the name earlier, but this is another Perfect Works reference), or references to Nietzche, but honestly, we've got all we need right here. I absolutely love the concept of this game and have played it over many times. This does not negate the fact that I believe Takahashi went a bit overboard with the collection of philosophical flotsam, particularly because he couldn't keep it under control. I believe he is a man of interesting vision, and most certainly one full of great creativity. Of all things, though, creativity must not go unchecked, otherwise you run into exactly what happened here. From an analytical standpoint, the compilation of all these incomplete references, allegories, and random name assignments is an absolute train wreck, pardon the phrase. If you followed everything I've written to this point, and even moreso if you haven't, I'm sure you'll understand where I'm coming from. Being a visionary often means needing to understand the parameters into which your vision must fit. Takahashi tried to take an epic and squash it down into two discs without the funding or sense to realize he simply couldn't. I certainly look forward to seeing what he does with Xenosaga, I simply hope he sees now where he formerly lacked self-limitation and developed a solid idea into a monster who still refuses to be tamed. Even so, Weltall's transformation cinema is really cool. What can I say, I'm a sucker for homicidal transformers.