Xenogears (PlayStation) review
"Two tailors arrive at a palace. Sly and scheming, they offer to spin garments for the Emperor out of a fabric so delicate that it appears invisible to all those too dull to appreciate its inestimable quality. The Emperor pays them and gives them the gold thread they request. When the tailors come to fit the fabric, they drape the “clothes” over the Emperor and place him before a mirror. The Emperor, sweating bullets now, seeing nothing but unwilling to make a fool of himself, says, “Yes, this is..."
Two tailors arrive at a palace. Sly and scheming, they offer to spin garments for the Emperor out of a fabric so delicate that it appears invisible to all those too dull to appreciate its inestimable quality. The Emperor pays them and gives them the gold thread they request. When the tailors come to fit the fabric, they drape the “clothes” over the Emperor and place him before a mirror. The Emperor, sweating bullets now, seeing nothing but unwilling to make a fool of himself, says, “Yes, this is a very fine suit you have made.” When the Emperor goes out on parade, the citizens clamor: “What fine raiment the Emperor wears!” or “Such colors!” But one little boy, of no special importance, shouts, “The Emperor has no clothes!” The Emperor realizes the boy is right, but it is too late. So he stands there naked, straight-backed on his carriage, while behind him a valet lifts an imaginary mantle.
Those who claim to “enjoy” Xenogears have surely fallen prey to the same disease as the citizens in this tale.
Where to begin in picking apart this dreck? Xenogears tells the story of Fei Fong Wong, the usual confused young man born into a world at war. Though the basic plot elements are a bit generic, Xenogears separates itself from the pack by adding epic amounts of confusion and nonsensical complexity to the mix. The game seems to be going for a Hitchcock-esque sense of suspense – the player is left to puzzle out some mysterious elements, and not quite all the information is there. Of course, Hitchcock would have accomplished this in such a way that it felt mysterious or suspenseful. Xenogears just feels confusing. To quote Gamespot, the game leaves one in a "constant state of cluelessness." Of course, Gamespot editors also gave the game a 9/10—apparently they enjoy being clueless. I don't.
Painfully stunted dialogue only heightens the mind-numbing effects of this cerebral Novocain, made yet more gruesome by a translation that too often makes Engrish look good. It's not the story, but the somewhat interesting battle system, enhanced by the addition of "gears," massive mechanical warriors that do much of the fighting in the game, that keeps the game going through the first disc. Of course, even the best battle system can't do much when the excitement you feel after a great boss fight is immediately doused with another wearisome dose of plot development – the crappiness of the story undermines the game's best elements with startling viciousness.
Despite these rather obvious flaws, fans continue to praise this title as the greatest ever. Unfortunately, the game itself isn't innocent of inciting the regrettable belief that it's a quality title. Xenogears is so obviously obsessed with its own greatness, so actively trying to transcend mere gaming, that the whole affair is piteous. The pretension begins with the incorporation of references to religion and philosophy, for which the title is frequently lauded. Indeed, Xenogears is larded up with direct references to the work of Nietzsche and Jung, as well as lots of indirect references to religion. This would be delightful, except that all these references aren't part of some larger scheme related to a larger message that the game is trying to relate. They appear, rather, to be randomly inserted; e.g. the creators need to name a city in the game, so they open up the Bible and insert the name of a city in Israel. Xenogears is possessed of a sea of metaphor and metonymy, but it's impossible to see anything emerging out of all these connections. For instance, at one points many robots appear posed as Christ on the cross – but is this moment attempting to comment on Christianity? On the Bible? On religion in general? I, for one, don't see any meaning here. Throughout the game, the player waits for some moment when all this referential baggage clicks into place and makes sense, but that never comes -- at journey's end, you will be no more enlightened than when you began.
Aside from being incomprehensible, the religious and philosophical references in Xenogears are a tactical way of making the game seem meaningful without it actually being so. While we oooh and aaah and pat ourselves on the back for catching a covert reference to the life of Jesus, we neglect to realize that if director Tetsuya Takahashi and producer Hiromichi Tanaka were really of the same cerebral pedigree as Immanuel Kant, they'd be writing the Critique of Pure Reason not making a fucking video game. What we see here is not an intellectually invigorating or thought-provoking story, but spiritual pablum masquerading as creative genius of the highest order. One wonders if the fans of this game would respond positively to this ad:
THIS WEEK ONLY: POORLY-SPOKEN JAPANESE MAN WITH NO KNOWLEDGE OF PHILOSOPHY LECTURES INCOHERENTLY ON NIETZSCHE FOR 80+ HOURS. TICKETS JUST $49.99
Possibly not. But dress that up with a decent battle system and fit it on a couple CDs? 10/10. Greatest game ever.
Xenogears, an otherwise above-average work, is marred by a drawn-out, needlessly complex, emotionally dry and dispirited story. And of course, the game takes the S.S. Pretension into wholly new waters. The fans say that its detractors can't understand its genius – but could it be that the story was deliberately made nonsensical, to grace it with the illusion of depth? Can we see in the creators of this title a hint of the two tailors? Truly, the Emperor has no clothes.
Community review by denouement (December 18, 2005)
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