Saturday, February 16, 2008

Week #1 - The Once and Future King

It's been a while since I regularly wrote about something to keep the juices following. I decided to start this little journal so some friends and I can chronicle gaming stuff weekly. Stuff we've played, stuff that was announced, the usual works. Anyway, enough introduction stuff, let's just get on with it.

This past week has been rather interesting to me personally for a singular reason - Monday was the 10th anniversary of the original Japanese release of Xenogears. I remember making my first purchase of a Japanese Playstation game all those years ago, having looked forward to the release for some time.

The elements of Xenogears always appealed to me even before it was released. Unlike Final Fantasy VII back then, the backgrounds were not pre-rendered but totally 3D and rotatable. The characters themselves remained sprites, and the game was filld with anime design stylings from the characters and the unique costume designs, to the giant robots, weaponary and floating cities in the sky. It was something that I had never seen before on that level in a game before.

Anyway, as ten years had gone by, I felt strongly that it was time to revisit the game again. Even if it was simply for the purpose of nostalgia and memorial. Even if I don't end up liking it as much. It was just something I felt that I had to do.

As it turns out, the game is every bit as good as I remember it. The Mitsuda music remains one of the strongest actual in-game soundtrack that I have experienced. Something about the music flows with you and through you in each situation and location you experience. While much of the graphics have aged, the game still holds a very strong bar on art direction and actual execution. The different towns and cities are lush and detailed. Each room is filled with a unique sense of occupancy. The world in Xenogears does not simply exist for the player to visit and to allow a single story to play out. It feels designed to actually be a place where people could have lived and died, independant of the main character's existance.

So through most of the week I played through Xenogears, from Ave to Nisan, leading up to the climatic desert sequence where Id shows up for the first time. There's something about scenes like that which will remain in memory forever. The lifting of the Yggdrasil and and destruction of fleet. Good times. Kislev was darker, and the sewer was as annoying as I remembered it. The boss was much easier, possibly because I know the game so much better this time, but still the sewer was not fun. At least it's over.

Then to my surprise, on Thursday something else happened. Nintendo finally updated the Soma Bringer website, not just with more information but with several videos and trailers as well. Before this, Soma Bringer was a pretty mysterious game. What we knew was that it would be the first Nintendo game developed by Monolithsoft since the buy out. From the screenshots and sparse information provided, it looked to be just another average action RPG from a has-been developer targeting a younger market on the DS.

Just last month, it was announced that Mitsuda would be composing for the game. Just great, I thought to myself, another low budget Mitsuda DS cash-in project. Sigh. Luckily, I have be proven wrong. When the videos finally arrived, Soma Bringer looked great. It even sounded great. So why did Nintendo choose to hide media from the game until a mere two weeks before release? Who knows, maybe it saves them money, maybe they don't believe in hype. That doesn't explain Super Smash Brothers Brawl's excellent website and hype. Oh right, Soma Bringer isn't developed by Nintendo. Suddenly it all made sense.

There have been indications that Mitsuda isn't the only familiar face working on the game. Soraya Saga who co-authored Xenogears and Xenosaga Episode 1 with her husband, Tetsuya Takahashi, has indicated on her own site that after years of abscense from the videogame industry that she had co-written a new RPG script for 2008. Coupled with the fact that Mitsuda seems genuinely impressed and excited with this new project, it's not a stretch to consider that he could finally actually be working with old friends on this game.

If that's true, then I look forward to whatever this odd reunion has installed for me in two weeks. Xenogears is one of my favorite instances of videogame storytelling, and while I am excited at the possibility of that same experience from Soma Bringer, it is actually the gameplay that intrigues me the most. A mix between Seiken Densetsu's gameplay and the highly customizable nature of Diablo means that if they pull this off, it could well be a Monster Hunter experience with a deeper plot and developed story characters.

Can the Xenogears team that made that gem a decade ago finally reunite to prove that they have talent in recreating magic beyond recycling the same concepts and ideas like they attempted on Xenosaga? Will Takahashi prove to be more than just an overambitious artist that managed to make a single hit? I know I can only wait, and find out for myself when the game is released, but I hope that others will give Monolithsoft the chance to return to the stage.

And so with that, I continue my trek through the world of Xenogears, I hope I finish it before Soma Bringer arrives.


More Info:
Soma Bringer Official Site
Soma Bringer Trailers

Where to preorder:
Soma Bringer (DS) - $48.90, Feb 28th 2008
Soma Bringer OST (3 CDs, 59 tracks) - $31.90, Apr 2nd 2008

Where to buy:
Xenogears PSOne Books (PS1, NTSC/J) - $32.90

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