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xenogears review

By Tam, Ruka, and Azusa of Amorpha system

So we finally got together and did our brief take on Xeno, as best we could remember it. Most of this is by Tam, with commentary from others at the end:

There have been games before which featured plural characters-- usually in Jekyll and Hyde hero/villain roles-- but Xenogears is, as far as we know, the first game which actually features a plural character as a hero, even if they do the whole good/evil deal with it most of the time.

Xenogears is basically a sci-fi/mecha RPG done in anime style, originally released in Japan and translated into English. The game has something of a cult following, both in Japan and in English-speaking countries, due to its intricate storyline and complicated plot, and generated a small amount of controversy over its religious themes-- Squaresoft, who produced the game, was at one point considering not translating the game for an English-speaking audience out of fear that the religious issues in the game would offend Americans.

The little 'system' in this game occupies the body of Fei, the game's protagonist. The four who appear in the game are:

--Fei/The Coward, who I guess could be considered to be the 'core' or 'host' in traditional psychological terms. He shows up as a 4-year-old kid.

--Id, the first 'created' person. He shows up as a villain at first, although we later learn that he's, y'know, not really evil per se, just pissed off that he was created to endure medical experiments and wasn't allowed to have any 'good' memories.

--Fei, who initially shows up as the 'main' persona, and who is active throughout most of the game. We later learn that this Fei isn't the 'original' person, but instead was created as sort of a 'blank slate' after Id was somehow (magically?) sealed away.

--A fourth person whose name we never learn, but whose job is to keep Id contained. Fair enough-- some less functional systems really do have people who exist to do stuff like that.

This is your basic trauma/splitting thing, pretty much. Fei has special powers 'cause he's the Contact (errr, better not to explain what that means here) and so he was taken away as a kid and had icky medical experiments performed on him. Id was created so the Coward wouldn't have to go through them (hence the name)-- again, pretty much right down the old Wilburian track, even if the circumstances were a bit, uh, unique. Later on in life, after Id's been taught to kill and destroy stuff, Fei's dad finds him again and somehow manages to "seal away" (like I said here, magic?) Id's personality, creating sort of a "blank slate" to become the new front-level personality (okay, this is possible too, although uncommon). Then Id's seal somehow breaks and he starts being able to emerge again, and Fei blacks out when he does and has no memory of what happened, yadda yadda insert everything you learned in psych class here. There's also a reincarnation angle added into this, but it's not really plurality per se.

Oh, and they also have a subjective world, but it's not much. It's basically a place where the Coward sits all day and watches movies of the happy moments in his childhood.

Speaking sheerly in terms of drama, the way that all of this is revealed over the course of the game is pretty good and suspenseful, although the game could've benefitted from a better translation. The problem is that it's, well, stereotypical, and doesn't exactly portray a role-model operating system. Also, integration is once again implied at the end, after Fei remembers his whole past, sigh-- but from that point until the end of the game, he continues to pretty much act just like Fei, whereas one would think that in a true integration, he would instead become an amalgamation of all the former selves' pre-existing personality traits. So this does leave room for interpretation as to whether or not Fei ever really mushed integrated.

Ruka's take:
Whatever other merits the game may have on its own terms, there is nothing particularly original or positive about Xenogears' take on plurality. Splitting from trauma, uncontrollable violent persona, gentle fellow spontaneously turning into a destructive killer, no awareness of others' existence, etc. Also, dissociation, not 'disassociation'-- the translation in this game is terrible. 'schizophrenic'?? ugh...

Even if the characters of Fei and Id are understandable in light of their respective pasts, the game does nothing to put forth a positive image of plurality. If I had learned about plurality through this game I would probably be terrified to learn a friend of mine was plural.

Also-- what is with this idea that people in systems can become 'magically' integrated and lose their independence of identity and will after some great revelation about their past? communal memory != communal identity.

Azu's take:
Well, I have a lot of good memories of Xeno, having played it before we knew about empowered multiplicity and thought it really was all about splitting and before we were even out as a system to ourselves-- so maybe I'm judging it less harshly than I should. The good points are that the plural character is (well, mostly) the hero, and in the times when Id -isn't- up front, Fei is perfectly functional, even if he does get hampered by his low self-esteem on occasion, and capable of fighting and saving people and becoming more of a leader as the game goes on.

On the other hand, like Ruka said, there are a lot of negative stereotypes, like the "destroyer personality," everyone splitting from an original child who was overwhelmed by trauma, Fei being unaware of the others' existence and totally amnesiac of their actions, etc. It really wouldn't make for a great first introduction to plurality.

Still, I can't fault the game designers for willful ignorance. The game was designed and scripted in Japan, where there's definitely a lot of material on plurality, and it shows up as a theme in a LOT of entertainment, but, to the best of my knowledge, there isn't much, if anything, about healthy/natural plurality available in Japanese. At least the plurality thing is only one aspect of the game, not the central issue of it.

Note that it also breaks one other stereotype by having a male plural. I think this is a good thing. (Ruka: Although I'm not sure if the cultural supposition of 'more female plurals' holds in Japan, since the first popular book to be published upon the subject was the Japanese translation of "Minds of Billy Milligan.")

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You can write to Pavilion at pavilion@ karitas . net. Back to the library
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