The Xeno series of roleplaying games has seen continued success with the Xenosaga trilogy and, more recently, with the Xenoblade games published on various Nintendo consoles. But the series first got started 20 years ago this month with the release of Xenogears for the original PlayStation.
First arriving in Japan on February 11, 1998 before heading west that October, Xenogears was created by Tetsuya Takahashi (who had previously contributed to Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger) and his wife Kaori Tanaka (who worked on Final Fantasy V and VI). Xenogears was actually originally proposed by the husband-wife team to be Final Fantasy VII, but Squaresoft opted to spin it into its own project. It was then considered to be a successor to Chrono Trigger (which would actually receive a successor in the form of Chrono Cross in 1999) before finally seeing life as a standalone RPG project.
Xenogears uses a lot of roleplaying methods that were typical of Squaresoft titles of the day, such as the Active Time Battle system, which put a twist on typical turn-based combat. Xenogears, however, added some features that were unique to the martial arts-focused combat. The game also featured fully-animated cutscenes that were produced by Production I.G.
The story focuses on Fei Fong Wong, who has no memory of his life before he was brought to the village of Lahan three years prior. Fei accidentally destroys the village after an incident in which he pilots a Gear (a giant mecha suit) and loses control of himself, but he soon meets others who claim to know about his past. He and his companions soon find themselves intertwined with the ongoing war, and Fei learns about what’s truly happening when he blacks out.
Xenogears featured some pretty heavy psychological themes, basing a lot of the story on the works of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Friedrich Nietzsche, as well as on various religious themes. Because of this, the localization process was extremely difficult; Xenogears actually marked the first time where the English translation and localization team worked directly with the original developers. The translation proved to be so difficult largely because of the religious references, and the endgame concept of “killing god” in particular needed to be adjusted as to not offend traditional western Christian sensitivities.
The game proved to be a success both critically and commercially, receiving significant acclaim and picking up many “RPG of the Year” awards in 1998. It went on to move more than a million copies worldwide. Though the Xenosaga and Xenoblade games have no connection to Xenogears story-wise, they have shared similar themes and continue the spirit of the original game in their own way.