An Introduction to the “Xeno” Games

What exactly are the “Xeno” games? They’re a series of sci-fi Japanese role-playing games conceptualized between the creative efforts of power couple Tetsuya Takahashi and Soraya Saga, known for often incorporating physiological and religious themes and containing many references to popular fiction and philosophy. The games are popularly recognized for having giant robots in their setting and/or having a thematic focus on the use and misuse of technology. The “Xeno” prefix (“strange”; foreign”) has been described as a means to symbolically represent and connect the series.

The following is a spoiler-free introduction to all the main games, their histories, and some of the people involved. I’ve omitted side-stories, remakes, and other complementary titles.

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Xenogears’s 19th Anniversary Commemoration (February 11, 2017)

Xenogears celebrated its 19th anniversary earlier this year on the 11th of February. I joined in on the commemoration by posting my entire collection on Twitter and going through each item(s) one-by-one. I figured I’d transfer that thread into a blog post and provide additional detail that Twitter’s character limit hinders.

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Turn A Gundam – My Favorite Anime

Turn A Gundam (1999-2000) was a TV anime produced by Sunrise that commemorated the Gundam franchise’s 20th anniversary. It marked the return of franchise creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, who had been absent since 1993’s Victory Gundam, as chief director. It is my favorite anime.

If you’re interested in reading quick production history and notes, I suggest this storify that I put together a while back.

Turn A Gundam is special to me. I’ve seen it many times, with my first watch being in 2008. I grew up in the late-90s/early-00s Toonami era, so my first exposure to Gundam was with Gundam Wing, which I absolutely loved at the time. Years later I would watch Gundam SEED, and that was a series that I unhealthily obsessed over. However, it wasn’t until 2007’s Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann that I truly gained the desire to seek out and learn more about mecha anime and anime in general. I began playing Super Robot Wars Alpha 3 and browsing 4chan. Both were instrumental in introducing me to several classics I had never even heard of. This eventually led me down the path of tackling the Gundam franchise’s illustrious Universal Century (I had previously only seen the original Mobile Suit Gundam) and other Alternate Universe series. I watched the MSG trilogy, 0080, 0083, Zeta, ZZ, CCA, F91, Victory, G (re), and X all very quickly. Turn A had been introduced to me as the “best” Gundam that you could “only watch after you’d seen all the rest” (a sentiment I do not share, by the way), so I was fixated on doing it the “proper” way. Around this time, Gundam 00 had begun airing so I was also busy watching that. It wasn’t until after 00‘s first season finished that I finally watched Turn A Gundam, and I loved it.

The remainder of this post is not a review, nor is it an attempt to get somebody to watch Turn A by listing everything I find good about it. There are already plenty of articles out there that do this reasonably well. In this post I simply aim to discuss why Turn A Gundam is special to me and why I’m passionate about it.

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Yasunori Mitsuda – My Favorite Japanese Composer


*1. I claim no expertise on Yasunori Mitsuda’s life story or anything of the sort. I am simply just a fan of his music.

*2. I have some knowledge of music theory and have been trained in instrumental conducting, and I was once proficient in musical performance–but that is all a story from long ago and I have since forgotten much. While I do have some musical background, my intention is not to make this an article strictly analyzing Mitsuda’s music from that perspective.

It’s no secret that Yasunori Mitsuda is my favorite Japanese composer and has been for a very long time. Like many, I was introduced to his music through Chrono Trigger and since then his soundtracks have continued to resonate with me on a personal level. What I like about Mitsuda:

  • he’s known for being inspired by Celtic, Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and sub-continental music and sounds, and as a result his music is often very diverse in its choice of instrumentation. A Mitsuda soundtrack doesn’t get old or repetitive or stale to me–they age well.
  • he has the amazing ability to create music that’s very representative of the precise feelings the game’s world and characters are trying to convey. I feel this skill comes from his study of and exposure to world cultures and religions. He also happens to be good friends with some of the directors he’s worked with (like Takahashi or Kato, for example), and that closeness undoubtedly helps him create an extra layer of emotional attachment.
  • he has a strong grasp of musical theory and structure; tempo changes, tonality (major v minor stimulation), chord structure, rhythm manipulation, melody & harmony v countermelody, motif building, etc. His compositions can also range from being multi-layered and complex to being simple and bare bone.
  • he’s a master of melody. I can name composers I feel are musically “stronger” than he is (Koichi Sugiyama comes to mind), but Mitsuda has a knack for creating unforgettable melodies along with being an impressive musical force.

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The Xenosaga trilogy – in retrospect

This is an elaboration of a pastebin I wrote a while back. I figure it had enough material to warrant a blog post.

During the course of 2014 and 2015 I replayed the Xenosaga trilogy, something I’d wanted to do for years. I originally played through the games in the mid-2000s as a high schooler, so I wanted to re-examine them as an adult. They’re clearly meant for a mature audience, and I wanted to experience them with a clearer and more competent mind. I’m writing this post to briefly share some thoughts.

It’s common knowledge that Xenosaga was an absolute production mess. What was originally planned as 6 games ended up barely being 3, and Monolith Soft underwent several changes in staff and staff roles after Xenosaga I that drastically affected the direction of the series. You can read about it in detail here.

The trilogy has a lot of historical significance to its conception and release. Tetsuya Takahashi had left Squaresoft after Xenogears to form his own company, Monolith Soft, and he took with him many of his staff. Takahashi had previously played a major role in titles like Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI, and Chrono Trigger and eventually sought to helm his own project – which became Xenogears. Squaresoft did not move forward with a sequel to Xenogears and that eventually led to Takahashi’s departure. It happened roughly around the time Squaresoft began merger talks with Enix, and the resulting Square-Enix would never be the same company it once was.

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Debunking Rumors – Loran as a Girl

One can spend hours analyzing all the various things Yoshiyuki Tomino may or may not have said or done, but I’m going to focus on just one in this post. This is a rumor that used to be widespread in the English-speaking fandom but has since died down in recent years. It’s always been something that’s annoyed me, so I’m here to stomp it to the ground.

RUMOR: Tomino originally intended for Loran Cehack, the protagonist of Turn A Gundam, to be a girl but Sunrise/Bandai didn’t let it happen. What resulted was Tomino acting in “backlash” and having Loran cross-dress on multiple occasions. Some characters in the show even consistently refer to him by his female persona “Laura Rolla”.

Okay, so as far as I am aware this has only ever been speculation. I feel that if there was any backing evidence to this claim, it would’ve been brought up in some capacity by now, especially with the advent of major fansites like Tominosuki and Japanese subject-matter experts on Twitter and other outlets. The idea of Tomino “lashing out” due to corporate meddling is nothing new (see: Zeta Gundam, Victory Gundam), but Turn A Gundam‘s existence is almost entirely an antithesis to that. Now, I won’t deny the possibility that Tomino at one point may have expressed some desire to create a show with a female protagonist and was shot down, but that doesn’t necessitate any connection to Turn A.

The speculation stems from the opinion or idea that it simply “makes sense” – that Loran is more effeminate than the usual Gundam protagonist, that “Laura Rolla” is very attractive as a female character design, and that the story would’ve still flowed well had Loran been a girl. Now, I don’t necessarily disagree with any of that. Personally I’d have liked Loran to to be a girl; IMO not much of the story or Loran’s character would need to be altered if so. But the “should’ve” or “could’ve” are irrelevant here – there is little substantial proof that it was ever a thing, outside of hearsay and wish-fulfillment.

I’m going to go into some detail disclaiming this rumor with some facts and drawing-of-threads:

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Xenogears – My Favorite JRPG

Updated: August 22, 2016

This is not a review. This is simply me pouring my passion into a largely unorganized post. I’ve long wanted to write something like this for archival purposes.

To begin with, I think it’s necessary to establish some context. I began playing JRPGs in the mid/late-90s as a kid and one of the earliest titles to capture me was Squaresoft’s Chrono Trigger, a game still beloved to this day by many. I’ll leave fanboying over Chrono Trigger for another time, but it does serve as an important preface to this discussion; it introduced me to legendary music composer Yasunori Mitsuda and scriptwriter Masato Kato, both who were also involved in Xenogears. So when I played Xenogears in the early 2000s I was already intrinsically attracted to it due to hearsay — the fact that some of Chrono Trigger‘s development team was involved excited me. Of course it was in retrospect years later that I actually had the capacity to do all this research in detail.

I have a lot of respect for series director Tetsuya Takahashi and his wife Soraya Saga as visionaries. Both were major players in legendary titles like Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI, and Takahashi himself was even involved in Chrono Trigger. Takahashi was growing frustrated with design choices outside of his control and wanted to create his own project. Soraya Saga (then Kaori Tanaka) penned a story idea that, through twists and turns and a rejected Final Fantasy VII script, eventually became Xenogears. It’s an extremely ambitious project with a lot of history and significance as two crucial Squaresoft employees cut divisions to draft their own thing. They were not satisfied with Xenogears simply being another typical JRPG that fit into the established mold. There’s a lot to read about its production history, but in an effort to save time and space and avoid redundancy, I’ll refer you to this resource.

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