A couple of months ago, it was quietly announced that Bandai Namco again trademarked the title “Also Sprach Zarathustra” for use in the United States. While the possibility exists that this could refer to the novel by Friedrich Nietzsche, or the music of Richard Strauss, the most obvious conclusion is that this is related to the Xenosaga franchise, as Bandai Namco released Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra in 2006. As Episode III was the last Xenosaga game to release, this raises some interesting possibilities.
While a simple trademark isn’t much to go on, a search for the listing reveals references to “downloadable computer game programs,” among other things. This may very well be standard operating procedure and could mean nothing, but it could also hint at a digital HD re-release of the series. As a fan, the thought of the series being worked on again is exciting, and leaves me thinking of how Bandai Namco can best utilize this opportunity.
For those who don’t know, Xenosaga is a Japanese sci-fi RPG series mostly on the Playstation 2. It’s developed Monolith Soft, a company known these days for the Xenoblade Chronicles series. The three main titles are Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht (2002), Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse (2004), and Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra (2006). Originally planned as a six-part, multi-console generation epic, the series was cut and reworked as time went on, leaving plenty of material out, and other bits relegated to side-games and other content exclusive to Japan.
With deep philosophical themes and lore, the franchise managed to make a name for itself for its maturity and attention to story. Fans of Metal Gear Solid, would find an apt companion here, as especially in Episode I, cutscenes could take up to an hour at a time between gameplay segments. Seen as a spiritual successor to the earlier Playstation RPG Xenogears, fans of both can feel the pain of a story left unfinished, despite how much is already there. The funny part is that, despite the series getting cut short, it still received better treatment than many episodic games and planned trilogies from that era – Advent Rising, Too Human, SiN Episodes, and the Half-Life 2 Episodes all came and went without definitive endings.
To release a Xenosaga HD of some sort in today’s market warrants discussion, as there are a number of key aspects that would have to be addressed before such a project came out. Related to both the development and localization of the series, and the changes time has brought since the its conclusion twelve years ago, there are numerous ways to get around these issues – some of which will please fans, and others that will please Bandai Namco’s pocketbook. To make the best remaster possible, it would of course be better to do some of the things the fans might expect, but that won’t work in all cases. Sometimes, business has to be business, and decisions are made that not everyone will like.
This is just speculation into what a potential HD release could entail – I know nothing special, and am only using the facts about the franchise and its development to help me out, adding in personal input when necessary.
Monolith Soft is Now Owned by Nintendo
In 2007, Nintendo acquired a majority share in Monolith Soft from Bandai Namco. Though they have spent most of their time since then developing Nintendo-published titles like Disaster: Day of Crisis and the Xenoblade Chronicles series, they have also maintained their relationship with Bandai Namco with handheld releases, like Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans, Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier, and the Project X Zone series. Xenosaga characters have also appeared in cameos in some of Monolith’s recent games as well, including Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
While their relationship with Bandai Namco has remained solid, asking Monolith to develop an HD re-release of Xenosaga means developing it as a Switch exclusive, and axing any money that might be made from a multiplatform release. While many would see this as great for the Switch library, it begs the question of how realistic this idea actually is. Monolith has been busy developing DLC for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and were hiring for another project as of last year. While it’s possible they could have some employees working on a Xenosaga HD project, as they often collaborate on other Nintendo first party projects and now have three separate internal studios, one might wonder whether Bandai Namco might still want to give the project to a company well-versed in remasters and re-releases, like Bluepoint Games.
However, if Bandai Namco were to hand the series off to another developer to get a multiplatform release, it might cause a rift with fans and Monolith Soft developers alike. The company was originally founded in 1999, about a year after the release of the Squaresoft RPG, Xenogears. Unsatisfied with how development of the title went, creator Tetsuya Takahashi and his wife, Soraya Saga, left to form the new company along with other former-Square employees like Hirohide Sugiura (producer of Ehrgeiz) and Yasuyuki Honne (art director for Chrono Cross).
While not literally linked thanks to IP rights, Xenosaga is seen as a spiritual successor to Xenogears, and that property is one of the primary reasons Monolith Soft exists as a company. In the credits for Xenogears, it was revealed that the game was “Episode V” to a larger saga, while Xenosaga was its own multi-part epic that got whittled down over time. In 2000, a book called Xenogears Perfect Works ~The Real Thing~ came out in Japan that not only detailed more about the backstory of Xenogears, but also contained hints of how it might relate to Xenosaga, had the series gone on. To take this story away from them and give it to someone else, even for an HD re-release, would seem incredibly callous on Bandai Namco’s part.
It would also seem out of place given their relationship with Monolith. As Bandai Namco still contracts Monolith to make games (like Project X-Zone 2) even after they gave up their remaining shares in 2012 to Nintendo, they may not be willing to spill some bad blood, even if business is business. In the end, it depends on where Bandai Namco sees the best path forward – building up the series as another Nintendo exclusive, or going all-out with a multiplatform digital release.
As a fan myself, I think the best course of action would be to let Monolith Soft take the reins again, and let them develop the HD release as a Switch exclusive that would likely introduce many to the series, intrigue them with its mature content, and also appeal to fans who just want to play the series again. Who knows? Maybe the project could inspire Monolith to work more on Xenosaga down the line – with a new entry, even.
Dealing With Censorship
Regardless of Namco’s choice of developer and platform, the next questions many would have for a potential Xenosaga HD would be along the lines of – will the content of each game remain the same? Would previously censored content be uncut? Will any of the side-content get an HD re-release too? Would any axed content be added in?
These questions are important to consider, especially given how much the video game market has changed in the last decade. While Nintendo has had to take steps to make sure Monolith Soft’s newer games are culturally appropriate when released overseas, censoring story content as Namco once did with Xenosaga would now seem archaic and wrong. The advancements that have been made in storytelling and the amount of taboo subjects tackled in games from the Persona series, to Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Life is Strange, and beyond, has opened the door for a wider variety of content that publishers are willing to tackle.
Namco back then balked at the idea of releasing a series of strongly Mature rated JRPGs on the Playstation 2 and took steps to avoid that. The idea that Xenosaga, especially Episode I, got by with a Teen rating, is shocking, even with the content that was changed. This is a storyline filled with dark, grotesque, and screwed-up events. Some moments look like they’re straight out of a psychological horror story, instead of your usual JRPG fare. One scene in Xenosaga Episode I was so graphic, the Japanese and American releases of the game struggled to find the right way to censor it to make it “acceptable.”
Here is a side-by-side of that infamous cutscene. In the scene, one of the game’s villains, Albedo, shows off his regenerative powers by cutting off his own arm and head in front of the young and vulnerable MOMO. Despite the attempt to blackout certain parts of the screen in the Japanese version, Namco decided to just edit a knife out of the scene in the American release and show the character rip off his own limbs off instead. I have no problem with violence and gore in games, but sometimes you have to call a spade a spade. If you put Mature content in your game, own up to it. Let it be M-rated.
Because, really, Namco did this every time a new Xenosaga came out. In Episode II, a scene occurs when Albedo shoots himself in the head as a kid. The Japanese version has him shooting his head off, while the American version replaces the gun with a ball of energy. In Episode III, the decision was made to remove all traces of blood from the international version (where the first two games did not), which turns this scene of a girl dealing with the death of her mother, into a Lady Macbeth moment.
Today, Sega and Atlus can sell over 2.2 million copies of Persona 5, in a JRPG series known for embracing its heavy adult themes. There is no need to censor it for a younger audience – the series does fine as it is. For a Xenosaga HD to work in today’s market, I think the best option is for Namco to accept the series as-is and work from there. To be able to see these scenes as they were intended, without having to watch muddy Youtube clips would be great for international fans. It would bring them more reason to revisit the series if is was promised as a “definitive” edition that did away with the censorship and released the games the way they were meant to be seen.
Don’t Forget the Cut Content, Too
According to an interview with Siliconera, writer Soraya Saga describes “a seasons-long TV series” worth of unused ideas cut from Xenogears, along with “major changes” made to the story from Xenosaga Episode II to Episode III, likely in an attempt to wrap the series up early. There’s also the content from the Perfect Works book to consider as well. If a Xenosaga HD remaster happens, it would be nice to see some of this content come to light or made reference to. It may answer many questions fans have had about the story since its end, and perhaps serve as something to build on, should the remaster do well enough to think about a new entry.
Another issue to consider here is the existence of Xenosaga I & II on the DS. Released only in Japan and somewhat based on the anime of the games, this version combines the two Episodes together, cutting out some content, while also adding in some content not seen in the Playstation 2 versions.
The problem, of course, is that HD remasters generally aren’t about rocking the boat and adding a lot of cut content. To do this would take extra work, basically going into full-blown development that would likely be better spent on a new project, or re-developing the whole series from scratch to do it the way Monolith Soft intended.
Personally, I’d be all for that approach. Skip the HD release and just remake the entire franchise properly for the Switch. Knowing that we only got a small percentage of what Xenosaga was supposed to be hurts – getting a chance to see the rest of the story in action would be a dream come true.
However, it’s just not realistic. For a Xenosaga HD re-release, I think the best option would be just to port over the games as they are, and, if possible, find a way to incorporate the content put into Xenosaga I & II, even if it ends up being a few more in-engine cutscenes without voice acting. This would at least get international fans up to speed, and make it easier for everyone to discuss the series, without worrying about who saw what, and who managed to play a version of a game no one else had access to. This is another way to draw in fans, but also to entice newcomers who might be hesitant to jump into a story-heavy JRPG series with the re-release. If Bandai Namco can promise it has all of the story fans will need without having to look at outside sources, that will make them feel more at ease.
Including Side-Stories and Other Content
Going along with the idea of getting everyone on the same page, Bandai Namco might also find it beneficial to allow some of the side games and other story relevant details that were only released in Japan into this potential collection. For European fans, a Xenosaga HD collection would already be a step in the right direction, as the only Xenosaga released in PAL territories was Episode II. For both them and North America though, there are three other projects that might be worth porting and localizing as well, so they can be experienced properly by fans all over the world.
The first and most important, is Xenosaga: Pied Piper, a mobile game released after Episode II in Japan. It tells story of Ziggy’s human life before we meet him as a cyborg in the main series. While still a mobile game, this is nonetheless an integral part of the story that helps flesh out the lore, and gives a better understanding of Ziggy’s motivations elsewhere. Even if it were released later as DLC, I would consider this content essential to the experience, and it’s a shame it hasn’t been more widely seen already.
The next content isn’t a game, as much as it is a series of videos. Xenosaga II – III: A Missing Year was uploaded on Namco Japan’s website before the release of Xenosaga Episode III and provided important details for the events that happened in between the second and third game. An English release would be great if, for nothing else, than to give international fans a proper introduction to characters like Doctus, who appear in Episode III out of nowhere otherwise.
Last is from a supplementary disc released in Japan called Xenosaga Freaks. Much of the disc is not important, containing a database of terms for Xenosaga Episode I (which already exists in-game), a demo of Episode II, and a Japanese word puzzle game. The segment that might warrant inclusion though is Xenocomi, a visual novel that seems rather silly and nonsensical, kind of like the Secret Theater from Metal Gear Solid 3. Its inclusion isn’t really necessary from a story perspective, other than, perhaps, getting to experience the incredible work Yasunori Mitsuda composed for Episode I all over again. It’s just a fun extra that would be nice to have.
Inserting any of these extras in the game is further incentive for fans to upgrade. Granted, including a mobile RPG from 2004 along with a series of flash videos to expand on the lore might look jarring next to the bigger console-sized RPGs. But, for fans who want to know as much of the story as possible, like me, it’s a way to give us more content without having to come up with new scenarios and scenes.
In the End
While speculation is nice, Xenosaga HD is currently only speculation with little in the way of factual support. There is no indication it exists now, and certainly no sign it ever will. Yet, if we were to consider what a Xenosaga HD might be, there are a few problem spots that Bandai Namco would have to think through to make it work. I’m not here to hype people up – I just want to think, and discuss everyone’s thoughts on the matter.
Situations like this are interesting to talk through, because this isn’t a franchise like the Uncharted series, where Sony could just give it to a trusted studio like Bluepoint Games and be sure their release on PS4 would be pretty much spot-on with the originals, with no major controversies about the project. Though HD remasters, remakes, and the like might often seem like simple projects, they really aren’t. Each project has its own intricacies and problems that make it unique – some of which might currently be preventing HD remakes and remasters that might sound like obvious hits, from happening.
This isn’t even touching on the problems fans and newcomers alike might actually find if they were to play Xenosaga as a single HD collection today. Despite telling a continuous story, there are a surprising number of art style changes, confusing voice recasts, and sudden narrative shifts as a result of the strangled development the series got. Revisiting them would undoubtedly be nice, but for some it may get to a point where it would almost be better to remake the series as a whole just so everything can be unified.
Personally, I’m willing to accept whatever Bandai Namco decides. Do I have ideas of where I think the series should go and what should be done? Of course – I’ve shared them here. But, I’m also willing to accept it if Bandai Namco decides to do something else entirely. I simply want more people to experience Xenosaga, and even if it’s because of a direction I’m not happy about, I’d prefer that to not getting the experience at all. It isn’t my creation, I have no personal stake in it. Only memories and nostalgia. All I can do is remain a loyal fan and hope for the best.