Since its announcement at the Spring 2001 Tokyo Game Show, Namco's Xenosaga has caused substantial confusion. Was it a true Xenogears prequel or just a deft marketing move? An offical Square-licensed follow-up or just a "spiritual successor"?
The answers still aren't clear. Xenosaga will definitely comprise Episode I of the six-part Xenogears story, of which the Xenogears PSX game was Episode V. However, according to a Famitsu interview with director Tatsuya Takahashi, Xenosaga will "restart" the six-installment saga. In other words, it seems that Xenosaga won't directly tie itself to Xenogears but will instead start a fresh take on the same timeline. The game's legal standing with Square is a complete uncertainity; while Square and Namco's recent investments in one another are good signs that the two companies are still on speaking terms, it's unknown who owns the rights to the Xeno franchise and under what terms Xenosaga is being produced.
That doesn't mean the influence of Xenogears won't be felt at all in Xenosaga, however. While not every Xenogears staff member is at work on Xenosaga, a number of key leaders are, including director Tetsuya Takahashi, character designer Kunihiko Tanaka, art director Yasuyuki Honne, and composer Yasunori Mitsuda. Newcomers to the series are screenwriter Sei Sato, producer Hirohide Sugiura, and executive producer Masaya Nakamura. Xenogears script writer Masato Kato, lead programmer Kiyoshi Yoshii, and producer Hiromichi Tanaka are not involved with the prequel. (A full comparison of the Xenogears and Xenosaga teams can be found here.)
Xenosaga begins 1,000 years in our future, or about 14,000 years before the beginning of Xenogears. Space travel has been developed, and humanity has abandoned the Earth. A Star Cluster Federation spans 30,000 different planets and unites humanity. However, trouble soons arrives in the form of the Pilgrimage Fleet, an armada bearing a hostile alien race known as the Gnosis. The Star Cluster Federation constructs giant robots known as Anti-Gnosis Weapon Systems (A.G.W.S.es) to fight back.
(Some confusion has arisen over what time period Xenosaga is set in, with a number of fans mistakenly claiming that the game begins in A.D. 2001. While the original timeline listed in the Xenogears art book starts at 2001, Xenosaga picks up 1,000 years after that date. The presence of interstellar travel, giant robots, and aliens should make it obvious enough that Xenosaga takes place in the future, not in the present.)
Xenosaga's protagonist is Shion Uzuki, 22-year-old researcher working on a project to develop a new type of android known as KOS-MOS. Shion has a rather tragic past: her parents were killed in a war and her lover in an accident, leaving her with only her work. Note that, as explicity confirmed by Takahashi, Shion is not a relative of Xenogears' Citan Uzuki. Not only is Citan's real last name not "Uzuki", the latter character was born nearly 14,000 years later and is descended from the creations of Deus, not Shion's spacefaring people. Of course, the two characters may share a more spiritual bond by serving similar roles in the story -- Shion seems to share Citan's scientific mind, if nothing else.
Two other major characters have been announced. One is a blue-haired female KOS-MOS android, who will fight alongside her creators. The other is a white-haired boy named Chaos, who is apparently suffering from amnesia.
As befitting its story-centric nature, Xenosaga will be presented as cinematically as possible. The game is rendered in full 3-D, allowing for changing camera angles. Players will not be able to adjust the camera on their own; instead, the perspectives for each point are fixed. Characters have also been rendered with animated faces and hair, and the game will feature full voice acting.
While constant random battles were the norm in Xenogears, Xenosaga will do away with them entirely. Enemies can be spotted roving the environments and avoided. A Skies of Arcadia-style radar in the corner of the screen tracks players' positions as they move about the 3-D environments. Given the fixed camera angles and more realistically-proportioned environments, it seems unlikely that Xenogears' platforming aspects will be featured in Xenosaga.
Other game system details are sketchy. While it's been confirmed that players will be able to use A.G.W.S.es in combat at least at once in the game, it's unclear whether or not a whole second battle system will be included.
While still a relatively new entry to the PlayStation 2's RPG slate, Xenosaga has already emerged as a widely anticipated ttile. Not only is it a sequel to one of fandom's most beloved games, Xenosaga's sci-fi aesthetics and setting should make it a intriguing change of pace for even those who aren't Xenogears fans. Look for Xenosaga to debut in Japan this December.