Xenogears: A History
One fine day, while wallowing in the depths of boredom, I came upon a message board topic that piqued my interest:
'History of Xeno sites?'
My reply was pretty half-assed (effort? What's that?) and probably heavily biased toward Guardian Angels, but I managed to cough up a short list of the big sites that have come and gone over the years. Other replies were just as heavily biased toward other communities. That's the nature of Xeno webmasters - we're all competitive bastards. Yes, all of us. I don't know if we helped the guy who started the topic or not, but it got me thinking.
What is the timeline? How many sites have come and gone, and which ones are left?
This isn't just a timeline of Xenogears sites, but also a psuedo-history of the fandom. I can't help but make this personal, because all I have to work with are my own memories and records of the time. I thought about approaching some of my old friends and interviewing them so I could make this article a little more professional, and scrapped the idea because... really. That would be overkill.
Instead, I hope to give you as clear and accurate a record as possible, and I'll even try not to let my biases get in the way. They probably will anyway.
Now that we've got the obligatory intro out of the way, let's start at the beginning!
Xenogears was the first game - in my memory - that tackled such heavy religious, philosophical topics. At least, it was the first that had reached our shores.
Back before Xenogears was released in the US, there were rumors that Square wouldn't bring it over at all because of the heavy religious overtones. I think that piqued a lot of interest, because back then such things were almost unheard of. Even Persona wasn't really heavy on philosophy and 'dangerous subjects.' The first site I came across while I was searching for information on the game was Wuffy's Xenogears 101, and soon after that General Vanderkaum's Ultimate Xenogears Page. Then Town of Illucia closed and the webmaster opened the interactive site Internet Cruiser Zephyros, (which I used to amuse myself in class).
This site (of which only the splash image remains, now) was obscure, but a landmark in its own way, and an indication of things to come. It was an interactive java page where one would control a little character (Elly, I think) and search the site by exploring different rooms in the cruiser Zephyros. When the webmaster closed the Town of Illucia down, he made it clear he couldn't call Final Fantasy his favorite game series anymore - that Xenogears had taken its place. This became a prevailing sentiment in the Xenogears fandom as time went on.
These webmasters had played the Japanese version of the game, of course (although not all of them got through it, by the look of it), but from what they said, it didn't sound like the game was very controversial. Then I heard the news that Square would release Xenogears in the United States, so I bookmarked all of those sites and saved my money, nervously awaiting the release of the game. When I finally got my hands on it and started playing... well, let's just say I spent more time on the game than anything else.
Maybe it was my teenage-angsty disillusionment with the world that allowed Xenogears to fry my brain and wow me with its philosophy, but when I finished the game, I couldn't think of anything else. It was amazing. Wow! I'd started writing my first fanfic (Shadows Falling) before I was even halfway through the game, and once I finished the first draft I worked double-time to rewrite it. My friend Calis and I, then writing joint fics for Final Fantasy Tactics, dropped our old work and decided to write joint fics for Xenogears instead. Guardian Angels was born at my Caraighan address at Tripod, though at that time it was only meant as a place to host our stories. I scoured the net for other Xeno websites and came across Queen Vera's Xenogears Project, which was the first website to carry the story. Though I also sent it to Xenogears 101, the webmaster had already abandoned the site.
Back then, there wasn't much fan work for Xenogears on the net. That's the way it is with new games, and Xenogears, despite its greatness, didn't really have a large fanbase quite yet. Although it has been said that Shadows Falling was the first Xeno fic on the net, that's wrong; Ruaki's Id fic was first, and there might have been one or two others on Vera's site before mine - I was one of the first, though, and I took way more pride in that than I should have. That really set the tone for later experiences with the fandom. A bit after that I found Deus Ex Machina: A Xenogears Tale, and started considering my applications for the Interactive Fiction project.
That was December, 1998. It was the end of my first semester at college, and probably the time at which many other fans finished the game, because soon after that, other websites started to pop up.
Though I don't remember which came first, Xenogears Ground Zero and The Nisan Sanctuary went online in January 1999. I found XGZ first, and was disappointed at the lack of storyline and character information. They had plenty of screenshots and gameplay information, but that wasn't what I was looking for. Other sites - like Xenogears Infinity, which I found through DeM, or Vera's pages - had some information, but not enough. Character profiles are great, but not if they only tell you what the strategy guide tells you, right?
That sentiment is what fueled the transformation of my Shadows Falling site into what is now Guardian Angels - that dissatisfaction, and an unquenchable obsession with the game. I'd finished an 80-page fanfic, but I still couldn't stop talking about it. Writing the information for Guardian Angels gave me an outlet for that energy. The first pages went online at the end of January, and I'd begged several pages of fan work from people I knew by February, but the site didn't formally open until March. And in March, not long after GA went live, I discovered the Nisan Sanctuary.
That was a blow to the ego! It was a huge site, drawing thousands of hits, with better graphics and a bigger staff than I could dream of. I was quite disappointed and jealous, because I'd worked so hard on my dinky little Xenogears site, and here it appeared that someone had already blown it out of the water. Now that I think back, I realize that the site actually didn't have much more information than the others I had been to, but back then it seemed TNS was the Xenogears site to visit. The site had just enough interactivity to be interesting, and it had a community, which GA lacked and XGZ couldn't (at that time) match.
Naturally, I applied for affiliation. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!
Nutz, the webmistress, offered me hosting soon after that, so I moved to the Zenogias domain. That was my first involvement with the Xenogears fandom at large. As a hosted site Guardian Angels had its own forum, and from there I got to discuss, theorize, and throw around my shabby, novice Japanese skills.
Xenogears: Perfect Works ~the real thing~ is a common book now, but in early 1999, it was the kind of thing you heard of, but never saw. Online stores didn't carry it, nor did big-name Japanese bookstores like Asahiya or Kinokuniya. With the help of Kouryuu, Salah, and a few others I managed to locate an obscure online store that did carry the Perfect Works (and a lot of other stuff I wish I'd had the money to buy), and somehow I convinced my mom to write a check to the guy so I could get my book. I wanted it so badly I could almost taste it, and after two months of waiting, I finally got my hands on it.
So you see, I'm never going to sell that copy. It's beat-up, bent at the edges, the pages are falling out, and the ink is rubbing off everywhere, but that thing is a prized possession! Not only that - it was my ticket to greatness, you could say. Scans from the Perfect Works were rare back then. If you ever wondered why some of us geezer webmasters are so bitchy about giving out permission to use our images (or for that matter, why we insist on being asked at all), there's your answer.
Back then, May 1999, the competitive spirit started rearing its ugly head. It was around before, naturally, but the situation intensified once things like Japanese fluency and translations from the Perfect Works became all-important. Canon was already important in the Xenogears fandom because of the intricacies of the game's storyline, but it became even more so when we started picking apart the Japanese text and discovering the true depth of the game's history and characters. It came to be that one's knowledge of obscure "historical" facts would make or break an argument. Fan fiction and art that didn't adhere to the right conventions was criticized. The term 'canon nazis' comes to mind, but to be fair, not everyone was like that. It just seemed like it.
Xenogears is a fandom where one's arcane knowledge and ability to read Japanese determines one's rank. I suppose that's not very unusual, especially in fandoms based on games or series that haven't been released in the US at all, but as far as I recall, Xenogears was the first game that relied so heavily on information that was only available in a Japanese source book. The Perfect Works is written with high school-level Japanese, so one can't just hack their way through it and pretend to know everything. Some of us learned that the hard way. The fans discussing these engrossing topics on the boards (be it at TNS, Lea Monde, XGZ, or Squaresoft Legacy) were very unforgiving of mistakes.
For the record, this Perfect Works thing started before Suikoden II came out in the US, and I don't think Konami started publishing books and shinshos until the game proved to be popular enough. Suikoden is probably the only other series that relies heavily on outside material to be completely understood, and I get the impression the game's fandom isn't all that different than the Xenogears fandom is now.
Unsurprisingly, as sites became more competitive about images, Perfect Works information, and so on, rivalries developed. Most sites at that time weren't big enough for that sort of thing, but TNS and XGZ both had large communities and well-trafficked sites, and eventually - through some incident I can't remember - a rivalry developed between the two. There was a lot of mudslinging, and board members registered at the rival boards to argue and insult, and it escalated into more than it really needed to be. I don't remember who said this, but it still rings true: We all love Xenogears, so why are we arguing about who has the better site?
The main source of criticism of TNS was the lack of updates. At that time, though many of us were working on projects for the site, none of it was actually reaching the public eye. Nutz had a lot of plans; a fan fiction archive was in development, she had me working on the beginnings of an Interactive Fiction project and 'character truths,' and there was a site for Vagrant Story in the works too, which probably took her attention away from TNS. As sometimes happens, there was also a conflict between staff members, and one of the projects died, which set us back a little. The site was a little neglected, but it didn't truly die until the server died, and took the community with it.
TNS disappeared somewhere in the middle of 2000, and once we all realized it wasn't going to come back online, there was an exodus to other boards. A big chunk of TNS people migrated to TC's new Lea Monde message board, some wandered over to Squaresoft Legacy, and a few even went to Ground Zero. I'm sure there were other boards that received TNS's displaced members, but those are the three I remember. Guardian Angels moved to the Lea Monde server, where it remains today.
At this time - and much earlier, in fact - I was heavily involved in three fan groups. Deus Ex Machina was the first, which I joined sometime in the first quarter of 1999. The IF closed only recently, and of all the big fiction and role-playing groups I searched out during my obsession with Xenogears, I think this one was the most successful. I had also joined XenogearsMUCK as Miang, which was great fun for the time I was there - that was also a very successful community which (sadly) closed recently.
But more memorable, probably because of the way we lost it, is the Yggdrasil's Periscope Club.
The Ygg club was actually a Yahoo messageboard founded by Clio Saga (now Soraya Saga) back in 1999, or maybe 2000. For those that don't know, Mrs. Saga was one of the designers that worked on Xenogears, responsible for the designs of the Fatima and Black families, associated characters, and probably big parts of the storyline. I checked her site regularly, but I didn't know about the club until a friend told me about it.
Like any message board, it was mainly a place for idle conversation about our current obsessions. It wasn't heavily trafficked, but we had a good core of people to talk to, and regular chat sessions to keep us busy. The nice thing - the reason we were all there - was Mrs. Saga's presence, and her willingness to talk with us and answer our questions about the game. She was very kind, but I was afraid to talk to her much at the time.
Then, two things happened. The 'You Die Joe' fan art incident of 1999 gave us all a headache and marks the only time until recently that I actually had a long conversation with Mrs. Saga (despite what people seem to think), and then soon after that, the GIA posted a rumor based on an early character concept she posted on her site. That concept was the rumored character sheet for the 'Xenogears prequel' that we talked about back then. I noticed the dates on the character sheet corresponded with the dates for the Transcend Christ timeline in the Perfect Works, so we started talking about it on the board. (I think the sheet was for Ziggy, but I think the name on the sheet was 'Vega.' I still have an image floating around here somewhere.)
Not long after, Clio Saga stopped posting on the message board. The rest of us hung around for a while and continued our chat sessions, but eventually the group broke up and the message board disappeared. I disliked the GIA for a long time after that.
I don't remember when this happened, exactly, but I think it would be very funny if this event and the downfall of TNS happened at the same time.
After this, I don't recall anything significant for quite a while. I was an avid reader of the log files at Heaven Can Wait, since I'd discovered the magic of role-playing these characters, and through the construction of my shrines for Guardian Angels, I found several other websites and shrines, like Krelian's Korner, Maria's Krelian Shrine (can you tell I like Krelian?), and Sigurd no Miko's Xenogears Hall. I also frequently scoured Japanese websites, which were treasure troves of beautiful fan artwork that I kick myself now for not saving.
It was a case of stolen artwork that brought me to start posting more regularly at Xenogears Ground Zero. DW was only just starting to restore his fan section, and someone submitted artwork to him that belonged to a Japanese artist I knew of. I notified the artist, of course, and my first post on that board was criticism of DW's careless policy. Between that and my previous association with TNS, I must have annoyed him.
Although it wasn't on the scale of the TNS-XGZ rivalry, I detected definite hostility for Guardian Angels during my stay at XGZ. I think I managed to hammer out a place for myself there via the serious discussion forum, but it always seemed that the community was hostile toward something. If not my site or Lea Monde, it was int's a Xenogears site which popped up in 2001. The Ground Zero community was just extremely competitive - more so than the rest of us. (And that's really saying something, though they didn't hold a candle to the famed A.C.-Against-Everyone situation.)
Int's new site struck the fear of god into us. Here we were, webmasters all, trying our best to beat each other out in translating small parts of the Perfect Works book - the key to status in the Xenogears community - and then int comes along with his preview for 'a Xenogears site' that boasted a complete Perfect Works translation. He even had a small part of the timeline translated and available as a sample of his work.
We were all skeptical, and louder about it than we should have been because that was intimidating. Instead of being glad that someone had finally translated the book and was ready to reveal its secrets to us, there were a few, myself included, that were afraid our websites - and thus the years of hard work we'd put into them - would be completely overshadowed and obsolete. Or heck, maybe a few of the others were simply jealous. But from the posts I remember, I don't think it was that simple.
Running a Xenogears site is hard work - any large-scale website is difficult to run. It wasn't just a matter of keeping up with fan work or making sure one had every rare image possible. Those of us running sites were competing in information, credibility, and there was always something to criticize. The person with the most information and the best translations won the race. Xenogears was a fandom starved for knowledge, so that's only natural. I remember writing a story about Billy that revealed his birth in Solaris, and receiving a shocked email that thanked me for the wonderful tidbit of information. (It's interesting that came to mind. Though it's obscure, this is not something that is only written in the PW - people seemed to miss the report in Krelian's lab that gives Elly and Billy Minister numbers.)
But it wasn't just major character revelations that people obsessed over. When we ran out of important topics to debate, we ran to smaller ones, like, 'Why did Krelian's hair change color?' (which I never understood - isn't it obvious why he changed it?), and the infamous 'Alpha and True Weltall is the EXACT same Gear!' discussion that made its rounds on at least three boards, perhaps more. Of lesser importance to discussion were the mythological references in Xenogears, and how much we knew about those; that's probably my only claim to fame. I've done my best to amass as much information on those references as I can.
Time passed, and the fandom gradually lost its vigor. There was nothing more to discuss, even without int's translations. We'd spent four years beating every subject to death. After that, it seemed common practice to tear into newbies who brought up those old discussions and kick them around until they decided to search the archives for answers to their questions. Understandably, we grew tired of repeating the same things over and over.
Int's Ethos Sanctuary came online, and many of us joined his community. Xenogears Ground Zero, after a bitter rivalry with int and his project, finally closed down. Although the Xenogears fandom experienced a short revival with the release of Xenosaga, generally things have died down, and new Xenogears sites are rare. New shrines are appearing, and int opened U-tic.org to house his Perfect Works and Data Material translations, but not much else is happening.
The Xenogears fandom isn't dead, but it's definitely at a low point, and on its way out. And what can I say? It was fun, but six years is a long time, and all good things must come to an end. Xenogears will always have a special place in my heart. Because of that game I met a lot of great people, wrote more fiction than I had in my life before Shadows Falling, and I developed greater interest in literature and mythology, which is alive and healthy to this day. Guardian Angels is my first big, successful project, and I'm glad to know that it has served so many people well. I hope it will continue to do so in the future.
Many thanks to the people who took the time to reply to my inquiries about their websites and provided feedback while I was working on this project!
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