A Common Sense Take on the Prequel Argument
by John Hokanson Jr.
The following short editorial is meant to explain the "apparent", but actually non-existent, "discrepancies" between Xenogears and Xenosaga. Not so much from a deeply analytical point of view based on the games themselves, but from a simple explanation of a literary device commonly encountered in many works outside of video games. I apologize in advance if the general tone of this editorial may seem arrogant.
I am going to assume that most fans of Xenogears and Xenosaga are familiar with the book "Perfect Works". That is, the official written source material for the original Xenogears game. If not, shame on you. If you don't own it, double shame on you. Contrary to popular belief, this gem of a book is still readily available and can be acquired with a modest amount of effort. I would recommend looking through Ebay and various Japanese book stores. I also see it for sale, on occasion, at various anime conventions. Verbatim translations are available on the Internet. Furthermore, Amber Michelle does an excellent job explaining the exact nature of Perfect Works on her Guardian Angels website.
Before continuing, I believe some background may be in order...
When Xenosaga was first announced, many fans of Xenogears were overjoyed. This was largely because Xenogears was envisioned by its creators at a vast multi-part epic that spanned several episodes and character generations.
To the disappointment of many aforementioned fans, Xenosaga was soon revealed to take place (largely) outside the canonical story arc as laid down in Perfect Works. As has been adequately explained elsewhere, this had a large part to do with the development teams' separation from Squaresoft after Xenogears. With financial backing from Namco, Takahashi, with various supporting writers, attempted to continue the storyline. Yet, with the rights to Xenogears legally in the hands of Squaresoft, and lacking permission to copiously draw upon the fruits of past labour, this proved difficult at best. Or, put another way, the developers had no recourse but to ensure the game were not immediately linked to one another.
The issue as to whether or not Xenosaga should be considered a valid prequel to Xenogears remains to this day a point of contention. And yet, it seemingly defies common sense as to why it should be. I have heard many a person walk away in disillusionment because they were denied a direct prequel of Xenogears with some familiarity to the characters and setting. Even more telling is the fact that many of these same people believe that Perfect Works has now been ejected from canon or at least altered in lieu of this familiarity, and the fact that it does not mesh with the synopsis of each Xenogears episode as explicitly summarized in Perfect Works.
I am not one of these people. To me, the answer is patently obvious.
It IS a prequel, but in a more distant sense than most people would associate with the word. The games all exist in the same universe, and on the same timeline.
In part, I disagree that Xenosaga is connected only in the sense that in contains vague references that only Xenogears fans will get, or that that these references merely exist as devices to pay homage to its precursor. It goes without saying the former is true in the most basic sense, but it also goes well beyond that. While Xenosaga's storyline stands well on its own; it in no way, shape, or form, contradicts the time-line of Xenogears or hands us a unreconcilable paradox (barring a few almost infinitesimal details which could be either a continuity error or an unfortunate move to avoid litigation by Squaresoft). Secondly, I profusely reject any notion that the Xenogears with require any rewriting or modification for Xenogears and Xenosaga to share continuity (again, except for minor details).
From what we know of Perfect Works, the official start of Xenogear's episodic timeline begins with the crash of the Eldridge in a distant star system (Xenogears Episode I). All that follows is a direct result of this event. Now surely we can assume that there is adequate room for story material before this event? In fact, we need not assume, because Perfect Works makes mention of such material. Events such as the discovery of the Zohar (depicted in the opening movie of Xenosaga), the existence of the Galaxy Federation, and the exodus of mankind from Earth (Lost Jerusalem) are all written of in Perfect Works but exist outside the six episodes of Xenogears. All three are specifically mentioned or blatantly apparent in Xenosaga. Suffice it to say, this is only the tip of the iceberg, since we have not even gotten to the creation of Deus, an explanation of the Eldridge's colonization mission, or why Earth was even abandoned in the first place. Towards the end of Xenosaga, we specifically see a child that looks strikingly like Abel. We can use logical conjecture in assuming that Abel probably existed somewhere prior to embarking on the Eldridge. It may yield however, judging entirely by the supposed age of Abel, that we're not to far from that event within the game timeline. It follows then, that the timeline of Xenosaga might be significantly more condensed than that of Xenosaga's 10,000 year timespan (conjecture based on the explicit mention by the U.M.N. database that Zohar is what ties all of this together).
What this boils down to, is that Xenosaga Episode I is NOT Xenogears Episode I. It takes place before Xenogears Episode I. and does not, therefore, mean that the six episode structure of Xenogears has been altered or is in direct danger of being altered. I believe that the decision to name these more recent games "Xenosaga" instead of "Xenogears" goes beyond a legal formality. The only thing that would throw a wrench in this observation, or cause an actual legitimate uproar among fans, is if some event occurs that would dilute an aspect of Xenogears' wonderfully crafted narrative (read: George Lucas and his religion-cum-biology experiment). Mind you, I remain optimistic. With my luck however, the Wave Existence might be retro-explained as a computer program created by humanity to think it's God (yuck!).
But I digress....
I am fully aware and sensitive of the fact that many fans of Xenogears might not like Xenosaga. This is quite fine. As I said earlier, both stories are quite capable of standing on their own. In fact, I'd even go as far as to laud Monolith Soft if they specifically engineered it that way. Nobody should feel as if they're having a gun pointed to their head in respect to "cross pollinating" ideas or characters in respect to their fan media. Nor should anyone feel compelled to be a fan of one if they are a fan of the other. I would not object to Xenosaga being labelled as a "pseudo" or "proto" prequel because they seem more like distant cousins than siblings.
To that end, it also bares mentioning that many people may fail to correctly identify the crux of Xenogears' story. The story as self-contained within the Xenogears timeline has really nothing to do with Deus or Zohar. They merely exist there as a catalyst for the predicament the Contact and Anti- Type find themselves in. Rather, the common thread that emerges within each episode is the eternal love story between the Contact and the Anti-Type, and the lives they lead from incarnation to incarnation. In addition, to a somewhat lesser extent, Miang and her servitude to Deus. Full stop! Everything and everyone else exists as a construct of their world and THAT story arc.
What this boils down to is that Xenogears and Xenosaga, and their respective episodes, are "story arcs". The concept of a "story arc" is actually quite common in sci-fi literature and media these days. Same universe, yet different aspects there-of. Both can stand together, or one can stand alone.