By Heath | July 13, 2008 at 9:44 pm
All across the internet, upcoming Nintendo DS game World Destruction is building up hype. This is in small part due to its looks and in small part due to it having a character that is a fricking bear pirate. But when really looking, it soon becomes obvious that the biggest factor in the huge buzz is that there are several key players from Xenogears involved. Certainly some of the anticipation is warranted, but let’s get one thing clear for all those awaiting this title: do not expect another Xenogears.
Xenogears has been expected before. Remember Xenosaga? It had names in common with the Xenogears team too, including director Tetsuya Takahashi. Even among those who really enjoyed Xenosaga, one would be hard-pressed to find a gamer who believes Xenosaga was as-good-as or better than Xenogears–especially one who played Xenogears first. And the thing is, this game was supposed to be a new Xenogears. While not a sequel like we all originally thought, its whole concept was to keep running with the ideas that made the first successful. While a good many did find it fun, it simply did not deliver what Xenogears did. One might say in its defense that certain people from the Xenogears team were missing for the Xenosaga development, and that’s why it turned out the way it did. But even so, when the director and a few other throw-in crew members are attempting to make a spiritual successor to their baby and come up short…it’s hard to believe that a different group of ex-members will be able to pull it off, especially in a game completely unrelated to Xenogears.
Further on the topic of expectations, getting one’s hopes up for anything to be “as good as ______” seems to backfire all too often. Be it with movies, music albums, video games, whatever. There are some works that pull this off, but just as many that leave fans disappointed. (This seems to happen with every Final Fantasy release. There’s a group of people that were expecting a new game to be the second coming of their favorite, but then it wsn’t, and the internet bitching is limitless.) This point is not to say that optimism is foolish–certainly not. But expecting one thing to deliver exactly what another did often ends up biting one in the ass.
So, sure, Masato Kato and some other figures from the Xenogears crew are involved with this game. But Tetsuya Takahashi is a missing key figure, who served as the director of Xenogears, as well as a prime scenario writer, not to mention that he’s commonly credited as its creator. That’s a pretty big missing link in any reunion tour. Aforementioned Kato is on board as scenario writer, but let’s take a look at the games he’s been involved with in the last five years. Baten Kaitos, Children of Mana, Deep Labyrinth, Dawn of Mana, and Heroes of Mana. A couple of decent games there, and then a list of real crap. His involvement doesn’t necessarily indicate awesomeness.
Yasunori Mitsuda, who composed the excellent music of Xenogears, among several other games, will presumably be at his best, if the music on the official website is any indication. While music can have a noticeable impact on the experience a game delivers, it alone can’t take an otherwise bad game and suddenly make it great; that’s called a bad game with a good soundtrack. Music can help the impact of a story, and that’s important to some RPG lovers, but just like Kato before him, Mitsuda’s involvement doesn’t mean the whole game will be rad. Even coupling his involvement with Kato’s as if they’re about to form the Megazord doesn’t mean too much when looking at the other faces involved here.
Ryoei Mikage of Image Epoch is the director of World Destruction. What else has he worked on? Luminous Arc, a pretty average-level tactical RPG. This is a critical role, and in discussions about World Destruction–and almost compulsorily, its staff overlapping that of Xenogears–the director swap seems overlooked. World Destruction‘s head producer, Youichi Shimosato of Sega, was also responsible for crap like Shining Force Neo and Shining Tears, amid lots of other mediocre this-n-thats.
Not only are there key people from the Xenogears team switched out, but regarding those that remain, Xenogears was made 10 years ago. People change, be it marginally or vastly, be it for better or worse, and everyone that helps make this sucker is in fact subject to human nature. Each individual one of these developers, programmers, artists, and what have you, are just as likely to be into different stuff than he/she was 10 years ago, just like you or me. In 1998, I thought Blink-182 was the best band ever and that my mullet was badass.
On that note, YOU are not the same person you were 10 years ago. I’m not saying there are no exceptions to this last factor, but (I project with enough confidence to include here) a good many of potential World Destruction players who dug Xenogears, were doing so quite a long time ago. The impressions it was able to make on you at that time are different, and therefore, there is a good chance there’s nostalgia factor involved when it comes to Xenogears. Not so with a brand new game such as World Destruction. Yes, you may have just replayed through Xenogears in the last little while and it may have still kicked ass. You might have even just played it for the first time, in recent years, and still thought it ruled. Like I said earlier in this paragraph, I realize there are exceptions, and even amid those this applies to, it might only be a minor factor. But the point remains valid enough, for those affected (though they’d probably deny such), for its inclusion here.
Next and perhaps too obviously, the PlayStation and Nintendo DS are very different pieces of hardware, and the original games for each machine have been (PSX) and are/will be (DS) developed and played differently. While each can definitely provide positive experiences, said experiences will not quite be exactly the same. Expecting something to be a new Xenogears is inherently flawed.
This column’s purpose is not to say that World Destruction won’t be a good game — it might very well be. This is simply warning against too many Xenogears comparisons.
World Destruction might end up being an excellent game that gets a bad rap simply because Xenogears fans didn’t like it as much as they’d hoped. (Though we don’t yet have much indication of its quality. It could also suck; we’re being hypothetical here.) What a shame it would be for something to be a truly great, original game, but only be remembered as one that “didn’t live up to Xenogears.” It doesn’t have to live up to Xenogears, because it’s not related to Xenogears at all, and serious critical comparisons between the two are silly.
Ultimately, these two games will provide two different experiences, so comparing them too much is just plain dangerous. Both might very well be great games; if World Destruction does turn out to be a superb game, but gets tarnished by unnecessary Xenogears comparisons, well that’ll just be sad for everyone. If you expect Xenogears from World Destruction, you will be disappointed.