“Xenosaga is a prequel to Xenogears.”
“Mira in Xenoblade Chronicles X exists in the same world as the Bionis and Mechonis of the original game.”
Starting a game in the Xeno series may feel daunting, but these myths and theories make it seem far worse. The beautiful yet tragic thing about the Xeno series: you can start just about anywhere. Playing Xenosaga doesn’t require playing Xenogears, just as the former and latter aren’t needed to play Xenoblade Chronicles. Say it with me: You don’t have to play Xenogears to play Xenosaga! You don’t have to play Xenosaga to play Xenoblade Chronicles! You don’t have to play Xenoblade Chronicles to play Xenoblade Chronicles X!
Now, some titles are canonically connected. Starting at Xenosaga Episode II is a bad decision (sorry, Europe). Without spoiling, there are some substantial connections between Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but honestly, you could still play them independently of each other.
What Makes a Xeno Game a “Xeno” Game
The very first “Xeno” game wasn’t even originally going to be a Xeno game! The game was first pitched by Tetsuya Takahashi and Soraya Saga as Final Fantasy VII. From there, the title was briefly Chrono Trigger 2 before Takahashi was eventually given free rein to create a new IP. Thus, Xenogears was born!
Labeled as Xenogears Episode V in the ending sequence, the game unfortunately never received another title in the advertised 6-part series. Not long after, Tetsuya Takahashi, Yasuyuki Honne, Hirohide Sugiura, and several other employees left Square to form Monolith Soft.
The company’s first game? A little game called Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht, a spiritual successor to Xenogears. Like with Xenogears, the team planned another 6-part epic with Xenosaga that would span multiple console generations. Unfortunately, just like Xenogears, the series ended early. After declining sales with each title, Xenosaga ended after three main installments.
Things looked rocky for Monolith Soft. However, one fateful day, Nintendo bought majority stock of Monolith Soft away from Bandai Namco. And here comes the latest Xeno series: Xenoblade Chronicles. Unlike the previous games, Xenoblade Chronicles was the first title Takahashi would fully realize. No 6-part saga. No short deadlines to hold them back. And now, we have multiple ports of the game along with sequels Xenoblade Chronicles X, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and the forthcoming Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Sales are great and Monolith Soft continues to grow. The future is bright for the Xenoblade series!
But what makes a Xeno game a Xeno game? Though the characters and stories are not the same (sometimes), each series share similar story beats and themes. The power of will, the meaning of existence, and other Jungian and Nietzschean themes are the building blocks of the Xeno games. Sprinkle in pseudo-religious references and giant robots, and you’ve got yourself a Xeno game! Not to mention the blatant references between the games, like KOS-MOS from Xenosaga in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, to tie the whole experience together.
Where Do I Start?
The Xeno games do not directly connect beyond similar themes and overt references. You can start just about anywhere. However, availability does play a role in determining a starting point. Due to the unfortunate state of video game preservation, it’s much easier to get into one series over another unless you are dedicated enough to pay a lot of money. Let’s go over each Xeno game as they released and their accessibility.
Platforms: PlayStation, PlayStation 3, PSP, PlayStation Vita
Original Release: February 11th, 1998
The game that started it all. Xenogears follows Fei Fong Wong, an amnesiac martial artist, as he uncovers the meaning of his past amidst a war between two rival nations, a thousand-year conspiracy, and the ultimate battle against a god. And that’s putting it mildly! The game features one of the most complex narratives in gaming and one of Yasunori Mitsuda’s best soundtracks!
Playing Xenogears in 2022 isn’t impossible. Released on the original PlayStation in 1998, Xenogears made its way to the PlayStation Store via PS1 Classics on PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita. Unfortunately, the game hasn’t been ported to any current platforms. Not too long ago, Sony announced the closure of the PlayStation 3 and Vita stores, sealing the game’s digital availability. Thankfully, Sony backpedaled on the idea, though it is getting harder and harder to add funds to those platforms. It still paints a grim picture for the future of video game preservation. Who knows when Sony will decide to shut down the store altogether. Sure, there are other methods besides a PlayStation, but we won’t go into that here.
The Xenosaga Trilogy
As Monolith Soft’s first flagship title and a spiritual successor to Xenogears, Xenosaga had a lot to live up to. In some regards, Xenosaga lived up to the same complex and thought-provoking narrative as its forebear while also sharing the same fate. The story begins thousands of years after humanity finds a mysterious object known as the Zohar and escapes Earth. An alien menace known as the Gnosis plagues the galaxy, and it’s up to Shion Uzuki and her battle android KOS-MOS to fight back. As with Xenogears, the story becomes intricate and complex; it was planned as another six-part saga. While Xenogears and Xenosaga feature striking similarities in storytelling, characters, and more, the two are not directly related due to timeline irregularities and the fact that both games are published by different companies. Unlike its predecessor, Xenosaga stretched its story over three games for the PlayStation 2.
But that’s not all. Featuring an anime, manga, a mobile phone game prequel called Xenosaga Pied Piper, a Nintendo DS remake of the first two games titled Xenosaga I & II, audio drama CDs, and more, Xenosaga was poised to become a multi-media franchise. However, only the three PlayStation 2 games and Xenosaga: The Animation officially made it overseas.
Unlike Xenogears, Xenosaga never made it to platforms besides the PlayStation 2. Back in 2014, there was interest in making Xenosaga available on current generation platforms by none other than Katsuhiro Harada, General Manager of Bandai Namco Entertainment Original IP Game Projects and producer of the Tekken series. Though he fought the good fight, an HD release failed to pass a market analysis.
Prices for the first two Xenosaga games aren’t terrible, but they continue to climb. Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht achieved Greatest Hits status and lists on websites such as eBay and Amazon for between $20 to $50 for a used copy. Xenosaga Episode II is about the same price. However, the rarest of all has to be Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra. You can easily find the game on sites like Amazon and eBay for hundreds of dollars USD. If you want to collect the entire trilogy, you’re looking at ridiculous prices.
In this age of HD remasters, Xenosaga is quickly falling into obscurity. Even Xenogears, an original PlayStation game, is available on more platforms. KOS-MOS may cameo in several games, but it doesn’t matter if most of her fans aren’t familiar with her origin. If you’re curious, you could look into playthroughs on Youtube or Twitch. However, I would not suggest Xenosaga: The Animation for multiple reasons.
Monolith Soft’s renaissance began with the introduction of Xenoblade Chronicles. Set on the back of two dead giants, the story follows Shulk as he seeks revenge against some malicious mechanical foes, the Mechon, for attacking his hometown. Instead of the complex narratives of Xenogears and Xenosaga, the game focuses its ambitions on an expansive world. As a result, the game feels more complete. No planned six-part epic. While there is extra content in the Future Connected expansion in the Switch port along with the potential ties to Xenoblade Chronicles 3, the original game tells a complete story.
Originally released on the Nintendo Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles experienced a rocky release in the west. After its initial release in Japan back in 2010, many people didn’t expect the game to see the light of day in English. This led to the creation of the Operation Rainfall movement: a collection of fans dedicated to seeing a release of more Japanese Wii games in the west. Whether or not the campaign succeeded, Xenoblade did see a release in Europe in 2011 and North America in 2012.
When the game arrived in North American stores, it was exclusive to two venues: GameStop and the Nintendo website. With the power of supply solely in GameStop’s hands, prices reached ridiculous heights, sometimes as high as $80 for a used copy.
Despite the rarity in the beginning, you can barely throw your wallet five feet before running into a copy of Xenoblade Chronicles. After its release on Nintendo Wii, the game was ported to the Wii U eShop, the New 3DS, and a remaster released for the Nintendo Switch that really hits hard on the name Definitive Edition. If you want to jump into the Xenoblade Chronicles series, there’s no easier way than starting at the beginning. However, if you want the game digitally for the 3DS or Wii U, grab it up before Nintendo shuts down the eShop for those platforms!
Xenoblade Chronicles X
Platforms: Wii U
Original Release: April 29th, 2015
The overlooked Xeno middle child, Xenoblade Chronicles X took the series to new pastures. Tell me if you haven’t heard this in a Xeno game before: Earth is destroyed/abandoned and humanity ventures into the stars. This time, they are being chased by the aliens that destroyed their homeland. Humankind ends up crashing on the mysterious planet known as Mira. You take on the role of the series’ first create-a-character silent protagonist as you join the BLADE organization to explore humanity’s new home and defend them from various alien threats. The story continues in interesting directions from there and does not require prior knowledge of Xenoblade Chronicles or any other Xeno title. You’ll see a few winks and nods here and there, such as the Monado hairclip you see in character Lin’s hair, but they are mostly surface deep.
With games getting ported from the Wii U to the Switch left and right, Xenoblade Chronicles X still sitting idly by is a shame. If you happen to own a Wii U, the game is still available, but its future is in doubt. For now, the Wii U eShop is still open, so digital copies are also a viable option. Just expect a HUGE download size. The game also contains online features that, albeit obtuse, are fun to play with friends, but again, who knows how long these features will be around.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Original Release: December 1st, 2017
After X mixed things up, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 acted as a return to form. Once again, the game takes place on the bodies of multiple titans, the protagonist is an established character named Rex, and instead of Hiroyuki Sawano’s eccentric soundtrack, we go back to the days of ACE+ and Yasunori Mitsuda. Rex and his friends travel through the world of Alrest, racing to be the first to climb the World Tree at the center of the world.
In all honesty, you can play Xenoblade Chronicles 2 without playing any other Xenoblade or Xeno title. Beware, though, for I have slight spoilers to discuss. Are you ready? Okay, there is a significant connection to the first game that other fans could argue makes it preferable for people to start with that one. Ultimately, the connection doesn’t hold back any knowledge that would leave players confused. In the realm of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, everything is explained and tied up within itself. The tie to the first game is a jaw-dropping moment but only enhances the experience, not detracting or alienating. However, the same works in reverse.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is the latest full title in the series. Physical copies are still available in retailers, and digital copies are available on the Nintendo Switch eShop.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Original Release: September 14th, 2018
Set 500 years before the events of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, this DLC expansion focuses on Lora and her crew as they seek to stop the evil Malos from destroying the world of Alrest. There are hints at this story in the main game, but now you can travel the world and visit the titular Torna before it is destroyed. While you know the ending of the story, you can’t help but tear up. Also, gone are the gacha elements of the main game. Each character and their respective Blades mix up combat in a fast and more fluid system.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country is available on the Nintendo eShop through the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Expansion Pass. Physical copies exist, but they are growing rarer and more difficult to find. Arguably, you might consider playing this game after the main game, but Executive Director has also suggested playing the prequel in-between chapters 7 and 8. Ultimately, as a prequel, the choice is yours.
Xenoblade is far from over. If you’ve seen the announcement trailer for Xenoblade Chronicles 3, you might be saying, “Ah ha! The games ARE connected! I HAVE to start at the first game!” Yes and no! Sure, the trailer did show us a few familiar faces (kinda) from Xenoblade Chronicles 1 and 2. However, if Executive Director Tetsuya Takahashi can be trusted, he had this to say about Xenoblade Chronicles 3:
We believe the game will be enjoyable for both those who’ve played Xenoblade Chronicles or Xenoblade Chronicles 2, as well as those who will be playing a Xenoblade Chronicles game for the first time.
The Xeno series is great for connecting dots, searching for every wink and nod to each other, and fully immersing yourself in the mythos. At the end of the day, though, Xenogears, Xenosaga, and Xenoblade Chronicles are all disconnected from each other. Theories are fun, but they should not be used to gatekeep anyone from enjoying the games at your own pace. So, you want to get into the Xeno series? Just pick up a game and go!