It seems like every week there’s another remaster, definitive edition or remake announced. This has resulted in endless speculation of which classic may be reimagined next. The Square Enix back catalogue has no shortage of contenders, and the success of Final Fantasy 7 Remake may well prompt them to turn through the pages of their history book in search of inspiration.
I wouldn’t be against further Final Fantasy remakes (for the record, Final Fantasy 6 would be my preference) but there’s one title that stands out as the perfect game to recreate in the next console generation. It isn’t a Final Fantasy title at all, but the unique, thought-provoking brilliance of Xenogears, a 1998 cult classic that deserved more mainstream attention.
Here are the main reasons I am longing for a Xenogears Remake.
Xenogears did not play it safe, taking the risky move of addressing religion, along with questions of philosophy and psychology. At times, the narrative becomes absolutely bizarre in the best way possible. There are so many twists in a plot that demands your attention but provides payoff with several huge revelations as you progress to the conclusion.
Not only does the plot tackle many serious themes, but its rather dystopian setting was an interesting change to the norm. Instead of fun escapades to grand kingdoms and colourful landmarks, the main characters are repeatedly thrown into turmoil, downtrodden by warring nations, unforgiving environments and their own demons.
Many of the development team later formed Xenoblade Chronicles creators Monolith Soft, but it’s actually Nier Automata that most reminds me of Xenogears. The huge success of Nier Automata, topping five million sales and winning a glut of awards, shows once again that video games are perfectly equipped to present these ideas to challenge our beliefs and provoke meaningful, philosophical thoughts.
The battle spectacles with next-gen graphics
Xenogears chose an unusual amalgamation of 3D maps and 2D character sprites, which generally worked pretty well. In fact, the character models have probably aged better than Final Fantasy 7’s ever will.
However, as a release slap-bang in the middle of the PS1 era, a Xenogears remake would have potential to produce an enormous visual improvement, even if it doesn’t strive for an open-world adventure on the scale of one of the Xenoblade Chronicles games.
A next-gen Xenogears has so much potential with a huge number of boss fights fought aboard Gears, enormous mechas with a devastating arsenal of weaponry. This greatly increased the spectacle and scale of these battles, and Xenogears would certainly demand a lot of work to recreate these with modern-day graphics. However, the payoff could be something truly remarkable, and could blow our minds completely.
It was never released in Europe
Since Xenogears was released the year after the global smash hit Final Fantasy 7, it’s perhaps a little surprising that Square didn’t see fit to provide an international release of Xenogears. Even now, it’s difficult for PAL region players to experience the game as it isn’t on the European PSN Store.
When growing up, Xenogears – along with Chrono Cross – was one of the gaming titles I’d often see mentioned online. I enviously longed for it to appear on British shelves. It never did, so a Xenogears Remake would finally give millennials an opportunity to sample its brilliance.
At this point, no-one is even holding their breath for PSN release, which probably gives an indication of how likely a Xenogears Remake actually is.
Xenogears was received to almost unanimous acclaim. With plenty of perfect 10/10 scores in contemporary publications, the Metacritic average of 84 doesn’t tell the whole story. There are only 15 reviews, with two of the lowest scores actually from websites that are now shut down.
The user score of 9.2 is far more representative of how much love Xenogears holds among RPG players, and there is still frequent clamour for a remake. Xenogears often makes lists of all-time must-play RPGs. IGN and GameInformer both have Xenogears in their top 50, but it most commonly falls short of the upper echelons due to its rushed conclusion…
They can finally complete disk 2
Speaking of which, one of the most controversial elements of Xenogears was its second disk. Rather than playing through the conclusion of the story, this was largely an exposition dump with only very occasional gameplay.
It turns out this was purely down to time pressure as the development team approached the release deadline, and it seems we’re lucky they released the true conclusion at all. Director Tetsuya Takahashi revealed a few years ago that Square executives actually wanted to draw the game to a complete close at the end of disk 1.
A remake would offer a golden opportunity to fill in the blanks with fully-realised gameplay sections. Since Final Fantasy 7 Remake is episodic, fans surely wouldn’t be opposed to a Xenogears Remake being split into at least two parts. By doing this, the time difficulties faced in the original title would be mitigated, and hopefully not repeated.
And also patch up some translation issues
The brilliant plot of Xenogears unfortunately has a tendency to get short-changed by some haphazard translations to English, that undercut some scenes and made matters more confusing.
There are literally hundreds of errors (to get an idea of how many, see this list here), and the vast number of science fiction and philosophy references was so difficult that the original translators quit the project! It ended up being passable, but still in desperate need of some refinement.
The chance to rectify this with better localisation would of course result in a better telling of the story, and is another reason for a Xenogears Remake.
The love story
Many RPGs feature a love story of some sort, but few compare to that of Xenogears. Fei and Elly don’t fall into the common JRPG trope of forced awkward romantic tension or increasingly embarrassing encounters that they handle with immaturity.
In fact, they first meet on opposing sides and there is nothing to hint at a romance at all. Instead, their bond grows naturally and organically over time. They eventually come to piece together a mysterious past that intertwines their fates in a way that still feels earned rather than contrived.
Fei and Elly have one of the best gaming romances out there, which would be a joy to witness again.
The Xeno name has grown
There is no direct narrative connection between Xenogears and the Xenoblade Chronicles games, but their critical and commercial success in recent years may just point to an appetite to see more from them. We’ll forget about Xenoblade Chronicles X as any indicator, since it was an exclusive on the doomed Wii U.
The complication here is that Xenogears was released by Square Enix, but many of its developers including Takahashi left to form MonolithSoft, who released Xenoblade Chronicles over a decade later.
Granted, there is no reason Square Enix couldn’t form a new team to work on a Xenogears remake, but surely some input from the original creators, who know the story inside and out, would lead to a better final product. Perhaps Takahashi could be tempted back for such a project.
Is this a complete and utter pipe dream? Probably.
The fact that the original development team largely jumped ship from Square tempers any real optimism I have for a Xenogears Remake.
I truly believe of the many excellent RPG titles of the 90s to remake, Xenogears would have been second on my list behind Final Fantasy 7. We’re getting that, but it came after immense public pressure in relation to perhaps the most popular RPG ever.
To put it into context, a petition for Square Enix to release a HD Remaster of Xenogears has barely scraped its way to a target of 2,500 signatures, so perhaps I’m one of far too few. Then again, we live in strange, strange times, and you never know.