Thousands of years into the future, man exists only in deep space.
Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht (Episode I) is a computer role-playing game for the PlayStation 2 and the first title in the Xenosaga series. Der Wille zur Macht (ゼノサーガ エピソードI 力への意志), literally "The Will To Power," is a reference to Nietzsche's thus named concept of an assumed rudimentary a-teleological force that elicits all activity stinted to existence itself.
Episode I mainly serves as an exposition for the characters and the developing plot. After a scene in which the scientist, T. Matsuda discovers the Original Zohar in 20xx CE, the game is warped 4000 years into the future. The Galaxy Federation starship Woglinde houses both the KOS-MOS development project and a Zohar Emulator, which was discovered in the wake of the vanished planet Ariadne. Shion Uzuki, a Vector Industries employee, proceeds with a test experiment on the humanoid weapon system KOS-MOS, which includes a brief appearance of a young girl (Nephilim). Nephilim encounters Shion again while she investigates the Zohar Emulator. Eventually, the Woglinde is attacked by a group of Gnosis, who are lusting after the Emulator. This attack is partly orchestrated by U-TIC Organization operatives Vanderkam and Cherenkov, who wish to acquire the Emulator for their boss, Margulis. During the attack, KOS-MOS is activated suddenly, the Gnosis escape with the Emulator, both Shion and Cherenkov are touched by the Gnosis, and the U-TIC operatives escape (sans Cherenkov). Federation Lieutenant Virgil is also shot and killed by KOS-MOS during these events; this, according to her, was necessary due to the fact that it would increase her ability to protect Shion. After the Woglinde is destroyed, Shion, Cherenkov, Allen Ridgely (Shion's co-worker), and KOS-MOS are rescued by the Elsa starship, which was investigating the ruins of the starship from the Kukai Foundation. On the Elsa, the group encounters a mysterious young man, chaos, before asking Captain Matthews to escort them to Second Miltia.
Meanwhile, Margulis explains the significance of U-TIC's plan to recover the Original Zohar from Old Miltia. Immediately thereafter, Vector's CEO, Wilhelm, is shown ordering the Red Testament to "gather the necessary factors." Cyborg Ziggurat 8 (Ziggy) is assigned by the S.O.C.E. to rescue the 100-SeriesRealian prototype, MOMO, who was kidnapped by the U-TIC Organization, as they wanted the Y-Data that she carries inside of her; the Y-Data being a mysterious piece of data that contains the steps to finding the Original Zohar on Old Miltia, among other information. The S.O.C.E. then orders Ziggurat 8 to bring MOMO to Second Miltia for testing of the Y-Data. Ziggy reaches the U-TIC headquarters, Pleroma, and rescues MOMO, fighting U-TIC leader Margulis on his way out. However, the duo is chased by U-TIC operatives in hyperspace until they encounters the Elsa. The two parties meet, defeat the pursuing U-TIC forces, and decide to join together on their journey to Second Miltia.
During this incident, the never-aging U.R.T.V. unit Gaignun Kukai, Jr. is attacked by a U-TIC battleship while investigating the Woglinde for any signs of the Zohar Emulator. Jr. escapes with a significant amount of U-TIC information.
After stopping at Dock Colony, the Elsa runs into the Cathedral Ship, a planet-sized Gnosis created from the disappeared planet Ariadne and made complete with the Zohar Emulator stolen from the Woglinde. While escaping the Cathedral Ship, Cherenkov mutates into a Gnosis and dies. The Elsa and the party are rescued by Jr. and the Durandal starship, which was passing by in search for the Emulator. Jr. apprehends the Zohar Emulator from the destroyed Cathedral Ship and explains that he now has the twelve Emulators created by scientist Joachim Mizrahi (MOMO's creator). However, Emulators are only contain a fraction of the power that is housed by the Original Zohar, trapped on Old Miltia. Jr. takes them back to the Kukai Foundation, where the party is introduced to Jr.'s fellow U.R.T.V. unit, Gaignun Kukai. Eventually, the Galaxy Federation places charges on the Kukai Foundation for the destruction of the Woglinde, due to some manipulation by U-TIC officials and insiders. In order to prove innocence, Shion Uzuki leads a dive into the Encephalon to find KOS-MOS' black box, which will prove that the Gnosis were responsible. In the Encephalon, the party relives childhood memories, including the Miltian Conflict. Furthermore, Shion is encountered by Febronia, who explains that a time will come where KOS-MOS will encounter the wave existence U-DO, and in the near future, Shion will free her "sisters". Febronia also states that all factions involved must travel to Old Miltia.
U-TIC realizes that their plot to distract Kukai and Miltia in order to apprehend MOMO has failed, so they dispatch Jr.'s brother and fellow U.R.T.V. unit, Albedo, to formulate his own strategy. Albedo decides to activate the Song of Nephilim, which generates a Gnosis attack around the Kukai Foundation. In the confusion surrounding the attack, Albedo kidnapps MOMO and brings her to the Song of Nephilim. Shion and the party go to the Song and defeat Albedo. Before escaping, Albedo successfully searches MOMO for the Y-Data. Afterward, Blue Testament appears and demands that the party travel to Old Miltia. The Song deactivates, and the Gnosis attack is thwarted. However, Albedo has one last goal to accomplish; he summons Proto Merkabah, the space station created by Joachim Mizrahi, in an attempt to destroy Second Miltia and the Kukai Foundation. Albedo methodically destroys the Federation fleet in the region, and prepares to fire on Second Miltia. This does not follow the plans of U-TIC, but the Blue Testament (now revealed as Virgil) decides to leave him be.
Inside Proto Merkabah, the party encounters Albedo, who summons a Gnosis to "test" the party and buy Albedo time to escape. Albedo sets Merkabah on a collison course with Second Miltia, which the party stops by breaking the space station into thousands of pieces. However, during re-entry, the Elsa's heat shield begins to disintegrate; KOS-MOS briefly morphs into a powerful being to prevent the Elsa from being destroyed. Meanwhile, Albedo discovers that the Y-Data is protected; he tells U-TIC that MOMO will have to connect to the U.M.N. for the data to work. While these events are transpiring, Wilhelm stares at his Compass of Order, understanding that his plans are going in full motion.
In Episode I, the player controls a party of up to three characters, one of which represents the group on the map screen. Players progress the story by traversing the areas and fighting various enemies and bosses along the way. Enemies are not encountered randomly; they are placed at select locations on each map. When the player touches an enemy, he or she will enter a battle.
Like most RPGs, battles in Episode I feature turn-based combat, which involves a numeral system that determines health (Hit Points), magic/Ether (Ether Points), and damage (numbers appearing after each attack or healing). Status effects are common in Xenosaga. Characters gain experience points after each battle; when a character obtains a certain amount of points, he or she levels up. Levels measure a character's statistical power, although there are other ways to increase statistics (see below). However, Xenosaga introduces several concepts into the battle system:
Boost gauge: When a party member attacks, his or her "Boost gauge" will increase. When the gauge increases by one unit, that character may "Boost", or immediately receive a turn in battle. Each character can hold up to three "boost" commands in one battle.
A.G.W.S. units: Players can summon attack mechs called A.G.W.S. The character assigned to the summoned A.G.W.S. will board it. Although the A.G.W.S. units generally feature special attacks and higher statistics, they are limited in turns, ammunition, and actions (for example, a character may not heal another when he or she is inside an A.G.W.S.). This system is similar to the "Gear" battle system from Xenogears.
Ether, Tech, and Skill points: In addition to monetary and experience awards after each battle, characters will obtain Ether, Tech, and Skill points upon completing a battle. Ether points can be spent to obtain new Ether, or magical spells that are unique to each character. Tech points are used to increase stats, such as attack power, Hit Points, and dexterity. Finally, Skill points can be used to obtain special commands, status attack guards, or other features.
AP system: When attacking an enemy, characters may initiate a string of different attacks. However, the number of attacks that may be used is determined by the amount of Action Points (AP) that the character has stored. Characters obtain AP at the start of their turn, but they can also save up to six unused points.
The game features no universal world map, but the player can travel to several regions of the game through the Encephalon, a location replicator also seen in Episode II and Episode III. Other features include an in-game database, several mini-game "plug-in" systems that can be accessed from Shion's portable U.M.N. console, and an e-mail system that allows players to make playful decisions that have little significance to the main plot. Episode I includes a treasure hunt sidequest, in which the player may find decoders for fifteen locked doors scattered throughout the game. The doors lead to various treasures and skills. Finally, the game map features a small radar that detects the locations of enemies and allies.
Episode I received praise from critics, earning a generally favorable 83% on Metacritic.com. Most critics enjoyed the well-developed plot and characters, but argued that the long cut scenes ruined the pacing of the game. Episode I was given GameSpot.com's "dubious honor" award for the "Most pretentious game of 2003." GameSpot did however praise the game in their review, scoring it 8.1 out of 10.
Critics agreed that the game's strongly developed characters were a highlight. GameSpot.com's Greg Kasavin wrote that "Despite the amount of time you'll spend with all these characters, Xenosaga isn't very heavy on character development, but its cast is endearing nevertheless." Noting that the game's characters do not stand out for costume design or weaponry, IGN's Jeremy Dunham said that the cast is "possibly the most realistic portrayal of protagonists we've yet seen on the PlayStation 2" and that "the depth of each personality is so vast that it's akin to that found in modern literature." The game's plot found more mixed reviews, although it gained much praise. Kevin Jones of GamingAge.com stated that "Xenosaga has that extra special something that has been missing from RPGs for the last couple of years: an enthralling, profound story that leaves you truly wanting more." Jones believed that the character designs and animation styles in Xenosaga were not up to par with expectations, however. Dunham explained that the game's complexity would be too intimidating or "inactive" for casual gamers, but "For those of us who like this sort of thing, however, Xenosaga is a deeply enriching thrill ride towards the cosmos." Christian Nutt from GameSpy disliked the length of the game's reliance on cutscenes, claiming that it slowed the pacing of the game.
Critical reception of Episode I's gameplay was mixed. GamePro's review criticized the complexity of the battle system mechanics, including the A. G. W. S. battles and tech point system, later admitting that the "strange tweaks Xenosaga makes to the standard system are pretty intriguing." Dunham warned players that they must stay "open-minded" about the seemingly small percentage of actual gameplay compared to the number of cut scenes, stating that "there's plenty to do, despite what you may have heard elsewhere." He praised the combination of attacks and Tech attacks the players have the ability to use and the mini-game Xenocards.
Episode I's soundtrack was composed by Yasunori Mitsuda and performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The soundtrack for Episode I was the orchestra's most prominent Xenosaga-related project. Episode I featured one battle theme that was used in all fights and bosses except for the final boss.
In mid-2003, Namco also released a special version of Episode I in Japan to drum up hype for the upcoming Xenosaga: Episode II called Xenosaga: Episode I Reloaded, which featured the English voice-acting and a few special features, like costume switching and a play-back library of all the game's movie scenes. This version was not released outside of Japan.
On April 28 2004, Namco released Xenosaga Freaks in Japan, a supplementary game including a Xenosaga-themed word-puzzle game based off of Namco's Mojipittan called Xenopittan, a comical adventure game Xenocomi, the complete dictionary of terminology from Episode I enhanced with audio and video clips, and a playable demo of Episode II. This is the closest that Xenosaga has come to Xenogears'Perfect Works anthology beyond the Original Design Materials.