Soraya Saga On Xenogears And Xenosaga

By Spencer . June 11, 2010 . 1:38pm

imageIn the second half of our chat with Soraya Saga, we focus almost entirely on the Xeno series. There’s a little tiny bit about Titus 12, an unreleased game, and Super Robot Taisen too.


Saga wrote the scenario for Xenogears and the first two Xenosaga games, but I’ll let her tell you more about her involvement in those projects.


Going way back, can you tell us about the origin of Xenogears? How did development of such an ambitious story begin and how did you weave in elements from philosophers like Nietzsche and psychologists such as Jung and Freud?


Soraya Saga: I and Tetsuya Takahashi originally submitted it as a script idea for Final Fantasy VII. While we were told that it was too dark and complicated for a fantasy, the boss was kind enough to give Takahashi a chance to launch a new project. Then Takahashi and I wrote up the full screenplay which contained cutscene-dialogues in final form, thus the project was born.


The works of Nietzsche, Freud and Jung happened to be part of common interests I shared with Takahashi. Xenogears is basically a story about "where do we come from, what are we, where are we going". In that respect, we were inspired by those concepts a lot.


Xenogears feels like it was cut short. The Perfect Works book I have on my bookshelf has a ton of other content like unused Gears and art. Can you tell us what other ideas you planned for Xenogears?


Thank you for having it on your bookshelf. Yeah, there was a ton of unused ideas, maybe we could have put them in if it were a seasons-long TV series or something like that.


image How did you feel when you got to start the Xenosaga series?


We missed Xenogears so much but overall Xenosaga seemed a fresh start full of hope.


Xenosaga and Xenogears, especially Billy’s story, are packed with biblical references. Why did you pick this source and are there any other works or media that inspired these games?


Regardless of differences in religion, I’ve always had a deep interest in the power of belief people have. Biblical references in the game might catch the notice first because it’s widely known, but also a variety of religious ideas can be seen throughout the game.


KOS-MOS, even today, is still loved by fans. Can you tell us how you created her? Were there any alternate designs or storylines?


KOS-MOS is literally the brain daughter of Takahashi. We tend to depict human characters as a strong will in a fragile flesh and blood. So, we wanted KOS-MOS to be a complement to it by being the delicate pieces of soul in an unbreakable vessel. Storywise, we couldn’t fully show her background in the game, but I think it must be left veiled for now.


There were several unused designs of her by Kouichi Mugitani and Kunihiko Tanaka. Some of them can be seen in Mugitani’s doujinshis.


Xenosaga was originally supposed to be six games, but was sadly also cut short. Can you share any ideas that didn’t make it through or were not used in the way you wanted them to be presented due to the change?


It’s so complicated. To fill the unexpected gap that was generated in the episode II, the subsequent plot had to shift its course to some extent from where it was supposed to be. There were many major changes, but what’s done cannot be undone, so there’s no looking back on those might-have-beens.


Personally speaking, what do you consider is the connection between Xenogears and Xenosaga?


I think all Xeno works are, so to speak, like rivers and lakes that once sprung from our mind, eventually became independent. They sure are kin, but not lineal.


image The Super Robot Taisen series is very popular in Japan. How do you feel about having characters you worked with in a spinoff to such a legendary series?


My husband (Takahashi) and son are huge fans of the series. We’re feeling very honored.


Are there any crossovers you personally want to see with characters you created?


Transformers: War for Cybertron. Weltall-Id and KOS-MOS would make a good fight.


Some images of "Titus 12" popped up. Can you tell us about this project?


That was a draft proposal for a sci-fi RPG I wrote at the request of Monolithsoft circa 2000 to 2004.


image The previous Xeno works were heavy on cutscenes. How do you balance a dramatic story with gameplay and what have you learned over the years?


Keeping balance between those elements is the most important task we must work at. As you know, the heavy volume of story has been a core factor of Xeno works. But now we realized that too heavily orienting toward visuals and stories would ruin the fundamental reason for the existence of games.


Special thanks to Ms. Saga for her time and all the Siliconera readers who sent us questions. Her latest work, Xenoblade, is out in Japan now. If you missed it, the first half of our interview covers Soraya’s entry into the video game industry and Final Fantasy VI. You can read that here.

  • “But now we realized that too heavily orienting toward visuals and stories would ruin the fundamental reason for the existence of games.”

    Took a while, huh? Actually, I love this kind of stuff. I don’t just play games to turn my brain off and blow crap up. I wouldn’t be lying if I said I enjoyed every minute of Xenosaga, especially the cutscenes/story. I consider it my favorite video game series so far because of how it defies the “fundamental reason” for games.

    That’s just me… I know there are TONS of dudes who completely disagree! Hey, I like B-movies and mindless garbage almost as well as heavy, serious stuff. So don’t give me weird looks…

    • Aoshi00

      I was disappointed Ep3 got rid of the long cutscenes and instead we got the talking heads, it really lost the series’s trademark (not to mention the end was cut short and rushed). I played Xenosga Ep 1 & 2 in both Eng and Jpn to watch all the movies, but Ep3 I’ve only finished in Jpn and still haven’t finished the US ver..

      So Soraya didn’t write the story for Xenoblade huh, that’s a little disappointing… because I liked Xenosaga Ep 1&2 more..

      • jj984jj

        Even without the long cutscenes XS3 was much better than XS2, the cutscene direction for 3 was better when they could do full segments too. And the lead writer of XS2 was Norihiko Yonesaka, many of Saga’s ideas for that episode were thrown out so she didn’t have anything to do with the plot’s direction since Namco changed the direction of the series, though some of the ideas she said were thrown out did end up being used in XS3.

        But yeah, it was disappointing to hear she had no involvement with Xenoblade, especially after she wrote the story for Soma Bringer.

        • Aoshi00

          Ep1 was definitely the best w/ the Mitsuda OST, but I preferred Ep 2 to 3, where they explored the personal relationship/history btwn Albedo/Jr/Gianan in detail. I liked the pairing of Chaos and Canaan too, not to mention Jin kicked major butt in that one. As I said I missed the frequent long cutscenes that’s not in the last game. I also liked the more realistic art direction the 2nd game took (other than the blocky hands). I really wasn’t aware of who wrote which episode, but the first 2 games had a heavier impact on me, while the 3rd one felt very rushed wrapping everything up, For me cutscenes >> talking heads.

          At any rate, I hope Xenoblade would have a good story like Xenosaga.. the chars don’t look as interesting as the Xenosaga cast.

          P.S. Richard was one of my fav chars, so I liked ep 2 :)

          • jj984jj

            I have a hard time believing Takahashi will fail to deliver in terms of characterization, but I’m hoping Xenoblade doesn’t fall flat there and in terms of overall story too. Since it isn’t directly related it clearly won’t be as deeply rooted, so I’m curious at to what sources he drew from for Xenoblade.As for XS2/3, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I thought XS3 was the much better game despite the floating heads and I preferred the cutscene direction when there weren’t any. And the change in art direction mid-way was just jarring, I had no problem with the way it looked originally with Kunihiko Tanaka and Yasuyuki Honne leading art direction. What they did to KOS-MOS in XS2 was disappointing to me. XS1 left too many things unanswered and XS3 delivered most of the answers I was looking for, so it was much more satisfying overall, even if it felt a bit rushed right before the epic ending (I blame Namco for it happening since they cut things short after their jarring changes only turned people away, whether or not anyone liked them won’t change the fact that those changes are what ruined this series chances of continuing in my mind). Anyway, on top of all that being the most fun XS to play was a great bonus in 3 too. :p

          • I love 3 the most, but I still liked 2 (with the exception of KOS-MOS’s different look and the VA changes).

            You know, I agree with jj984jj on this. I didn’t mind the “talking head” scenes and 3’s gameplay was insanely fun, especially compared to 2 (which I thought was OK, in contrast to most who despised it).

            When the actual cutscenes happened, though, they were some of the best in the series (ignoring the censorship), and you know, being the end of a trilogy, 3 had that satisfying feel as it wrapped everything up and answered most questions. Let’s not forget that database, either!

      • Well, the talking heads text boxes were more of an homage to Xenogears version of cutscenes/story telling. It also allows you to pack in more story content on the DVD rather than filling it up with high quality cut-scenes.

        I enjoyed having a mix of talking head text boxes, in-game FMV, and true FMV as a means to display the story in Ep 3 :D

        • Aoshi00

          But the 3D modeled talking heads in Ep3 looked kind of creepy (worse than SO4’s), just slightly out of place to me. And the sudden drop of no. of cutscenes after ep 1 & 2 was a little unexpected at the time.

    • memoryofwater

      100% in agreement with your first paragraph. If anything, I’d like to have seen the Xeno series move even further away from traditional games and focus entirely on storytelling, characterization, exploration and environmental detail/interaction.

      This interview made my day. The Xeno series are among my favorite games and both Saga and Takahashi have struck me as genuinely hip koalas in the past. Also, it’s sort of brain-twisting to think that Xenogears began as a scenario for Final Fantasy VII… What would that series look like now if that had been okayed and Sakaguchi had ceded to Saga and Takahashi instead of Kitase?

      • Yeah, video games as a medium have a unique way to tell stories. The examples you gave prove that: you can’t explore and interact with people and environments in movies, and they aren’t long enough to develop characters in ways games can (though TV shows are). Add to these the fact that they make few of *anything* like Xenosaga.

        Interesting how people are divided on the whole “lot of cutscenes” issue. Ha, Monolith alienated tons of people with the first 2 games, couldn’t they have gone all out and impress die-hard fans on the third? I’ve read that the “static face with text box” scenes were made so people who weren’t big fans of movie-like cutscenes would call Xenosaga a “game.” Don’t know if that’s true or not.

        And because I didn’t mention it earlier, this was a great interview. I don’t think I’ve read many (if any) interviews with Soraya Saga. Keep it up, Siliconera! (Seriously, you guys are my home page.)

  • Good interview, Spencer :) (Though I was secretly hoping she’d let something slip about a future Xenosaga game or what she was currently working on lol)

    This also peaked my interest and gave me hope :)

    “Storywise, we couldn’t fully show her background in the game, but I think it must be left veiled for now.”

  • I forgot to mention, but did she really work on Xenoblade? I got the impression it was Takahashi and Takeda instead?

    Which is why I’m curious what she’s working on :)

    • Nope, Saga-san isn’t involved with Xenoblade. :)

      • Yeah, that’s what I thought :) So what is she working on… >.> <.<

    • Ack, did I mix that up? When we were discussing over e-mails she said she couldn’t talk about Xenoblade now.

  • Raccoon

    Thank you for this interview! Very interesting :-)

  • fuzzy_hobo

    Thank you for the interview Spencer. While I loved Xenogears, Xenosaga is one of my favorite stories over any storytelling medium. It’s sad both series were cut short, but even as is they tell bad ass, sublime science fiction.

    “We tend to depict human characters as a strong will in a fragile flesh and blood. So, we wanted KOS-MOS to be a complement to it by being the delicate pieces of soul in an unbreakable vessel.”

    This is why I love Saga and Takahashi!!! Please don’t stop making games.

  • jj984jj

    You didn’t ask her if she’s working on any game right now? :(

    Great interview though, it’s really nice to hear about her and Takahashi’s involvement with Gears and the relationship between Gears and Saga directly from her.

    • This interview was supposed to be about the past, reflections on her past work. Maybe another time :)

  • holyPaladin

    Thx for interview =p
    Make me miss Xenogears and Xenosaga =(

  • I miss Xenogears too, Sora! I also feel the best medium for the story at this point is a genuine well-made TV series that can focus on each epoch of Abel and Elly. If successful, it can simply be translated for international audiences via subtitles with little effort, then voice as demand grows, and maybe even more as its success and fan base grows. (I think giant sized Chu-chu concept would have “chu” go though. Heh, she just doesn’t fit into the serious moments.) Right now, a Xenogears in RPG and video game form would to risky a project as it would need far more focus and time on planning, funding, and execution despite having an established fan base. The funding for a game will come when the demand has been established. – A.K.A. “Athan”

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