Heard through the grapevine today that Nintendo ponied up for Monolith, taking it (mostly) off the hands of Bandai-Namco. Not to be confused with Monolith Productions of America (F.E.A.R Condemned, Matrix Online), Japanese development house Monolith Soft is responsible for Baten Kaitos, and for the atrocity of Xenosaga. I've been wondering who should've been blamed for that.
Nintendo clearly wants a solid second-party RPG developer, which makes sense. RPG gamers are perhaps the most froth-mouthed, obsessive subsect of the gaming audience, owing perhaps in largest part to the massive time commitment and psychotic attention to detail it takes to complete the present generation of cinematic epics. Hey, I'm not being critical-- I'm one, too.
I worry for Nintendo whenever they deviate from the well-trodden path of Doing What Nintendo Does Best, and Nintendo hasn't really been a contender in the arena since the 16-bit era. RPG players these days tend mainly to be Sonyphiles. Thank (blame?) Squeenix. Lots of people liked Tales of Symphonia; I thought it was weak. And admittedly, I never played Baten Kaitos. But in my lifetime I have only ever cashed in a single game at GameStop, and that game was Xenosaga.
Back in the day, the RPG genre was a highly engrossing alternative to the sidescroller. Largely light on plot and character development, they were the territory of the compulsive adventurer, a lozenge for the power-gamer who loved to see just how bad-ass they could get. But as technology marched onward, RPGs inched closer and closer to becoming little more than emo cinema, with pauses for number-cruncher battle grinds. The basic mechanics of RPGs evolved very little, despite frantic efforts on the part of each new title to evolve the system-- which usually resulted in little more than frustrating overcomplexification as the core elements remained just as boring. Pretty FMV and rock-star characters made a good smokescreen, but as time passed and every other genre grew engrossing and intuitive, RPG fans began to stir and rustle, complaining that dying anime chicks and multi-form supergod characters do not a good game make.
Xenosaga was the apex of the RPG genre's deep-seated wood rot. It was a stellar example of everything that was wrong with RPGs. The art was so beautiful (except for the weird stretch-crotch short-leg gumby look that all the male characters had) that it was easy to forget that the game was essentially a snorefest movie with brief pauses for meaningless gameplay. When I had to spend time running around the ship carrying a steaming plate of curry for the Commander, I almost popped a vein. The battle system was ridiculously excessive and virtually nonsensical-- I nearly finished the game, probably wasting 40 hours at least, and still didn't fully understand what the hell I was doing or why. Perhaps that's because 35 of those hours were spent staring at nonsense plot video that blatantly ripped off a pastiche of every other excessively complicated storyline that's ever been popular, most obviously Neon Genesis Evangelion (I think that was even Gendo Ikari's voice being used for a very Ikari-like character).
Now, I'm still kinda a fan of EVA-- though I'm not whipped into existentialist devotion the way I was as a stormy teen-- so I have a high, high tolerance for convoluted plotlines peppered with an excess of meaningless religious symbolism and redundant use of German language. But Xenosaga was so bad it was practically unplayable. Perhaps it's because I crave The Better RPG that I hate this game so much-- how dare you let me down-- but if Nintendo wants to make RPGs, I sorely hope that they're nothing like Xenosaga. That'd be a ridiculous disaster.
Maybe it's because I'm twisted, but the only thing I liked about Xenosaga was the demented pedophiliac Albedo and his army of inexplicably adorable Kirschwasser dolls. A little dark predilection adds a certain gravitas to a game, I think (this scene was partially cut in the US release)-- when they're willing to "go there" instead of drawing a villain in typical lines of power-hunger or world-conquering or whatever it usually is. Still, even when they "went there" Xenosaga overdid it-- they showed a MOMO pantyshot while she was crying over her dead Daddy, which "creepy" doesn't even adequately describe. The exploitation of loli-MOMO was so blatant people make parody videos of it.
I never want to see a game like that again, so I hope Nintendo continues their trend of innovating on the norm; they've never been successful when they've tried to snag some of Sony's loyalist market share. Nonetheless, I feel like this is good news-- it'd really be nice to see a successful next-gen RPG that gets it right, and Nintendo can do it, if anyone can.