Nintendo Fills the Ponderous, Pretentious Religious Symbolism-laden RPG Hole in its Lineup

Nintendo has announced that it has purchased an overwhelming interest in Monolith Soft, an RPG developer founded (as all small Japanese RPG developers seem to have been) by former Square programmers. Previously owned by Namco-Bandai, Monolith will presumably now be making all of its future games for Nintendo platforms.

Monolith was founded about 6 years ago by a group of disgruntled Square employees who had previously worked on Chrono Trigger and Xenogears. As you know, Bob, Xenogears was a fantastically pretentious role playing game stuffed to the gills with self-important and bafflingly incongruous religious symbolism. The clearest way to get a sense of the plot is to imagine somebody playing MadLibs with a bog-standard Japanese RPG plot, and inserting randomly selected names from the Bible for all the proper nouns. Bam! Xenogears. Sadly, thousands of players mistook Square's random walk through the New Testament for some sort of incredibly deep and complicated commentary on Western religion, and the generated a swarm of rabid fans.

Square, however, was uninterested in making further Xenogears games, which led a big swath of the Xeno team to leave and form Monolith. Using some obscure loophole in Japanese copyright law, Monolith set about creating Xenosaga. Initially, Xenosaga was to be a five-game prequel to Xenogears. The games didn't sell well enough to justify the full series, though, so they quietly wrapped it up at three games.

Where Xenogears was a decent game soaking in an interminable plot, Xenosaga was the longest, most boring science fiction movie you've ever seen periodically interrupted by uninspired gameplay. To give you a sense: The game begins with a 20 minute movie. You then play a tutorial for about 15 minutes. This is followed by a half hour movie. Now you get an hour of exploring the ship and fighting enemies. Just when it seems like the game is about to start happening, you learn that you've essentially been playing the prelude and are treated to a two hour movie, which concludes with a half hour of playing an entirely new character in a new setting. Twenty minutes into the movie that follows this segment I realized that I would never, ever actually get to play the game. I turned it off and never returned.

Monolith also created Baten Kaitos, a card-based RPG for the Nintendo Gamecube that some seem to like, but that I never really got into. Apparently Monolith developed a close enough relationship with Nintendo while working on Baten Kaitos that Nintendo has decided to bring them into the fold.

Despite the fact that I haven't actually liked anything that Team Monolith has ever made, I confess to being a little excited about this news. Nintendo is exceptionally strong at making platformers and adventure games, but their RPG team is a little light. Heretofore that niche has essentialy been filled by their Fire Emblem team and Intelligent Systems (the Paper Mario people). Monolith will help make their first party line-up a little more well-rounded. They might not be the development team I'd have chosen if I had access to Nintendo's money hats, but they at least have the right idea. Now if Nintendo could buy a decent first person shooter developer that isn't integrally tied into the Metroid Prime franchise, they'd be pretty well set.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on April 27, 2007 7:49 PM.

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