Did we die? Where are we? Beneath our feet, stars. In front of our eyes, a strange sight for our party – balls of rock and gas that pose no resemblance to their home world of Bionis. Defeating Dickson has granted us entry to the in-between, the place where gods play with time and space, the universe itself. Walking into this strange vacuum, we are greeted by memories, echoes of our past foes – Mumkhar, Xord, Telethia, Gadolt.
The stops on our tour are an omen for who we will soon meet. Saturn, father of gods and time. Jupiter, god of the heavens. Mars, god of war. The Moon, representing many interpretations of god. Finally a glimpse of Earth, home to mythology, but utterly foreign to our heroes. A voice blooms from everywhere and nowhere at once. It’s Alvis. He is no mere traitor; he has power here, in this strange place. We are informed of the choice we will soon need to make, and are then, in a blinding light, taken to our fate. Zanza.
He has changed. Zanza informs us that he had meant to use the body he obtained from Shulk, but he got an unexpected gift that changed his plans – Meyneth’s Monado. Now, with both Monados, he has been granted power over creation itself. The plan for Bionis, and all life on it, no longer applies. The plan to rule the beyond is within reach. An offer of discipleship is made, since Shulk has been integral to this development (after all, Meyneth sacrificed herself for him). But Shulk is a Homs. He only wishes for the right to live the life he had.
And in this, there is a parting of ways. Homs, High Entia, Machina, all of their views on right and wrong are constrained. They see life only as far as their creator has provided them vision and intelligence. Zanza’s visions are that of a god, and are thus considerably more reaching. To a creature born on Bionis, the slaughter of anyone living there seems to be a high crime. But to a god? It was always part of the plan. However, even to the divine, it’s a lonely existence if there is no one to share creation with. That is why Zanza imparted intelligence on his creations, which provided him company and companionship. Unfortunately, this intelligence created a problem – a desire to leave god’s path. Arglas (the giant who had been friends with Egil eons ago, and who had been Zanza’s original physical host) wished to see the world beyond Bionis. But the great organic titan could only live due to a constant cycle of its beings living and dying on it – life is literally food. To leave Bionis is to break that cycle, taking life from it. Zanza only desired friendship. Instead, the natural curiosity he imparted to his creations imperiled his existence. Meyneth accepted this fate as a natural outcome, and chose to live alongside her creations, not above them. The response of Zanza, the lonely god, is all too human – war.
The boss fight that follows is a multi-part affair, with multiple cut scenes, with a god taking multiple forms. Zanza is first a winged, giant High-Entia/Homs, then a Bionis-Mechonis hybrid. Shulk is, of course, still having visions, granting him the power to change the future (something Zanza considers the exclusive right of gods). His visions were always internal, but here in the battle of the in-between, these divinations manifest as a third Monado, a mighty weapon. It all plays out in a heaven of morphing backgrounds, to a soundtrack that sounds like a cross between a church choir, Wagner, and metal. For all of Xenoblade’s grand scope, this moment manages to feel largest of all. And it’s damn difficult. The game, up to this point, lets you be pretty free with your usage of Monado arts. Here, you must be disciplined. Sloppy play is not tolerated; change the future, or die.
The final reveal is a flashback. Zanza and Meyneth were once mortals, heading a grand science project – a huge particle accelerator/collider ringing the Earth. Alvis was the onboard computer responsible for all operations. Zanza was the foolishly ambitious man, Meyneth the wise woman who tried to stop him. The experiment destroyed the existing universe, but simultaneously created another, with the chief players reborn as elemental forces in this new cosmos. Zanza became Bionis, dynamic but cold. Meyneth became Mechonis, precise but benevolent. Alvis, the computational rule book that destroyed the old universe, became Monado. All things flow from Monado, which acts as the fundamental scientific laws of the new universe. The “Monado” swords in the physical realms are merely physical representations of natural law. Zanza, in his part as creator of all things on Bionis, eventually created Shulk to be his physical host, which gave the boy the peculiar ability to wield Monado. The symmetry is striking. In the old universe, the being who would become Zanza was born with the ability to end all things. In the new universe, Shulk was born with the same potential.
Back to the clash for being, and the battle is hard-fought. Eventually, our heroes subdue Zanza, and Shulk is given a choice. He wields Monado, the sword of creation, but what he really wants is a world in which all living beings aren’t mere playthings of the gods. He briefly ruminates that the future he desires was possible; if Zanza were as wise as Meyneth, none of this would have happened. But it did. Shulk chooses, to Alvis, to Monado, to reboot the universe so that it exists without the need for volatile gods.
And so it is. Our heroes survive, but their world is morphed. Colony 9 still exists, but it’s questionable where it exists, as Bionis may have morphed into a more conventional planet. The disparate races all live together, moving toward a future that will be decided by their own will, not that of a god.
The game ends, but a gnawing feeling remained inside me for weeks after the credits rolled. Why? Because I killed god over a misunderstanding. It couldn’t have been any other way, due to the nature of Zanza’s psychology, but it still happened. And all of those memories of exploring Bionis? They are not tainted, but they’re far more multifarious. Traversing the wilderness as Homs felt like exploring home, but now I know that home really wanted me dead. How do you reconcile that? How does Satorl Marsh remain close to my heart when its deepest wish was to rip mine out? How do I even stay angry with Zanza, when he was god, and it was me who defied his will and plan? All that remains is yearning for the days before I knew this destiny.
Five years. It took half a decade for me to get here. I expected to gnash my teeth through this adventure, but I ended up spending 80 hours adoring it. Yes, it is now low-resolution by today’s standards. Yes, the anime trappings are everywhere (never play a drinking game with this if you plan on taking a shot after every time someone’s name is gasped, followed by ellipses). Yes, the pacing is all over the place. Yes, I’m in love with it, regardless.
Xenoblade is the most complicated game I have ever played. It’s hard for me to go very long without thinking about it now.