We launch our inaugural King of Games 98 with a match-up of two contenders that upon first glance, have very little in common. One is a JRPG with an amnesiac character that touches upon themes of psychoanalysis, theology and Jungian archetypes. The other is the most comprehensive car encyclopedia and simulator released on consoles at the time. It is Xenogears v. Gran Turismo.
Here is the tale of the tape:
- Platform: PS1
- Release Date
- Japan: February 11, 1998
- North America: October 20, 1998
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Polys Entertainment (now Polyphony Digital)
- Director: Tetsuya Takahashi
- Composer: Yasunori Mitsuda
- Metacritic: 84
- Lifetime sales: 1.3 million
- Platform: PS1
- Release Date:
- Japan: December 23, 1997
- North America: May 8, 1998
- PAL: May 12, 1998
- Publisher: Squaresoft
- Developer: Square Product Development Division 3
- Producer: Kazunori Yamauchi
- Metacritic: 96
- Lifetime sales: 10.85 million
Despite first impressions, these games have a lot more in common than is readily apparent. As you will hear on the episode, the most significant is that these two games were labors of love from two very dedicated, ambitious and passionate creators. In the case of Xenogears, it was Tetsuya Takahashi and for Gran Turismo, it was Kazunori Yamauchi. These were games that demanded much of their developers, with grueling tales of development that make it amazing that they were eventually released at all.
Takahashi-san went to Squaresoft after starting his career at Nihon Falcom. He would eventually work on Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, at which point, he submitted the idea of Xenogears as Final Fantasy VII. This was turned down because of the dark themes of Xenogears, but the project was approved as a standalone game. That is an aspect that Takahashi-san would later look back upon with conflicting feelings, as he was an inexperienced team leader working with a team that was 90% constituted by “new kids who didn’t know the first thing about 3D.”1 The project was grueling for some of the team members, including composer, Yasunori Mitsuda, who collapsed from exhaustion after completing the music for Xenogears.2 One of the casualties of development was the controversial decision to tell the story in the second-half through montage sequences because the team ran out of time.
In the case of Gran Turismo, it is a game that took 5 years to develop, starting development way back in 1992, with its eventual Japanese release in late 1997. It was developed alongside Polyphony Digital’s other game, a cartoon kart racer titled Motor Toon Grand Prix, which sold well, and gave Sony the confidence to invest in Gran Turismo.3 According to Yamauchi-san, the development team “could not see the end.” He said: “I would wake up at work, go to sleep at work. It was getting cold, so I knew it must be winter. I estimate I was home only four days a year.” The hard work paid off, considering that Gran Turismo became the best selling game on the original Playstation and one of Sony’s flagship franchises.
Both of these creators have staked their reputation on these two franchises. In the case of Yamauchi-san, he continues to work on the Gran Turismo series, with the most recent release being Gran Turismo Sport, which Polyphony continues to support. He has also become an influential figure in the automotive industry, becoming a racer car driver himself that has raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and launching the Vision Gran Turismo project, through which auto manufacturers design the car of the future exclusively for Gran Turismo.
As for Takahashi-San, he left Squaresoft to form Monolith Soft, Inc. where he could work in bringing the Xeno vision to fruition. He partnered with Namco to publish the Xenosaga series on the PS2, which carried on the legacy established by Xenogears through a tangentially related story that focused heavily on themes of religion and philosophy. Eventually, Takahashi-san started work on the Xenoblade series, published by Nintendo and released on each Nintendo flagship console. The most recent release was Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which saw Takahashi-san collaborating once more with Yasunori Mitsuda, the legendary composer of the original Xenogears. The game was met with critical acclaim and a positive commercial reception, which probably means that the future of the Xeno series is ensured.
This was a fantastic match-up to start with, because it really brought the passion that these games called for, and it is a perfect illustration of how even games that may look disparate at first, have a lot more in common than the public thinks.