By bshirk 4 Comments
Twelve years ago, I stumbled upon a sci-fi RPG called Xenogears that featured anime character designs. As someone who had spent relatively little time with anime, this had little impact on my enjoyment of the game. What set Xenogears apart from most games I had played was its complex story and characters.
Being aware of Gundam, I knew that Xenogears’ use of giant robots wasn’t completely original, but I also wasn’t familiar with another of its inspirations: Neon Genesis Evangelion. This anime series was a major success in Japan, but not knowing any fans of the genre, it was completely off my radar.
When I began frequenting game websites and video-sharing abodes such as YouTube, I finally learned of Evangelion’s existence. On Xenogears videos and threads, I observed comments detailing their similarities – primarily, their use of giant robots and characters with inner struggles. Some posters even went as far as saying that Xenogears was a muddled Evangelion clone. Due to these claims, I eventually decided to purchase Evangelion. Despite not enjoying most anime I’d seen, I figured that I’d love it if the two truly had much in common.
After watching a few episodes, I quickly learned that the show was primarily about a boy’s inner struggles. There was the overarching plot of a world in chaos (due to a massive meteor strike) being further overrun by mysterious angels, which necessitated finding special children to pilot Evangelions (aka giant robots), but Shinji overcoming his fears and his feelings of abandonment by his father were at the forefront.
Evangelion featured giant robot battles and personal issues, but it didn’t feel as meaningful or exciting as Xenogears. For every rare moment of introspection, there were several juvenile scenes. Personally, I didn’t find them offensive, but they made it harder to take the show’s themes seriously.
Xenogears, on the other hand, was able to tackle touchy subjects such as imperialism and slavery as well as inner conflicts, because of its believable cast. Fei’s personality separation made sense because of the horrible experiments he was forced to endure and not knowing who his parents truly were. Elly having mixed feelings about Solaris was also reasonable, because it was the only home she’d known, but she also had seen the way lower-class citizens were treated at home and on the surface. Krelian’s loss of faith in humanity and God also made sense when his prayers weren’t answered and when he the resistance movement was betrayed due to the greed of a select few.
Evangelion’s fighting also felt purposeless. A select few children were fighting to save humanity, but it didn’t seem like the angels they were fighting had any reason for being there. The leaders of Solaris, on the other hand, had concrete goals, which they tackled with an elaborate plan. Xenogears’ dozens of characters all had motives for their actions, but I rarely got that impression from Evangelion’s cast.
The visual styles of Evangelion and Xenogears have a little more in common than their stories, characters, and themes. Both make use of giant robots and other science-fiction elements, but Evangelion occurs strictly in an urban environment, while Xenogears includes hamlets, deep sea caves, and aerial metropolises.
Xenogears’ gear and character designs are also more fantastical. Characters such as Grahf, Id, and Rico are clearly not meant to resemble contemporary humans, while Evangelion’s characters look more realistic. Of course gears and evangelions don’t exist, so they can’t be compared to modern weaponry, but Xenogears has an orchestra of distinct robots while Evangelion has a select few. Overall, I found Xenogears more visually appealing – likely due to its variety.
As for their musical scores, both have some memorable songs, but I’d say that Xenogears has the upper hand, once again. While Evangelion’s theme song stands out, Xenogears has tracks that perfectly suit each area. When you first set foot in Aveh, it feels like you’re in a lively Middle Eastern market. Likewise, you feel like a “man of the sea” when you patrol the deck of the Thames. As for Evangelion -- I couldn’t remember any of its music until I looked it up on Youtube.
So, do Evangelion and Xenogears have much in common? Not really – other than superficial differences. They both use giant robots and their protagonists’ inner struggles are important to their stories, but Xenogears has a lot more going on than Fei’s struggle to find himself. Both play to their mediums well, but Xenogears is ultimately the deeper experience.