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The main character of Saiyuki: Journey West is Sanzo, named after three libraries in India. While primarily portrayed as a man in the game, the player can choose whether Sanzo is male or female before the adventure starts. Gender has little effect on the story and only changes minor character interactions and dialogue. As a child, he was found floating down a river by the High Priest Homei of the Golden Temple. For sixteen years Sanzo worked around the temple until being contacted in a dream by a goddess named Kannon Bodhisattva and told to journey to Thunder Temple in India. It's revealed that the Emperor of China had a similar dream and sends a messenger to the Golden Temple to ask the monks to take on the journey. It is thought that this trip would restore peace to the land. Sanzo takes up the challenge, becomes a monk, and the game starts from there.


Sanzo is aligned with the element of life and plays the role of healer. He can equip other spells after buying scrolls from towns, but won't get the best use out of them if he doesn't have a good alignment with other elements. His weapon is a staff given to him by Lady Kannon. It cannot be upgraded in towns since it is a sacred artifact, and instead is powered up by collecting Guardians at certain points in the game. Guardians act like summons, granting Sanzo and his party different beneficial effects. Unlike Were transformations, Guardians can be used as long as Sanzo has enough MP.
Since Sanzo is the main character and narrator of the story, if he dies in battle it is an immediate game over.

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