Providence and fate
Xenoblade Chronicles starts with one mystery in plain sight. The opening title screen shows the Monado planted into the ground against a vast open sky, posing the question where this view actually exists. The primary concept in in this game is the idea of the Bionis and Mechonis as literal gods, enormous bodies amassing many hundreds of thousands of miles forming both the physical basis of the world but also it’s metaphysical backbone. The view touted at the start of the game is improbable – even within the current contorted physics of the world, if this view is taken from the Bionis (as it should be judged by both the Mechon wreckage and the grass) then this view should point towards the Mechonis(1).
“No matter how many times I see this, I never get used to it.” – Reyn
The image of the two respective gods (as both worlds and gods alike) while awe inspiring are deeply natural to the residents of the Bionis, there is no fear, only humbling and profound respect for the being that encompasses their world. Many characters express a lack of certain lack of comprehension at the sight of the two silent and still gods locked in battle. Almost as if the view retains a small amount of disbelief, even for those that have listened to the legend of the two ancient foes or seen it in person(2).
In fact we as the player come to learn that the Mechon’s alternative version of the Bionis and Mechonis battle is closer to the truth. The whole narrative of the game has thus far relied on others recollection of what has happened. Indeed our understanding of the world comes from the prologue as Shulk begins to frame how the world was created how this lead to the war with the Mechon. We are led to believe that Mechons have started to attack the people of Bionis without provocation.
The larger battle in Xenoblade Chronicles then is the issue of doctrine, one god’s population striving against another with a mutual bias about the purity of their respective worlds. Both populations of Bionis and Mechonis misconstrue the other worlds evil intent, simply because of the distance that separates them.
When Shulk and his team managed to successfully unite the various Bionis races (by persuading Egil the would-be the leader of the Mechon forces) they do so by reverting this age-old bias, by realising there is a way for the people of Bionis and Mechonis to coexist.
The reintroduction of the character of Zanza(3) at this point changes the focus of the game from one of titan versus titan struggle to a battle over providence and fate. Zanza’s desires over the free will over the beings he has created.
“There is no world without a god. This world belongs to me.” – Zanza
A world with two gods – Bionis and Mechonis
This becomes the focus of the latter of the game; Zanza attempting to force his will against the population of both worlds (by attempting to kill the entire population of the Bionis, and thus returning their bodies to the Bionis) to start the process of the world over. This is a process that presumably he has done thousands of times before(4). The Bionis and Mechonis become a literal representation of the presence of gods, their population living on each of them unafraid, but quietly appreciative of their god’s tolerance as they live on top of them.
Zanza created the form of the Bionis as an allusion to divinity, but his polar opposite came into being at the same time to remind him of humanities accomplishments and creations. In ancient times many things were attributed to the work of god or gods. The machina and Mechonis presence troubles Zanza, reminding him of the fallibility of his idea.
“It is the light of life, the will to survive no matter what.” – Vanea
The human form is the first thing that people look out for in the randomness of nature, it’s not surprising then that it was this image that was plucked from the mind of Zanza when Xenoblade Chronicles universe was created. We are told that the Bionis and Mechonis are stood in the middle of a endless and empty sea in all directions. We later discover that both gods climbed out of the water one day, and simply were(5). Even their names are clumsy, an obvious allusion to the biological premise of one god and the mechanical basis of the other. It is interesting then that the Mechonis’ spirit is actually female. The mother of this universe is not the creator, but has a basis in machinery, robotics and science. The Mechonis (a form chosen by Lady Meyneth) is a call for reason, and Lady Meyneth does this by doubting the stability of the current world.
“This world belongs to you all. Create a world with no need for Gods.” – Lady Meyneth
The population of the Bionis on the other hand, have a child-like innocence when it comes to the world and technology in general. Only the High Entia have achievable desire to see the Bionis and Mechonis from above, in turn they desire to see the rest of the conceivable world and the endless sea. To the Homs though, there is little merit is doubting the existence or power of a god. Anytime they begin to doubt the existence of their maker, all they need to do is stand and look out at their horizon for a literal reminder of a god’s power. The High Entia desire to see more than that legend and tthis natural curiosity is bolstered by Meyneth’s request, only to be stamped out by Zanza and his disciples.
“It’s time to learn your place.” – Dickson
The micro and the macro
One of the main ways that Xenoblade manages to impose a sense of divinity impacting on the game world, is through the sense of scale of the world. The very best example of this aspect comes halfway through the game.
Sword Valley is meant to be the area where the legendary battle happened. The intention was to send the Mechons back to where they came from. The name alludes to a battle ground, but is also a literal valley of the sword, branched between the two enormous beings. When you visit Sword Valley the player is walking along the blade between the two gods. This impressive moment is also the first time you are able to see the Bionis form properly.
This action alludes to the strange sensations of out of body experiences, leading to a very surreal moment in the game’s narrative. This is a deliberate plot point designed to disorientate the player, to encourage them to think hard about the place of the Bionis and Mechonis in the games universe(6). To ponder what has been shared to you about the facts of the world in more detail, and in turn to question the story about the ancient battle and the in-game characters part in it.
This movement between the world the gods present and the actions of their inhabitants is perhaps best shown by the way the team discovers new locales by you being shown where on the Bionis or Mechonis you are. So you can embrace the incredible view presented to you while also appreciating that is merely part of a larger picture.
The exterior of the Bionis is natural in description contrasted with impossible physics(7) and views that serve as a constant reminder that where you stand is a direct challenge to what we as the audience would consider to be natural. The Mechonis on the other hand is literally drawn from the mind of Meyneth. The inside of the Mechonis is well-realised, practical, and alive with machinery, somehow it seems more tangible, while not as beautiful, it is certainly another reminder that all is not as it seems.
“It’s difficult to believe that two such huge things ever fought each other.” – Shulk
We are told in the introduction that nothing else exists in the universe but an endless ocean. This may be true of course, but this is an obvious tie to old philosophy of the world, where people believed that the Earth was the center of the known universe, or a flat disc that should not be explored unless you wanted to fall of the edge of the world. Xenoblade Chronicles has great fun with this premise. It is of course perfectly possible for your character to fall off the Bionis, not only that, but it’s possible for you to see the previous locations you have visited from further up the Bionis(8).
The ending – a world without gods
Despite the compelling twist that is coming up, it is the return to Prison Island that provides the first glimpse that this world is not as it seems. The whole island sinks into the water behind the Bionis head(9), turning the sky a furious red colour. The final position of the island is deliberately kept a mystery, the more important notion here is the idea of the sun setting on Zanza’s omnipotent rule, indicated by a key scene prior to his confrontation with Shulk where it is unable to see what it about to happen for the first time.
“Why? Why can I not see any further?” – Zanza
In turn this is where the unfolding of the game world begins. Shulk and his party are taken to space, placed literally in the orbit of the planet Saturn and left to ponder where they are. To the audience the resonance of this action is immediate – this is the moment you realise that the game is set in the game galaxy as our own, that the idea of the Bionis and Mechonis is a false reality born from the mind of Zanza. The team explores this alien emulation of space following a light path and through gates to other planets.
Interestingly the second planet you orbit is Jupiter, a neat little nod to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the second monolith(10) discovered by man in that movie was located at this point. The central idea of that movie is the idea of tools enabling man to accomplish great deeds, to separate them intelligently from other creatures. This is a theme that is repeated in subsequent conversations with Zanza. Except in the narrative of Xenoblade Chronicles has perpetuated the idea of the homs, and of all humanoid forms merely being tools of the Bionis and Zanza in turn.
“As I planned, the life of Bionis existed simply to serve as my vessels and my food. Bionis is nothing more than an accumulation of their corpses and life energy.” – Zanza
There are glimpses though of a world that moves away from this notion. In the space emulation leading up to Zanza, Shulk and his team are shown Earth from a distance. They describe this beautiful and compelling planet in the only words they can use to summarise what they are seeing.
“Is that a ball of water?” – Shulk
This is another hint that there is more to Zanza than he lets on.
“This is the providence(11) of the world. Even gods are merely beings restricted to the limited power provided by providence. ” – Alvis
The neatest principle behind the themes in Xenoblade’s final quarter are that of vessels, the idea that all races on Bionis were created as walking sources of energy to the larger body comprising their world. Both the Bionis and Mechonis then are larger vessels for one man’s manipulative posturing. The human form of Zanza was born from this method too, using the form of Shulk to reunite him with a physical form.
Lady Meyneth also adopted this dark method to reincarnate herself in a new image. Meyneth’s request – a world with no need for god’s – is another clue to the secret of Xenoblade’s narrative. This isn’t an impossible statement, this is merely a hope to redress the balance back to the reasoned and evolved world that existing before Zanza’s arrogant, but ultimately very human meddling.
We learn through this discourse in space what Zanza never wanted us to learn. That he himself was human once, fallible, and ultimately responsible for the state of the world now. It has become easier for him to pull apart what he has created each time the world falls out of balance too far, than to simply attempt to admit or remember what he once was, and once did.
“So this is the arrogance of a creator.” – Dunban
The space that Shulk and his party wanders around we realise, as they are mysteriously held upright by a network of lights, and a pulse beam, is nothing but an emulation. A computer simulation of the past showing them the origins of Zanza’s actions upon the universe. His profane meddling through misguided science that caused our world – our galaxy and every person on Earth to be blinked out as his new humanoid planet was born.
“We are about to bear witness to the birth of a universe. Once, only a god could perform such a miracle. But today, mankind moves one step closer to the divine!” –Klaus
Two vast beings climb out of an endless ocean and simply are. One is guided by Klaus’s (now Zanza’s) influence, fresh from the experiment that forged the two giants of legend, the other is Meyneth, her human name unknown, pulled into the depraved illusion as she attempted to stop Klaus from pressing the button that would unwind the galaxy.
“The results have not been confirmed! It’s too dangerous!” – Meyneth
We learn this from Alvis. A character who disappears and reappears in the story on a whim. He is an obvious influence to the High Entia king as a Seer(12), and we learn in time as a link to Zanza also as one of his three disciples.
“It is Zanza. Before he became a god. When he was simply a man of flesh and blood.” –Alvis
Alvis is deliberately coy about his importance in the narrative though, seemingly unwilling to take sides throughout the game – despite revealing his alliance with the main antagonist, he merely exists as a silent guide, coaxing Shulk down a path he eventually follows independently anyway.
A question of free will
It is probable then, that all three Monados(13) while being the physical essences of gods are simply a physical embodiment of one persons free will over the world of Xenoblade. Zanza uses his to firstly forge the world, and then dominate it with the weapon of legend, both by attacking the Mechonis and creating the legend of the battle in turn. Lady Meyneth uses hers to improve and flourish life on Mechonis, making a freer and more open relationship with her creations as they worship her. She spends most of her lifeforce and Monado power to keep her Mechons safe from the will of Zanza for as long as she is able.
“This world belongs to you all. Create a world with no need for gods.” – Lady Meyneth
Shulk’s true monado then is the most compelling. During the final battle against Zanza, when all odds are stacked against Shulk and his team, he suddenly gains recognition of the power of an individual, no longer feeling threatened or belittled by Zanza’s presence, his Monado appears revealing a final weakness in Klaus’ illusion.
““Every living thing has the freedom to choose the path they walk.” – Fiora
Alvis explains his relation to Zanza as he is defeated, Alvis’ narration here speaks of the highly advanced world before the two giants, a world of science and technology, and the story of one man who tinkered with the order of the universe as if he was a god. Alvis remembers Earth before it was destroyed by Klaus’ experiment, as he was the computer custodian of Klaus’ work – the AI which enacted his will – the being who truly held the power to change the makeup and matter of the world. Realising that this information is too much for Shulk to understand given what he understands about the world, Alvis describes himself in the mystical and the magical – a Monado – a spiritual form that actioned Klaus free will.
“I am the administrative computer of a phase transition experiment facility. But that will mean little to you. To you, I am a machine. That is my original form.” –Alvis
He offers Shulk the same opportunity, to take on the mantle of a god and create a new world, as they watch a replay from thousands of years ago, as he watches Zanza and Meyneth’s, enormous vessels pull themselves out of the sea all those thousands of years ago. Shulk refuses, choosing instead to restore the world back to how it was before Klaus’ meddling – only with all the creatures and beings that existed on Bionis and Mechonis, conjoined with what was there before.
“Shulk. his new world is boundless. It is home not only to you, but many forms of life. I can see it. In this world, all life will walk towards the future hand in hand.” –Alvis
A tiny detail is noticed by Reyn that shows that the world is back as it once was – the ocean water is now salty. The new residents begin to rebuild Colony 9 at the end of a new and unrecognisable coastline. The broken form of the Bionis lies toppled on the horizon(14) as the only reminder of the calamity that happened before.
(1) As is the case on the games main box art. Even when the Mechonis is destroyed in the latter part of the game, it’s shattered body is still clearly visible on the horizon for miles around. Although the view might be accomplished by looking away from the Mechonis, no place exists on the back of the Bionis (in the finished game at least) where you can accomplish this. This “intro video view” can be replicated on the hill just before Bionis Leg – but the Mechonis is present here too. Back to text
(2) We learn near the end of the game that the Mechons who inhabit the Mechonis can live for several thousands of years. Many of the oldest Mechons could remember the battle between the Bionis and Mechonis without needing to rely on story passed down from generation to generation. Their story is recorded at the computer terminal in Agniratha (the Mechon capital housed in the head of Mechonis). Shulk and his Bionis-based party accesses to hear the corresponding ancient battle from the Mechon perspective. Back to text
(3) Zanza was initially revealed to be a member of a race of Giants. In fact Zanza had merely taken on the form of Arglas, a leading character of the original Bionis population who was close to Egil. This proved to be a devious way to destroy relations between Mechonis and Bionis. Arglas is entirely innocent of Zanza’s crimes was but imprisoned at Prison Island by the High Entia. We later find out that Zanza in his true form looks like Shulk. Back to text
(4) Although what we learn at the end of the game undermines what Zanza tells us entirely, he is not a trustworthy source of the history of the universe given the fact he has forgotten his own past. It is probable that he merely remembers incorrectly, when the Bionis and Mechonis have only existed once, appearing instantly after the implosion of the galaxy. Back to text
(5) We observe this process retrospectively at the end of the game. Back to text
(6) The game’s scenario writer Yuichiro Takeda describes this as “contrasting the realms of the micro and the macro”. Back to text
(7) You clearly see an ocean above you when you visit the massive tree that houses Frontier Village. This vista in particular smacks of a “make-believe” world. Back to text
(8) Colony 9 is visible from Colony 6, as simply a neat little circle on the back of the Bionis’ heel. The severed Mechonis hand is visible from the Bionis Leg. Back to text
(9) Given what we’ve been told about the game world thus far, this would place the final location of the island as if it were lodged between Eryth Sea and Makna Forest. Back to text
(10) It can’t be a coincidence that the developer of the game is named, and perhaps takes its logo from Kubrick’s defining science fiction epic. Back to text
(11)The word “providence” is Latin in origin, meaning literally “to see ahead”. Back to text
(12) A Seer can see and influence the future, in much the same way that Shulk is able to with the Monado. We never really learn how Alvis is able to do this until the very end, but he shares this unique ability with only two others, Shulk and Zanza. Back to text
(13) The titular Monado from the game cover which was forged from Zanza’s free will over the known world. Lady Meyneth’s own is revealed when she fights Zanza, and Shulk’s second Monado created by his desire not to let Zanza have his own way with the world and it’s population. Back to text
(14) I do wonder what stories will be told about this simple landmass in years to come. The old battle legend got completely distorted by the Homs and High Entia in time. Historically, many races of people used to believe that mountains were sacred (Such as Mount Olympus and Mount Etna) it was the only explanation they had to describe the presence of those places at the time – that they were the home of the gods. Other ancient civilisations believed that features such as mountains were the vestiges of old, ancient beings, who had laid down and simply ceased to be. Back to text