Culture 5 min read

Bioware's Mass Effect may Have Copied A Villain From the Xenosaga Series

Mass Effect 3 | Bioware | Electronic Arts

Mass Effect 3 | Bioware | Electronic Arts

This article is for the gamers. It explores the theory that the Mass Effect series from Bioware might have borrowed a concept from the video game series Xenosaga.

Mass Effect 3’s ending left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths.

Throughout the series, the player’s choices were supposed to amount to a drastically different ending sequence in the trilogy’s final installment.

Instead, decisions made during some 150 hours of average combined playing time amounted to what some critics call “the same ending with three different exploding color choices”. Fans felt betrayed for the lack of choice in a series that was all about “Creating your own story”.

Finding an ending for Shepard’s story couldn’t have been easy. Fans and the developers alike grew so attached to the story that any ending might have felt cheap or wrong.

But what if they just copied something from another game series?

This article contains major spoilers for the Mass Effect and Xenosaga series. You’ve been warned.

A Brief History of Both Series

The Xenosaga series serves as a spiritual successor to one-time hit Xenogears from 1998. While also being a sci-fi focused story like Mass Effect, Xenosaga features the same mechanical gears that Xenogears did.

The themes revolve around science and technology, religion, and philosophy. Notably, it features Christian biblical mythology and references to the works of both Carl Jung and Friedrich Nietzsche.

The first Xenosaga debuted in 2003 with following games released until 2006. The first Mass Effect came out in 2007 with the final act releasing in 2012.

Keep that timeline in mind as we discuss the next few things.

Meet the Original Galactic Reaper

Some of you reading this might recognize the character in the image above from the game series Xenosaga. Wilhelm, as he calls himself, has many names like “Lord Heinlein” or “Your Eminence.”

He is the CEO of a major industrial corporation in the Xenosaga universe. But he also wields immense power over humanity, preparing what is called the “Eternal Recurrence”.

This system supposedly puts the entire universe to a designated “reset” point. It prevents catastrophes like the collapse of the “Collective Unconscious” and a few other things.

But it functions as an “eternal cycle”, so Wilhelm can execute the cycle and “reset” all sentient life on his whim. He explains in the game that humanity ALWAYS reaches a point too violent.

There is also a consciousness known as U-DO that remains unaffected by the Eternal Recurrence. So it continues to learn and question why humanity always resorts to violence. It manifests to the characters in the video above as “Abel”.

Many also think that U-DO created the inexplicable force known as the Gnosis. These creatures assault every area of space, appearing randomly. They don’t seem to be intelligent, but slaughter anyone in their path.

So let’s compare this to three key factors of the Mass Effect universe: the Illusive Man, the Reapers, and the Starchild AI created by the Leviathans.

Notable Parallels With a Slight Shift

You might think that Wilhelm corresponds to Mass Effect’s Illusive Man, but that’s not the case. He is just a MacGuffin (just like he is in the game, as well).

Instead, Wilhelm corresponds to the Starchild AI pictured above. This sentient, inorganic life form performs the same task of “resetting” the universe every so often. That’s what the Reapers are for: wiping out all life in the universe except still underdeveloped lifeforms.

Then, the Reapers help cultivate those budding lifeforms into prosperous civilizations.

Of course, those civilizations continue to war with themselves and others. So, every 50,000 years, the Reapers repeat the cycle, killing all intelligent life.

But this wasn’t necessarily the Starchild AI’s original role.

The ancient civilization known as the Leviathans created the Starchild AI after dominating tons of species in the universe. The thralled species would always end up creating synthetic life to help the Leviathans.

However, this synthetic life would inevitably rebel, having gained consciousness beyond the thralled species. So the Leviathans created an AI to protect life, no matter the cost.

Long story short, the AI concluded that the Leviathans contributed to loss of life.

It created the Reapers in the Leviathans’ image to wipe out threats to life. This spawned the 50,000-year Reaper cycle that Shepard ends up breaking (or repeating).

Obvious Differences and a Transformers Tie-in

In the third Xenosaga game, the playable team stops the Eternal Recurrence. Wilhelm says the universe will eventually collapse which sounds similar to what the Starchild AI says.

Despite the similarities, you can see the obvious differences:

  • There is no “God” figure in Mass Effect, but an old, powerful civilization instead
  • U-DO (God) created the Gnosis where the Starchild AI creates the Reapers
  • There is no option in Xenosaga to merge organic and synthetic life as in Mass Effect

Though, in theory, that last concept might have been borrowed from Beast Machines from 2000. This Transformers offshoot saw the death of both Optimus Prime and Megatron for a united technorganic Cybertron.

But even if Bioware developers borrowed these ideas, they changed it to fit the Mass Effect universe appropriately.

And, as I discovered when I wrote this article, many science fictions concepts came about long before the advent of video games or cartoons.

Do you think Bioware took inspiration from the Xenosaga concept “Eternal Recurrence”?

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Juliet Childers

Content Specialist and EDGY OG with a (mostly) healthy obsession with video games. She covers Industry buzz including VR/AR, content marketing, cybersecurity, AI, and many more.

Comments (2)
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  1. C4 Gaming May 14 at 12:12 am GMT

    Thank you for the well written article with citations and video. However, if you keep looking, you will find this story retold with minor differences in many instances. There are several old sci-fi books, and other video games and even movies. Certainly not quite as common as “the Heroe’s Quest” but it is not rare or unique. You can even see the same flavor told in the movie The 5th Element.
    I look forward to reading more of you articles.

    • Juliet Childers May 14 at 4:21 pm GMT

      Thanks for the great comment! I definitely agree that this approach existed in literature long before games. I wanted to mention it here, but I figured that idea is, itself, another article!

      The comics and stories they based the movie Valerian on is what jumps to the forefront of my mind in terms of some of the earliest instances of now ubiquitous sci-fi stuff.

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