Review by Von_Fred54
The REAL reason Xenogears is so great.
To begin with, you need to understand that Xenogears was developed at the same time as FFVII, so expect a noticeable lack of fundings. ALSO, this game almost didn't make it to North America, and NEVER made it to Europe (due to religious disputes) and that at times, it doesn't even feel like a video game. We have to understand that the Japanese tend to be very artistic, meaningful and are extremely creative and innovative. The story revolves around "God exploiting Humans". Basically machines in the age of religion supremacy. It is ultimately tied together with a lot of Renaissance architecture and art and a bit of a 'Middle-Eastern' feel to it.
As mentioned above, FFVII hogged a big chunk of Square's budget at the time and Xenogears falls victim. The graphics are mediocre and pixelated (taken advantage of, will explain below). Through imagination and fantastic cinematography it redeems itself grandly. For example, in bigger budget RPGs, dialogue cut-scenes will be in motion, "pretty" things fill the screen to give you a more dynamic and graphical experience. In the case of Xenogears, you will often engage in a 10+ minutes dialogue with only ONE great background accompanied by one or two clever camera angle shifts. Each dialogue scene is like looking at a painting for an extended period of time. This leaves the gamer no choice but to REALLY pay attention to the story.
What I meant by the poor pixelated graphics are taken advantage of is, if you have an artistic eye, you will sometimes notice that all those massive pixels can give you the feel that you're looking at a abstract painting, like Vincent van Gogh's ''The Starry Night''.
The soundtrack makes up for a LOT of an RPG experience, and this one drives it home. The Xeno-Dev team turned to Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross) to whip up an extremely emotional musical score. What separates Xenogears from other RPGs, is sometime the complete absence of music (which is good in this case!). What this does is that it creates a mysterious and deeper feel for the scene more so than if appropriate music was playing (which is often too blatant). A good example is in the Stalactite Cave. There is NO music. All you hear is the echoed sound of falling water drops, and then POW! you're in a fight. This reminds me so much of how Stanley Kubrick uses music in his films. Remember The Shining, when the days appeared on screen (Tuesday, Thursday...) The music is gently building up and then BANG! It's Thursday. (Or whatever day). If you understand and appreciate this remark, then you will love how the music is used in this game.
Xenogears is composed of the usual RPG "recipe" that Squaresoft mastered over the years. This means that you have your usual open world map to discover, various vehicles to obtain, side-quests, level grinding and all that good stuff. Again, what makes the experience so unique is the use of a fully rotatable camera and that your characters can jump. This takes puzzle-solving, dungeon traveling and city exploring to new heights. Rare treasures are found by manipulating the camera to get a better perspective. Dungeons might have multiple paths to take, while the shorter path can only be noticed by rotating the camera around.
The fighting is a mix of martial arts and giant robots "Gears". The characters learn hand-to-hand combos and magic spells by leveling up, while the Gear's attributes have to be tuned-up by purchasing parts at a mechanic shop.
SO WHY IS XENOGEARS SUCH AN EPIC RPG?:
Firstly it's because it was ahead of it's time (it still is). It is very abstract in the way that it's more like reading a book than playing a video game. The story deals with themes rarely ever discussed (Science vs. Religion) you will see engineering references such as 'physics' and 'fluid mechanics' and many religious references such as 'Cain and Abel', 'God', 'The tower of Babel. The use of its powerful music (or sometimes its complete absence of music) greatly enhance the scene's emotions. Its lack of quality graphics are substituted for fantastic cinematography and artistic use of camera angles.
This game is NOT for everyone who likes RPGs, but for the more patient and artistic individuals who are looking for a "risky" type of RPG. I for some reason always thought that if you enjoyed (I mean really enjoyed) 2001: A Space Odyssey for it's slow yet intriguing pace, it's use of powerful music, or its absence of music for long periods of time, a story that "doesn't wait for you" (it requires you to view it again and again to furthermore enjoy its complexity) then you will absolutely love this epic tale.
Cheers to the people who understood my review and WHY Xenogears is such an epic experience.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Xenogears (US, 10/20/98)
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