Review by JShertzer

Reviewed: 11/01/99 | Updated: 04/26/01

A superb game harboring a few qualms

Before purchasing this game, I had only played the demo and read a couple of online reviews. The demo had me intrigued, and the reviews seemed overall positive, so I decided to pick it up. I must say that I am glad I did; Xenogears is one of my favorite RPGs of all time now.

Graphics
This is not Xenogears’ best category. All the backgrounds are rendered in 3D, which can be good and bad. The feeling that you are actually there, running around in the imaginative world of Xenogears is conveyed very well. However, close-ups of buildings present low detail, and the ever-persistent camera angle problem does present itself at times – although most of the time it’s fine, whenever running through small, complex areas, you character can occasionally get lost when viewing at certain angles. All the characters are sprites, but not the nice, crisp character sprites from Final Fantasy Tactics – because this is a 3D world, the sprites need to be scaled quite often, which results in some atrocious close-ups (reminiscent of the Super FX chip close-ups on the SNES). You get used to it after a while, however. The graphics in combat are done well, using sprites for characters/character-sized monsters and polygons for Gears/Gear-sized monsters. Spells use the same cool 2D effects as Final Fantasy Tactics, which look pretty neat. The FMV in Xenogears is well done, using mostly anime cutscenes every once in a while. They do not appear all the time like in Lunar, but they are a welcome treat when they do appear and are high quality.

Sound
Be prepared for exactly what you would expect from a Squaresoft RPG – great music, passable sound effects. The music quality is not quite as high as the near-live symphonic tracks from Final Fantasy Tactics, yet is a step higher than the MIDIesque tunes of Final Fantasy VII. Several tracks from Xenogears include background vocals, and the ending credits song is beautifully done by a female vocalist (a la Metal Gear Solid, only it’s in English). The battle theme gets repetitive, but what RPG’s battle theme doesn’t? Overall, the music is great, and the soundtrack would be a great buy (it fills two entire CDs). The sound effects are nothing to write home about, they just simply get the job done. Sometimes you feel like you’re in a kung-fu movie (with the main character always saying “hu! ha! hoiya! ya!” as he attacks) but as far as everything else goes, the effects are average.

Control
The control system in Xenogears is quite different from other games. The biggest difference you see right away is that you can jump. My first reaction after playing the demo was “Oh no! Squaresoft made a lame Action-RPG! (...can anyone say Ehrgeiz Quest Mode?)”, but you only really need to heavily practice this skill in one area of the game. In most other areas, you can almost ignore the jump button. The game uses the directional pad (no analog support...) and is quite responsive. You can use the L1/R1 buttons to easily change camera views, from eight different angles altogether (some areas restrict you to viewing from a certain angle, but that doesn’t happen often and happens for a reason). In battle, you use the triangle, square, and X buttons to do three different strengths of attacks, Similar to many fighting games. You have so many points to use per turn on your attacks (triangle, 1 point, square, 2 points, X, 3 points), and you can use button combos to perform “Deathblows” during battle. The amount of points you can use goes up as you get stronger.

Plot
Xenogears’ plot is what makes this game. If one aspect of the game can be placed on a pedestal above all other aspects, plot would be it. This is also what breaks the game for some, too – Xenogears is not for everybody. If you play RPGs just for the fighting and don’t care about the plot, this game is not for you. In Xenogears, you are almost playing an interactive novel. Actual fighting sequences are placed in between long plot sequences. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of fighting, but the amount of times you watch the story unfold is immense. The plot makes you want to keep going on, just to find out what happens to the characters next. You don’t know the whole story right up until the end of the game, so there’s always mysteries abound. Be prepared for plot twists, deceits, and other fun suprises along the way. If you are tired of the “rescue the princess, save the kingdom” plots, then Xenogears will be a welcome change. Despite what some say, too, the plot is not as hard to follow along as it was in Final Fantasy Tactics. You find yourself hating some characters, and feeling empathy for others.

Gameplay
The unique fighting system in Xenogears keeps this game fresh and apart from others. As was described briefly in the Control section, as you practice various combinations of buttons, you can learn Deathblow combos, which unleashes a flurry of attacks on the enemy, often inflicting many times the amount of damage that regular attacks would. Magic is learned by gaining levels, as it is in most other RPGs. Because of the unique Deathblow system, magic is not used quite as often as it is in other RPGs (or at least I didn’t want to use it as much). Fighting as characters is basically normal (Fight, Defend, Run, Item, Magic – although it’s not simply called “magic” in Xenogears), but fighting as Gears is different. Gears are 60 foot, human-controlled robots that fight with martial arts or weapons. Gears have a certain amount of fuel (which can be upgraded, as well as armor and hit points) to spend on attacks; the stronger the attack, the more fuel consumed. As you character learns new Deathblow skills, his or her Gear can learn new combos, too. Gears can also engage boosters for added speed at the cost of increased fuel use. The styles of combat are similar enough to easily transition from one to the other, but complex enough that you’ll need different strategies when fighting as characters and Gears. Some areas of the game you can fight only as your character, some you need your gear, and others you can use either. It’s fun fighting little character-sized monsters in your huge Gears, as you can easily step on them and kill them instantly. Just don’t get caught the other way around – you on foot, fighting gigantic Gear-sized monsters.

Replay Value
Replay value is the other downside to Xenogears. The casual gamer will probably only want to play it through once, and the RPG fanatic (like me) will want to play it through twice, so you can make sense of the earlier plot scenes that that made absolutely no sense earlier. Because of the daunting size of this game (it took me 65 hours to complete), and the length of the plot sequences, many won’t want to play it through again. There just isn’t enough action in the game to keep you going back, again and again. That is the only problem when you place the plot as the main driving force for going through the game, as opposed to action. However, this game is just TOO large to merely rent – to enjoy all there is to offer in Xenogears, time must be spent playing it. I would definitely recommend purchasing this game.

Overall, I truly enjoyed playing this RPG. Never have I played a game that had such an intense plot, and great action sequences too. The plot maybe too intense for some, the game too long for some, and the graphics to rudimentary for some, but for those of us who appreciate thought put into a game, Xenogears is a welcome treat.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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