Review by YSF

Reviewed: 06/20/00 | Updated: 12/16/02

Stand tall & shake the heavens!!!

Introduction

Xenogears almost never made it to the US shores because of its highly religious content. But special thanks to all Xenogears fans and the newly established Square Electronic Arts, or SquareEA, Xenogears finally saw its light in the US.

Xenogears had got everything that an RPG gamer expects- a dream that all RPG fans have been waiting for. It's hard to believe that such a game will come out after Final Fantasy VII. Xenogears is by far a near-perfect RPG that I have long been waiting for. It has deep, involving, thrilling storyline, excellent musical scores, fully 3-D detailed environments and finally, innovative gameplay and battle systems etc.

I once remembered a cartoon called Transformer which I had watched it when I was young. Since then, I have been dreaming of having gigantic robots in an RPG, and now the dream has come true. In Xenogears, there is a sophisticated form of robots who can be used for combat is known as gear. [Did anyone mention Gundam?] Okay, enough of the introduction. Let's go back to the main topic now!

Story

Xenogears has easily one of the best plots in any RPG gaming history and in my opinion, it nearly beats Final Fantasy VI, if not on par with Final Fantasy VI. Set in a futuristic era, a mysterious organisation is turning the tides of a century- long war with ancient technology, giant combat robots. Sounds cool, right?

A young man's troubled memories hold the secret to releasing an unimaginable power. Originally, he should be able to live peacefully in his village and witness his friends', Timothy and Alice wedding. The young man, Fei Fong Wong [Could it be Wong Fei Hong... Hahaha!!! Just a joke.] grew up together with Timothy and Alice in a small village. His life soon changed on a fateful day when a gear came into the village one day and a combat soon occurred. And, on that fateful day, it happened to be the wedding day of Timothy and Alice. Fei got into a mystery gear, even though he did not have any combat experience with gears. In the gear, Fei then unleashed his uncontrollable hidden power that lied within him, killing everyone in the village, even his best friends, Timothy and Alice.

What hidden power does Fei have? Who is Id? And, who is the one who bring Fei to the village? Is he the father of Fei? And, how is Bart going to retrieve his lost kingdom? [Hey, Bart, aim your missiles carefully. Don't shoot at the wrong people.] And, what is the relation between Elly and Mother Sophia? What happened 500 years ago? And, who is the god, Deus? And, what power lies in a gear?

It's hard to explain how excellent the story is within just a few sentences- an epic sci-fiction tale which can only be experienced until you have played it. Issues were addressed in a very mature way, just like Final Fantasy VI, whether it is about religion, betrayal, friendship, love, ancients, kingdom, spirit, depression, sacrifices or even nudity. [Yes, religion and nudity... I am not joking!!! It's real!!! This game has all the great elements that can deliver a strong and solid storyline!!!]

Instead of revealing anymore plot, I guess I will leave you to find it out on your own when you play it. And, I can strongly assure you that within 8 or slightly more hours, you will be totally hooked to the game, Your stomach will then start rumbling and you will suffer endless sleepless nights until you complete the game.

What is it about?

Xenogears is more of a mix between polygons and sprite-based. The environments and gears are in polygons while characters are in sprite-based and I have to say that they are quite well animated. Thanks god, the characters aren't deformed like Final Fantasy VII. Luckily, characters aren't polygonal, if not they may look like the deformed Final Fantasy VII characters. If that's the case, I couldn't imagine how the game would look like. And, visit Yaddrasil and take a look at your gears from different perspectives by talking to the crew there. [Don't forget that gears have cockpit also!] There's only one word to describe this and it's 'stunning'!

Animation and Voice-overs

To add on to that, Xenogears also features over 20 minutes of stunning hand-drawn animation. However, this isn't one of the key points that make Xenogears a masterpiece. The game will take you over 60 hours or perhaps even more and with just 20 minutes of animation, it seems like there are too few of it. The voices are quite good, but at times, crappy and annoying, and proves to be of very little use to the game. Anyhow, it's a good attempt for Square, don't you think so? [Square hasn't tried any animation or involved in voices before, right?]

Music

Composed by one of the best musician in Square, Yasunori Mitsuda has done a great job and his music talent has once again attained a higher level. With today's modern technology, many developers choose to pay strong emphasis on visual than audio. But, Xenogears has proved them wrong.

Music has increasingly become part of an important element in all games, especially RPGs, as it helps to bring out characterisation to an even more higher level. Sometimes, emotions cannot be expressed within just a few sentences, and through music, it enables us to 'communicate' further with our ears and put ourselves in the characters' shoes.

Needless to say, Xenogears' engaging soundtrack is definitely one of my favourites till today and in my opinion, the best for the PlayStation. Many of the tunes were my favourite and that includes tunes like Emotion, Into the Sky, Distant Promise, June Mermaid etc. Perhaps, the greatest success is probably the ending vocal song, Small Two of Pieces.

Lastly, remember to go and purchase the soundtracks. It's really marvellous and in my opinion, it is on par with Final Fantasy VI's music.

Combat

The combat system is definitely innovative and you get a chance to fight in gears form or just character itself. The use of sophisticated buttons to create attack combinations is something cool! For example, the Triangle button represents weak attack and uses up 1 AP; Square button represents medium attack and uses up 2AP; X button represents strong attack and uses up 3 AP. Each character can have a total of 7 AP, though you start out as 4 AP in the beginning. For example, to create a combination of 7AP, you press X, Triangle, X, which means 3 + 1 + 3= 7 AP. [And, do you know, Legend of Legaia expands this button concept?] The deathblows, or be more exactly are actually your special attacks, are quite devastating and can be learnt as the game progresses.

Tuning Gears

Gears can be tuned up as you buy new gear parts and accessories for your gear. The statistics are quite realistic too. For example, characters can have up to a maximum of 999 HP whereas gears can rise up to 30,000 HP or even more. Gears need fuel to function, just like vehicles and as for each attack you use, it will use up your fuel. Cool, right? Each time you perform an attack in gear form, fuel will be used up. Once the fuels get exhausted, your gear will not be able to function anymore. Therefore, it's important to conserve your fuel.

The 'ugly'

Sadly, the magic system and accessories seem way too much unbalanced. Firstly, during combat, we don't often let our characters use magic most of the time. As for gears accessories, I think that the concept can be further improved. For example, to recover a gear's HP, you need to equip an accessory called frameHP. When you use frameHP, a lot of the gear's fuel is being used up. This can be quite annoying. I guess Square should increase the number of accessory slots so that more accessory equipment can be equipped. Lastly, during the last battle, you only rely on gears to fight. Take note that it's not both gears and characters. Hence, there's no point training your individual character since most of the major and important fights, even the combat with the final boss too require gears. And, to win the fight, it's all a matter of whether you have tuned up your gears to the maximum. When it comes to tuning gears, money is a major factor to be considered. As a saying goes, 'no money no talk.' And, just to tell you, upgrading of gears is very costly.

Navigation

When I first played Final Fantasy VII, I was really amazed by the prerendered backgrounds. Every background was so beautifully drawn. Unfortunately, a complaint soon arose within me. Despite the beautiful prerendered backgrounds, I was really upset with the lack of freedom that the game provides. Why? The space for you to interact with the environment is very limited. In some areas, the camera is placed very far away, making the character seem so tiny. The environments look quite fake because when the Cloud starts to move, the camera doesn't.

Fortunately, Xenogears has everything that I have asked for. The detailed, fully-rotatable polygonal environments satisfy all the explorations that I need to make. A few people complain that the camera angles added a lot of frustrations to the game but I don't agree. Navigation is definitely not as bad as other reviewers have described. Yes, Xenogears does not support analog controller or vibrational function, but what's the big deal? Final Fantasy VII also does not have analog controller and vibrational function and it is still a success.

However, I do have some complaints with the control. First of all, I have to admit that I do prefer Highwind's controls more than Yaddrasil. And, sometimes, the controls can get really awkward. Other than that, everything lives up to the standard.

Conclusion

Xenogears is an extremely huge game, just like any other Square games, and will take you over 60 hours to complete. With an intriguing storyline, great musical score, detailed polygonal environments and an awesome gear combat system, Xenogears has the potential to be the best RPGs of 1998. Is 'Xenogears a 32-bit replica of Chrono Trigger'? Why replica? Besides Final Fantasy, we have the excellent 16-bit Chrono Trigger. So in the 32-bit era, we have Xenogears instead. Get what I mean?

My Personal Thought:

I know that many people have problems of following the plot as the plot is rather confusing; the navigation is quite difficult on a 3-D polygonal environment and you get lost easily. Furthermore, the text is too long and more like a novel! In my opinion, these three factors still do not hinder me from liking Xenogears. I guess the reasons are because I do enjoy reading the text and even the story is complex, I felt that it is a challenge trying to understand the plot. Also, I like exploration so the 3-D environments make me enjoy the game even more.

And, anyone who has played and truly liked Xenogears will definitely agree with me that Xenogears has a lot of potential and is worthy of a sequel, just like Chrono Trigger. Just think about it! The gear combat is nothing like you have never seen before. And, in my opinion, this is the beginning to open up gigantic robots in an RPG genre. Hmm... perhaps something like transformer for the next Xenogears sequel and five or more gears can combine to form one super powerful gear. Remember the elements? Something like that! How about two or more gears teaming up for an attack, much like Chrono Trigger's technique system but using these sophisticated buttons? [Just think about all the possibilities for the next sequel, and you will agree that Xenogears is a potential game. Maybe, I am dreaming......]

Never in my life have I experienced such 'emotions'. The possible exceptions are most likely Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. The various scenes in the game is still printed bold in my mind and the tunes kept humming in my mind. Occasionally, these scenes appeared nowhere in my dreams when I was sleeping. Do I need to say how great the game is now? To see is to almost believe. Only when you try it, you will then know. Xenogears is undoubtedly the best RPG in 1998. It's another classic RPG from Square.

Story : 10.0/10.0
Graphics : 9.5/10.0
Concept : 9.0/10.0
Control : 7.0/10.0
Music : 10.0/10.0
Sound : 10.0/10.0
Gameplay : 10.0/10.0
Replay : 10.0/10.0
Challenge : 10.0/10.0
Overall : 10.0/10.0

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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