Review by Renatus
A unique gaming experience that has something for everyone.
I would like to start this review out by stating something quiet simply: There is only one other game which has received a 10/10 in my opinion booklet: Final Fantasy 8. Other RPGs have come close, such as Xenosaga Episode I and Final Fantasy X, among others. However, this is not going to be a completely biased review; this is merely a review from the perspective of a person who enjoys the concepts addressed in Xenogears' storyline, as well as the style of gameplay and music within this gaming experience. Furthermore, I am breaking out my traditional rating system, despite the fact that I'm giving this game a ten out of ten. Finally, let me address that I played this game with an open mind, not knowing what to expect, except for some parallel themes from Xenosaga: Episode I, which I played about six months beforehand. Finally, this is going to be a long review, so brace yourselves. With that out of the way, it is time to dive into the review.
Xenogears is a science fiction/fantasy tale with religious, philosophical, and innovative plot devices, which, when combined with the futuristic, yet occasionally humble theme of the world, provides a vivid experience that has something for anyone. As a matter of fact, the game has action, drama and angst, violence, horror, romance, jargon, religion, racism, philosophy, manipulation, machina, comedy; the whole nine yards. However, I'm starting to dive into the storyline; this is merely an introduction. Therefore, I think it's best to begin with the storyline aspect of the game.
Like I said, Xenogears has a storyline which includes action, drama and angst, violence, horror, romance, jargon, religion, racism, philosophy, manipulation, machina, comedy; the whole nine yards. As a matter of fact, the manner in which the storyline is presented (complexity, with flashbacks, confusing jargon-or terms- for the first half of the game, which combine to form a mysterious tale for much of the first disk, with the answers developed and solved in the second disk at a steady pace) has influenced my writing skills significantly. In addition, the same plot delivery can be seen in the Xenosaga series, which may or may not be a prequel series to this game. As one can tell, I enjoy this method of plot delivery, especially with a story as philosophical and complex as Xenogears. However, the storyline delivery may not be for everyone, for the goals of the characters may be confusing from time to time. In other words, it is realistic, for there is not a set goal at all times, especially during the first disk. That is another piece of what makes Xenogears' storyline unique.
Fei Fong Wong is a young man who has a cloudy past and a soon-to-be hectic future, like many typical RPG characters. However, the development of his adventure is told in an unprecedented and unparalleled way, which adds innovation to a somewhat typical plot device. The playable characters who are drawn to Fei are often enigmatic at first, although the story usually devotes a section of the game to each character for development and significance. He or she is put into the spotlight for a set period of time, where he or she will aid Fei, among other things. In other words, no main character is thrown into the game as a minor plot device; every single character contributes to the story development. Final Fantasy Six, Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy Seven attempted to do this, with mild success. However, Squaresoft combined the character development ideas (diverse cast from Six, lively cast from Trigger, and development in relation to the plot in seven) into the melting pot. Xenogears' character development (even the storyline) is the result of years of trial and error by Squaresoft and assorted anime series.
I have hit the nail on the head for the basics on the storyline; however, there is much more to discuss. If you do not enjoy long storylines, and you prefer a much more simple story, then I recommend playing Chrono Trigger. As a matter of fact, the high quality of the cast in Xenogears is like Chrono Trigger on steroids, with a complicated storyline to boot. After all, many of the writers and designers from Chrono Trigger worked on Xenogears. Furthermore, none of the characters are evil; everyone has their own motives, which are very understandable, logical, and help add innovation to the storyline and aid in drawing out the themes used in the tale.
Now it is time to discuss the various themes in the storyline. The futuristic themes are simple to pick up: characters use Gears (mechs) for use in battle, as well as other hi-tech items. Everything, even the style of "scientific magic" used (ether), to the formation of the world, are explained in the story. There is a lot of jargon that has to be "decoded," so be wary of that. In addition to jargon, expect to see a lot of religious references, especially in names and concepts. This is a primary reason as to why Xenogears was almost banned in the United States. However, with religion also comes logical philosophy and manipulation that resemble some historical instances. One could easily compare Nazi Germany and Solaris, although one is evil and the other is not exactly evil. However, this is not a plot analysis. I am just trying to make one understand the style of storyline and concepts present: it is up to you to determine whether or not this game sounds like the type for you.
Normally, when we gain in story we lose in gameplay, but I love the gameplay in Xenogears. It is extremely innovative, even moreso than the latest Final Fantasy or Ogre Battle games.
Players can fight on foot using combination attacks, or combat in their gears. Character battles are low-scale: damage, stats, and HP are about one tenth of those seen on the Gear level, for both enemies and protagonists. On foot, you input a number of combination attacks based on the amount of AP at your disposal: weak attacks consume 1 AP, medium attacks 2 AP, and strong attacks 3 AP. As you use different combinations, you gain access to deathblows. When a certain combination of attacks are used (I.E. Weak, Weak, Strong) you may use that special attack for severe damage. Furthermore, you may consume AP to release a chain of deathblow combos. Also, "Ether" magic, special attacks, defense, and items are available. Escape is also an option, which is good, considering the length of some of the game's dungeons (the final dungeon of Disk One is quite possibly the longest Squaresoft dungeon since the SNES days). Some characters fight with weapons; some fight with martial arts. Heck, some characters even use old fashioned guns, which can be equipped with a vast array of bullets.
Items in this game are numerous. There are plenty of gear parts, which can be equipped for effects ranging from boosted defense, to protection against fuel leakage. Even character accessories are unique: some enhance defense, some enhance speed, some even enhance the probability of obtaining rare items. Of course, there are the traditional stat-boosting items, as well as performance-enhancing stims.
There are many other little tidbits to the battle system. For example, when a character dies, he or she is revived with one (1) HP after the battle. EXP is shared, and it must also be noted that the EXP curve is quite high for an RPG, meaning that you may gain 4 levels in one dungeon, and 1 in the next. As already noted, levels only influence character battles (stats and deathblows mainly); the gear system is strictly determined by equipped parts. Speaking of gears and deathblows, it must also be noted that the special attacks that a gear can use at certain attack levels are dictated by what deathblows the character has learned on foot. Finally, money (in the form of G) is used and is in high availability. The gameplay is diverse and features a spoonful of everything. It is the minor details of the system, when combined, that give it a unique flavor.
Gear battles are much more "epic" and "largescale." Some gears have as high as 30,400 HP, and can do over 9999 damage. Therefore, some enemies have as much as 50,000 HP. Compare this to a mere 6666 HP for one of the final character battles in the game. However, gear attacks revolve around fuel consumption. Gears have to be refueled by either charging in battle or finding a repair shop/gear, such as Shopkeep Johnny or Hammer. Gears are upgraded via parts, and they have a key role in the game's storyline: much like Materia in FF7, and GFs in FF8. The duel battle systems provide for a...unique gaming experience. However, the encounter rates are somewhat high, and some battles are not balanced correctly (I.E. a 4000 HP enemy in the final dungeon of Disk One only gives 2,900 HP and a fairly high attack, when by that time, the player is around LV 65...and it takes 130,000 EXP to level up by that point!). Thankfully, after the initial 40 hours, leveling up is obsolete: it only affects character battles.
Overall, the gameplay in Xenogears is creative, diverse, and fairly unique.
One of my favorite musical tracks, Xenogears features a typical space-opera classical track. However, it has to be the best soundtrack up to it's point, for it involved much less "cheesy keyboards" featured in games like FF7. Instead, we hear classical arrangements, with the occasional synth and childish theme. I recommend listening to the final boss theme, "Awakening," and any of the other boss/action themes. "One Who Bears Fangs at God" is also a fitting track for the mood. My only beef is that the soundtrack features some cringe-worthy songs which use too much of that typical "kiddie-anime" theme music, like the Chu Chu theme music.
The sounds are fine, although I will admit: the /main/ reason I docked a point off of Music/Sound was because of the fact that some of the sounds are a bit cheesy. The alarms and explosions are a bit awkward, but the fighting sound effects, as well as the character grunts, are fitting.
The controls are excellent; analog control is allowed, and the rotating camera provides a nice contrast to the 3D environments. The "Jump" command is a nice feature, but it may grow tedius as the jumping games ensue. Think of the power plant stage of The Phantom Menace, and you have Xenogears jumping games in a nutshell. Nevertheless, it breaks the exploration factor wide open. Battle controls are responsive and perfectly fine. The menu is also easy to navigate.
Xenogears is one of the first Square RPGs to have 3D environments, and not pre-rendered backgrounds. The graphics give Xenogears the feel of Final Fantasy tactics, with more detail. Characters are also displayed as sprites, which may take some time to get used to. The sprites may appear a bit sluggish, especially on a close up screen or a long distance screen (I.E. Gear hangar). For the time, the graphics were good. The anime sequences and FMV featured in this game are top of the line, so they balance out the semi-mediocre character sprites. It's a nice change from the blocky FF7 graphics, and a great bridge to the wonderful FF8 graphics. Decent work, Square. The mood and themes are present in this game, especially with the lively cities of 40+ NPCs. Indeed, cities are extremely large in this game, so there is nothing disappointing about that. Dungeons are also long and detailed, and feature decent puzzles. I'll say it again: decent work, Square. A- graphics in my book. Considering how dated and blocky they look as of now, this is a fair score, for the positives outweigh the negatives considerably.
The game does not take too much challenge, although some bosses are difficult. Nevertheless, you shouldn't have too much trouble. There are only about 5-6 difficult bosses on the first disk, and maybe 3 on the second disk.
LENGTH: DISK ONE: 48-60 hours, Disk Two: 12-20 hours.
OVERALL LENGTH: 60-80 hours (55-65 without sidequests and heavy leveling, 65-80 with sidequests and leveling)
Although this game does not have many sidequests, they do take up a good 4-5 hours on the second disk. In addition, some of the minigames can be time consuming. Nevertheless, expect a good 60 hours without sidequests. My first playthrough took me 68 and a half hours, WITH a guide, and omitting two sidequests. Then again, I was at level 78, a good 10-12 levels over what is even necessary. The first disk is quite possibly the longest disk in RPG history, and the second disk is nearly 40 percent of an RPG on it's own, when sidequests are included. It must be noted that the style of gameplay on the second disk is different: you spend the first 6-7 hours of the disk flipping through cutscenes and about 2-3 dungeons, and about 10-11 bosses. The second half of disk two is sidequests, exploring, and the final dungeon. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable game, with plenty of detailed locations. Also, because of the storyline and other features, the replay value is quite high. Don't be turned off by the length of the game (perhaps the longest PS1 game, minus sidequests); it is addicting, if you enter with an open mind. I'm not going to go into an in-depth conclusion; you have already read my thoughts, and you know why this is one of my favorite games. I hope you enjoy!
FINAL SCORE: 95/100, 10/10, A+, Second Favorite Game
Innovative Battle System
The Final Dungeon of Disk One
Diverse Themes and Methods in Delivering Storyline
Story may appear to be complex to some
Minor balancing issues
Jumping games (occasionally)
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
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