Review by JTseung

"Semi-interactive movie"

I loved the original Xenogears. I would gladly point out to anyone it is the greatest RPG of all time. I loved the Xenogears soundtrack. I would gladly put in a CD player with the headphones glued to my ears.

Needless to say I rushed out to the nearest import store for a Japanese PS2 as soon as Xenosaga was announced. So is the game worth the wait for all the Xeno fans? Let's put it this way. Is the Phantom Menace worth the wait?

OK, truly it wasn't as bad as that, but Xenosaga's presentation differed so greatly from Xenogears. It is really a prequel in plot, but definitely not in play mechanics. I am only about 12 hours into the game, but frankly I do not expect the gameplay to change much.

Gameplay - 7/10
The first thing that strikes you in Xenosaga is combat is complicated. The original ''combo'' system has been modified. The ''combo commands'' and the ''charge'' functions still exist, but the combos can only be launched after you've charged up 6 action points. In fact, charging is now very important in Xenosaga, with a full action bar of 6 AP, you can also use items on your entire party. Which is great for healing with those hard, hard, hard bosses.

The game is much harder than Xenosaga, and you'll be relying on combos a lot. Normal attacks do not seem to do much damage, and it takes anywhere up to 15-20 combos to kill a boss. The graphics are very pretty. The combos are all 15-20 hit affairs that light up the entire screen. However, given the need for intense use of combos during the game, you are very likely to end up with eyestrain or even an epileptic fit after each boss battle.

The field has also been changed. There are no longer any random encounters, and the game does place some emphasis on avoiding enemies MGS style. Before all the MGS action fans rush out and buy the game, be warned. The avoidance system is a VERY simplified affair. All you need to do is to stay a reasonable distance to the enemy (i.e. not bump into it) and try to walk pass them. Sometimes very simple actions (lighting a fire, dropping crates) is necessary to distract enemies giving you time to run away from those harder encounters.

People who critised xenogears disc 2 for 30 minute text/5 minute action will have a field day with this game. This game is like 20 minute cutscene, then 3 minute game. The cutscenes are all nicely done, and some are even just ''flavour scenes'' with our main characters washing dishes. This with the lack of BGM really made me feel like I was watching TV rather than playing a game. I know a lot of people will be turned off by this, but somehow the game grew on me because there is so much detail worked into the game.

Still, I cannot give gameplay more than a 7 because there is really not much ''game'' there - really just a simplified metal gear solid system with turn based combat.

Graphics 8/10
The character models in Xenosaga are beautiful, especially in combat. However, the backgrounds and objects seemed to suffer greatly because the characters are so detailed. There are not a lot of background objects and they all seemed to be made up of 10-15 polygons each. The texture on them ain't great either. Think a high res version of ''The Granstream Saga'' and you will have an idea of what the game looks like. Also, you cannot change the camera during the game. Fortunately, the camera never gets in the way, but searching for exits sometimes becomes difficult because of the lack of background detail.

The mechs are back again, but they lack the style of the Xenogears gears. The AGWS, as they're called this time, are much more reminenscent of the standard military machines in Gundam (The GMs and Jegan series - even a Zaku has more style than the AGWS). I guess this is fair enough, given the setting of the game is much more ''realistic'' this time.

Music 4/10
I was expecting to heard celtic, choir pieces throughout the game like Xenogears. Instead there was nothing. Sometimes one of two seconds of the main theme ''kokoro'' flows thru, but most of the story unfolds like a TV show with very little BGM. Again, the designers probably made a conscious choice NOT to have BGM, but it is a bit of a let down with Mitsuda-san as the composer and no music to be heard.

Speech and sound 10/10
Great! Many famous Japanese VAs are involved in the project, and you may recognise a few playing supporting roles.

Storyline and characters 10/10
This is the crux of Xenosaga. Don't you want to find out how the Zophar modifier was discovered? How Dues came into being? How Ellie came to be incoporated into the system? Theoretically this is all in Xenosaga. The producers obviously believed the franchise will live on - already they mentioned in the glossary that Shion (the main character)'s brother will play a big part in Xenosaga: Episode 2.

Interestingly, the storyline of Xenosaga vaugely resembles that of FF: The spirits within. Mankind is in a losing battle with a race of SPECTRAL aliens. Their only salvation seemed to lie in the Zophar modifier discovered 4000 years ago on earth. Where is the Zophar modifier now? And why are they 3 different fractions of people after it? Who is good and who is evil? Is BIG JOE gonna be in the game?

The characters were great with some wonderfully scripted dialogue. The 2 main female cast Shion and KOS-MOS had some great lines showing their strong personalities (in KOS-MOS's case, programming). Here I paraphrase a great piece of dialogue:

[After KOS-MOS shot an alien to protect Shion, killing a soldier in the process]

Shion: Why do you have to shoot thru him? Do you know what you are doing?
KOS-MOS: My commands are to protect people from vector industries. I have no instructions regarding military personnel.
Shion: Why can't you avoid shooting him!?
KOS-MOS: The captain was in the way. If I were to move, this would result in a 30% loss in offensive power at 12 o'clock. Killing the captain would only result in a loss of 0.2% overall offensive strength.
Shion: ...
KOS-MOS: You also realise the escape pod only seats two people. The decision to leave someone behind will come sooner or later.

A little note of warning though - Xenosaga does nothing for female rights. While the game portrays Shion and KOS-MOS as strong willed women, later on we see them cooking and serving tea for the rest of the ship's male crew in a typical Japanese fashion...

Overall - 7/10
Xenosaga is an ambitious project, and a lot of care has gone into making the game. However, the end product is really more like a TV show with interactive bits than a full game. I would only recommend this game to fans of Xenogears who wanted more from the same universe - for everyone else looking for a true console RPG, try the much friendlier FFX instead.

Buy or rent?
When it gets released domestically, I recommend a rental to try the game for a few hours before buying. This is definitely not your typical RPG.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 03/16/02, Updated 03/16/02

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