|Blood and Gore, Violence
| The Good
Fine battle system
Lots of customization
Xenocard and A.G.W.S. Battle are great diversions
| The Bad
Story may be too much for casual gamers
Longer in-game loading than normal
Inconsistent use of music
Xenosaga is the spiritual prequel to Squaresoft's
Xenogears - a hefty, epic RPG
whose story was so deep and convoluted that it wore out even
the hardiest of RPGers. Now with Namco, the development team
has taken this "reimagined" universe and created a game similar
in style and concept, while telling a new narrative which
will lay the groundwork for forthcoming sequels.
Xenosaga's story is vast - on scale with watching
an intensely deep anime series packed into the length of one
videogame. Story sequences play out in lengthy cutscenes.
Luckily, both the story and characters are interesting and
you may find yourself drawn in and forgetting how long the
story portions of the game are. Set a couple thousand years
in the future, the story starts with a scientist, Shion, working
on KOS-MOS, a devastating android built to fight the Gnosis
(a terrorizing alien race in conflict with humanity). Before
the creation of KOS-MOS, humanity was left with A.G.W.S. (Anti-Gnosis
Weapons System, another name for mechanized battle robots
or Gears) and Realians (artificially created humans developed
for war) to defend themselves against the horrific brood.
After the ship Shion and KOS-MOS are stationed on picks up
the Zohar, a mysterious 2001-esque monolith, they're
attacked by the Gnosis, forcing the crew to abandon the ship.
From that point, they become entrenched in a story that grows
deeper and more intriguing the further you get into it. Without
spoiling too much, expect a lot of time being spent in exposition
of the universe and political wrangling in the world of Xenosaga.
You may end up needing a scorecard just to keep track of who
is who and what their motives are.
When the story subsides, players are given free roam of their
locales, where they can talk to other characters and interact
with the environment to some degree. Once you acquire the
Vaporizer, you can actually blast certain parts of each location
for items and even hidden passages. And for those tired of
random encounters, Xenosaga is a treat as all enemies
are on-screen, which allows you to pick fights at your own
choosing. There are often items in each area that act as traps
when shot, so if you can get an enemy caught in one of these
traps before combat, you'll be able to inflict status effects
on them, giving you the needed edge.
Once battle does start, players will be treated to an AP-based
system not unlike Xenogears. Each character starts
with 4 AP (Action Points), which can be used in two-button
combo attacks, using the Square and Triangle button. You can
store up AP to a maximum of 6, which can be used to execute
Subweapon attacks or a three-button combo that ends in some
very flashy and powerful Tech attacks. Once you start gaining
more Tech attacks, through the expenditure of Tech Points,
you can customize each character's attack listing more to
your tastes. By pressing the X button, you gain access to
Items, Ether (magic spells), A.G.W.S. (where you take a turn
to get into your mech), Defend or the ability to move on the
field. Since your side is broken up into two rows of three
(not counting where the A.G.W.S. come into play), you can
place your team on the front or back rows and even behind
each other (Ziggy has an Ether that gives him a bonus when
in front of MOMO).
The use of the A.G.W.S. in combat is essential in a number
of battles as your regular characters can be overpowered by
some of the stronger opponents. Unlike in Xenogears,
your mech's attacks aren't based on how your characters develop
throughout the game. You can buy new weapons and swap out
your armaments (much like Armored Core).
Attacking with an A.G.W.S. is similar in that you still have
AP to use attacks and can perform stronger combos with 6 AP.
With the right equipment attached, you can perform W-Act attacks,
like firing two guns at the same time.
Another aspect of the combat is Boosting, where the player
can move their character's turn up in the rotation. To do
so, they must build their boost gauge with attacks. Once the
gauge fills to at least level one, you can press either the
R1 or R2 buttons and select a character to move up their turn.
While in short battles, this may not be useful, in the lengthier
fights, it can allow you to jump ahead of enemies to polish
them off before they get to attack. And, to throw in another
curve into combat is the Event Slot, which randomly throws
in effects, like an increase in the Critical Hit rate, Boost
Gauge rate, or a bonus of any number of points (Skill, Tech,
etc.) after the battle is over.
When it's all said and done, players gain experience, Tech
Points, Ether Points, Skill Points, money and often an item
or two. Through the use of Ether Points, Ether spells can
be evolved into new spells and some can even be traded with
other players, allowing a good bit of customization. Throw
in a skill system that allows you to extract skills from accessories
and equip on your characters.
While roaming around, you have access to what amounts to
an all-purpose PDA that links up to an internet-like U.M.N.
(Unus Mundus Network). This features allows access to a database
of information and an email account, which comes into play
as you can make investments to gain new items and equipment.
Along with this, when you locate certain save points, you
can access the U.M.N. to play some minigames that really help
in taking a break from the main game. While the gambling and
drilling minigames are all right, both the A.G.W.S. Battle
and Xenocard games are quite exceptional. A.G.W.S. Battle
plays a lot like tournament-style Armored Core, while
Xenocard is a fully fleshed out CCG, with a set of detailed
rules which rewards you for building strong, customized decks.
Fans of Magic: The Gathering should enjoy the card
Visually, Xenosaga delivers an impressive package,
even if it is a little dated. Considering that the Japanese
version of the game came out in early 2002, the game does
suffer from some low-res textures and some aliasing issues
that newer titles seem to have resolved. Outside of that,
though, the game looks great. Everything from locations to
characters to monsters are designed well and use a fine palette
of colors to shape the world around them. Even in the stark,
mechanical halls of the Woglinde's interior there are splashes
of color to keep a more organic feeling to a game heavy in
machine-oriented interiors. During battle, you'll be treated
to a lot of flashy colors and bright effects to accent the
use of everything from the simplest attack to the most extreme
Tech and Ether spells. Probably the best portion of the graphics
are how they manage to give the cutscenes a lot of life. The
characters show a lot of facial expressions and carry themselves
in different manners in such a convincing way that you'll
feel a certain life has been given to them. Considering the
volume of story given to the player, this goes a long way
towards making the game more enjoyable. While the lip synch
may not be dead-on, the facial expressions do look and feel
Musically, Xenosaga provides an excellent, sweeping
soundtrack, most notably performed by the London Philharmonic
Orchestra. This, along with some of the more electronic themes
really lends a good bit of weight to the story and mood. The
only drawback to the music is how it's utilized - during cutscenes
and dramatic incidents, you'll hear it in full swing, but
during times where you're allowed to freely roam, there's
no music at all, making the player feel like the free roaming
portions aren't exactly finished.
Voice acting, which is always a contentious aspect in games
like this, is handled well, especially considering the volume
of lines being delivered. While not all of the cast delivers,
most of the major players are done well enough not to distract
from the massive story. I actually found a number of the characters
more interesting because of the delivery of the voice acting.
In all, Xenosaga provides a vocal performance akin
to some of the better anime available to date.
Outside of the some previously noted comments, Xenosaga
does have a few things I wish they had addressed. The
game does have noticeable loading between areas and from cutscenes
to gameplay. While not excessive, they become obvious if you've
played other PS2 RPGs like Breath of
Fire V or Final Fantasy X previously.
Also, since the game is built in a polygonal world, I found
it disappointing that you can't rotate the in-game camera
like you could in Xenogears. You can live with the
views of each location the game gives you, but there were
times I wish I could have had a more customized look.
Probably the one thing that most gamers may find hard to
swallow is the hearty story. Yes, the game has lengthy cutscenes,
some running anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes, but if you find
yourself needing to get a bite to eat or feel the need to
visit the bathroom, you can pause the story. For those who
just want to play the game, you can even skip the cutscenes
altogether, which makes a second trip through Xenosaga
far less daunting than it was in Xenogears. If you
find yourself thinking that you'd rather play a game than
watch it, this will probably be your biggest drawback.
If the point wasn't clear by now - Xenosaga is a story-heavy
game that some casual gamers who dislike lengthy narrative
in their games may want to pass on. But, those who enjoy a
good story, which is accented by both a solid gameplay engine
and a nice array of minigames, should definitely give Xenosaga
a try. The depth of scope and execution is impressive and
leads me to want for more.