- Xenogears -
-= Overview =-
Xenogears is a strange game to me. Chock full of religious implications, intense scientific overtones, and even some sexual tension here and there, it would seem to be the wet dream of someone looking for a more mature RPG. While those aspects definitely help give Xenogears one of the best plots in any RPG ever, it seems that Square spent too much time worrying about making the game more mature, forcing gameplay to take an unfortunate backseat that, in my humble opinion, hurts the game more than it's overwhelming story helps it.
-= Story =-
: Rating :
This is where Xenogears scores big, really big. I mean, this is a story that could easily be published in novel form and sold in bookstores. I know I would buy it. The game follows the exploits of the venerable Fei Fong Wong, an amnesiac youth living in a peaceful village as a painter. It isn't very long, however, until Fei is unwillingly thrust into the middle of a worldwide struggle between the two warring nations of Aveh and Kislev. Unlike so many RPGs that don't expand on the generic Battling Empires (tm) storyline, Xenogears weaves incredibly deep subplots throughout the game. The developing romance between Fei and Ellyham Van Houten, a military general, through thick walls of prejudice, Fei's battle with his past, and a developing holy way all stem from the basic "Empires" plot, making Xenogears one of the most complex games, story-wise, to ever grace a console system.
One would think that with all this going on, character development would be too much to ask for. Well, you thought wrong. Square created several character specific scenarios where an ally will have some sort of revelation or development. It is very well done, and by the end of the game, your allies will seem like much different people than when they first join your party.
Xenogears' plot is what graphics was to Final Fantasy 7. For lack of a better word, it is simply perfect...
-= Gameplay =-
: Rating :
Xenogears' battle system is pretty much the standard Square-fare, with a bunch of innovations. The active time system is firmly in place, with each of your three warriors having their own distinct gauge (and speed of which it fills). At it's roots, the fighting scheme consists of three attacks, Weak, Medium, and Fierce, which can eventually be grouped into combos. The more AP points your character has, the more attacks he/she can string together in one turn. Weak attacks consumes 1 AP point, Medium attacks consume 2, and Fierce use up 3. Certain combinations of these attacks produce stronger, and more spectacular, attacks called deathblows. Even deeper, a fighter can power up during a battle, increasing their number of AP points, and eventually unleash a series of deathblows fittingly called a combo. This system is very intuitive, and although there could have been more attacks, it works quite nicely.
The more impressive feature of Xenogears gameplay are the gear battles, in which, each character pilots a massive robot called a gear (duh). Instead of AP points, these gears use fuel to unleash their attacks. The more stronger the attack, the more fuel it consumes. Additionally, the gear battles employ a tiered attack system with levels. Using weaker attacks increases the gears attack level in battle, and opens up gear combos. The gear battles are probably the most satisfying part of Xenogears gameplay. The outright scale of some of the gear battles is unmatched, as is the sheer satisfaction garnered by squishing helpless soldiers with your building sized bots.
The battle system is very good, but going beyond, one begins to see some problems in the gameplay department. The camera is often very frustrating, and jumping is an unnecessary addition. The 5000 tries it took me to complete a certain tower was not a high point in the game. Additionally, with this great battle system, what happened to the battles? Far too often in Xenogears, I found myself wading through tons of textboxes, only to fight one boss, and move on to the next cutscene. While the plot is great, Square tries to flaunt it way too much, and by the second disc, the game becomes more like an interactive story, not a video game. It is very disappointing considering the story is so good.
Overall, the gameplay of Xenogears is not satisfying. The battle system is great, but that does not help when battles are so few and far between...
-= Music & Sound Effects =-
: Rating :
Yasunori Mitsuda, the composer of such games as Chrono Trigger, really outdid himself in Xenogears. Staying close to a Celtic theme, the Xenogears soundtrack is a masterpiece. It really does a great job of establishing the mood of each situation. The town themes are especially well done, and the final battle music is such a departure from the norm you would never think it would work; but it does.
The battles have their share of ear candy. Sword slashes, battle cries, and various explosions are all audible, and all sound pretty standard. All except Chu-Chu, who really clinches the "Worst Character" award with her various, and quite annoying, vocal outbursts that sound like someone stepped on a cat.
Overall, good job Square...
-= Graphics =-
: Rating :
The graphics in Xenogears are a pretty good. Not as mind-blowing as the latest Final Fantasy installments, but still good nonetheless. Battle scenes are well animated, with various oohs and aahs to revel over. The special effects are much more down to earth than in other Square games, lacking the overblown explosions and 10-minute magic spectaculars.
As one would expect, the massive gears are the graphical pinnacles in the game. Unlike the individual characters, which are hand drawn sprites, the gears are constructed of polygons. The gears are very inventive in design, resembling Japanese anime. Speaking of anime, unlike other Square games, Xenogears has occasional anime cutscenes, as opposed to FMV. These cutscenes look very nice, but the voice acting and dubbing is terrible. It is like watching those old dubbed karate movies, and is actually quite humorous.
The polygonal backgrounds are nothing to write home about. They are moderately detailed, very colorful, but lack that "umph" that you see in a lot of other RPGs.
Overall, the graphics are good, but not overwhelmingly great considering what else was being done at the time...
-= Fun =-
: Rating :
Honestly, for me, the game was not very fun. I had a blast with the story, but I am more of a gameplay guy. If you like a plot-intensive game that sacrifices a lot of gameplay for said plot, you will be in Heaven. Unfortunately for Xenogears, the increasing moments of tedium that consist of tons and tons of text and no fighting or exploring is very disappointing to me. The game starts very nicely, with a lot of battles and involvement, but that quickly goes down the drain, culminating in the utter ruination of the second disc, which is just endless cutscenes with the occasional boss battle.
Fun in the beginning, but really disappoints in the long run...
-= Last Word =-
Overall, liking Xenogears is simply hinged on preference. If you put plot ahead of gameplay, you will have the time of your life. If you are like me, however, and value a good game to go with the story, Xenogears won't be your cup of tea. I am not trying to look intelligent in the opposition of social majority; I just did not like Xenogears.
Total Score: 74/100
(Sum of all categories x 4)