Xenogears (PSX) review

Discussion in 'GBAtemp Reviews & Guides' started by ZzzZilla, Dec 12, 2008.

  1. ZzzZilla

    ZzzZilla GBAtemp Regular

    Jun 25, 2006
    Okay! Let’s dispense with formalities and get right to my favourite game ever: Xenogears for the Playstation!

    Here we go!

    What separates a good role-playing game (RPG) from a great RPG lies in how tightly its story grips you and doesn’t let go. Believe me when I call this work “life-changing” for a young teen playing it for the first time (as I was at the time). The twists and developments in the plot will keep you in your seat for hours on end, while the mature philosophical musings on human memory, power, control, identity, reincarnation, love and destiny will stay with you for a lifetime.

    WARNING: This game will make you think

    Weighing in at a massive 70+ hours of gameplay, this is one game non-linear affectionados should avoid. And given its relative age, you could forgive it for invoking some presently over-used plot twists.

    What do you mean 'It's made of people?!'

    While this is certainly a game no self-proclaimed RPG gamer should pass on, it is not without its faults. The most fatal of which is the game’s second disc. After a stunning first disc, the player is assaulted by cut-scenes and forced battles one after another, right up till the endgame before regaining control of their characters.

    THIS is what greets you at the start of Disc 2

    Sloppy production, maybe? No, this ultimately boiled down to Square prioritizing their other mammoth PSX title over the less profitable Xenogears.

    No prizes for guessing the outcome of this matchup...

    One of the most interesting elements Xenogears incorporated into its gameplay was jumping. That’s right, after decades of not being able overcome the smallest of ground elevation, RPG characters have now finally evolved the ability to get both feet off the ground! What this meant was that in addition to expanding the explorable environment many times over, platforming elements were also incorporated into the game. And jumping wasn’t limited to the human characters either: the mechanical combat units they later acquired (termed as ‘Gears’ in this game) weren’t left out either.

    I wonder what's at the bottom of this well.... BAD END

    Speaking of Gears, combat in the Xenogears world occurs randomly and either in person or while riding in your Gear. You can even have a mixed party of people and Gears (with a party size limit of 3) to face off against enemy Gears (not as ridiculous as it sounds near the end when you can move faster [i.e. the Active Time Battle bar charges faster] out of your Gear and are capable of taking out Gears barehanded).

    You might want to wait jussssst a little bit longer before that though.

    But why even bother fighting outside your Gear, you ask? For one thing, you can’t use your Gears in all battle situations. Also, Gears have Frame HP and Fuel that are not replenishable except at Gear repair shops (i.e. you can’t cast a ‘Cure’ spell or drink an ‘Ether’ whenever you want). Most importantly, the combat options you have available while in Gear-mode depends on what you’ve learned in person-mode. Instead of a plain ‘Attack’ option, you have an amount of Action Points with which you can vary the amount and variety of light, medium and heavy blows. So after successfully practicing enough of one attack sequence in person-mode, you will gain a new attack style called ‘Deathblows’ (let’s say, “HADOKEN”). When you next battle in Gear-mode, you will have access to the “HADOKEN” deathblow.

    Well, you can't quite do this....

    Another aspect of the combat system is its magic system, which is named differently for different characters. Again, you can access your magic when in Gear form, and its effects are ‘magically’ (*snigger*) amplified through your Gear. For the most part, I found magic to be of limited use. Same goes for Gear customization, which is simplistic to say the least.

    But you CAN do this!

    Graphics/ audio
    In Xenogears, you will find 2D character sprites set against a 3D environment with a rotatable camera. 10 years on, and I find it has aged rather gracefully (*cough*FFVII*cough*). The camera, in fact, is essential due to the platforming elements at certain portions of the game.

    Don't worry... none of this will make sense till the end...

    Interspersed at various junctions are 2D animated videos that are fluid and crisp. While it looks pretty, it isn’t well-integrated with the narrative in some places (but the introduction and ending videos are excellent). Perhaps it is to be expected, but the unprecedented use of voice-acting wasn’t well executed (in the US dub as least) due to poor synchronization.

    The music in Xenogears, composed by Yasunori Mitsuda (which most will recognize from his work in Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross) is unlike any other soundtrack I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Not only is every track fitting of the atmosphere and theme of the game, I have yet to encounter another soundtrack which offers the same repertoire of melancholy, despair, anxiety, urgency, paranoia, suspense, hope, love and salvation that is done just as expertly. I have yet to tire of listening to the soundtrack since I got a hold of it in 1999 (when I was still using CD players!)

    In conclusion
    I think it’s easy to see why this game is consistently rated one of the top few RPGs of all time. While linear RPGs rarely possess qualities that inspire replays, this is one game which always gives me the urge to relive its epic storyline one more time.
    Although it is ultimately let down by its slipshod second disc, the game does resolve all loose ends by the end (although you knew well that another 40 hours could have been added easily).
    For those that are itching for more, but feel that the Xenosaga ‘prequels’ are too great a departure, I would recommend the Xenogears Complete works for the full backstory.

    My score
    (Great, but just short of epic. Curse you, second disc!)