Xenogears - Review

Greatness or garbage

By: Jake Alley

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 3
   Music/Sound 10
   Originality 7
   Plot 10
   Localization 6
   Replay Value 6
   Visuals 6
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

80-100 hours



   Xenogears is a game that polarizes people's opinions. Everyone who plays it either heralds it as one of the best RPGs ever created, or hates it with a burning passion. Both groups oddly enough rely on the same basic arguments however. The length, and the plot.

   If Xenogears is anything, it is long. Roughly four times the length of the average game. The perceived length of the game is even longer as it covers a wide variety of concepts and situations at length. On top of this, towns and dungeons are extremely vast and take hours to explore.

   The story of Xenogears is a confusing blend of nearly every science fiction concept there is. Confusing shadowy conspiracies, countries waging war with giant robots, plagues of zombies, people with destructive mental powers and many more ideas are all woven together along with some strange religious concepts into a single complex multifaceted story. Throughout the game, this story unfolds slowly, one piece at a time, with the connections between everything remaining a mystery until the later portions of the game. On top of all this, the game is riddled with references but subtle and overt to nearly every anime series ever to feature a giant robot.

Looks muddy, but it's well animated.
Looks muddy, but it's well animated.  

   As good as the story is, more than this is needed for an RPG. When the player isn't sitting through a long, drawn out, expository cut scene, Xenogears follows much of the same format as any other RPG. Visit a town, learn some new information from the inhabitants, and journey on to the next town, usually by way of some maze-like wilderness. Unlike most RPGs however, Xenogears features only a handful of towns which make up for their number in their sheer size. Most towns have their own map screen connecting various areas and populations of over 50 NPCs. Rather than functioning as mere way points on the way through the game, these towns are all quite important to the plot, with the story dragging ones party back numerous times. In fact, a full quarter of the first disc is spent entirely within a single town.

   Dungeons are also rather vast, and at times confusing due to 3D layouts which require a fair share of camera spinning to see. As an extra obstacle to exploration, some dungeons include areas where the player must make difficult jumps to proceed, which can prove quite frustrating at times.

You don't NEED Gears to fight Gears.
You don't NEED Gears to fight Gears.  

   Combat in Xenogears is complex as any other aspect of the game. Roughly half the battles in the game take place on foot, and the other half in giant robots called Gears. When battling on foot, the interface is roughly the same as a typical RPG, with the standard options of attacking, defending, casting spells, or using items. Choosing to attack however adds a whole new twist to things. When attacking, a number of points is available to be spent on a combination of light medium and strong attacks, with stronger attacks being more costly, much more damaging, and less accurate. With sufficient practice, any combination of attacks ending with a strong blow will activate a special Death Blow skill inflicting major damage on the enemy. If for some reason the player chooses not to spend all of these points, the surplus goes to a special cumulative pool where it can later be used to unleash a massive chain of Death Blows at once, although such combos are rarely more efficient than simply using a Death Blow every round.

Intense anime
Intense anime  

   Gear combat is far more strategic but not as fast paced. Each gear has a limited amount of fuel which is drained with each attack. It is also possible to regain a very small amount of fuel by sacrificing an action. Only one attack is allowed each turn, with accuracy differences accentuated. Death blows also remain, but their activation is not as easy. Every time a gear executes an attack successfully it gains one attack level. Each of these attack levels grants access to a new tier of death blows, and increases the rate at which fuel can be recovered. Using a deathblow naturally consumes a large amount of fuel and reduces these attack levels. All gears can also toggle at any time to a much less fuel efficient mode in exchange for more frequent turns. Each gear my also be equipped with three accessories ranging from extra armor to immunity to certain types of special attacks, and the rather important ability to heal themselves. Later in the game, careful customization and strategy is always needed to defeat bosses, although such strategies rarely become evident before first being defeated by the boss in question.

   aesthetically, Xenogears is a collection of pros and cons. While the graphics feature some amazingly detailed and well animated sprites and polygonal characters, the backgrounds feature some very blurry texture maps. While the entire soundtrack is wonderful, the number of tracks is fairly small considering the sheer length of the game. The translation is error free, a major accomplishment considering the sheer volume of text, it has an odd habit of accentuating important -words- with -dashes- leading to -sentences- that look like -this-.

Gigantic cities
Gigantic cities  

   While some people may have qualms with certain other aspects of the game, the only definite flaw in Xenogears is the pacing. While the first disc of the game will keep one talking to people for hours on end without a chance to fight, the second disc narrates over large portions of the plot in just a few seconds each. While there are chances to fight both on foot and in gears throughout the game, they generally polarize in such a way that one always longs for a gear battle towards the beginning, and a foot battle towards the end. The game also features anime cut scenes clumped in the first and last few hours, with such long spans without them that one forgets they even exist. The worst pacing issues however come from the fixed text speed, which, while not agonizingly slow, does not complement the verbose nature of the dialog.

   For the RPGamer looking for a wonderful story, Xenogears is a must have, epic, eighty hour tale full of memorable moments and interesting characters. Those who prefer a lot of fast paced action on the other hand should steer clear.

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