Xenosaga - Review

Bring popcorn.

By: Jake Alley

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 5
   Interface 5
   Music/Sound 3
   Originality 7
   Plot 8
   Localization 7
   Replay Value 3
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

40-60 hours



   In 1998, Square released a game called Xenogears. While it met with somewhat mixed reviews, the excessively complex plot netted it a cult following. Years later, after leaving Square and teaming up with Namco, the development team responsible has begun on a six game series entitled Xenosaga.

   Rather than the traditional fantasy setting, Xenosaga is set in the distant future, with action taking place entirely on a variety of spaceships. It goes without saying therefore that the game features the same sort of rigid linearity as most recent RPGs. While this makes exploration rather impossible, a somewhat contrived feature exists which allows the player to revisit old locations almost any time they want.

   While the story of Xenosaga may restrict the player's actions, it makes up for it in presentation. In a move sure to either delight or horrify the player, depending on one's taste, a full fifty percent of Xenosaga's play time is composed of high quality fully voice acted cut scenes. These feature some of the best graphics to be found on the PS2, and a surprisingly good set of voice actors for the U.S. release. Of course, for those who don't want to sit through a solid half hour's worth of movies every time they finish a dungeon, there is an option available to skip these scenes.

Cyborgs and androids and bears. Oh my.
Cyborgs and androids and bears. Oh my.  

   Although it tends to be dwarfed by the plot, what gameplay Xenosaga has is refreshingly challenging. Unlike most games created after the year 1990, random encounters in Xenosaga can actually provide a legitimate challenge to players in the longer dungeons; particularly as there is generally no way to return to a safe area and rest up upon entering a dangerous area, making it important to conserve resources.

   While Xenosaga maintains many conventions people may recall from Xenogears, such as monsters wandering about allowing fights to be avoided, there are some new tweaks across the board. Special bonuses can often be garnered before a battle begins by shooting nearby gas canisters. The extra powerful attack combinations from Xenogears have also returned, but now they can be customized and assigned to button combinations of the player's choice. However, the giant robots of Xenogears make their return in a far more subdued tone. Characters must always begin battling on foot, and while the option to switch to robots is almost always available, the advantage given by doing so is rarely notable.

OK, fine. No bears.
OK, fine. No bears.  

   Although Xenosaga is a highly polished package overall, there is one area in which it comes up somewhat short. The soundtrack. While Xenosaga has a number of very good tracks by versatile composer Yasunori Mitsuda, said number is rather low. Not only are the same few tracks constantly recycled throughout the game, but many areas feature no music at all, including some of the longer dungeons.

   All in all, Xenosaga is an excellent experience for those seeking an interesting story with a game stuck in the middle. Those more interested in a solid gaming experience however may find it somewhat lacking. Still, for better or for worse, Xenosaga does an excellent job of accomplishing what it set out to do.

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