Xenosaga: Episode II: Jenseits Von Gut Und Bose - Review  

Hilbert Effect Active!
by Tommy Moo

30-40 hours


Rating definitions 

   It seems fitting that a studio named Monolith would be entrusted to bringing Xenosaga into our living rooms. Perhaps no series has been more subject to eye rolling and name calling, and yet it is an experience that is eminently demanded for its sheer scope. Whether one finds the work a life changing monument of depth or a pretentious and transparent attempt thereat, Xenosaga has cemented its place in video game history. Before it was trendy to mock the over-the-top storytelling, millions of satisfied fans jumped onboard the saga. Nine years and two episodes later, Jenseits von Gut und Bose is true to form, featuring plot heavy cinema aimed at an anime generation. And by the way, lost somewhere in all of the pomp and circumstance is a decent video game.

   The battle system is A-1. Innovative, fast-paced, and strategy heavy, you will never dread combat in Episode II. As with its predecessor, enemies are visible on the map, and battles can be avoided or handicapped in favor of the player through traps activated with the vaporizer plug-in. The refined boost system calls for greater teamwork. Often dealing significant damage takes considerable preparation, as one character will start by attacking a characteristic combination of height zones on a given enemy, commencing a combo. The enemy's guard will then be broken, allowing another character to boost in and, if he or she has stocked enough AP, deal several powerful attacks. Most characters are limited in the zones their attacks reach, lending further strategy to party selection and boost order. Standard battles are often challenging, especially towards the end of the game, which almost makes up for their scarcity. As most enemies do not regenerate, Episode II is one of those rare RPGs that leaves the player wishing there were actually more encounters.

   The interface has been given a face lift. Gone are the tedious menu shufflings of Episode I, with the R2 and L2 buttons being used to effect, allowing shortcuts. It is no longer necessary to strip the party's gear in order to extract skills, particularly since gear can no longer be equipped. Tech, Skill, and Ether points have been boiled down into one all-encompassing category, with the same pool of Skill points now being used to increase vitality, begin every battle with an extra stock, or learn the Medica All spell. Unfortunately traversing the map is not as convenient. Mechs plod along at a frustrating pace, and ladders are inexcusably frustrating to climb onto and off of.

Shining Jesus Attack! Shining Jesus Attack!

   On the artistic side of things, there is nothing to complain about. Characters are now realistic and well rendered, with good facial expression and very little clipping. Only hands remain rather ad hoc; even hair and clothing move believably. The gears are impressively designed as well, and feature exhilarating attack animations when stocked to full power. The environments, however, overshadow both of these achievements. Colorful, animated, and distinctive, Episode II's backgrounds separate this installment from the comparatively bland, monochromatic Der Wille zur Macht.

   On the flip side, Namco needs to bite the bullet and do whatever it takes to get Yasunori Mitsuda back. After squandering his talent in Episode I, it's no wonder he walked. Unfortunately, however, this installment hilariously overcompensates for DWzM's overuse of silence with sometimes goofy and often completely inappropriate offerings from second tier composers. Synthetic pop tunes with forgettable melodies and Beckish electronica have somehow become the aural setting of a lofty space opera. The theme of Second Miltia sounds as if it were pulled out of an anime titled Magical Fairy Sugar Plum Princess. Saving the category from a dreaded score of 1/5 are the decent voice acting (minus the horrendous substitution for KOS-MOS) and the handful of tracks composed by Yuki Kajiura of Noir fame.

Jin Uzuki. My money says there's some connection to Citan. Jin Uzuki. My money says there's some connection to Citan.

   Mini games and side quests are a staple of RPGs, and JvGuB certainly provides quantity in that department, if not always quality. The Global Samaritan Campaign is a subscreen of the menu that keeps track of how many citizens of Second Miltia and the Kukai Foudation that Shion and friends have helped. These side quests unlock powerful new skills for purchase, promoting some of them to near involuntary status. Most puzzles are more tedious than challenging, however, and the explosion in available fetch quests that occurs after a certain plot mission has been completed leads to an egregious amount of rigmarole near the end of the game. One quest in particular has the team following mundane directions in pursuit of a lost droid, consisting of nothing more than twenty minutes of walking back and forth from the Foundation to Second Miltia. It was at best a half baked side quest and at worst a shameless attempt to add clock time to a game that is otherwise in danger of clocking in at under 30 hours.

   The story comes as advertised. The adoring public, starving for answers to questions of the origins of the Zohar, the identity of chaos, and if certain characters presumed dead in Episode I are in fact alive and how, instead gets spoon-fed more back story on the only character that's already been developed to death. Jr is the center of nearly the entirety of Episode II. Almost nothing from Episode I is resolved, giving this game the rather unflattering label of teaser, a doormat to Episode III, where the real answers will presumably be revealed. What's told is told very well, however, with exceptionally well directed story and action sequences, nail-biting choreography of fight scenes, and genuine pathos where called for. Episode I was criticized for having a great many interminable cut scenes broken up by too little action. Episode II's answer to this is often to allow the player to take control momentarily and walk to the next cutscene... not quite what we had in mind. By the time you hear Ziggy say "Watch the enemy closely, and react quickly," you'll be itching for some combat.

   The length has been criticized, but with a healthy amount of game overs and a handful of bonus dungeons and WEAPONesque optional bosses, there's not a very strong argument against the quantity of content to be enjoyed. If you're concerned with playing the game instead of beating it, you will get more than 40 hours of entertainment for your money. You'll want to replay it once to absorb the plot, which is thankfully palatable for a Xenosaga, and then probably a third time to freshen up before Episode III hits the market. Let's hope that in preparation for that day, Namco and Monolith learn how to eat the chicken and throw out the bones. There is a lot of wonderful content in this game. If they can combine these mechanics with the meat of the plot, and take the soundtrack a bit more seriously, then we will be looking at an undeniable work of art for Also Sprach Zarathustra, Zur Genealogie der Moral, Die Goetzen-Daemmerung and Der Antichrist.

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