Xenogears - Reader Re-Retroview  

Deus Ex Machina
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

40-60 Hours
+ Solid battle system.
+ Excellent story.
+ Decent soundtrack.
- Somewhat weak pacing.
- Many areas lack music.
- Weak graphics.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Fei Fong Wong lives in the peaceful village of Lahan, with no memory of his past, although his town becomes the battleground of a conflict between the nations of Aveh and Kislev, leading him on a lengthy quest to learn the truth about the history of the world, his mysterious past, and so forth. Square's Xenogears was originally intended to be just one installment of a lengthier story further explored in the Xenosaga franchise, and provides a reasonably fulfilling adventure in spite of some seemingly rushed aspects.

   Xenogears features a modified version of the active-time battle system present in many Final Fantasy games and Chrono Trigger. However, unlike in those particular titles, all action completely stops while the player selects a command for a character whose active time gauge has completely filled. Normal attacks for most characters use Action Points (AP), with weak, moderate, and strong attacks respectively consuming one, two, and three AP. Once a character has four or more AP, he or she can chain together attacks into powerful Deathblows. If a character does not use all their AP, unused AP is stocked, with a character able to consume this AP through combinations of various Deathblows. Many characters also have magical abilities consuming Ether Points (EP).

   Most characters also receive Gears, giant robots, often necessary to progress through dungeons and fight battles. Gear battles generally have the same setup as character battles, albeit with some different options. Each Gear can execute three different levels of attack, this time consuming different amounts of fuel, and consequently increasing that Gear's attack level, which maxes out at three. Gears can execute more powerful normal attacks when their attack level is more than zero, afterward reducing their attack level back to zero. Gears can also "charge" to restore a little fuel, "boost" to increase speed at the expense of some fuel per turn, or use special options such as restoring HP at the cost of some fuel (which requires certain Gear accessories). Special shops allow players to upgrade each the party's Gears.

Whyyyyyyyyyyyy? Even Elly can't stand the low-resolution graphics

   Overall, both modes of battle are fairly solid, with a greater emphasis on Gear battles during the second disc, which can become somewhat tight since healing can strain each Gear's fuel supply. The process of learning new Deathblows for character battles also seems random at times, though luckily they're unnecessary for the Gear-driven endgame fights. All in all, combat, regardless of its little blemishes, helps the game far more than hurts.

   The general pacing of the game, however, could have certainly been better. Xenogears is very story-centric, so naturally, long cutscenes abound, sometimes lasting up to half an hour, often without opportunities to save the game, and in other instances, boss fights following them. Given the inability to skip them, and the challenge some bosses may pose, some players may have to watch theses same scenes over and over if unsuccessful against said bosses. Many of the 3-D dungeons are also somewhat tedious to navigate (although automaps are available for some), and sometimes, opportunities to save in them are far apart as well. Other parts of interaction such as the game menus, though, aren't as bad, although the interface could have been better overall.

   Xenogears is mostly creative in terms of plot and gameplay, even if the latter borrows some elements from the Final Fantasy franchise and Chrono Trigger (some names that crop up during the story come from that particular title as well). The plot itself is very deep and full of interesting twists, with a large amount of story for the game's fifty-hour playing time, and characters such as Fei receiving extensive development and backstory. Some aspects of the story do seem a little rushed, such as the translation at times, and the altered method of storytelling during the second disc, but the plot is otherwise one of the game's main driving elements.

Obviously a demo screen Deathblows in action

   Yasunori Mitsuda provides the game's soundtrack, which has many great tracks such as the Celtic overworld theme and most of the battle pieces, alongside the central themes that occasionally crop up throughout the game. However, many areas would have benefited from better music presentation, such as many cutscenes and dungeons without music. The voice acting during the rare anime cutscenes is decent, with voices, mostly consisting of grunts, cropping up during combat as well. All in all, the game's aural presentation could have been better, although the music itself certainly has many things going for it.

   The aforementioned anime cutscenes are the high point of what are generally lackluster visuals, which mostly consist of 3-D scenery and 2-D sprites. The scenery shows heavy pixelation, and the sprites are low-resolution, although Gears in battle (alongside large enemies they face) look significantly better. Overall, the graphics could have been better polished.

   In the end, Xenogears is an ambitious title that successfully weaves an intriguing tale, with its gameplay and to a lesser extent its soundtrack backing it up. Despite its length, many aspects do seem somewhat rushed, such as the visuals and the setup of the second disc, but the adventure nonetheless remains solid. Furthermore, in spite of attempts to weave its backstory on the Playstation 2 through the Xenosaga franchise, the series would stray heavily from the timeline detailed in Xenogears Perfect Works, and, thanks to financial hardships, leave the ambitious saga to this day incomplete.

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