Xenogears - Review

Sometimes all you need is a fantastic plot...

By: FinkCantor

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 9
   Originality 8
   Plot 10
   Replay Value 7
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

55-75 hours



   Everybody has a game that they hear lots and lots about, but never seem to play. More often then not, they are told of a great battle system, wonderful plot or a top-notch soundtrack. However, for one reason or another, they simply never seem to be able to pick that particular game up. For me, that game was Xenogears. When I picked up that game, I plunked it into my Playstation and prepared myself to be amazed. For the most part, that is exactly what happened.

   Much can be said of the plot of Xenogears. Despite it's initial cliches (the burning town and banishment among them), you are soon drawn into a tale of war, deceit, tragedy and of course.. love. You are cast as Fei Fong Wong, a young painter and part time martial artist who lives in the little Lahan Village. There is a war going on far away, but it hardly seems to very immediate, because the talk of town is the upcoming wedding. When military machines (called "Gears") from both sides drop into Lahan, Fei decides to take matters into his own hands. What follows a complex narrative encompassing a rather corrupt church, the nature of the Gears, a man's search for God, and a whole of host other matters. It is really an impressive effort. As a fiction writer, I dearly wish that I could come up with something like that put forth in Xenogears.

   My dissatisfaction with Gear battles could very likely be tied to the very lackluster sound effects found in Xenogears. The impressive Gear spells are almost always followed by a dull "whir" or perhaps just a muffled thud. The lack of quality sound of effects in the Gear battles began to grind on me after a time. Strangely enough, the sound effects found in the foot battles were quite satisfying, providing the player with loud battle cries and rich cracks.

I just love the plot for this game.
I just love the plot for this game.  

   Thankfully, Xenogears sports a soundtrack that far outstrips it's paltry sound effects. Each of the games melodies seems to perfectly fit the mood of the game, whether I was charging through a ghost ship or meandering through a local village. The boss music, "Knight of Fire" deserves special mention. Not since Final Fantasy 6 have I been so taken with a particular piece of battle music. For me, good boss music can really set the mood for a good fight, and it's something that I feel many Playstation RPG's are lacking. On occasion, a certain melody can seem to be overused (read - Tears of the Stars, Hearts of the People). On the whole, Xenogears provides a rather pleasing aural experience.

   The above average music is well complimented by luscious graphics. Xenogears will provide three graphical modes throughout the game. The first is general exploration. As you walk through a town, you can spin the camera about and get a look at all areas of the action. Though your view is occasionally blocked, I found the camera to be extremely useful. This provides a nice, if rather pixellated, graphical experience. The other two graphical modes are used for battles. Foot battles provide sharp images of characters and battles as they do battle for you. Super combos are extremely impressive, and very satisfying to pull off. Special effects use liberal amounts of colored explosion, and you rarely get the impression that your attack felt very weak.

   The Gear battles are where Xenogears excels graphically. Although somewhat dull to play, they are a visual feast. All characters are drawn to scale to the gears, so naturally, a character sprite is about as tall as a Gear's foot. In addition, rather then being hand drawn, the Gears appear to be rendered. This gives the Gear battles a nice 3d effect overall. Unfortunately, particularly in special effect heavy battles, slow down and clipping cannot be ignored. Despite this and the occasional case of pixellation, Xenogears is a treat to watch.

Fei decides that it's time to jump backward into the well before he runs into another God awful Gear battle.
Fei decides that it's time to jump backward into the well before he runs into another God awful Gear battle.  

   Ultimately, Xenogears comes together in one, rather impressive package. The plot is absorbing, the music first rate and the graphics pleasing to the eye. Unfortunately, the player finds themselves engaging in many, many Gear battles. And these Gear battles will soon begin to tax a players patience, as they will find themselves doing the exact same things each time to win. The Tower of Babel made me want to throw my Playstation controller out the window. However, the desire to see the plots conclusion kept me coming back.

-Well, at the very least the Gear battles are pretty...
-Well, at the very least the Gear battles are pretty...  

   Unfortunately, while I rather enjoyed the second CD, many players will be put off by the fact that it is little more then several hours worth of dialogue. When I say several hours worth, I am not exaggerating in the least. However, every line of text in the second CD is essential if you want to be able to decipher the plot. After the final battle and cutscene (which was badly acted, as usual), I came away with the feeling that I had just finished an astonishing book with graphics. This may put some of you off, but I enjoyed it immensely. Now, if you pardon me, I'm going to go and turn my Playstation on. I have a book to read.

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