Xenogears - Review

Square delivers in a big way with Xenogears

By Ryan Amos, RPGamer Writer

Review Breakdown
   Battle System9.5
   Replay Value8.5
   Time to Complete50-60 hours 

   If you have so far been undecided on whether to purchase Xenogears, delay no longer. It is a spectacular game whose only downsides are minor aggrivations. You will have one of the longest and most pleasurable RPG experiences you've had in a long time.

   The thing that stuns me is that Square did not originally plan to bring this game to the States. A game of this caliber not coming over would incite riots in the streets. We can only thank fan outcry and the creation of Square EA for the translation of this wonderful game.

   Why is Xenogears so great? Because it does most everything right. The graphics are beautiful, with the exception of the Suikoden-esque character sprites. The 3D is incredible, I never knew a Playstation was capable of some of the things Xenogears does with polygons. The FMV is also great, it's a nice mixture of anime characters in 3D rendered worlds. It looks a lot better than it sounds; Square did a very nice job melding the two together. The only complaint is that the first disc has literally no FMV between the end of the first hour and the end of the disc, an entire 35 to 40 hours, while the second disc has heavy FMV, much like disc three of Final Fantasy VII. The upside to that is there is much more gameplay time, a tradeoff I would take any day.

A Battle
Gears in combat.  

   The battle system is very unique. Instead of the basic "Fight, Magic, Special Skill, Item" menus of just about every other RPG out there, Xenogears does it differently. There are still the menus for magic, items and the like, but if you select the fight command, then a kind of fight menu pops up. Here, you choose to do light, medium or hard attacks. As you progress in levels, you can do more attacks per turn, and you can also string together combos with "Deathskill" moves at the end. As you build up "AP" during a battle, you can put together a Deathskill combo, stringing multiple Deathskill moves together for some high damage totals.

   You also fight in the "Gears," giant humanoid fighting machines. Inside a gear, you will do immense damage to anything smaller than you. Conversely, when you're not in a gear and you fight something much larger, you'll get squished. Fighting in Gears is much the same as fighting normally, except you have to watch your fuel gague. This can be charged during battle, or at a Gear shop. Gear shops provide armor, frame upgrades (which raise the HP of the Gear) and engine upgrades (which raise the attack and fuel tanks of the Gear.) They can get very expensive later in the game, however, so make sure you have enough cash.

   These Gears are very central to the magnificent plot. You really should play through it without being spoiled, so I won't say much about it. If you've played the demo that came with Parasite Eve about 30 million times like I have, you'll probably be a little confused at first. The plot gets very interesting quickly after the demo drops off, so you'll probably be slightly shocked that something actually happens. I was pleased by the fact that it actually stayed interesting, in fact, it only gets better as the game progresses, and you delve deeper and deeper into the characters' pasts..

A Gear
A Gear in the shop  

   The music in Xenogears is nothing less than would be expected of Square. The tunes range from peppy and upbeat to dramatic to sad and lonely sounding. There are several versions of the theme song that reflect the mood of the main character throughout the game.

   The translation, while overall one of the best Square translations in a while, is still not flawless. The voice in the FMV (yes, there is voice. Quite a bit,) is very badly dubbed. It reminded me of the old Godzilla movies. There are also a few words that don't make much sense scattered throughout the dialogue, but they're pretty few and far between. This translation is one of the best Square has done in some time.

   Besides their dubious translations, Square is also famous for putting mini-games in their games, and Xenogears has one of the best I've ever seen. It's so good you could throw it in a jewel case, shrink wrap it and sell it for $39.99. Basically, it's a fully 3D fighter, a la Virtua Fighter and Tekken. You fight other gears, some are challenging, and some aren't. It's very fast and furious, if you don't pay attention to what's going on you'll easily get spanked. It also has a two-player mode, so you can have a buddy over and trash him with your Gear. Very nice extra. Plus, later in the game, it becomes like the Battle Arena in the Golden Saucer in Final Fantasy VII, with the player gaining battle points (BP) and trading them in for some seriously wicked items.

   For fun value, this game is addicting. You won't want to put down the controller until you finish it. You'll probably even pull an all-nighter or two trying to finish it, because this game is LONG. The 50 hours listed is if you play through very quickly, Square lists 60, which is still conservative, unlike their previous estimates (remember 100 hours for FF6?)

Walking around
Walking around the wonderful world of Xenogears  

   Now for the (minor) downsides. Why Xenogears does not support the Dual Shock analog controller is beyond me. It is sometimes mildly frustrating trying to move around with the controller pad, because the screen only rotates in 45 degree increments (though better than the 90 degrees in most games.) In certain parts of the game, there is a lot of chasm jumping you have to do, much like in a 3D platform game. This basically serves no point other than frustrating the player, because if you miss a jump, you have to go all the way back around. My final gripe is about the character sprites. What was Square thinking when they included these bitmapped, ugly sprites on top of these beautiful, 3D backgrounds?

   All of the above are just trifle annoyances, however. Xenogears is still a very solid, very good game. It is one of, if not the best Playstation RPG of the year. Xenogears is $50 US well spent, if you have the cash, then run; don't walk, to buy Xenogears. If you don't have the cash, then get it. You'll thank yourself.

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