The "Favorite Game" is a topic as old as the medium itself. These days, it's hard to pick a single favorite. Hell, I have about 25 fluctuating favorites at any given time. However, when someone asks me to pick one, above all others...only one game comes to mind. Xenogears.
It was 1998, and the then-awesomeness that was Final Fantasy 7 was at the top of my personal charts. This was well into the Golden Age of RPGs and I was trying to find something that would satisfy my need for another game to take up months of my time. I tried Parasite Eve to somewhat disappointing results, but it came with a demo for the game that would stick with me for going on half my lifetime now.
The first thing that stuck out to me with this game was the battle system. I didn't just pick an attack and sit back to watch it happen, I got to keep pressing buttons to deal damage until all my character's Action Points were gone. The demo came with Fei, Bart and Elly, all decked out with full abilities. Utterly destroying low-level enemies with beautiful finishing moves, or "deathblows" as they were referred to in the game. These were a real treat to watch, and the damage counter in the middle of the screen aggregated the damage of a single attack. This was handy, considering I played through the end of FF7 about half a dozen times to see if I could add up the total damage done with Cloud's Omnislash against Sephiroth.
The demo would prove to be a mere taste of the epic of I was about to experience. I was already sold on the battle system alone. What I ended up getting was a tale that made me think, and engaged me in a way that very few games have done since. To really get the story, you had to read between the lines and keep up with the backs and forths they put you through. You learned about the caste systems within the game, the "lambs" and the "abel", and the emerging adult in me was able to draw parallels between the terminology and religious references used in this game and the real world. I could definitely see why Square was nervous to release this in the West.
And giant robots! Robots I could use to beat the piss out of other robots. The best part? You could summon them even if you were in a fight with small scale enemies! Don't feel like screwing around with those sand people in the stalactite cave? Summon your Gear and just step on them! Are your characters high level and pretty powerful? Watch your tiny sprite blob Fei kick the crap out of a possessed Gear 50 times his size.
It remains to be the only one of two games in my life that I have ever devoted more than 150 hours to, the other being Fallout: New Vegas, but that one is more attributed to a game release drought than intense interest. The difference here is that I still do a playthrough of Xenogears at least once every two to three years.
It's not perfect though...no game is flawless. Even Xenogears still has a few slog points in the game, with the Nortune prison being a consistent point of contention with me on every playthrough. And it still suffers from some JRPG tropes, like the token moron silly character everyone hates and names them something awful. On every playthrough, Chu-chu is named something horrible. That little bastard's name has run the gamut of "Dogsh*t" to "C**bucket" (I'll let you fill in the blanks), and everything in between.
Despite these flaws, the game resonated with me in a way that has never been done again. I don't consider the Xenosaga games proper sequels. I tried so hard to play them, but they have never captured the epicness that the original achieved with me.
I could write a novel on how great this game was to me, but alas, you readers have lives to move on with and many others have written much better analyses of this game than I ever could. Also, my objective wasn't to lay out the whole game, just cheerleader it a bit. I also trust most of you have played this anyway, so you can relate.