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A Xeno Retrospective


Xenogears was a fan-fucking-tastic game. In fact, if you'll recall it won RPG of the Year for me that year. I cannot honestly speak more higher of it. If you like scifi, martial arts, giant robots, anime, RPGs, oldschool Squaresoft, or any combination thereof, there is seriously no reason to pass that bitch up. And yet, much like Final Fantasy 7 and so many other titles, an unnecessary, but initially interesting prequel series was started: Xenosaga.

Let me start this off by saying I really, REALLY liked the original Xenosaga, but all too quickly it seemed like things were going wrong as soon as we hit Episode 2. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Xenosaga was actually the first review I ever wrote, so let's take our time with this. Let's go over these each in detail.

Xenosaga Episode 1 - Der Wille zur Macht

Ahem, yes. What can be said about this title that I haven't already? Well, how about the fact it almost wasn't made at all? Xenosaga Episode 1 was originally slated as an early PS2 release by Squaresoft and Monolith Soft...then, well...Squaresoft decided to take a shit. Eventually Namco swept in, picked up the title, and got it made. This is another reason why it feels very unfinished, having only one main battle track (and only a second one for the final boss), no music in many areas, and conflicting art styles.

Despite its shortcomings, Episode 1 managed to be an incredible title featuring a traditional, but innovative battle system, great plot and characters, and a deep and engaging point system that encouraged constant micromanagement. There were also all kinds of extras, bonuses, secrets, and so on. Plus, while it felt "finished," it left you yearning for Episode 2. Then it came out, and...well...

Xenosaga Episode 2 - Jenseits von Gut und Bose

It SUCKED. Well okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. It doesn't SUCK, but it's certainly not as good as Episode 1, which again is really saying something because Episode 1 was unpolished and felt unfinished in many areas. The class/skill system was also crap. It was oversimplified, non-specific, and made it very easy to get "stuck." Stuck how?

Well, in Episode 1, there were experience, tech, skill, ability, and I think also ether points gained after every combat. Yeah, SPECIFIC. Nevermind that each character had different inherent ether skills and such and you have a recipe for all kinds of customization. With this one you have classes of skills that can be unlocked with class points. Class points are gained only one of three ways.

One, boss battles. And ONLY with the combat party. Two, super rare items. Three, tapping out all skills within a class. The problem? So I forgot about this when I started playing again recently and unlocked class H within the level 1 classes. Again, the problem? Class H has only hidden abilities that have to be unlocked later by doing special tasks, etc. In other words...I used all my CP early...and didn't have anymore for a while, so chaos was stuck having no abilities for the foreseeable future until I had him win a boss fight.

Combat is made meaningless because of points you're supposed to get through combat. But only sometimes.

But hey, what about the transferrable content? Yeah, much like Suikoden and a few other RPG series, transfer data was offered. I was psyched. I did SO much on the original Xenosaga, so I figured there'd be all kinds of cool stuff ready for me. You know what I got? SWIMSUITS. Yeah, and that's it. BULLSHIT. Oh, but it gets better. The graphics aren't as refined, the new style sucks, it takes FOREVER to load battles, the music is all over the place and only has a few good tracks, the voice acting is terrible, the plot makes even LESS sense, and the lips don't even attempt to match when a character is speaking...they look like fucking goldfish.

Sometimes less really is more and Episode 1 was living proof. As a result, I didn't have high hopes for Episode 3. I bought it early because I still wanted to finish the series, but delayed playing it because I was worried I'd have no idea what was going on, would ruin the plot of Episode 2, etc. Then I decided I hated Episode 2, so fuck it.

At least the combat system is still fun and offers more interesting action elements, but I felt like it could've been so much better.

Xenosaga Episode 3 - Also sprach Zarathustra

And I was right. I have no idea what's going on. And yet...as rushed together as everything feels, often opting to dump shit tons of dialogue on you all at once, then whip over to something else at break-neck speed and do it again, it's still incredibly fun. The combat and features are better, the voice acting is improved, and the production values are the highest they've been for the series.

Now I haven't played this one very much, so I'll be brief, but what I have played, I've liked. No, it doesn't make much sense, but it's made me want to go back and play through Episode 2, just so I'll have a better idea of what's going on. Actually, I remember seeing a deveoper's diary where they commented on the epic failure that Episode 2 was, so they tried to make Episode 3 as accessible as possible, constantly explaining different stuff so you could be brought up to speed without even touching Episode 2.

They weren't as successful as they'd hoped, but the game was fun enough to keep me interested and really, that's all that mattered for me.

How it all comes together - Back to Xenogears

This is the toughest part for me because of two reasons. One, understanding what the fuck is going on half the time in Xenogears. Two, the constant rushing of everything together in Episode 3. As an added aside, I might not be the most qualified to speak on this because, well...I...ah...I haven't beaten Episode 3 or Xenogears yet. BUT! That's irrelevant and here's why.

If you were to play Episode 1 or Xenogears out of context, it wouldn't matter and should have no bearing or relevance whatsoever. Why? Because again, Xenogears came out in 1998 and while Xenosaga was inspired by it, you don't need any knowledge of Xenogears to play them. So the good news is the best titles in the series, by far, are completely playable without understanding anything about the series.

Ironically, the worst two of the series were the ones attempting to pay homage to Xenogears by trying to tie it all together and I just can't recommend them. Sure, 3 is a LOT better than 2, but it feels rushed because they have to throw so much stuff in there. Remember when they kept teasing about Shenmue 3, then finally Yu Suzuki quit trying to give in to fanboys and told them to STFU?

"...to cut off the fanboys from the teat..."

Initially I was annoyed. I loved Shenmue and what little I played of the sequel I truly enjoyed too. But looking at it from a series angle AND a financial angle...yeah, it makes sense. Originally Shenmue was meant as a FIVE GAME SERIES. In his last official talks about Shenmue, Suzuki confirmed he would be trying to pile everything into episode 3 just to wrap it up.

Xenosaga Episode 3 feels EXACTLY like that...as if it was supposed to be multiple entries, but it ended up just being one. Now I recall reading somewhere it was supposed to be a 5 part series as well, but I couldn't find the article saying that, so I'm not going to say that for fact. Sure, there's the cancelled episodes 4 through 6, but again, they weren't necessarily supposed to connect to Xenogears and again, finances, so that makes sense.

The Xeno series is certainly a very interesting one and at least Episode 1 and Xenogears are incredible. It's really too bad the rest of the series can't stand on their own, but that's fine. I'm satisfied that at least I can point to a prequel and say it's something decent. That rarely happens, especially for a classic RPG.
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About gunsageone of us since 2:58 PM on 04.11.2008

I've been gaming since 1987. I used to be a big Nintendo fanboy, then Square jumped the shark, so I followed. Eventually I realized neither Square nor Nintendo were the only companies out there worth following and my collection more or less speaks for itself now. I love to meet up with people on XBL, though I haven't done much online with the Wii. I've also been writing game review articles since 2004 on the old Project Wonderboy, then Morphine Nation, and now back to the new Project Wonderboy and various other sites.

I also help out in writing for a local videogame store website (VGMX). Not much else to say, really, when it comes to gaming. I wouldn't consider myself an expert, but I would say I'm experienced.

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