Xenosaga - Review

Slightly new name, same great game
By: Dave Willis

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 8
   Music & Sound 7
   Originality 8
   Story & Plot 10
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 3
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Moderate
   Completion Time 50-60 Hours  

On my mark...Mark!
On my mark...Mark!

   From the very get-go, it's apparent that there's a huge amount of style involved in Xenosaga. First off, a highly cinematic feeling practically oozes out at you during the course of the story. There's a sci-fi setting, which includes massive battle fleets of space cruisers, technical jargon out the yin-yang, eerily human-like androids, and an ultra aggressive alien race (Gnosis). The last factor is ultimately the plot's premise. It raises more questions than it answers, while giving the player the impression that there's much more to be uncovered in the next episode. So, does the highly stylized approach work? Or is it just a fake outer covering, with a lifeless husk on the inside? Read on to find out.

   Like any other RPG, Xenosaga's battle system can be a little intimidating at first. There are multiple ins and outs, so to speak, that take a while to get the hang of, let alone use affectively. Unlike many other RPG's however, this system doesn't get stale after repeated use. Acquiring new Tech Attacks is mostly responsible for keeping things interesting. Also, the player has the choice to use A.G.W.S. (battle mechs), but they aren't necessarily essential to victory (I used them 3 or 4 times during the entire game).

   In a novel idea, you have the ability to log onto the Unus Mundus Network (U.M.N. for short). You can revisit old dungeons, read up on important keywords, and receive and reply to e-mail. One of the characters actually has her Tech Attacks unlocked via e-mail. Menu screens aren't exactly perfect, but they get the job done. The one major beef I have deals with buying new gear for your characters. Once you select a piece of equipment, the only data that appears on the screen is which character can equip it and the properties it has (defensive stats, etc.). You have to go back and see what your character currently has equipped and then go back and see if the new item is worth buying. The backtracking doesn't eat up very much time, but it's a hassle nonetheless.

And on your left, we have the rare
And on your left, we have the rare "Pickled Mutant"

   I had mixed feelings about the music. The only piece that I really liked was the tune that played during the final boss fight. Don't get me wrong, the music never detracts from the gameplay, just don't expect to be humming any of it a week after you finish game. On the other hand, the sound effects heard from beginning to end are most impressive. Everything from the footsteps of your character, to small arms fire in battles sounds polished and life-like.

   Sure, the "humans vs. gruesome aliens" idea is a little tired, but you'd be hard pressed to find many other clichés. The complex storyline and the fleshed-out characters are what really spiked up the originality factor. It takes a little while, but the plot really picks up steam along the way. It's easily one of the most intricate storylines I've witnessed in quite some time. Needless to say, the story here is the main driving force behind the game. It'll keep you playing for "just another hour", or "till the next save point" over and over again.

   With the amount of cinematics during the game, shoddy voice acting would have definitely been an Achilles heel. Luckily, Xenosaga has some excellent voice-work. If you're an anime fan, you'll instantly recognize some of the voices (Jet Black of Cowboy Bebop, Yurimaru of Ninja Scroll, respectively). That alone should tell you that the acting is top-notch. Catching a couple of typos, or hearing awkward dialogue here and there isn't a big deal considering the amount of text that's on screen during the course of a game. Taking that in stride, I was pretty surprised that I didn't find either one a single time in Xenosaga. Kudos to the translation team.

Engage warp drive, Mr. Spock
Engage warp drive, Mr. Spock

   There's no doubt about it; Xenosaga looks fantastic. Backgrounds, character models, mech units, spaceships, tech attacks, you name it. My favorite graphical work would definitely be the incredibly real looking explosions during the closing cinematic sequence.

   Although the back of the box boasts "over 80 hours of gameplay", I managed to spend about 50 from start to finish. However, Xenosaga is far from a cakewalk in terms of difficulty (be prepared to fight certain bosses a couple of times). Once you do beat the game, there isn't a whole lot there for re-playabilities sake. You've got a semi-understandable card game, poker and slots at a virtual casino, a drilling game, and a lame hunting and gathering side mission involving robot parts.

   It doesn't really matter if you're a Xenogears veteran or not, anyway which way you slice it, Xenosaga is an enjoyable experience. If you haven't done so already, make sure you check this game out.

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