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It's Spelled Nietzsche
By: Michael Beckett
Popular games are always controversial. In 1998, Squaresoft released a title known as Xenogears, an RPG with some very controversial religious and psychological themes. Despite it’s poor distribution, it became something of a hit. There were people who complained about a plot that was complex to the point of incomprehensibility, and plot sequences that dragged on for hours. The first episode in this six part series, Xenosaga Episode 1; Der Wille Zur Macht, follows along very similar lines. Gamers who play RPGs for combat and exploration will probably be disappointed with Episode 1, as it features a long winded and highly complex plot, but at the cost of said exploration and combat.
The plot of Xenosaga is it’s center, the driving force from which all of it’s other aspects are derived. Like Xenogears, the story is long, complex, and somewhat indiscriminate in it’s deployment of Christian metaphor and symbolism. Combined with a large cast, a bizarre and unique world, and the fact that Xenosaga is the first in a series of six games, Xenosaga comes off as almost too complex, too deep to really be fully understood, at least on the first time through. Through it’s setting and characters the game feels very real, but this makes the RPG cliches stand out even more. People don't mind you walking into their homes and blowing up the furniture, which mysteriously reappears when you re-enter their homes. Monsters don't leave their designated areas, nor do they catch on to the idea that the field explosives that you use against them might also be used against you. These may seem like minor things, but they serve to take the player out of the experience and make it feel more unreal. Replay value is fairly average – beyond a few minigames, there’s nothing that encouraging about playing the game more than once. Of course, subsequent episodes may enhance this somewhat.
Much like Shadow Hearts, Xenosaga Episode 1 takes a fairly common combat system – traditional Turn Based – and adds features and other tweaks in order to make a more tactically demanding system. Here, this is accomplished by adding AP that is required to make certain moves, a rolling turn counter that changes certain effects depending on what turn it is, and a Boost Gauge that, when full, can be used to leapfrog an individual character to the head of the turn meter. Also, Xenosaga does feature a window that shows the progression of the next few turns, similar to that implemented in Final Fantasy X.
In general, combat in Xenosaga does what it is designed to do – it provides a fairly complex, fairly challenging mode of combat. However, I wouldn’t call it terribly original or very revolutionary, and while there are some interesting tactical situations, Xenosaga’s combat system resembles most other systems on console games in that fifty to seventy-five percent of every battle is decided by the setup your characters have before the battle begins.
A major bother in Xenosaga is the load times – the menu alone takes three or four seconds to load, and a similar amount of time to exit. Even so, load times alone are far from enough to sink a game, and the rest of the interface is carried off smoothly. Control is responsive, and the cameras, while fixed, are done in a manner so that you are almost never in a position of being unable to see what you want.
While there isn’t a great variety of music on Xenosaga – only around 45 tracks total on the soundtrack – what little music there is is very well done. The London Philharmonic Orchestra lends Yasunori Mitsuda’s music a great depth and resonance, as well as an epic touch that even the most complex computer setup just couldn’t provide. On the other side, voice acting is done well, and though Xenosaga suffers from the same problem as FFX – lips were not resynced to English voice actors – it’s effects are far less noticeable as the voice actors don’t try to match the digital lips exactly. In fact, barring a few minor misspellings here and there, Xenosaga’s translation is top notch.
Visuals are also well done, with certain attention paid to shading and lighting effects. Xenosaga’s animation, too, is exceptional, especially when the length of the game is taken into account – added together, something like seven hours of the game is cut scene. As for the design side of visuals, character design is solid, but monster design really steals the spotlight with it’s original monster concepts and very high quality mechanical design.
On a less subjective topic, Xenosaga’s difficulty is Medium, and it will cost you approximately 40 hours of your life. Maybe you should go play outside once in a while?
Xenosaga is not a game that a player can legitimately expect to spend an hour on and then put down. Rather, Xenosaga is a game that will eat whole afternoons every day for the better part of a month. It is not a game for those who prefer to focus on exploration, and it is even less a game for those with little patience or time to go into the detail and inspiration of a story.
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