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   Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits Von Gut Und Bose - Review  

A Gift and a Curse
by Derek 'Roku' Cavin

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Easy-Medium
COMPLETION TIME
20-40 hours
OVERALL

3/5

Rating definitions 

   The cast of the original Xenosaga returns in Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits Von Gut Und Bose. It's possible to start the episode without playing the first, but returning players will have a better idea of what is going on and even receive a small bonus for their characters. The second episode builds on some of the events in its predecessor, but it also completely ignores some of the greater mysteries. Instead, it spends a great deal of time focusing on the backstory of various characters such as Jr. and Albedo.

   The battle system has also been built on, but not for the better. Characters have now gained the ability to stock attack turns and break the defense of enemies temporarily. Stocking attacks allows characters to save up their attack turns for a later, more strategic time. Through trial and error, the proper attack sequence will temporarily break the enemy, making it possible for everyone to boost in and unleash their stock attacks for bonus damage. By doing so, it is possible to inflict far more damage than would be otherwise possible. Unfortunately, the amount of damage created by combining stocking, breaking, and boosting is so high that it makes virtually any other attack strategy essentially worthless in comparison. This greatly limits flexibility in battle. Another side effect of this setup is that players will have to waste a lot of time stocking turns and blindly trying to figure out how to break an enemy. This isn't to say that there aren't any improvements. The lengthy attack animations that were present in Episode I have been significantly decreased, it's possible to learn a large number of abilities, and the mech battles have been improved over both the Gears in Xenogears and the AGWSs in Episode I. Sadly, none of these improvements are enough to make up for the severe flaws.

   An interesting change to normal battles is the addition of difficulty. The number of enemies in each dungeon has been reduced, but each encounter is much more difficult and yields a larger amount of experience. It's no longer possible, for the most part, to simply breeze through battles like in Episode I. On the other hand, the boss battles have all generally been toned down. It's not uncommon to easily defeat most bosses once their break point has been discovered, as a few break/stock/boost combinations will completely wipe out a boss most of the time. To help decrease difficulty even further, powerful healing spells can be acquired very early in the game. Additionally, as there are few useful offensive spells, characters will almost always have enough energy to heal each other, especially since several healing ethers are dirt-cheap.

Backstory revealed Backstory revealed

   Another thing that helps battles along is Episode II's well-designed interface. Boosting requires only a quick press of two shortcut keys, and players can use basic attacks by simply pressing a button or two instead of scrolling through a menu. Though menus aren't perfect, it is generally quite easy to find the item, spell, or whatever else the player is looking for. The localization is also quite good. Though there are a number of new voice actors for better or worse, the dialogue is still generally easy to understand and doesn't really have any noticeable grammatical errors.

   It is a good thing that the dialogue contains few errors, as the story is the primary focus of the game. Though it doesn't have as much of a story as the first one did, Episode II still contains one of the best stories available in a video game. Despite the fact that it is a sequel, it could stand alone if it had to. As it has the advantage of being a direct sequel, it builds on the characters and events from the first episode while introducing new characters and further advancing the storyline. The storyline does suffer from being fairly short, but it is very good nonetheless.

Impressive cutscenes Impressive cutscenes

   Not only is the story fairly short, so is the game itself. There are less than a dozen dungeons to be found throughout the game. The entire game could be completed in about twenty hours if sidequests are completely ignored. Luckily for those looking to get their money's worth, there are enough sidequests to double their playtime. While the card games and other diversions from the first episode have been entirely removed, there are a large number of secret bosses, puzzles, and fetch quests to inflate game time.

   Though many sidequests have been added, most are unoriginal and dry. Episode II spends most of its time simply building on the first episode's story and various pre-existing systems rather than creating anything new. The modifications to the battle system are among the most original changes found in the game, and they aren't particularly large changes. Minor changes include a complete lack of a monetary system, a redesigned skill system, and a new visual style for certain characters.

   While the visuals have received a minor makeover, it isn't necessarily for better or worse. The overall quality of the visuals is still roughly at the same level as they were in Episode I, aside from the notable exception of a few incredibly impressive cutscenes. Despite the small amount of dungeons, players will still find themselves fighting a ridiculous amount of recolored versions of the same enemies throughout the course of the game. Since so much time and effort went into redesigning characters and mechs, a little more could have been used to make new enemy models. Overall, the visuals are excellent, but they still fall short of the latest installments of the Final Fantasy series.

   While not anywhere close to the level of the visuals, the music of Episode II has seen a significant improvement since the first episode. While the background music seems out of place in a few instances, it is still pretty good most of the time, especially in certain dungeons. A special track for boss battles has also been added, so players are no longer forced to listen to the exact same battle theme for most of the game. The sound effects are generally higher in quality than the background music, and often fit the game quite well.

   Episode II features an excellent storyline, developed characters, and impressive visuals, but it also suffers from dry gameplay and a flawed battle system. Episode II may be a bit disappointing when compared to Episode I, but it's still worth playing for fans of the series. Despite its many flaws, the storyline and impressive cutscenes make it worth a look.

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