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A Great Story in Any Medium
Xenogears possesses, without doubt, the single greatest storyline I've encountered in any video game. Xenogears is profoundly political, psychoanalytical, and philosophical. I cannot deny the stamp this game has placed in my mind, nor can I ignore the seventy hours I waited in the tax line to get the stamp on me. This game is an absolute bore to play through, but when it was all said and done, I was greatly pleased to have played it.
The Xenogears double-talk begins even before the convoluted storyline begins. One of the self heralded aspects of Xenogears is its "intuitive combat systems without menus". While Xenogears lacks the traditional box of combat options to choose from, the text tends to infer greater freedom in combat, which Xenogears certainly does not offer. What you are given, is an often irritating variation on the menu archetype that still gives you options in a turn based environment. I found nothing intuitive about Xenogears's battle system, and found battles to be nothing more than very awkward conjunctions in otherwise fluent sentences.
The interface is equally irritating. Plagued by inefficiently slow menus, and some very poorly laid out dungeons, Xenogears does little to please between text and battle. There is the occasional interesting puzzle, but for the most part, the only mental ability Xenogears tests is patience. The jump feature, while interesting, is not easy to control, and adds to the frustration of Xenogears. On the plus side, the speed of running in Xenogears is rather brisk, and there are markedly less control issues in mundane travel than in acrobatics.
The story of the game, without question, is its greatest strength. It is a story that speaks strongly, backed by an extremely powerful (although short-tracked) score, and graceful dialogue spoken through detailed characters. Considering how much text is in this game, the translation department did a great job with keeping the dialogue interesting and powerful, although their -punctuation- habits truly have to be questioned. From Freudian concepts to social commentary, Xenogears is stacked in thought-provoking content, and tells its story well throughout the game. The one flaw Xenogears does have in terms of its story is a lack of subtlety in its symbolism. The game draws too much from Freud, Judeo-Christian mythology, and other sources, and often does so in a very heavy handed way.
The only other knock on the story is that it is perhaps too convoluted for its own good. The complexity of the story nearly requires at least two playthroughs to truly forge a solid picture of the story from all angles. That however, is virtually all Xenogears offers in terms of replay value; there is hardly anything else in the game worth remembering, and even less worth revisiting.
Visually, Xenogears falls about par. The rare anime sequences in the game are absolutely exceptional, save the dubbing jobs, but are balanced out by very poor texturing. The games sprites do little to alter the score, as they are average in themselves. It's expressive from time to time, but generally a far leap behind the models of other PlayStation games.
All in all Xenogears is a very worthwhile experience. I do not know if the designers made the game so dull in order to enforce a "No pain, no gain" mentality, or if they were actually fooled into thinking there were other points of worth in the game. Regardless, Xenogears is a game I am truly thankful that I have played through, but the journey itself was just far too dull for me to consider the whole great.
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