Xenogears - Reader Review
All watch and no play makes Fei a dull boy
By Fritz Fraundorf
| Battle System||5.0
| Replay Value||6.5
| Time to Complete||60 hours||
Ask anybody what games they'd most like to see a sequel too and you can
be sure Chrono Trigger will be right up at the top of their list. While the
chances of a sequel are unfortunately almost nil, the team behind CT is still
alive and well, and their latest game is the game you see here, Xenogears.
While the legacy of what many consider to be the greatest RPG ever is
obviously going to be hard to top, it doesn't even seem like they're even
giving it their best effort here.
First, the battle system. In an effort to be different, Xenogears has come up
with a truly unusual battle system that gives new meaning to the phrase "If
ain't broke, don't fix it". Basically, you press different buttons to combine
weak, medium, and strong attacks. If you've learned the appropriate skills,
you can activate them by pushing the buttons in the right order... but almost
all the skills just do damage, so you always just keep using your best skill.
At least, that's what I understood -- the whole thing is just vague and
confusing, and you're never exactly sure what you should be doing. When
you're in your Gears, each attack consumes Fuel, so there's a bit more
strategy, but most of the battles are still pretty easy. Some of the bosses
can be fairly challenging and actually require a couple tries to beat, though.
A far better innovation that the battle system is the ability to jump, which
lends itself well to XG's 3-D environments. There's actually quite a bit of
platform-hopping, which was easily my favorite part of the game -- don't worry
if you're reflex-uninclined, it's pretty forgiving. The requisite mini-games
are here too, of course, and while most of them are pretty generic, there's
one that stands out: the Battling arena in Kislev, a fighting game using your
Gears. Not only is really fun, it's actually *better* than the main game, and
it's almost worth buying Xenogears for -- but, unfortunately, you don't gain
access to the full game until the very end of Disc 2.
And while we're on the topic, it should be noted that Square was very generous
to include a free coaster with the Xenogears logo on it with every copy of the
game. Oh, wait, that's not a coaster, that's just Disc 2... could have fooled
me. You've probably already heard about the infamous Disc 2, but if you
haven't, it consists almost entirely of narration with the occasional boss
fight about every half-hour or so. Yawn... wake me up when Dragon Quest 7
comes out, okay?
On the positive side of things, the visual presentation in Xenogears is
unmatched -- the graphics are consist of hand-drawn sprites on extremely
detailed polygonal backgrounds. This allows for a variety of camera angles
during the cutscenes, creating a more cinematic presentation. The battle
graphics are equally good, with even the simplest attacks accompanied by
impressive special effects.
Unfortunately, in all this graphical splendor, something far more important is
forgotten: usable camera angles. Fei seems to have the vision range of one of
the guards in Metal Gear Solid (i.e., he can see about two feet in front of
him), plus objects in the foreground don't disappear when they should,
blocking your view of the characters. This forces you to constantly change
camera angles, which leaves you really disoriented and confused.
Music-wise, Xenogears features an encore perfomance by Yasunori "The Chrono
Trigger Guy" Mitsuda, who, yes, composed Chrono Trigger's music. Although
still excellent, it's not quite up to CT's standards, as it's rather
repetitive -- you keep hearing the same 10 or so tracks over and over. That's
a fairly minor issue, though, and the music is still good.
So what *is* the draw here? The story. Xenogears certainly has the most
story in any game... there's a huge cast of characters, and the relations
between them are innumerable and complex. Despite its complexity, though, you
actually have a good idea what's going on, and although things are
(intentionally) confusing at first, by the end of the game, everything is
clear. This is due in part to the translation, which, while still far from
perfect ("Marshal Art's", "judgement", and the whole Shitan/Citan debacle), is
certainly better than some of Square's recently other efforts, and is actually
comprehensible. On the downside, the Dual Shock support is mysteriously
absent from the English version, which just makes no sense. Aside from that
minor quibble, the translation is good, and the plot flows well from event to
event. And therein lies the problem.
You see, there's simply too much dialogue in the game, and, worse, there's no
way to change the text speed (in fact, there's no customization menu at all).
You end up forced to sit through scene after scene of slow-speaking
characters, and the lines between "RPG" and "Alan Greenspan's Congressional
testimony" start to blur. I seriously almost fell asleep a couple times
playing this game, conjuring up frightening memories of Panzer Dragoon Saga.
And let's face it, if a game isn't fun, why bother playing it?
It's not that Xenogears is really a bad game, it's just not good enough to
compete with games like BOF3 or FF Tactics. If all you care about is story or
eye candy, Ithen you'll probably want to check out Xenogears. It certainly
gives you your money's worth lengthwise; it's one of the longest RPGs ever
made, clocking it at at least 50 - 60 hours. If you're looking for solid
gameplay, though, there's plenty of other games that are more worth your
attention -- you simply spend too much watching in Xenogears and not enough