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Xenogears - Review

Xenogreatness
By: Heath Hindman

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 5
   Music & Sound 10
   Originality 8
   Story & Plot 10
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 4
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Medium-Hard
   Completion Time 55-75 Hours  
Overall
9

Elly has some issues
Elly has some issues
Xenogears

   Just looking at the large pixels in the game's character models, Xenogears may appear to be a low-budget, second-rate game. However, it doesn't take more than an hour or two of play to realize that this title is so much more.

   This game is for players who are all about a grand story, and who don't mind spending 70 hours to absorb that story. The tale in question begins in Fei Fong Wong's peaceful hometown of Lahan. When conflicting military forces make an unexpected appearance and turn Lahan into their battlefield, Fei seemingly has no choice but to pilot a giant fighting robot called a "gear" to fight them off. This leads Fei into a series of life-altering events that will take him down a dark path of personal revelation, among other discoveries about the world around him.

   Visually, Xenogears might take some getting-used-to. When players first see the somewhat pixelated characters, one may question the graphic quality. But the more one looks at the beautiful scenery, the nicer the character models slowly become. Now toss in the fact that the environments are fully rotatable, and the use of anime scenes, and Xenogears stands out as one of the better-looking RPGs on the Playstation.

   In the audio department, Xenogears easily rises above 99% of all other video games on the market. The original score is absolutely gorgeous, and the right tracks are used at just the right times to help drive home the emotional power involved with the gripping plot. To boot, the sound effects are also very well done. No sounds are completely out of place, and the voices used in battles and anime sequences are not in the least bit obnoxious.

A very well-done world map
A very well-done world map

   The first battle system, in which characters battle on foot, isn't anything phenominal, but it's quite unique and solid enough to earn a good score. Each character has a certain amount of attack points, which are used when a player chooses to use one of three attacks. The triangle, square, and x buttons are assigned light, medium, and heavy attack strengths, respectively. Use of a light attack will cost one point, while a medium costs two, and a heavy attack requires three. As levels increase, more AP, the aforementioned "attack points," become available. Certain combinations of attacks will result in the chain concluding with a powerful "deathblow." Choosing which attack to use at what time, and when to conserve AP to make future deathblows more powerful is a welcome element of strategy. The second battle system is not as deep and considerably harder than the other system. Less attacks are available, but more can be done with them. By only using simple attacks, one will build a gear's "attack level," which will strengthen the attacks and deathblows one may perform later in that same battle. What makes this system difficult is that each gear has a certain amount of fuel that must be closely monitored. Like the regular battle system, each attack costs a different amount of energy, in this case, fuel; the more powerful the attack, the more fuel it uses. In addition, the ability to heal gears while in battle does not manifest until much later in the game than it should. This adds a bit of occasionally frustrating difficulty, but nothing that can't be overcome. Overall, the battles could've used a little touching up, but they are still better than the average game.

   Sadly, the game suffers from a lack of customization. It is understandable that the characters cannot be renamed, since there are anime sequences containing spoken dialogue, but so many other things are missing. There is no real method of giving your characters the particular strengths and weaknesses you would prefer, unlike many other games that allow far more character customization. Once a deathblow is learned, that's it; one cannot alter its attributes, level it up, or anything beyond simply using it in battle. The menu's appearance and in-game controls also can't be rearranged. Of course, these are all only minor complaints, and have very little impact on the overall quality of the game.

   Some larger complaints, however, would be regarding the game's balance/pacing. In the earlier portions of the game, the majority of your fighting will be done on foot. Meanwhile, once the halfway point of the game is reached, gear battles take center stage, and the first battle system will make very few appearances. Also in the latter parts of the game, the story will often be told by game characters sitting in a rocking chair, narrating events to the player, while this does not occur in the early-mid game stages.

Multiple attack options
Multiple attack options

   Moving on to other flaws, it is easy to get lost in the massive dungeons of Xenogears. The full camera rotation, which is essential to seeing everything around the party, can disorient the player and cause some frustration. On the upside, the towns in this game are tremendous, and even bigger than the huge dungeons. Xenogears' cities all play much larger roles in the game's plot than those of most other RPGs, which might be why Squaresoft made them so enormous, with a genuinely realistic atmosphere to compliment.

   The complex plot, unique battle systems, well-developed cast, amazing music, and fantastic cities make Xenogears an instant classic. Xenogears is a phenominal experience for those willing to give it a shot. The game is a bit on the long side, but to the gamers that hold the story as a key factor in determining an RPG's quality, those 70 hours will probably end too quickly.

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