Malik (4/21/04)

Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht (PS2)

Developed my Monolith and Produced by Namco

This review originally was presented on lazy.GEEKS (5/26/03)

First off, for those who don't know about the Xeno fan base (I would say world, but...just read on), I should start at the beginning.  In 1998, Xenogears was released for the PSX.  It was considered a controversial game that almost never saw the American shores.  It was deemed so due to countless pieces of religious symbolism, including themes such as reincarnation, conflicting religious cults (the Ethos vs. the cult of Nisan...if you want to know more, play the game; it is worth it), and the evilness of a creature known as god.  It also featured one of the most innovative combat systems in a RPG to date; the use of combos with simple button sequences, magic (ether, chi, or arcane), and the use of giant mechs known as Gears.  The story was deep and full of constant plot twists, and truly drew the playing into an amazing world where future meets past.

Well, fast forward to 2003 (much earlier in Japan...once again many were fearing that this gem would not see the U.S...note to Monolith: the U.S. loves this game, and when the sequels are ready, just send them to the U.S. and let us get on with worshipping you with our money), and Xenosaga finally arrived.  The original Xenogears took place thousands upon thousands of years in the future on a planet far from Earth.  Xenosaga instead starts with a cut scene from approximately modern day Earth in Kenya where an ancient monolith like structure known as Zohar is discovered.  Then once again we are off to a new time period.  We soon meet the main heroes who all live on space ships and stations as a result of their home planet being deemed uninhabitable by some mysterious accident.  I won't explain any more on the story itself as this is a game you have to play to appreciate.  Now that you all have some idea of the what and why of Xenosaga, it is time to get this review rolling.


I guess the best place to start this is where most people give the most attention; visuals...which is ironically that part of a game that means the least to me (viva 8-bit!).  The cut scenes in this game are absolutely gorgeous.  Where Xenogears used wonderfully drawn anime-style cut scenes, Xenosaga instead uses a more polygonal approach.  While I was a big fan of the original using anime style scenes, I have to say I thought the method used in Xenosaga was greatly executed.  The cut scenes used a style similar to Final Fantasy 7 in which the cut scenes looked a lot like the actual game.  This is good since most of the game is made up of cut scenes, and thus (at least to me) you don't feel ripped off when you watch hours of anime to play a couple hours of something that looks nothing like what you were enjoying a minute ago.  Also, the polygonal models used in Xenosaga are really quite impressive.  People look like people, the Gnosis (the evil ethereal enemies) look scary (sometimes I thought I was in more of a Resident Evil game than an RPG...that is a compliment), and the special effects are explosive.


The game doesn't stop shining with just eye-candy, the audio component fits the game perfectly.  The sound effects sound like they should...too often lately I've been seeing games where a gun is shot and sounds more like a bottle rocket, or some glass breaks and it sounds like thunder.  None of that here.  When something explodes, it sounds like something is actually exploding (if you have a nice stereo, you'll want to turn it up).  The music is perfectly executed.  When you are in a fun setting like a town, the music is light hearted and relaxing, when you're in a battle, the music gets you pumped up (although you will get a little tired of the battle music since you will be fighting a lot, but it's not nearly as bad as some other RPGs in this respect), and when the game wants to scare the crap out of you, the music will only heighten this experience (the Song of Nephilim is some of the eeriest music I've ever heard).  The only complaint I have at all is some of the voice acting is just wrong.  I wish people would decide to quit using the same voice actors over and over again.  Jr., a gun toting child (or is he a child?) with the voice of Jim from Outlaw Star seems redundant and hearing what I believe is the voice of Sasami (from the Tenchi series) for MOMO just gets old.  It's not that the voice acting is necessarily bad, but I just want to hear something fresh...sorry, but I had to bitch about that.  Well, my complaints aside, the voice acting is pretty good for being in English; I would have liked an option for Japanese voice acting with English subs, but oh well...

Game Play

As for the gameplay (what I feel is by far the most important aspect of any game), simply put, it is great.  On the map screen, you can walk, run, shoot, hide, climb, and do a dozen other things with no fear of your control lacking the responsiveness you need.  If you are being chased by an enemy (no random battles on this can see and avoid or confront just about anything except for bosses), you don't need to fear the game reading your actions wrong.  If you are trying to lure an enemy into a hallway where a barrel of explosives is so you could turn, shoot the barrel and then confront the Gnosis-scum while it is distracted by the fiery explosion, you can.  And once you have done that, you can fight the enemy in a battle where you have more options than you can even need (want in your A.G.W.S...the new name for almost giant mechs, want to fire off some magic, perform a few special moves, run like a sissy, steal some items, can and will).  Then when that is said and done, take your points (experience points, tech points, ether points, and skill points) and fully customize your characters in any way you want.  If you would rather raise your strength than improve a special move, you can.  Then take that hard earned money (and in Xenosaga, until you go to the casino game, it is hard to come by) and buy a new A.G.W.S., some equipment, some items, or even go play one of nearly a dozen mini-games.  This game has a little of everything so you will be hard pressed to ever get truly bored of all you can do (and if you do get just suck).


The story in this game is presented in great cut scenes, and well thought out dialogue.  Most of the time you play will leave you wondering what is going on and some questions never get fully answered, but that is why this is Episode 1.  I won't spend too much time on the story, since I wouldn't want to give anything away, but I'll just say two things; never claim to know what's going on or you will be playing the fool, my friend; and also, for those who played Xenogears, this game does and doesn't take place in the past.  According to numerous interviews with the development team (you can find them at almost any game news website that's been up for the last year or so, so I'll let you read them for yourself), this game is not directly related to Xenogears, but you will find many tie-ins and will show images of some familiar characters (try to spot the Elly).

The only place where Xenosaga lacks (I can't write a whole review and not complain once...), is there is very little replay value to it.  While you can go back and play all the mini-games again, there is not much in the way of hidden story events.  So, if you play through the game once, don't expect much on a second journey.  You must remember though that this game will take you some time to finish (you can beat it in under 20 hours...or so I heard, but I hate rushing something so good), so it is worth buying.  For anyone who wants to say that they beat the game in only blah blah hours...two things; One, don't rush a masterpiece (you shouldn't beat a game just to see how quick you can do it anymore than you should gulp 21 year old Irish Whisky); Two, the timer in the game is not accurate...I spent a few weeks playing like a mad man and my timer only said 20 something hours at the end.


So, to wrap this up, I have to say this game is a masterpiece.  I personally felt more drawn into Xenogears, but that is no insult to Xenosaga.  Xenosaga kept me playing from start to finish without stopping to regain my desire to play.  For some people that doesn't mean much, but as you will all see from my future posts, I hate everything, so for me to like this game truly means something good for Xenosaga.  For those of you who want a score or something, I give this game a 9.5/10.