Malik (3/11/05)

Xenosaga Episode 2: Jenseits von Gut und Böse (PS2)

From Monolith/Namco

I first off should mention I'm a fanboy for all things Xeno. I've played and beaten Xenogears (not the same, but from the same writers and mostly the same development team as Xenosaga) at least once a year since the game was released in 1998. I played and beat Xenosaga Episode 1 with great levels of enthusiasm. I never did beat it multiple times, but I came close this last December. When I heard that Xenosaga 2 was coming soon to the US many months back, I went into a pure joy-gasm. I live for playing Xeno games. 

So, with Xenosaga 2, some new changes have been brought forth to the Xenosaga style of game play, but the plot remained true as a true sequel to Xenosaga 1. At least that is what I knew of the game prior to it's release in February. So, does it live up to it's hype? Does it fulfill what Xeno fans would want? Does is teh roxor? 

This review is a little on the long side, but that's only because there is so much good (plot) and bad (almost everything else) to discuss.  Oooops!  I guess that was a spoiler of things to come.


The single best part of this game, like with XS1 and XG, is found in the plot. The plot is a direct continuation of the events in XS1. So, for those who haven't played XS1 and may still want to, keep in mind, as a true sequel, some spoilers are coming. Also, keep in mind that playing through XS1 is not fully required to play XS2, but you will be even more confused than the rest of us. Also, keep in mind that this review is being written with the assumption that you've beaten XS1. 

At the end of XS1, Momo was rescued by Shion and company. She was freed from the clutches of Albedo, who had just finished installing some devastating computer virus into her CPU. Also, Albedo had managed to escape from the party in order to await the outcome of this. Lastly, some major tensions were rising between the major factions in the known universe; Second Miltia (the equivalent to Earth in the story), the Federation (think the Federation from Star Trek, but with a bitchier attitude), U-TIC (major terrorist group with a government backed origin), and the Kukai Foundation (previously, like U-TIC, from the government, but now a company being ran by Jr. and Gaignun to gather the elusive Zohar emulators). 

So, XS2 opens just where you wouldn't expect; 14 years in the past. A realian (human looking and acting android) named Canaan is being given a sensitive mission from the Federation to rescue a group of URTVs from Miltia. Yup, from the original Miltia. This is the time of the great Miltian Conflict that doomed the planet to an abyss. However, General Helmer (later to be the representative of Second Miltia we know from XS1; Councilman Helmer) wants someone to assist Canaan; enter chaos. 

Long story short, they go down to the battle that is Miltia in their ES-Robot (think Gear or AWGS from XG or XS1...big robot) and fight for a while before encountering the Song of Nephilim. This is a mysterious song that has the ability to drive people to the brink of insanity. So, some friendly forces turn against them, with only one friendly ES pilot remaining sane enough to help chaos's group from being destroyed. This pilot would be a myserious swordsman named Jin Uzuki. 

Together Jin, chaos, and Canaan fight through the many insane, and previously friendly, ground forces. They soon find Marguiles, the future leader of U-TIC, who is also the commanding officer of Jin. An epic duel ensues between the two, and then you pwn Marguiles in combat. However, the story decides the fight was a draw, and Jin pushes back Marguiles and gives some special data (the "Y-Data") to Canaan. Right before Jin disappears after Marguiles, he explains that this encrypted data holds the true reason for the Miltian conflict and will answer all questions. 

Then chaos and Canaan manage to rescue a pair of URTVs (out of a whole squad they were charged with saving); Rubedo and Nigredo (later known as Jr. and Gaignun). 

If you're confused, there's a reason. This game is set up to be incredibly vague and confusing to begin with, but a majority of questions are answered as the game is played. However, a large amount will remain unanswered in order to compel you to play the sequel upon it's release. 

Anyway, the plot resumes in the present day (well, present to XS1) only minutes after the rescue of Momo and destruction of the massive Proto-Mercava space station that ended XS1. The party splits, with Shion and Allen preparing to hand over KOS-MOS to Vector (their employer), Ziggy taking Momo to the Federation (as he was charged to do in XS1), and Jr. and chaos go off to relax after their hectic battles. Before long, the groups meet up again, and Jin appears from the dust of the past to harass his sister (Shion). 

The story covers a less centralized approach this time. Instead of Shion being the hero, the game makes it more into three quests that all happen to travel the same path that involve Jin and Canaan decoding the Y-Data, Jr. trying to redeem Albedo and capture the Zohar, and Shion trying to solve a pseudo-spiritual quest given to her by a realian who died 14 years ago to save Shion's life. 

Also, the plot focuses more on the back grounds of two of the more neglected characters (at least in terms of background) of XS1; Jr. and Momo. You will learn about what the URTVs really are and why they were made. You will also learn how Albedo became the crazy psycho we all know from XS1. Most of all, you'll learn why Jr. wont age and what gives Albedo the power to regenerate a severed head...and maybe if Gaignun also has a power. Through this process of discovery, you'll also see the history of Momo and the girl she was designed from. 

Overall, the plot of XS2 is amazing. It is told from enough perspectives to give you more than just the hero's POV on the events. Also, it is told with great levels of detail that will only leave you wanting to discover more. Lastly, besides some major plot holes and re-writes (like...hmm...WHERE ARE THE GNOSIS?! They were everywhere in XS1 and you will only encounter them in computer simulations on XS2), this is the best example of a direct sequel ever made from such a deep plot as what we saw in XS1. You will be confused, but you will also feel like you are learning the plot and not just being spoon-fed the whole thing. 

Let me just say, when the game is said and done, the plot WILL make you want more.

Game Play 

Actually, let's save this for last...I want to remain upbeat as long as possible... 


Beautiful. That's it in a nut shell. The sceneries are designed with some amazingly fine textures, features, and attention to detail. If you pretend GT4 was never made, then you can easily say it doesn't get better than this on the PS2. 

The character models are wonderfully anime with a perfect blending of realistic visuals and a nice touch of anime/cartoon quality. This blending of styles gives the characters enough of a realistic touch to feel like you are part of a movie, but you still have enough of a fictional feel that you can still get excited about the fantasy behind all of this. Plus, the textures and polygons have not only been refined from XS1, but you will no longer find the clipping problems of XS1 (like when Albedo's cape would travel through his arms). Plus, each playable character has a separate costume that you can acquire through various means that will give another flawless look to the characters. On top of the quality, there are some nice details to the character models that were no present in the last game that help to add to the experience (like how KOS-MOS's hair will shimmer different colors as if it pulses with electricity, and far more realistic looking hands). 

The bulk of the character models you'll see, however, are those found in the cut-scenes. Once you hit a cut-scene, the wonderful visuals of the normal game only look like crap in comparison to this state of visual perfection. The characters are more finely detailed, the scenery is more breath-taking, and the animations for character movements are nothing short of flawless. 

The only real downfall to the visuals of this game come down to the fact that there are far too few character models for enemies. You will encounter only a few dozen enemies in the game, and most models are re-used at least once, if not more than that, with these few enemies. Plus, there is very little creativity with the enemy designs; you've seen all of these generic monsters before. There's nothing new fact, it's all old. 


This is where it starts to fall apart. The original Xeno games had awe inspiring sounds. From the voice acting (which was good as a whole) to the music, Xenogears and Xenosaga 1 were amazing. However, XS2 took a decidedly different path. 

The voice acting of XS1 is gone, despite the same characters being in the game and the game only takes place a few minutes later. Everyone is acted with a very subdued, or valium induced, level of energy. chaos sounds like he's suffered some mental degeneration in the 2 minutes between games, Shion is really whiney in a tranquil kind of way, Momo is a kid crying for her mommy the whole game while on just goes on and on. The only character who has an excuse for this lack of energy is Jin, who is a meditative type of person. The only exception to this lack of energy is in Jr., who has too much energy this time around in his constant childish attempts to have a temper tantrum at every turn. He is supposed to be pretty old, despite his youthful looks, but he acts like he's about 5 years younger than he looks. 

Also, these voices are all completely wrong for each character. The worst offender to this is KOS-MOS, who now sounds overly polite and docile. She no longer has the voice or attitude that says "killer android of doom", but rather a voice that makes her seem like "killer android of home making". The first things you hear her say in the whole game is a lesson, of sorts, in how to make an android be polite and a master of etiquette. This is all wrong. 

The only character who sounds like his old self is Albedo...he still sounds crazy and menacing. So, I guess it's not all bad. Just mostly bad. 

The sound effects are standard issue. That's not to say they're bad. In fact, they are quite good. However, it's nothing to bring any special mention to. They are good and that's that. 

The music...sigh...instead of the awe-inspiring techno meets chant style of music that made XS1 and XG seem so amazing and have such an all encompassing atmosphere, we have the music from a rejected Phantasy Star game. While the Song of Nephilim still sounds hauntingly beautiful, the rest of the music is almost a direct rip off of PSO, but with lower production values. The music will almost always leave you with a midi feeling of artificial happiness and excitement. This is not high class...this isn't even middle class. This is the slums of music. 

With how high of quality the sounds and music were in XS1, you could say at least the sound effects still rock...but you'll never notice them while the crappy midi inspired music and uninspired acting is taking center stage. Luckily, like with visuals, audio doesn't make or break an RPG, so this isn't a real strike against XS2. In fact, if you're nostalgic, this type of music is not all that irritating (if you hate nostalgia for older games, you WILL hate this music). 

Game Play 

I have been afraid of getting to this part. For those who played both Devil May Cry and DMC2, you may know what's coming. XS2 is the DMC2 of the Xenosaga franchise. 

Let's start with the basics. Traveling around an area. This is simple to do. I mean how many RPGs have actually messed this up? Not many. Only a couple. Including, now, XS2. While you move around in a similar fashion to how you did in XS1, you now do it at a fraction of the speed. This means that if you forget an important item needed for the next area, and you walk all the way to this area, you will usually rather save and quit for the night than want to walk all the way back to get said item (like a key, let's say) and then back again. 

Suikoden 4 was complained about to no end for how "slow" it supposedly was, but it was actually pretty quick. XS2 doesn't have the advantage of a real run button, like S4 had, so you'll have to move at a crawl matter what. However, you do have an option between walk and run. However, your speed will remain almost the same while your character will just change animations from a really bad looking walk to a really bad looking run animation. gets worse. If you ever travel in your ES Robots (like Gears in XG), and you will quite a bit in the second half of the game, you will move slower. This is despite the fact that your ES is about 5 times larger than your normal characters. Larger things should not move slower. I mean you will actually feel excited when you must get out of your ES since it means you will move quicker. The worst part of this is that, unlike XG, you cannot just select to get out of your ES on the fly. You have to find a special docking bay to get out. 

As you walk around, you also can destroy certain objects, like you could in XS1. These objects could either hold secret items, block secret doors, or just serve as traps. If you set off a trap while an enemy is in the blast radius, you will get a bonus to your next combat. These bonuses will usually be along the lines of starting with a higher stock counter in battle (I'll explain "stock" on), or a higher boost meter (this is like the boost meter from XS1, but it carries over from one battle to another and has a maximum limit to it, so you will usually not need this fact it never worked to my advantage in the entire game). Speaking of which... 

The battles are also quite similar to how they were in XS1. You have three party members, a weird combo system, and the ability to use attacks, ether (magic), items, escape combat, and boost. The combat meter from XS1 is also back. This meter lets you see who is next in combat and can be used to gauge when to boost. 

Boosting and combos are far more important this time around. As you fight, you can use a "stock" command to build up your "stock points". These points effect how many attacks you can get in an individual's round. Each round you can get one single attack, and sometimes a secondary attack. This is due to your stock meter slowly filling on it's own as you attack. However, with a full stock gauge (you can get up to 3 stock points...each attack costs 1 point), you can get one normal attack and a total of three bonus stocked attacks. Also, the boosting still plays like in XS1, in which you can cut ahead to next in line for combat...but only if you have a full boost meter (you can have three full meters at a time). This meter fills as you cause damage to the enemy. Also, if can fill with an attack that was gained by boosting, so you could chain more than three boosts at a single combo. However, you are still limited (at the start of the game, at least) to only boosting people who have not been assigned a place on the combat meter. 

Also, you can use special combos to take down an enemy's defenses. Most enemies have a special type of attack that can break their defenses (like two high attacks, a high then a low attack, a mid and then a low attack, etc). Once this happens, other attacks could send the enemy into the air or slam them to the ground. While in the air or on the ground, they will take extra damage, and some new attacks are available to your party. Basically, what this amounts to is a simple and annoying strategy in each battle. First you use "stock" on each character until their stock points are all maxed. Then you have someone start the combo to break an enemy's defenses. Then you boost another person before the enemy can recover to deal more damage. Then you boost the next person to do the same. Then you boost again and do small attacks (your stock points are gone by now), and keep repeating until the foe is done. Then you re-stock your stock points and do weak attacks to fill the boost meter and repeat on the next foe. Usually you will face between three and five enemies at a time. So, what does this amount to? Very slow and tedious combat. 

You are also told, at the start of the game, that how you approach an enemy will effect if you start with enemies behind you (bad), or if you could catch them by surprise (you behind them...good).  That is a load of bull shit.  No matter how you approach the enemies, the battle will be pre-determined.  In fact, most battles will have you approach a single enemy in a narrow corridor, yet they will be SURROUNDING you?!  This makes no sense on it's own, but it gets worse.  This set up will usually extend a battle by about 50%.  A battle that takes about 15 long and slow rounds will now take closer to 25 as you have to heal the extra damage you face from being surrounded.  To add insult, you will only be able to surround enemies a couple of times in the whole game (it was three times for me).  

On top of the slow combat and slow movement, the game continues to get worse. A majority of the game is set up to be side-quests. You can easily finish the game in about 25 hours, while the side quests (known as the Good Samaritan Campaign...or GSC) add an extra 15 hours, or more (not counting the "For the Captain" GSC, which could take a good 10+ hours on it's own). The only problem is that most of the GSC is made up of just running from one place to the furthest away point, back to the first place, and then usually to a third place that's really far away. When you add in that you travel so damned slow, this is just a pointless waste of time. However, the rewards for a GSC can range from something pointless (and then you regret doing the damned thing), to something so awesome that you will be hard pressed to get through the game without it (which is why you'll do these damned things). 

Also, a large part of the GSC and the non-GSC side events cannot even be accomplished until after you've beaten the game. This means that after you feel like throwing the game out a window for about 30+ hours, you'll still have more to do, assuming you're a perfectionist. I couldn't do this. I just couldn't take anymore. In fact, I bet that a majority of people who would play through a second time on XS1 or XG would not touch this game again after beating the final boss (if you even get that far). 

Plus, to make these GSC events even worse, you can fail them quite easily. You will get about 30 minutes into one and then you'll mess up and then you won't know until you finish the quest after another 15 minutes. Then you are faced with a choice of either reloading and re-doing the whole damned thing, or accepting the reward (or lack there of) you get from failing. How easy is it to fail? In one quest you must deliver four letters to people around the world. You have little information in addition to that. One kid will notice the letters and ask for his. If you give it to him, you failed. You don't know who the letter belongs to, but you better not give it to the kid if you want to succeed in this GSC. You won't even know you've failed until after you finish the rest of the deliveries and talk to the one who asked you to do this pointless task. Another one entails you not speaking to a certain person again (after you talk to her once), until you've finished ever GSC. If you talk to her pre-maturely (and you will be hard pressed to remember who this "danger" person was, and you'll have about 40+ hours of game to play while you forget), you failed. That's it. 

As for the character level's not too bad. While each character is no longer unique in skills and ethers, this is nothing new. Square has been doing this since FF5, and other companies have followed suit since then. However, the variety of skills that each person can buy (from the same list that everyone else uses) is pretty impressive. A good deal of these skills are pointless, but there's a little over 100 skills to consider. You will gain the ability to buy these skills by collecting skill points from combat. While all characters will gain experience (for gaining levels), only people in the battle when it concludes will get skill points. However, you can use certain items to gain skill points, so you don't need to always worry about swapping people in and out of your party (I personally only used Momo twice in the game, and only used Jr until I had access to KOS-MOS, and only used Jin twice after the opening scene, yet this was my party for the final battle thanks to these skill items). 

Each skill is assigned to a class. There are four skills per class (some are locked until you get a special item, usually found in a GSC), 8 classes per level (only four to level 4), and four levels of skills. Each class is opened by spending class points (gained from items and boss battles, and you get some by buying all skills in a class). Each level is opened by buying every skill in a class of the lower level. Also, each new level of skills will cost more skill points per skill. It's a nice system to setup customized characters while still having the feeling that you have some guidance. In fact, if so many skills weren't so worthless, this would be a pretty cool system...well, assuming the skill systems of XG and XS1 never happened...and assuming you like your characters to have the potential to all be identical. You want a healer? Well, why not have all 7 characters play healer? You can... 

Anyway, that is the gist of the game play system. You will walk slowly to a battle. The battle will progress really slowly (especially at the end of the game, when a normal battle can take a good ten minutes). Then you can get some extra power by doing a GSC quest, which is very slow and bitchy. Then you can progress the story (which is cool and fun). Then you can upgrade your characters (which is not too bad). However, the only part you'll remember after all is said and done is the time you wasted, and will never get back, spent walking and fighting. That is why the game play mechanics of XS2 just kills what could've been a fun game (assuming it used either the game engine of XS1, or the engine of almost any other RPG ever programmed). 


So, while Xenosaga 1 and Xenogears brought the best in plot and game play, Xenosaga 2 failed.  We still have a great example of eye-candy and...ummmm...plot-candy?  However, while the plot will leave you wanting more, that is only until you think of the game play mechanics you had to endure to reveal this awesome plot.  XS2 is a perfect example of what could make a wonderful anime series.  However, with such a horrible plot, that will always leave you wanting less XS2, I have no choice (and I'm a fanboy of this development team) but to give Xenosaga 2 a 4.0/10.  Sigh...I need a fanboy dreams are nothing but ashes...



So very pretty...




You will be surrounded in 50% of the battles...and yes, it slows down the game



You mean Shions a...

:cough: skank! :cough:



It looks like the good old menus of XS1...but where's the "Equipment" menu?



Since it happens so damned often, let's see you surrounded in battle again!