Old RPG Review #30: Xenogears

NuMetalManiak
I've finally reached #30! And it's with a game that I was itching to play ever since I touched on RPGs and for one reason only, Knight of Fire. This music track totally owns and I really wanted to play this game because of that. Well, I did, and what do you know, it turns out to be a Squaresoft RPG, the same company that gave us Chrono Trigger. I gotta say though, it's incredibly tough to get it working on an emulator like ePSXe because of all the settings that need to be adjusted beforehand. Getting red screens with nothing happening sucks.

Gameplay: Xenogears is an active-time RPG similar to Chrono Trigger. With two battling systems, it's quite complex. The first involves up to three of your characters in hand-to-hand combat. When a turn comes, the player uses can execute attacks via Triangle (weak attack), Square (strong attack), and X (fierce attack). The weaker the attack, the less damage done, but at least the accuracy is better for weaker attacks. Some characters have Ether, which is the magic of this game, including offensive and supporting spells using up EP. Deathblows are the most notable thing here, because you input a combination of buttons to execute attacks, certain combos allow for very powerful moves. To learn them, the combination for them must be used often until they appear in the status screen, with a percentage for learning them. Action points, or AP, can be stored if you don't use every attack right away. Storing them helps in the Combos menu, where you can chain a string of deathblows delivering massive damage.

Character battling is one thing, but gear battling is another. These gears can dish out and take tons of damage, meaning you don't want to be a character when fighting something well over your size. In a gear, there's a bit more survivability. Gear battling is different from character battling as now attacks use up fuel. Without fuel they cannot attack (unless you have a character that can use ether attacks, which are one exception). Fuel can be regained with the Charge command, and the Booster command enables gears to go faster at the expense of fuel. Executing deathblows in gears are different too, you need to build up an attack level using normal attacks, and then the option of using stronger, but different deathblows becomes available. Also healing gears is really hard to come by, as you need a special frame, accessed from special options to do so. Special options also shows certain skills unique to some gears. One caveat is Hyper Mode, accessible at Attack Level 3 and triggering at a certain percentage sometimes. If Hyper Mode is engaged, well, your opponent will likely be in a world of hurt. :)

So Xenogears has great combat mechanics. Outside of combat is traditional JRPG flair. Nothing too out of the ordinary although locations can be hard to reach sometimes. The navigation mechanic is similar to Wild ARMs 2, with the compass rotating option. You can also dash anywhere and even jump (this of course gives way to horrible jumping puzzles!). I found it a good idea to keep many items, especially a select few which come into play much later on. There's an interesting minigame with a 2-player function in one town, with gear combat much different than in-game and Tekken-like graphics and gameplay. It's fun sometimes. One thing to note, Xenogears is a LONG game, drawn out with loads of plot points, so you'll be direly wanting gameplay after some scenes.

Gameplay grade: B+

Characters

Fei Fong Wong: Main character, known more than anyone here. Lovely ponytail, martial artist, he's got the main character tropes. Noteworthy is his inner self, which has been known to be much more ruthless. His first gear is Weltall, an average gear. It gets upgraded in the second disc of the game, with a special option automatically enabling Hyper Mode. He eventually gets Xenogears, the titular gear, all powerful and awesome.
Citan Uzuki: Perhaps the best character overall. Great speed, great power, which is unusual for a doctor. He and Fei have a few support spells by the way. Citan's a favorite character mainly due to his amazing power and speed, going before many other characters. His gear, Heimdal, is actually quite average, but his Omnigear Fenrir is an improvement. I like Citan.
Bartholomew Fatima: That's my current profile picture. A crazy pirate with an eyepatch, a submarine, and whips. I like his style, but he's almost entirely the average character of the game, character AND gear wise. He does get the Omnigear first though (main gear is Brigandier, Omnigear is Andvari). Also Wild Smile is a good Ether ability for Bart.
Elhaym Van Houten: Elly for short, she's competent as a character, with actually good power in attacks. Her defense and HP are quite low though. Best used for using Ether spells, of which she has plenty, however, they are not always 100% effective in combat. Her gear is Vierge, which is pretty much the same, although with Ether you don't have to worry about fuel that much. If that weren't enough, Aerods. Those things hit every enemy for tremendous damage, which makes her a tagalong very often. Elly becomes unusable late in the endgame, so I used her very often.
Rico Banderas: Combine Ganondorf with Blanka and this is the character you get. Rico is the tank archetype, slow speed, great power. Because of this, he's not too popular. Stier is his gear and it's pretty much like Rico, but the defense is amazing.
Billy Lee Black: A priest with GUNS. A pretty good character, although you need to stock him with gun ammo and his defense is god-awful (worse than Elly's). He does however have access to the best support magic, and is the closest to a healer in this game. His gear Renmazuo is very average, again using guns.
Maria Balthasar: On foot Maria is pretty bad, her only really saving grace is the ability to summon her gear Seibzehn in order to attack enemies, but she's weak otherwise. In Seibzehn, Maria's very powerful, but like Rico's Stier it's slow.
Chu-chu: A pink fuzzy mascot which feels like a joke character. She can join for gear combat, growing to the size of a gear. Overall, she's very weak, but holds a unique ability to heal other gears without the use of frames. Also, no fuel needed. Give her drives if you really want to use Chu-chu, I'm not a fan of this one.
Emeralda Kasim: Emeralda is basically the same as Elly, good ether abilities, weak overall power. Her attack animations are strange, as she uses her whole body in that case to attack. She's the fastest character in the game, faster than Citan. Her gear, Crescens, is kinda like Vierge without the Aerods. Emeralda reminds me of Rydia from Final Fantasy IV, with the green hair as well as the fact she goes from child form to adult form in this game.

To complement the playable characters, there is a very diverse cast, including supporting character such as Sigurd (another eyepatch dude), Maison (old guy), Margie (Bart's cousin), Hammer (rat dude), Queen Zephyr (leader of Shevat), Jessie Black (my personal favorite), and Big Joe (this guy is everywhere!). Lots of interesting villains, including Miang, Krelian, Ramsus, the elements, Grahf, and a few minor ones. Basically anyone with a picture you know is an important character. Grade: A+

Plot: I have to say, this game is the War and Peace of JRPGs, as it will take a very long time to finish this game. It's worth it for the story though.

Our ponytailed slacker Fei is living nice and easy in Lahan. After running an errand, Lahan is under attack by a bunch of gears, and Fei thinks he can save the day by climbing into Weltall who happens to be there. This backfires and it turns out Fei destroys the whole village killing lots of survivors. Oops. He's exiled and leaves the village, with doctor Citan tagging along. Elly is met in a forest, but doesn't stay long, and after a military crapshoot, the guys are captured. That's when Bart attacks with Yggdrasil, the sand submarine of things. Fei helps Bart out with his problem of claiming the Aveh throne, but that fails, ultimately resulting in Fei losing control again and destroying things.

That's when Fei ends up in a prison in Nortune. This has got to be the longest prison sequence ever, as Fei is forced to commit to prison laws, with Rico the tough guy being the big popular one at the prison. Hammer's also here. Citan arrives at Nortune to help Fei out here, and that's where Fei finds out battling could be the key to removing his prison life. With the unexpected lines of Wiseman and Elly, the heroes set off from Nortune, only for Bart to impulsively shoot them down like the idiot he is. Quite a few things happen, Fei and Elly are separated from everyone on a cool ship, while villains such as Ramsus and Miang track them down, Ramsus in particular for personal reasons. Fei ends up in bad shape and isn't in the party for a while. But we got Billy, who is a priest helping out, only to discover his church is pretty much corrupted. We see the first of Id (Fei's other self) at around this time too. Fei has no idea about it though.

Upon entering the floating city of Shevat, the party comes up with plans to infiltrate Solaris, with Maria, Chu-chu, and Emeralda joining around this time. Upon entering Solaris, Fei, Elly, and Citan are separated again, but unite eventually. Fei and Elly learn the horrible truth about some meat they ate and how sick this Krelian guy is. Also Citan has been working for the Emperor of Solaris for some time. Not like he's a true traitor though, he still is playable, and the party finds out about Fei's Id and escape from Solaris as it crumbles.

Upon Disc 2's inception, the game is pretty much 80% complete which is ridiculous. Almost every character is seen already, and there were tons of scenes, including some really confusing ones with heads in a sphere or something. On Disc 2, the developers were rushed in finishing it, so it's VERY plot driven at this point. You'll see characters sit down in a chair discussing points as narration or something, with very little play time. Of the important things that happen, NPC's turn into creatures called Wels which have been fought already, character's get Omnigears, Hammer betrays the party and dies, and Elly is taken by Krelian and Miang because of her being the "mother" or something. Ramsus tells everyone about himself, and finding out he was betrayed by some means, he kills Miang, but then Elly becomes the new Miang and fuses with Deus. Fei tries to find some way to free her, running into Wiseman, who turns out to be Fei's father Khan (not that Khan), who turns out to be Grahf! Fei manages to negotiate with his "Id" and gain Xenogears, and at this point Grahf makes some sacrifice so Fei can save Elly. So Fei and the gang confront Deus to rid of the evil and save Elly. Nude scenes, followed by anime scenes, finally end this long game.

Overall, the plot can be confusing but it's a super strong point. As Xenogears is a plot driven game, this section gets an A. If only it gave more in gameplay as well, and Disc 2 wasn't so strict with "points of no return" and the like.

Music: Knight of Fire, that is all. Okay, there are many more awesome tracks, like Steel Giant, Premonition, June Mermaid, Thames - Men of the Sea, Emotion, and Chain of Ocean and Fire. Grade: A+ Needs no explanation.

Overall grade: A-

This is an RPG you really don't want to play twice, because it is so freakin' long. But as long as it is, it's got a lot of great music, gameplay and plot to go along with it. Sometimes, it feels like it's dragging, so it's not among the absolute best. The philosophical allusions are cool though, if you're into that kind of thing.

Comments

For me this game has the greatest story of all time! Awesome review! - visitor

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