Fei says, Why do we need to fight? I say, BECAUSE IT'S FUN!
Developer: Square EA Publisher: Squaresoft Genre: RPG Players: 1 Memory Blocks: 1 Discs: 2 Analog: No Dual Shock: No ESRB: Teen Difficulty: Intermediate
It's been a year after the love for Xenogears brought Cosmo Canyon to its knees, but the game lives on as one of Square's best titles. It's got it all: great graphics, anime, wonderful music, excellent plot, and a fun, complex battle system. There are barely any slow or boring parts in the game, and if there are, they always build up to a thrilling climax (or at least a boss battle).
Gameplay-- There are different ways to advance in the plot in Xenogears. One is by foot, with two-dimensional sprites in a fully 3-D world, and battles with karate moves, combos, and special attacks. Another way is by Gear, giant Power Ranger-like machines, which are two-dimensional outside of battle, but three dimensional and kickin' inside. The world map functions the same way.
Battles in Xenogears are much like any Final Fantasy battle. Three characters can battle at a time, and some commands include Attack, Defense, Ether/Chi, Item, and Escape. Some characters use their bare fists and feet, when some use weapons like whips or rods.
In the separate attack menu, the game functions more like a fighting style. There are three different levels of attack: weak, strong, and fierce. On foot, depending on how high the character's level is, he/she is given an allotted number, determining how many of these attacks he/she can use. For example, if that number is 5, the character could use one fierce attack (using 3 out of the five), and two weak ones (using 1 each). On Gear, the attack menu functions slightly differently. There are still weak, strong and fierce attacks, but they use up the Gear's total amount of fuel.
Combos are a great addition to the attack menu. Through the game, the characters learn their own combos, which are engaged when they use a certain sequence of attacks. Fei's Raijin attack, for example, requires one weak attack, and then a strong one, using 4, uh, attack-number-thingies, and ending his turn. On Gear, combos work the same way, but can only be used when the Gear's attack power is at one or higher, explained in greater detail below.
Gears require maintenance in and outside of battle. Parts on Gears can be upgraded, just like armor. In battle, there are many attributes to look out for. One is the Gear's main HP, which cannot be replenished in battle until much later in the game. Another is fuel, which can be replenished slowly when a turn is given up during battle. Fuel is used when the Gear executes an attack; a weak one using 10 fuel units, a strong one using 20, and a fierce one using 30. Combos take even more fuel. Another attribute is the Gear's attack power. Starting at 0 in a battle, it determines if a combo can be used. The attack power rises when a regular fuel attack is executed, and lowers when a combo is used. Curative items and character healing spells do not affect the Gear's HP, but the character's HP, which is insignificant during a Gear battle.
Ether, or Chi in Fei's case, or Ether Machine in a Gear's case, is a character's special skill, using EP, identical to MP. Ethers can cure characters, lower enemy stats, raise character stats, and attack enemies. Some Ethers can only be used on foot.
Towns and cities are much more realistic in size, and being fully 3-D helps. There are inns, weapon, armor, item and Gear shops, and residence.
Graphics-- Xenogears' graphics are extraordinary. Despite the graininess of some characters, and the fact that they only face the eight cardinal directions, they interact well with the lush 3-D backgrounds. It is an interesting concept to be able to rotate the scene, without barely any clipping and an attractive view at any angle. In battle, the effects of special moves push the PlayStation's graphics to the limit. Sometimes, in very complex scenes, the frame rate drops, but that is barely noticeable. When aboard a Gear, the scenery becomes smaller, and in scenes where there are both characters and Gears, the characters appear very small. In battle, the gears are three-dimensional, and retain the same battle postures as the two-dimensional characters off their gears. Small enemies are 2-D, when larger ones are 3-D.
The cinema sequences add a lot to the game, even though there aren't a lot of them. Some are anime FMV's, while some are 3-D, and some are both. With the scenes being 3-D, FMV's are not needed in some places where they would be in other games, like Final Fantasy 7 and 8. The PlayStation does not support the anti-alias effect, but in some scenes they look so picturesque that that doesn't even matter.
Music-- Yasunori Mitsuda, known for his work in Chrono Trigger and sound effects in the Final Fantasy series, composes the music in Xenogears. Some of his best work is put into Xenogears, such as the overworld theme, the theme for the Yggdrasil sand ship, or the main theme of the game, titled Chain of Ocean and Fire. The battle theme gets a bit annoying after a while, but everything else deserves a happy face and a gold star.
The sound effects in the game are great, too. It somehow makes me say "I got a good feeling!" every time I hear the sound of the Gear Weltall clanging up and down the desert. Chu-Chu's happy little grunt even makes me smile. Also, like any fighting game, the characters grunt and yell during battle, in a tone of voice that is 100% more believable than in Destrega. Also, in most anime cutscenes, the characters actually talk, and they also say each others' names (meaning you can't name your characters). The only bad part, of course this game was originally in Japanese, and the lip sync is worse than Pokémon's. That should really sum up the lip sync for you.
Storyline-- The plot in Xenogears is hailed as one of the best ever in an RPG. It focuses on the backgrounds of many characters, and not only playable ones. The story begins in the small town of Lahan, where the artist and martial artist Fei lives, years after he lost his memory (enter dramatic and mysterious past). All of a sudden, one day, Gears from a neighboring country come and attack Lahan. The blame is placed on Fei, who steals a Gear and ends up unwillingly destroying the town. What awaits him is the clash between two warring continents, and a journey into his own past... and whatnot.
Fun Factor and Overall Satisfaction-- Xenogears is an action packed game. The boss battles have to be the most fun part of the game, with the lengthly discussions and annoying caves and dungeons to be the least fun. The overall feel of the game keeps the fun factor high, though, and the graphics are also a plus.