Review By: Jared Black
"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and
the end, the first and the last" flashes upon the screen. Quickly, the viewer
is shown a spaceship traveling through space. All seems well...then suddenly
everything goes to "code red". As an evil presence overtakes the ship, the
captain does all he can to save the ship. The words "You shall be as gods"
fill up on the ship's main viewer. The crew struggles futilely to fight the
evil presence. Finally, seeing no alternative the captain orders the ship
to be evacuated. Once that is done, the captain then takes a final loving
look at a picture of his family, and pushes the button that will seal his
fate forever. As the camera pans over the wreckage of the ship, it zooms
in on a young woman. Despite standing over the wreckage of a just fallen
ship, her eyes seem to convey a sense of hope. What exactly was the ship
carrying? Who is this woman? Is she a survivor or an observer of the crash?
More importantly, why is she naked? It's with these questions that you begin
your trek into the engrossing world of Xenogears.
I have always been a huge Squaresoft fan. In fact, I think it could be said
that Squaresoft is easily my favorite game designer. Squaresoft has a remarkable
magic--the ability to develop games that manage to tackle extremely big and
complex issues with style and grace, all the while being able to keep their
games fun to play. However, I must admit that their recent releases had spooked
me somewhat--I definitely got burned by SaGa
Frontier, Parasite Eve was extremely short, and even Final Fantasy
VII was a bit of a let down for me. So, I went into Xenogears a bit wary....
would it be yet another disappointment? I must admit, for the first hour
or so it seemed that way. After the amazing opening scenes, the player is
thrown into the game world with little or no backstory. The 3D world was
somewhat hard to navigate, and there's a sense of "lostness" at the start,
even after reading the manual. Luckily, this all changed after the first
hour. I became accustomed to the controls, the story started picking up,
and I began to realize that I definitely made a great buy.
First off, let's start with the plot. Honestly, Xenogears has perhaps the
greatest plot EVER in an RPG. The whole way through the action in the plot
never slows down. Political dealings, emotions, inner struggles....this game
has it all. The thing that makes the plot so great though is in the way it
is presented. Some game designers assume that some of their audience
is....umm...somewhat uneducated...and so they pretty much spell out the whole
plot for the player. Xenogears takes a different approach--the player actually
gets a chance to figure things out for themselves. The characters offer enough
insight so the player is never lost, but they *don't* give away the plot.
The events are presented to you, and you get a chance to figure everything
out yourself. By not pointing things out that are obvious (ex: That town
was blown up! I bet everyone died!), the game manages to draw the gamer in
even more by making it feel more like a real world.
Also, the plot is one of the most original I've ever seen in an RPG. Yes,
there is the typical "you vs. the evil empire/villain/society" type thing,
but the gamer quickly realizes that the plot is MUCH deeper than that. Another
thing I like about the plot is that it actually centers around the characters
themselves. Unlike some games where you're sent on random quests for seemingly
no reason, you actually have a personal motivation for doing the things you
do. Yes, once or twice Xenogears does fall into the "do it because it's the
right thing to do" trap, but not often. Again, this lends credibility to
the world in which you play. Overall, Xenogears has one of the most complex
and engrossing plots ever (maybe even better than the mighty Final Fantasy
3), and I guarantee you that your jaw will drop on numerous occasions (especially
in the second disk!). I could rant on and on about the plot, but I'll just
tell you that if plot were one of our scoring criteria it would get a 20.
The characters are also very well developed.
There are some typical stock characters in there, but for the most part they're
all unique. The main characters are shown to the gamer very deeply, especially
the character development of Fei. Each character has their own unique history,
feelings, and motivations for doing what they do. Even the secondary characters
are explained pretty thoroughly, and you'll have no doubts about why they
do the things they do.
Now let's move onto the graphics. This is perhaps the only area where this
game is less than perfect. First off, let me say that there are some amazing
graphics in this game. The anime movies shown at different points in the
game are very well done, and really help to move the plot along. The environments
are also very well done, and the town of Nisan is one of the most impressive
that I've seen in an RPG to date. Every polygon is rock-solid, each area
is extremely detailed, and throughout 64+ hours of gameplay I never found
a single graphical glitch. However, this extreme detail comes at a price.
For instance, Blevadik (the capital of Aveh) slows down horribly in the main
square, and a few other areas also experience slowdown. However, this is
very minor because it doesn't hinder gameplay at all.
The in-game battles are also very well done. The majority of your time will
be spent fighting in Gears, and these just look spectacular. These huge
fighting robots are very detailed, and each has its own unique look. They
are impressive, with detailed attack animations and extremely impressive
special moves. When fighting without a gear, your characters are very nicely
animated. Each performs their own variety of moves and spells, and very nice
graphical effects accompany these. There is one other small complaint I have
about the graphics though--the sprite based models of the main characters.
I have nothing against sprite based characters, but a couple of the characters
are just plain ugly. Bart Fatima looks like a horse from one angle, and some
of the other characters are blurry. Again, this isn't really a problem (I
can still tell who they are), but it is annoying. Overall, this game is very
strong in the graphics department.
The sound...oh man, where do I begin to praise the aural aspect of this game?
The music is excellent, continuing in the Squaresoft tradition of always
having an amazing soundtrack. No matter what is happening in the game, it's
always accompanied with the perfect music. I've found myself humming the
tunes almost everywhere I go--they're that impressive. In fact, I'd say that
the soundtrack also rivals the one found in Final Fantasy 3, which I've long
thought to be superior to any other game. The sound effects are also top
of the line. Each character has their own exclamation when battling, and
each move in battle is accompanied by the appropriate sound (metal Gears
clang, fists "oomph", etc.). The only complaint I have about the sound is
in the anime clips. The characters are very "Godzilla-esque", as the words
almost never match the mouth movements. This is extremely minor though, and
understandable given the vast differences between Japanese and English. No
game really comes as close to aural perfection as this game.
The overall gameplay experience is extremely
well done. Although the enemies are random (similar to the FF series), they
don't appear enough to make it annoying and ruin the experience. There's
a nice mixture between fighting and exploring, and the enemies advance in
difficulty at seemingly just the right pace. You also generally learn enough
as you advance, meaning no annoying "leveling up" found in some games. And
at around 60 hours of so gameplay time (assuming you explore a lot like I
did), there's plenty of bang for your buck. Xenogears also features a few
nifty extras too, including a very fun card game and a surprise appearance
by a character from Chrono Trigger. However, I must warn you of one thing.
In game story sequences can get VERY long, with one clocking in at around
an hour. I would recommend that you don't plan on playing this game in short
sessions, since save points are also often distanced. Even if you are extremely
impatient I still recommend buying this game though, as the story itself
will be enough to keep you interested.
Bottom line, this is the best RPG on the Playstation. The story far exceeds
anything found on any system (with the possible exception of FF3), the graphics
certainly hold their own with any other RPG (especially since there are no
annoying Summon movies...), the soundtrack is just amazing, the story and
extras are enough to give this tremendous replay value, and most importantly
the game will never fail to grab your attention and amaze you. It's almost
scary that due to the controversial content we almost didn't get this
masterpiece. Yes, I know that there are a couple glitches...but I still
think that as one of the best games available for the Playstation (and certainly
the best RPG) this game deserves these scores.