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Review By: Joel Fajardo
Developer:    Square
Publisher:   Square EA
# of Players:   1
Genre:   RPG
ESRB:   Teen

Xenogears is a game that was never intended for a U.S release. When it was created, before the merger of SquareSoft and Electronics Arts (now known as Square Electronic Arts Ltd.), Square of Japan had the idea of making a game that the Japanese game market could appreciate and accept. Thus, Xenogears was born. Xenogears showed a major emphasis and a large amount of subtle messages (were displayed) on religion, mainly that of the Christian faith, as Final Fantasy Tactics did. This aspect seems more attractive and favorable to a mature audience, a group that can comprehend more than younger children might. In the same way, it makes strong references to the Bible, when it portrays the features, personality, and character of the protagonists. Straight off, XG is an exciting and unique title.

Xenogears starts off with the words “ I am Alpha… Omega… Beginning… End… First… and Last…” along with an introduction that makes absolutely no sense 'til the later half of the game. You then view a scene where you see the main character, Fei, fighting inside a Gear. The screen darkens, and the game begins. As I said before, you control the main character of the game, Fei, a young man with no recollection of his past whatsoever. All that he recalls are recent events. He was taken in by the village elder after some mysterious man left him there in town. Fei soon meets up with his best friend, who asks him to check on his soon-to-be bride that Fei himself loves. He goes to her, and after several indications of the emotion that both Fei and the lady share for each other, you are asked to go borrow a camera from the doctor up the mountain for the wedding that is going to take place the next day. You do so, and once you come back to town, which is under attack, and you are more or less in the scene that you saw earlier on in the game—Fei is in a Gear and is fighting. The whole town is wiped out, and you are asked to leave. This you do, without knowledge of how or why you were able to operate the Gear so well. And so begins your journey.

The team that developed Chrono Trigger was also the team that led the development for Xenogears. This is most noticeable in the graphics. Xenogears has a colorful, rich look throughout the whole game, from beginning to end. Comparably, it looks somewhat like Saturn’s prized gem, Grandia. 3D animated and sprite characters (2D in battle scenes) roam through a fully 3D polygonal world. Your L1 and R1 buttons are used the way they are in Shining Force 3 and Breath of Fire 3; they are used to rotate the screen around you so that you may find hidden objects, explore the world you are in more carefully, and use it to check out for signs of danger. Everything is so detailed, too, from the faces of the characters right down to the grass you walk on.

Towns are huge, and probably the most well-designed I have seen on any game. Not only are they vast, but they are also assorted with such a large array of people and objects that you never get bored looking around. Each town is a new treasure with many secrets hidden inside it that you are just waiting to discover. Best of all, there’s not a single scene or area with slow down or pixelation. There are dozens of people in the towns, as well. You hardly find a time when there’s not someone to talk to, which I’ll go into in more detail later.

Battle scenes are marvelous. Obviously, a great deal of attention was added to this area. Backgrounds are absolutely gorgeous, and even though the magic spells don’t quite leave you in awe as much as Final Fantasy VII did, they aren’t a disappointment either. As a matter of fact, besides Final Fantasy VII, this game has the best graphics when it comes to battles (and towns, for that matter). Like most RPGs, the farther into the game you go, the better the spells get.

The most astonishing part of the games with regard to graphics is when you fight in your gears. Your gears are huge, large, attack with big weapons, and just plain out put a smile on your face. Some of the spells that they can perform are exhilarating, and keep you at the edge of your seat.

There are a few cut scenes with japanimation intact for those lovers of Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, and so forth. Although short, they are somewhat nice, but not necessarily impressive. The American voiceovers are less than mediocre; however, the fluidity of the FMV is stirring in its own way. One complaint is that they are short and infrequent.

When I played this game, I was expecting great music like you always find in SquareSoft games. Was I disappointed? Yes. Even though the lyrics are good, they just aren’t up to the standards that Square usually sets for their games. It’s like opening a box of candy only to find that there is none. You’ll often hear repetitive tunes, playing over and over again, to the point where you have it memorized and stuck in your head. There’s no escaping it.

The voices were a nice touch to the FMV scenes; although, as said before, the voiceovers aren’t that great either, despite the fact that they coincide with the characters’ moving lips. Sounds are average, as well as cries and screams of the enemy and player. Overall, you’ll find the sound to be a-okay.

The control in Xenogears, without a doubt, is superb; it’s probably the best part of the game. It’s action packed, fun, and just plain great. It takes combination of Super Mario RPG along with a random fighting style, and squishes them into one compound. When you’re in towns and exploring dungeons, the game is most similar to Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Basically, you can jump on top of obstacles, peoples’ heads, and many other things. Although the aspect of using action in the game isn’t emphasized as much on this game as it was on Mario RPG (for obvious reasons), it can be beneficial. If you have good eyes and a quick thumb, you’ll be able to get certain items that less-skilled video gamers might not be able to get. And, if you were wondering, yes, at one point or another you’ll have to rely on your action skills to get you across platforms, across falling bridges, up crates, and so forth. You can’t die, however, from falling down, like you’d be able to on a solely action-based Mario game. If you happen to fall down at one point, more than likely you’ll just fall down to the beginning of the dungeon you were in.

The battles on XenoGears are the one thing that keeps you in to the game. To win a battle in XenoGears, you can't just sit there and lazily push one button every time a battle comes up. When the battle begins, you have a little bar on the bottom left of the screen that says 0/x, “x” being a variable. (It depends on how far into the game you are for x to change. The higher level you are, and further into the story you are, the higher x is). When you attack, there are three buttons that you can use: Triangle, Square, and X. Triangle is worth 1 point, Square is two points, and X is three points. In the beginning of the game, x = 3. Therefore, when you attack, you select the combination that you want to attack. You can do one X attack, three Triangle attacks, one Square and Triangle, one Triangle and Square, two Triangles, one Square, and so forth. Keep in mind that Triangle is equivalent to low attack, Square is medium, and X is hard. The more you do various attacks, the more your skills will accumulate. As your “x” goes up, you can perform more, new combos, right? Well, there’s certain combination of attacks that lead to special moves. The screen will stop momentarily, and will focus on you, more or less like a supermove on a Street Fighter game. These supermoves are called “DeathBlows” (no pun to Monica Lewinsky intended). So, the more you practice the right combination, the more points you get toward it. Once you get 100 pts, you learn the move at your next level up (in many cases, that is). For example, if a certain DeathBlow move that you can acquire is “Triangle + X“, and for 10 battles you only do “ X + triangle” and “Triangle + X “, you’ll eventually learn the move, rather soon. That’s why it’s best not to kill your enemies in one hit with hard attack, X.

The “x” that I referred to is called AP. No, not as in Advanced Placement high-school courses, but as in “Attack Points”. When you accumulate enough attack points, you can do a Combo, which is performing more than one DeathBlow in a turn (take note that every turn, besides when you use combo, you can only do one DeathBlow). You can perform them consecutively one after another, which results in major damage. The first DeathBlow you learn might take 4 AP to do, then the next, 5 AP, and after that, 6 AP. And once you get enough AP, you can use them all right after each other. You do this by attacking an enemy less. For example, if your x = 6, and you do triangle once and the circle (which is cancel), you gain 5 AP. And that’s the fighting system, in a nutshell. Oh, by the way, there is magic too, which you use EP, and there’s your HP, as well.

The one major complaint on this game that I have is the storyline. It’s so complex, too complex for its own good. And everyone seems to love talking. It’s about all they do. At one point in the game, I had my characters talking for 55 minutes straight, literally. And there is no option to make the words move faster, so it just takes sooo long. Sure, it builds up the characters’ character, but they seem to love talking a bit too much for their own good. Another, unnoticeable thing to most people, is the less-than-perfect American translation in the game. There are several grammatical errors that I found, most of which are minute, if anything.

To summarize it up, if you’re an RPG lover, you’ll need XenoGears. It’s one of those games that just managed to surprise us out here in the U.S. by its greatness. Definitely, one of the most unhyped games of the year, is one of the best, too.

Overall: 9.6
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