Genre: Turn-based RPG
Release Date: October 20th, 1998
The life of a young man, Fei Fong Wong, has been changed forever. After a military force starts a battle in his hometown, Fei is drawn to a mysterious black robot, known as a Gear. With the pilot dead, Fei enters the Gear, hoping to defend the town. In the end, the town is destroyed and Fei is blamed for it. He then sets out in His gear in the hopes of finding a new life. During his travels, he will become entangled in a war with many forces pulling its strings. He will make new allies, powerful enemies, and learn about the dark secret that haunts him.
This is a very long story, with many interactions happening within the main plot. I will admit that I got lost many times while trying to keep up with everything that was going on. There were times when I did really enjoy the story overall, but was pushing myself to finish by the end of the game, since i just couldn’t keep up.
It also didn’t help that once you made it to the second disc of the game, the majority of the story is told in a narrative. Instead of watching things play out, you are given paragraph after paragraph of events, until they decide to give you something to do.
A big issue with the story was the localization. There were many mangled translations and poorly worded sentences littered throughout the story. There were some sentences that just did not make sense contextually, which threw me off quite often.
What I did enjoy about Xenogears was that it did do its best to cover a lot of more mature story concepts. There was some horror elements, like finding out the truth about the “soylent system”, and seeing a bunch of mangled bodies mashed up into food. Some of these things could have been executed better, but it was good that they tried.
For me, the characters are what helped me stay invested in the story through to the end. Each character was unique, fun, and well thought out. Fei was unwavering in his belief that none of what was happening around him had anything to do with him until there was undeniable proof that it did. Bart kept being a reckless hooligan throughout the game, and Citan was an enigma, through and through.
Xenogears is a product of its time. The game environments used a blend of 2D sprites and 3D environments. While this was pleasing to the eye, it made maneuverability somewhat irritating at times. Jumping angles and heights were not as well designed as they could have been, and exits were not always the easiest to find.
The game also used anime cutscenes at certain point to add to the game vicually. There were some scenes that just felt tacked on, as they didn’t really need to be there to get the point across (An example being the first meeting between Fei and Elly). I liked the style of the scenes, but I would have liked the developers to have done different scenes instead.
The music for Xenogears was composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, a man responsible for many games, including Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille Xur Macht, Xenoblade Chronicles, and the Luminous Arc series.
The musical score was very enjoyable, in terms of atmosphere. I really liked the music used for boss fights, as they gave a feel of seriousness to your situation.
The anime cutscenes did include some voice acting, and the English dub was passable. There wasn’t a lot of it, so it didn’t affect my feelings toward the game one way or the other.
Gameplay – Exploration
Hurray! a game that has a world map to explore! This is a feature that I do sorely miss in a lot of RPGs. They’re still around in some cases today, but they are fewer and farther between. With a world map to explore, you will find towns, dungeons, and other plot specific locations throughout the game. Early on, you will get access to travelling through deserts, underwater, and of course, the airship. What I like about that is that those three vehicles are all the same ship. It gets upgraded during your adventure.
There’s not too much to say about town and dungeon exploring. Find treasure, fight random encounters, and all the other standard fare from exploration. It’s simple, but simplicity is good sometimes.
Gameplay – Combat
There are two types of fights in Xenogears: Party battles, and Gear battles. Both battles are turn-based using an Active Time Battle system.
Party battles are the most fun. Standard attacks involve creating a chain of blows, based on an AP system. You will build up to a maximum of 7 AP per character as you level, and each attack consumes some AP. Light attacks use 1 AP, medium attacks use 2 AP, and heavy attacks use 3 AP. What’s fun about this is that if you chain the right button combinations, it will result in a Deathblow that deals extra damage. There’s no time limit on combo commands, and the combos are laid out for you as you attack, so no memorization is required. The more you combo, the faster you learn new Deathblows. Besides attacking, you can use Ether skills, also known as magic, defend, or use items. You are also able to call your Gear into battle if you want to, but usually you will already be in your gear if a fight comes up that needs it.
Gear battles are similar to party battles, but the combo attacks are not as large. Each attack expends your Gear’s fuel, and increases your attack gauge. The higher the attack gauge, the more powerful of an attack combo you will be able to perform. Gears can also use a system called “Booster” which speeds up your Gear, and adds to damage. The trade-off is that it burns fuel every turn to maintain. If your Gear runs out of fuel, it cannot perform until it defends. Defending will restore fuel minimally, so it’s best to really watch those fuel levels.
Gameplay – Optional Content/Side quests
There are a few side dungeons lurking about the world. They are mostly accessible closer to the end of the game, and provide some of the best gear for your party.
Aside from that, there is a card game you can play with people on the floating city of the Thames. This is a quick fire game that works by Fei running on top of cards and pushing them to the deck in sequence, while an opponent is doing the same. The first to empty his deck wins. Needless to say, I was not very good at this.
I spent a lot of time talking about the things I did not really like about Xenogears, but I do want to point out that I don’t hate the game. For its time, I think it had a lot of potential. While I know it will not happen in my lifetime, it’s the kind of game I would love to see remade. It had a lot of good ideas, some great gameplay, and pushed the envelope for story content. If done right, it would also likely need an M rating.
This is an RPG with a lot of heart, and I do see why many people enjoy it. Just because I didn’t enjoy it to the same extent as others, does not mean it is an unenjoyable experience. The combat is solid and fun, and if you are completely invested in the story, you may be able to get more out of it from a story perspective.