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Xenosaga: Episode I Review by Samuel Rivera
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Reviewing Xenosaga: Episode 1 is a lot like reviewing the latest Final Fantasy on the market. Simply put the production values of Xenosaga are only rivaled by those of the FF series. The Xeno series might also be the only series capable of giving the Final Fantasies a run for their money. When Xenogears debuted back in 1998 the world had never seen anything like it and now Xenosaga: Episode 1 'Der Wille zur Macht' (The Will to Power) repeats the feat.

This is a heavy on story game, maybe not quite as heavy as Xenogears was, but it's definitely the closest thing to it. To start off let me clear some doubts there are those who say Xenosaga Episode one is Xenogears's prequel their reason for believing this is that at the end of that memorable game after the credits rolled the words 'Episode V' appeared. While there are those who say the story is not related.

I'm with the first group. I honestly believe Xenosaga episode 1 its Xenogears prequel. So if you ever wanted to know what in blazes where the humans doing in space away from earth before the events of Xenogears. Xenosaga episode 1 is your game and at the same time it is not.

Clearly Xenosaga Episode 1 is just that Episode 1 meaning there are still three more titles to be released before we actually know the whole story. Unfortunately this is Xenosaga's main plot weakness, unlike Xenogears which was a complete game on its own (meaning it could stand on its own legs and rival any other great RPG that came before it), Xenosaga Episode 1 feels like an incomplete experience. To judge Xenosagas plot just as it is would be unjust because it ends in a big cliffhanger, and trust me when I say this; none of the loose ends are tied.

Imagine playing Xenogears for 15 hours and then the game ending abruptly. Anyone that has finished that game would know that at fifteen hours nothing in the plot was resolved. That's exactly the empty void Xenosaga leaves you with after the credits roll. Yes it takes the game 50+ hours to end and that is quite a long time. But considering you spend about 20 to 30 hours fighting just to get strong enough to beat a boss (that is not an overstatement the bosses in this game are incredibly difficult). Only about that same amount of time (20-30 hours) is actually spent on plot and who knows if maybe even less.

I really wished the battles would have been toned down in favor of more plot sequences, but hey thats what Xenosaga Episode 2 is for right? Let's hope.

Now Xenogears even though was truly episode five on the series, was a complete game meaning after the 70 hours that took me to finish it, all loose ends had been tied there was a clear beginning and a clear ending to Fei's and the rest of the crew's story. In fact it was such a complete game that a prequel wasn't necessary.

In the other hand Xenosaga Episode 1 isn't a complete game, the story of Shion, KOS-MOS and the rest of the crew doesn't end here. Therefore to get the full experience of this plot you will most likely have to wait for at least six years until the last of the next (Im taking a guess here) three chapters is released.

Six years is a long time, in movies this kind of approach works well, but in a 50+hour long game series it might not. So to judge Xenosaga's plot fairly we would have to wait until everything is resolved. But unfortunately this is an unjust world, and Monolith software (the developer) was unjust to us by giving us an incomplete product, so I will return the favor by judging its incomplete story.

The plot so far isn't as good as the first 15-20 of Xenogearss plot was. You can say they are doing this to save some stuff for future installments. But considering that most people had to pay 50 big ones for this game, that shouldnt had been an issue. The plot starts on planet earth in the year 20XX as a scientist (I suppose), named Dr. Masuda discovers the Zohar after the video you are thrown 4,000 years into the future, in which a Federation ship the Woglinde recovers a Zohar. Inside the Woglinde Vectors first R&D unit (this includes Shion who is the units chief) is testing KOS-MOS, which is a female battle android (quite a hottie at that) supposedly specifically designed to fight the Gnosis, which are alien creatures that terrorize humanity.

From there you are introduced to a huge cast of characters, the good guys who as usual have no clue of whats going on, the Villains who as usual seem to know everything that is going on but never reveal anything. While their goals are unclear, they want obtain the original Zohar and awake U-DO (some sort of god?) as I said the specific reasons for this are not known. Then there are those characters that are neither on the good side of things or on the bad.

Things that happened even thousands of years before the beginning of the story have great significance to the plot, and every character has a past that is a complicated mess. Kind of like Xenogears I can definitely see patterns. Yet unlike Xenogears 90% percent of the plot is not revealed on this chapter, meaning from a plot stand point the game is an incomplete mess that would have been incredibly benefited from at least 15 more hours of pure plot.

I am not an ignorant fool either I can see that this is just the first chapter of many, therefore its purpose is to only laid down the base for the plot, and it does that well and I can also see that the story in this thing is immense. But maybe if Monolith software, would had put in a bit of extra effort maybe they could have released, a special package of some sort that included two episodes instead of one. Why must we wait 2+years for the next episode? The whole Episode thing seems to me like an excuse to cash in those nifty 50 dollar payments...

Character development is done well, each character even minor ones have a unique personality and unique traits. From Shion to Hammer, all of them are beautifully developed by the end of the game I cared about every single one of them. Strangely enough I felt that KOS-MOS was a bit under developed. Her character developed so slowly that only towards the end of the game do you actually start noticing some changes in her, this not a problem really but considering her character is special and has loads of potential more care into her would have been greatly appreciated. But then again I expect to see more of her in Episode 2. The same goes for the rest of the group, they all have incredibly complicated pasts and interesting possibilities for their future. So while the 'this being one of many episodes' factor harms the characters somewhat the translation, the voice acting and their design helps each character to be likeable the ending was very touching even if it ended on a huge cliffhanger.

I just feel that because Xenogears managed to do so much plot wise in one game, this game falls short. But Xenogears is of course an especial complete masterpiece, while Xenosaga feels like an incomplete one.

Musically there is not much to say except that Xenosaga reinforces my belief that there are two composers and then there is the rest. The two composers are obviously Uematsu and Mitsuda. Mitsuda proves here why he is on Uematsu's league. There are fast songs, slow songs, melancholic songs and wonderfully orchestrated songs. The ending theme is particularly powerful.

On a negative note while the music is excellent it's not on the level of the Xenogears soundtrack. Instead of recycling some of Xenogears most memorable tunes, Mitsuda opted for a new soundtrack in which some tracks feature traces of old Xenogears tunes. So you can definitely see a similarity but in the end they are entirely different compositions. I missed that old Xenogears main theme (the Overworld one). However Mitsuda proves once again that he is a force to be reckoned with. Hopefully on the next chapter I can see some updated tunes from Xenogears.

The sound effects are top notch especially in the cinemas, and the voice acting is in one word: incredible. The sound of the gun blast you just heard is the sound of Square blasting itself off for hiring 'professional' voice talent for Kingdom Hearts (I figure they spent thousands of dollars for it). While Namco gets cheap, unknown voice actors and kicks KH's butt in what the acting is concerned (the only guys who did a great job there were the official Disney ones, the ones that played Squares characters were average fare). This proves my old belief that Hollywood would be better off by hiring the local street Joe for 1000 bucks instead of paying let's say a Keeneu Reeves ten million bucks for a sub par performance. Each actor in this game gave an Oscar winning performance. Ok maybe not Oscar winning, but certainly an MTV movie award winning one, I don't know if that is good thing or a bad thing though. Seeing it as any untalented fool can win one of those the same goes for the VMA's.

Graphically the game is a mixed bag, in one hand you have the characters whose graphic design and animation is simply jaw dropping. Witness Shion's and KOS-MOS's hip movements and you will know what I mean. While their eyes are a little too big, the facial animation its incredible in itself. Only Kingdom Hearts possesses better facial animation in its characters and not by much. Not only that each characters costume sports incredible details such as moving Fabric in their clothes and reflective shine on some of the characters that feature metal parts. You can also see individual blades of hair. The cinemas are high quality stuff too, but not on the level of the FFX ones.

But on the other hand you have slightly above average good-looking environments. While most of the time is spent inside futuristic metallic structures that have that antiseptic gray look, the ones in Metal Gear Solid looked way better. Plus there is one occasion in the game where you have to travel through a forest, and there are no individual blades of grass, the water motions are flat (no ripples), and the background trees in it were mostly composed of sprites. The DC version of Skies of Arcadia looked  way better in what environments were concerned. That is a shame considering this game was released in a supposedly more powerful hardware, almost two years after SoAs release and unlike Arcadia's free roaming camera, Xenosaga's camera is fixed.

This game is graphically over rated, the characters look and are animated slightly better than those in FFX, but the enviroments fall flat on their face. On a positive note the explosions are incredible, and KOS-MOS looks gorgeous (hot girl!). If monolith can improve the environments for the next installment it will give Squaresoft something to think about if it already hasn't.

Gameplay is the one area where this game needs serious and I mean serious major help. The only reason the game takes 50+ hours to finish is because the boss battles are insanely difficult. They are capable of giving even the most die-hard player fits. This is the kind of game that will alienate first time RPG players from the genre. Fun and 30+ hours of battling to level up so the characters can get strong enough to beat the last boss do not go hand in hand in the same sentence. Why was the wonderful yet simple at the same time, leveling up system from Xenogears replaced by this? Now leveling up is really useless the goal in here is to fight to get skill points, technical points and Ether points. With a certain amount of them (usually extremely high) you can get new abilities and they can also (and must) be used to strengthen your character stats.

Technical, skill and ether points are extremely hard to get in large quantities since most enemies (even the powerful ones) only give about 10-20 of these. Hence the 30+ hour battle stretch. This is incredibly frustrating and it tested my patience to the limits. If you thought Xenogearss later bosses battles were hellishly though, then you are in for ten times hellish-ness in this game.

The battle system itself has been toned down, in an effort to make the battle system look deep. The developers took out the useful and intuitive button combos of gears and replaced them with not as intuitive button combos that you gain as you level up in reality they are not combos though. Instead they are individual moves that are preset to certain buttons, in any given turn you can press two buttons resulting in two hits towards your foes. However there are more powerful attacks called Tech Attacks which can be upgraded with tech points on the menu, anyhow to do this powerful attacks you need to be able to do three hits in a turn. So to use a powerful tech attack you need to wait one turn either guarding or attacking only once so that in the next turn you have you hit meter full in order to do the three attacks (the third attack is the powerful one).

However there is a way of doing that super powerful attack only in your second button press (this helps because you can keep using it over and over with out having to wait for a turn). If you have a lot of tech points you can use them to upgrade the speed of the tech attack to set it to a button therefore allowing you to use it (the attack) as often as you like.

In theory this sounds great, but in practice it doesn't do as well as hoped. It's hard to power up necessary attacks because they require a ridiculous amount of Tech points and the problem is that the game is not forgiving and if you dont spend the necessary amount of time battling to get them (again 30+hours) bosses will easily squash you.

Character statistical progression is awfully slow, and most certainly will turn off most players. This issue could have been solved if the A.G.W.S. (Gears) would have been more powerful and/or if the boss's difficulty would have been considerably toned down.

The A.G.W.S. are useless, chances are that if you do manage to make it to the last boss, it will be by purely using your characters rather than the A.G.W.S. The giant gears attacks are something to laugh at even when equipped with powerful weaponry; your standard characters have more powerful attacks. This might not seem so apparent in the early stages of the game, but 20 hours down the road I guarantee they become almost completely useless.

The bosses are tough, because while their difficulty is somewhat decent in the first half of the battle sometimes out of the blue they pull an all out attack wipes your entire party. When that happens that means that you must go back and level up for 5-10 hours until you got a decent shot. Had the bosses been toned down the battle system wouldn't have taken such a hit.

In the end the battle and leveling up systems are very inferior to Xenogears's, considering Gears is almost 5 years old that is quite an embarrassment. The problem I see is that Monolith tried to dramatically change the battle system of Xenogears maybe to keep it up with games with advanced systems such as the Grandias and the FF games. But what they must remember is that it took almost 15 years for the FF series to reach the excellent battle system sported in FFX. It didnt happened from one day to the next, it happened over time. In other words they should have kept Xenogears system intact with minor upgrades, but instead they tried to re-invent the battle system from ground up and the result of it a mediocre battle system covered by nice graphics and music.

Exploration like almost everything else on this game has been dumbed down, there is no more over world map, and no more sense of freedom. The game is very, very linear. However controlling your characters through the environments is a breeze thanks to the accurate controls.

In the end Xenosaga is a worthy purchase for SERIOUS RPG fans, casual fans might be turned off by the difficult battle system. Xenosaga misses the mark in its attempt to put itself on the elite class that its older brother is in. But not all hope is lost for this series since it has great potential. It just has to be realized in the next installment by correcting some of the key gameplay flaws mentioned in my review. I thoroughly enjoyed the story but the game is not for everyone.

Gameplay: 5.0-What happened to the very good battle system of Xenogears? Battles are impossibly hard, expect to spent many hours of your life fighting monsters to level up. Not my idea of fun.      

Graphics: 7.5-Amazing looking characters, sadly the same cannot be said for the environments.

Music: 9.7-Mitsuda thou art' a genious.

Story: 8.5 -Only for the 1st chapter, we will have to wait until the last game it's released for the true overall story score, but it has great potential.

Addictiveness: 6.0-There is absolutely nothing besides the Story that will keep you playing this game for 50+ hours.

Overall: 7.5-A decent effort, a very ambitious game, yet it falls short of its predecessor's greatness.

2003 RicanSaiyan. All works here are copyrighted by their owners.