Monday, April 14, 2003

Xenosaga Episode I: Der Zille Zur Macht

Genre: Cinematic RPG / "Interactive Movie"
Platform: Playstation 2
Credits: 2002 NAMCO, Monolith Japan. Screenshots by Amazon.Com

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Cover Description:
Thousands of years into the future, man exists only in deep space. Brutally opposed by a merciless alien race, humanity faces uncertain destiny as it unlocks the secrets of the universe in search for the ultimate truth.

Did not fulfill my expectations >>> by firesenshi (04.14.2003)

After a long wait, I finally got my hands on the prequel of my favorite PS1 game, Xenogears. Well aware that the same development team worked on Xenosaga but is now under a new company called Monolith, published under NAMCO instead of Square, I was expecting tons of differences in storyline and improvements in the battle system.

Battle System

Gone are the combos you discover per character as in Xenogears. But why compare to Xenogears anyway, right? This is a prequel and characters moved and should develop differently than those in XG. What you have here though are pre-set tech attacks. More powerful tech attacks can be used later as you develop higher levels. You can develop tech attacks depending on how you use your T.Points after every battle. You can develop the speed and level of your attack. You can also use T. Points to increase characters stats (strength, vitality, HP, etc.)

You also earn E. Points and S. Points, aside from the T. Points and EXP points every battle. You can distribute E. Points as to what new Ether (Special Attack) you want to evolve per character and you can distribute S. Points to extract skills from items.

As you can see, this seems more comprehensive in scope than XG because you cover a wider area of customization with your character. There are no problems with distributing E. Points and S. Points actually because there are limited areas you can distribute those points too. What is hard is distributing T. Points because it is very hard to determine which Tech Attack to level up on. You need to experiment on what attack works best. Later on as you level up, more new Tech Attacks surface which are more powerful than the previous ones. You can’t just stock up all your T. Points to wait for those attacks or you’ll end up with weak characters.

The biggest rant I have about the gameplay is related to the storyline. As is often stressed in previews of this game, this is actually heavier on story than gameplay. However, that’s what XG is all about too, so imagine my surprise when the game ended too soon just when I was about to fully grasp the wonderful battle system!

First off, there are six characters in XS. As I described to you the Battle System above, you have to develop all of them for ALL six characters. I didn’t have a lot of problems doing that in XG. I thought I wouldn’t have a problem with that in XS because the dungeons have massive areas you can explore. However, with such a huge trade-off in character stats and abilities, it is VERY OBVIOUS, which characters you should use. The dialogues in the story even say it all! But why there is a huge difference between Ziggy, a cyborg trained to be an assassin against Shion, a chief researcher cum ditz just doesn’t sound right at all. There are too many characters to develop and only three seem worth it.

Second, the defining element of the Xeno series against all RPGs is the mechas used. But why why why are the AGWS (XS’s equivalent of the XG Gears mecha) so weak? If you are someone like me who goes out to earn money to upgrade your AGWS, as I always did with the Gears in XG, you will be disappointed at what they did here. In XG, you have a lot of accessories to equip in order to make your Gear powerful. For example, you have to use a certain circuit to travel easier in water or in the desert. You can add weapons to your Gears that have status effects. In XS, the only advantage of your AGWS against your characters is its Frame HP, which is higher than your characters’ HP INITIALLY. When I reached level 47 though, they’re almost the same! Plus, the fact that they added that wonderful element of increasing Tech Attacks to as high as 50, where some attacks like KOS-MOS’s X Buster can K.O. all Gnosis at Level 10, actually render the AGWS useless. In XG, there is a huge difference in damage and defense when you use your character apart from boarding your Gears. In XS, your character can be more powerful than your AGWS.

Sure, one can argue that the story shows that the characters in XS aren’t real people because they’re really not people! They’re not human! This explains why the ditziest character, Shion, has all the cheesy attacks and best AGWS because she is indeed human. So what are the AGWS there for then? For display? Roll eyes.

Lastly, there are massive worlds you can indeed explore in XS as if they’re made to be realistic. You can imagine yourself walking in the Durandal, the biggest ship that can be a colony on its own. In each massive area, you can explore a lot of things but there aren’t a lot of things to do. The sidequests are very few and most of them entail just fighting optional bosses. You won’t even encounter these sidequests if you picked the wrong lead character. (Yeah… how am I supposed to know that I have to use MOMO in just that one little area?!) The only sidequest that might get you in this game longer is the Xenocard game. You might enjoy collecting rare cards to fight against opponents. It could be addicting.

The good stuff in XS comes in the little things. Some Save Points have the EVS Plate where you can access all these: the casino, the card game, and even the past dungeons you’ve been to. It’s probably a trend in PS2 RPGs to get rid of having a ship to explore the map as in this case. The dungeons are easily accessible in a few clicks. Like in Front Mission 3, you also have your own Email where you can read tutorials and download attachments.


The hype for this game falls on the cut scenes instead of the gameplay. The graphics are indeed very smooth and the battles in space are top CG-quality. They’re not as good as FF10 though. Some people have complained on the length of the cut scenes but what’s good about it is you can skip them. In XG, you have to continually press X for all those long dialogues to end. It’s a good trade-off here.

The dungeons and towns you enter here are so well done. I think that’s how they exactly envisioned it when they were doing this in 32-bit XG.


I did not find a lot of jargon in here as I did in XG. Sure, there is stuff here and there that are Jungian or Judeo-Christian but they’re not as complicated to understand as in XG.

The cut scenes are very dramatic and bears the same signature as its creators had when they were still under Square: lots of tragedies. The story is about the cliché terms as rebellion and liberation, as well as equality. While I am very touched by some of the characters’ stories in here, I did not find them as compelling as XG. Until now, I do not see the purpose of the analogy in using Judeo-Christian terms nor do I understand why some characters are made to look important in various scenes.

The answer is simply in the last screen when you finish the game: To Be Continued. Everything you see here in Episode I are plain introductions, albeit… not so effective, brief introductions. It seems the creators of the game are now taking their time to tell you what’s happening rather than overload you with a lot of things as they did in XG.

Thing is: Even if I try not to compare this with XG, I still can’t help it. This is going to lead into XG anyway, which is Episode V. I was not fulfilled with the brief gameplay I had and even though it focuses on story, I was not fulfilled with the ending of the story! After watching all those cut scenes, you’re just going to get something that says, “See it all ends well? Just watch Episode II to understand everything.”

DIFFICULTY: Easy to Moderate
HIGHEST LEVEL ACHIEVED: KOS-MOS (Level 49), Shion (Level 46)
RATINGS: Gameplay 7; Battle 8; Story 7; Visuals 10; Characters 7; Sounds 9; Replay Value 6

Not as fulfilling as Xenogears, but good >>> by skysenshi (04.14.2003)

I must admit, the first time I touched this game, I was quickly turned off by overly long CG sequences. What actually made me stop playing, a "break" that took more than a month to get out of, was the fact that I found myself running away from creatures that I should be fighting. I completely despise chase scenes, but it was good that my sister and cousin found the game amusing enough to lead me back into the Xeno circle.

Gameplay and Story

I will no longer discuss the battle system, as it has already been tackled by the previous reviewer. I must commend the creators, though. Despite the lack of actual gameplay—I call this a 3D bishoujo game or, in other words, an "interactive movie"—there are enough interesting moments that effectively push a gamer to plow through the cinematics and finish the game.

The characters, for one, are...well, let's just say that a lot of them are artificial, in the literal sense. Ironically, the cover description says that Xenosaga is about the struggle of humanity, when those who are actually struggling aren't even humans. It's somehow fascinating to see androids, cyborgs, genetically engineered humanoids experience angst and all that melodrama. Nothing new that you haven't already experienced in Xenogears, but definitely touching. The problem? There are so many characters that even as they all pique your curiosity, many of their lives don't really get any closure at the end of the game. Even villains suddenly just disappear, with no traces of explanation as to what have become of them. The focus shifts from one character to the next in such an erratic way that by the end of it, you wouldn't be sure as to who's the lead anymore.

As for the gameplay? It suffered from its own complexity. In fact, I got by with minimum requirement. I didn't buy or sell anything, except weapons, throughout the entire game. What for? You get everything after battles. I didn't purchase AGWS (I fondly call them "eggs" or "itlog" in my language) parts nor upgrade any of those mechs that supposedly made the Xeno series very popular. What for? Your party members are stronger than any of those mechs put together, unlike in Xenogears when pilot battles are distinct from mech battles. I also didn't take the time to develop more than 3 characters. In fact, I only concentrated on KOS-MOS, Junior, and chaos because they're either fast or they don't look like airheads. I remember just evolving Shion's Ether so I could transfer her Medica All (heal all) and Revert (revive + heal medium) to my three favorite characters. You don't need to develop party members that don't appeal to you. Again I ask, what for? There are so many things that they put in here that you can actually do without, sacrificing the actual gameplay and leaving us with too short an RPG. Skip all the FMVs and you're left with less than 10 hours of actual play time.


Near perfection. If Shion didn't look too much like a whining bimbo with glasses, I really would appreciate the superb graphics quality. It's not yet Final Fantasy X material, but I'm pretty sure that the next installations would be near that quality. The sounds are true to the Xenogears tradition. The vocal tracks aren't as beautiful as Xenogears' Small Two of Pieces and Stars of Tears, but they retained the Irish feel that we've all loved.

Extra Features

Ah, this is something I really treasure. Putting mini-games in save points is so much easier than running around world maps while searching for adventures. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that this is actually the first time I learned to play poker, and I have Xenosaga to thank for that. You can also try the slot machine, but that's already been overused in other games. What's new? Well, for those who are familiar with Magic: The Gathering or Lord of the Five Rings, you might find yourself getting addicted to Xenocards. The concept is pretty much similar.

If you want to level up, increase tech points, or go back for treasures you haven't gotten, you don't have to go out of your way to search for those places anymore. All you have to do is step up to a save point, load up the simulator, and voila!

One other notable thing in this RPG: You choose ALL party members, including who's going to lead. I remember in Xenogears, I wanted so much to take Xenogears off my party. I wanted a team with Bart, Emeralda and Citan in it. Thank gawd, in Xenosaga, you can remove that annoyingly brainless twit, Shion, from your party. I hope they preserve this new trend in upcoming Xeno installations.

Overall, Xenosaga isn't such a bad game. In fact it's so good it was a shame that it was too short. All I am saying is that a great RPG like this shouldn't be defined by cinematics alone. I would've just watched an anime for that.

HIGHEST LEVEL ACHIEVED: KOS-MOS, Junior and chaos (Level 43)
RATINGS: Gameplay 8; Battle 9; Story 8; Visuals 9; Characters 8; Sounds 9; Replay Value 8

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