Thursday, September 1, 2005

Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose

Genre: Cinematic RPG / "Interactive Movie"
Platform: Playstation 2
Credits: 2005 NAMCO, Monolith Japan. Screenshots by RPGFan

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Cover Description:
To save the future...YOU MUST UNCOVER THE PAST.

Four thousand years into a war-torn future, Earth has been abandoned and mankind forges its existence in deep space, locked in an epic battle for survival against the malevolent, alien Gnosis.

The search continues for the Zohar, a legendary artifact rumored to be capable of eradicating the Gnosis and ushering in an era of universal peace. Join Shion, KOS-MOS and their companions in the enthralling 2nd chapter of this landmark multi-part RPG saga.

It gets worse... >>> by skysenshi

Xenogears was such a beautiful, wonderful experience. I’m not really sure if it was because of Squaresoft’s magic touch or because at the time it was made, its development team might have been at the height of their inspirational moment. It wasn’t perfect, but it sure left quite an impact. Fast forward years later — the development team moved firms and Xenosaga, the spin-off was born. Xenosaga I wasn’t perfect either. In fact, it declined a bit from the standards that Xenogears set. But it wasn’t a bad game. Sure, I would’ve wanted better-looking mechs that would be stronger than my regular characters, but the game had its redeeming qualities. Xenosaga II, its sequel, however, just guaranteed that I would never touch another Xeno-related game again.

Spectacular! Nothing short of amazing, especially since it improved the graphical quality that the first Xenosaga set. Shion lost her ditzy look, along with her glasses. Though I think it was quite a shame that those dorky glasses, which were the only things I liked about Shion in the first installment, had disappeared, the trade-off was quite welcome. Everyone looked realistic and even KOS-MOS seemed hotter than ever. Many of the voice actors may have changed, but I don’t think the quality of the sounds suffered either. The background music considerably improved also. I especially love the Celtic-inspired chants you can hear at the title screen.

I personally thought that Xenosaga has outdone a lot of games in the audiovisual department…that is, until I saw my boyfriend playing Prince of Persia: Warrior Withinon his X-Box.

Story and Characters
If you didn’t comprehend a lot of things in Xenosaga I, you’ll find deeper understanding in this episode. Many of the characters, whom you’d think are nothing but support, actually have become more significant. You’ll learn more about Junior, Momo, Ziggy, and how their lives are interrelated with the rest of the Xenosaga cast — including the villains. You’ll also be introduced to new team members, such as Shion’s brother Jin Uzuki, who bears a striking resemblance to Xenogears’ Citan Uzuki. (No, they aren’t related because Citan’s real name is Hyuuga. Unless, by some amazing twist in the soon-to-be-released episodes, we’ll be told that Citan is actually Jin’s clone, well…) The tradition began in Xenosaga, where you aren’t really sure who’s the main hero anymore, is continued. I prefer this kind of story-telling, as it veers away from narcissistic, overexposed protagonists. It also adds more dimension to your overall plot.

One really nice feature they added with regards to the story is the recap. Every time you reload your game, a screen is shown telling you what transpired the last time you played. I love this because there had been times when I was too busy with work that it’d take me weeks to get back to my game. Of course, I’d like to know where I stopped so that I can remember what I’m supposed to do next.

Gameplay and Battle System

This area is where this game suffers most. The combos still exist, all right. For a game released by the same name behind Tekken, however, it’s quite ironic that you are given mind-numbing combos to work with. Your combinations are, where T = triangle and S = square: TTSS, TSTS, SSTT, STST. For chained combos, you get to use…gasp! Circles! I cannot count the number of times my sarcastic side kept muttering, “Wow! So imaginative!” On top of that, I couldn’t believe that my weak party members in XS1 became my kick-ass fighters here. And they do not even have to do combos.

The battle system is skill-based. Meaning, you have to get a certain number of points to unlock certain skills. This is a great idea because it gives you the opportunity to mold your party members the way you want them to be. You can give them all healing and curative skills, while developing offense and defense units at the same time. The only silly thing I can see here is that I believe it’s stupid for me to have to unlock skills I already had in XS1. While I was unlocking Chaos’ Arctic Blast skill, I was scratching my head and murmuring, “Didn’t I already have Arctic Blast in the last game? And if the continuity of the storyline should be followed, it would mean that I had Arctic Blast only hours ago. Why am I unlocking something that I had only hours ago?”

Party members can also do linked combos, although I never really found that useful. I made better use of the stocking system, another Xenogears concept that has you saving turns for more powerful combos, and the boost system. Another useful element added to the battle system was the fact that you can actually change your positions while engaged in combat. If you want to do a pincer attack, simply move your hardest hitter at the back of the enemy to double his/her power. The one thing you have to consider now, in order to determine who your hardest hitter is gonna be, is to first find out what your enemy is weak against. Each party member has its own strength and weaknesses in combat. Like for instance, Gnosis are vulnerable to Shion's attacks.

The eggs—err, A.G.W.S.—are gone. You now get to use the prettier E.S. Robots, which require two pilots. It’s not much improvement, but at least now you get to actually use them in E.S.-only combat, unlike in XS1 where you can opt to use your regular team to battle giant robots.

The good and the bad things about the battle system are negligible. For one thing, you will have very few battles. I actually mastered the system near the end of the first disc. My sister was at the second disc already when she did so. In fact she was aghast when she got to the second disc because she didn’t realize the game would be that fast.

Quests and Extra Features
The sub quests are boring. You run around doing errands for people, which is easy enough, but it’s too simple. There’s an Extra Game mode, wherein you get to repeat the game, with beefed up features this time, after you finish it the first time around. It takes force of will to finish it the first time around as this game has one of the worst replay values. The thought of going through it again just makes me shudder. The timed quests are also trite and repetitive. I mean, timed quests where you have to get back to the entrance of the dungeon/building/ship before it blows up in N minutes were cute in the days of Konami World. Now it’s just plain irritating. Tell me, is there any particular reason why you have to catch 10 rodents in 2 minutes? And if you don't succeed, you can repeat it all over again, which is dumb. Why have a time limit if you'll repeat it again anyhow? Can we just leave the timed quests back in the 80s and concentrate on making better quests, sub quests, and mini-games next time?

Like XS1, this is filled with cinematics and it’s very short. Many of the features already in XS1 are in XS2, and only those that I noted in this review are the ones that have been changed. The gaming experience worsened. I’m like, “Game? What game?” If you notice, I was pleased with the story, characters and audiovisuals but gave XS2 a biting evaluation in gameplay features. That only means one thing. Somebody ought to develop an animated or televised series for this so that we can ditch the interactive movie route. Or market it as an interactive movie, and not an RPG, as there isn’t much role-playing or activity going on.

COMPLETION TIME: 16:35 hours
RATINGS: Gameplay 6; Battle 6; Story 8; Visuals 9; Characters 8; Sounds 9; Replay Value 4

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