Xenogears review
A must play for all gamers

The good:

Amazing story
Incredibly deep characters

The bad:

Encounter rate is too high
Moments with no music can kill the mood


I’ll start this review by saying that Xenogears is amazingly awesome. While I’m generally quite critical when it comes to RPGs, I find it very hard to critique this game. It was made in 1998, over ten years ago, and still manages to beat just about every modern RPG in most aspects. I have no idea why it took me so long to play it, but better late than never at all. If you’re a fan of games with incredible storytelling, and somewhat old enough to follow mature themes and a complex story, then this should be the next game you play.

I’ll be honest; compared to the engaging complexity of the middle and later parts of the story, the start is quite slow. First time players may have trouble seeing what the fuss is about. I certainly did, as the story didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. With that said, playing the game a second time will give you a much better understanding of the characters and plot. It is only 15 or so hours in that the plot really begins to take off and develop into one of the best stories ever told in a video game. There is so much to it and just when you think the climax has been reached, another plot twist comes into play and the game continues to shine even brighter. It is an incredibly complicated story, and multiple play throughs is the ideal way to get the most out of it as a lot will most likely be missed during your first game.

The protagonist, Fei Wong, has been called one of the deepest, most evolving characters in video game history, by various sources. Fei has no idea where he was born, nor does he remember anything about his childhood. His earliest memories are of arriving at a small village, Lahan, three years prior to the games events. As the game progresses, Fei finds himself involved in a war and on this journey, he learns more and more about himself and his past. This character drives the story, and makes the entire experience so enjoyable. He is involved in so many twists and turns that you’ll eventually be begging to find out the truth behind him and his origin. Some of the other main characters (villains included) are just as deep. The plot and the complex characters that drive this story are what makes Xenogears stand out above most other RPGs. Below are four of the main playable characters; Bart, Citan, Fei and Billy.

While the battle systems don’t compare to the amazing characters and story, it’s still adds to the Xenogears experience. You may have noticed that I said systems. There are two totally separate ways to fight your enemies. One being your standard characters versus enemies, and the other being between enormous robots, called gears. The former system involves you selecting three party members and using their skills to defeat the enemy. The system uses an ATB (active time bar) like in Final Fantasy 7. Once it’s full, the character can attack, use a personal skill (gained by levelling up), defend, use an item or escape. This seems very basic, but it’s the attacking option that keeps things interesting. Players initially have 6 bars of attack to use per turn. Triangle uses one bar, and is a weak attack, Square uses two bars and is a little stronger, and the Cross uses three bars and is the strongest attack. Pressing these buttons in certain combinations will initiate death blow attacks, which are a lot more powerful. Discovering these attacks and using them in combos is what makes the battle system so enjoyable. With that said, you can only fight so many fights before any system becomes repetitive, and this will likely be the case in Xenogears as the encounter rate in certain dungeons is incredibly high. Here is a movie demonstrating this battle system:

The other battle system is between gears, and this is quite different. Gears are piloted by your characters and can be upgraded in gear shops. During battle they can attack and use deathblows, but this consumes fuel. When a gear runs out of fuel, it can’t do anything but ‘charge’ for more fuel. ‘Booster’ is another option that consumes fuel at a much higher rate, but cuts the time to fill the ATB by about half. In addition, gears can still use most of their pilots’ personal skills as well as gear skills. Both systems work well and compliment each other nicely. On the down side, the balance between these two battle systems are lost in disk 2 as you are forced to fight in your gears way too often rendering levelling up and learning deathblows useless. Below is a movie of a typical gear battle:

The music is fantastic on most occasions. Some tracks really hooked me into the moment, particularly the airship theme which plays at other intervals through the game. The sound would have been near perfect if it wasn’t for the semi-frequent scenes of silence. I believe every moment of the game should be filled with some kind of music, but the dead silence really kills the mood at times.

While there are a selection of decent side quests and mini-games, I do think the game would have benefited from more to do on the final disk. The world is huge but on disk 2, most of the places are inaccessible and there are only a few extra things to do at this time. I would have liked to have seen more side quests and locations to explore, not to mention an extra boss or two to battle. The mini-games are still playable and these make for a nice break from the plot. One is a card game (which is surprisingly addictive given its simplicity) and the other is a 3D beat ‘em up between your gears. While not as complex as Final Fantasy mini games from the same era, it’s still a nice addition.

That will be all for this review. It would be easy to talk forever about the characters and story, but that would defeat the purpose playing the game and experiencing it for yourselves. In summary, the game is fantastic and I can see myself playing it multiple times in the future. Don’t let the somewhat slow start convince you that this game is over-rated. Play through to the end and you will see why I talk so highly about the narrative elements. I don’t say this a lot, but this is a must play game for anyone who likes the RPG genre, or a fantastic story. However, if you’re a younger gamer, I suggest waiting a few years because the complicated story will probably fly over your head.

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