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Xenosaga Episode 2 Review
A Rammspieler review
In light of the fact that even after this sites painful transition to the nice and pretty 4.0 version that you are seeing right now, we still lack any real PS2 game reviews. Also because ever since Doom has had knowledge that I am the sole owner of a functional PS2 amongst The Raider's staff , he has been threatening me with sending me pics of vyralsurfer doing unspeakable acts over my previous films, I Rammspieler shall bring back new life into this long abandoned PS2 section with my insights on the console RPG genre's answer to the Star Wars films epic space opera. the second game in the ongoing Xenosaga epic. Sans Jar Jar "Meesa suckos har'core!" Binks and the half-assed attempts at cobbling together a credible back-story to an already established classic in sci-fi cinema, of course. But in order to better understand why I make the comparison, it's time for me to give a little history lesson on the little franchise that should have made a major page in the annals of gaming history, but was relegated to only hardcore cult status amongst a small following.
The year was 1998. Squaresoft had just published a year before it's runaway hit, Final Fantasy VII . A few short months afterwards, in a move that would free Square from it's dependence on the big 1 st party game studios to publish and distribute it's games, it formed a joint company with EA Games to publish and distribute Squaresoft's games in the US while doing the same thing for EA's games in Japan, they still haven't completely whored out their creativity yet. Apparently back then, Square was still adhering to it's own policy of giving development teams six month long vacations so that they would recover their creative energies and brainstorm ideas for the next big hit. But with FF VII already under their belts, as well as the gaming world-at-large demanding for more FF goodness and the FF development team getting ready to produce FF VIII , they needed something to tide over their new and growing demographic. So in a bold move, they hoped to make yet another hit series in the form of a game called Xenogears . The concept was a geeks wet dream come to life in digital form. An innovative combat system based on simple fighting game-like combos and the ability to pilot large mechs and use them in regular battle, combined with a controversial story that would give the Evangelion series dick envy for the sheer amount of confusing plot lines and religious references that the game would encompass, plus huge environments and a plethora of mini-games, it had all the ingredients to make an awesome series. But in the end it would only become a cult hit because the story was too confusing for many players. In fact, GamePro magazine gave it a meager 2.0 because it was "too long and too weird." But nevertheless, it garnered a fan following, yours truly included as well, when after all the end credits rolled, a mysterious message told us that we had just played part V of VI. The gamer's space saga was born.
A few years later, the PS2 launches and we were taken aback by surprise when the franchise was bought off by Namco, and the original games director confirmed that indeed it was meant to be a series, but that due to time and technology constraints, the first game was considered by Squaresoft to be a "flop" and he was personally dissatisfied with the game, despite it's being a sleeper hit that earned it a coveted reprint under Sony's "Greatest Hits" lineup of budget priced classic games. So with a new company and a new staff, he has gone on to "re-imagine" the series. Now I know that the word "re-imagine" carries negative connotations these days, no thanks to a certain Mr. George Lucas. But in the end the game, while lacking in some important aspects, wasn't as bad as we all thought it would be. The first episode of the renamed series, Xenosaga Episode I: Der wille zur Macht introduced us to Shion Uzuki, the remote ancestor of one of the central characters in the original Xenogears . It followed her on her quest of survival against the multi-dimensional beings known as The Gnosis and the sudden unprogrammed awakening of Kos-Mos, an experimental battle android designed to fight The Gnosis, and her unexplainable connection to Shion.
If the new pope is to be as cool as this guy here, I will re-embrace my Catholic roots and help to make the world safe for Ormus!
In this second installment to the series, we start off reliving the events of fourteen years before, during the Realian riots on Old Miltia, which triggered the mass exodus from that planet before it was engulfed into an impenetrable pocket of space behind two black holes. This prologue serves us as a tutorial, as well as offering some valuable insight on events that we will encounter later on in the game. Then we continue the story where the last game ended, when Shion and company make it to Second Miltia after destroying the space fortress of Proto Merkhaba in orbit above the planet and their subsequent rocky journey to the Capital, to extract vital information which may be the key to defeating The Gnosis, from MOMO, a Realian, or artificial human made up of nanomachines who has the power to force The Gnosis to manifest completely in our dimensional plane, making them vulnerable to attack, only to fall into a trap which will take the whole gang on yet another adventure, triggering the events which will eventually lead up to where we all started with episode V.
Here is my objective analysis of the game:
Story - One thing that has definitely changed during the series' re-imaging was the story. While it's not as grand or as epic as Xenogears was, it did hold me spellbound, and I found myself playing the game for hours on end. The plot twists were not as bountiful as in episode I, much less as in the original Xenogears , but they are there and are just as interesting as in Xenosaga I . I can understand why though, seeing as this is a game that is episodic in nature, much like the dot. Hack series. But considering that while the dot. Hack series only took about 3 to 4 months in between before a new episode appeared, episode II of Xenosaga has been in development for a full two years since it's last incarnation (I'll be getting to why is that in a moment) and since I see that it will most likely be another long time till episode III, I felt that it could have been better. You know, to give us more bang for our buck till the next game. At least it's not a cliffhanger ending ala Halo 2 .
Guys. Meet Shion Uzuki. She is the geeks dream girl come true. She likes to cook, looks great in a swimsuit, and she actually programs robots with mysterious devices inside that even she doesn't know what they are for!
Graphics - Want to know one of the reasons why this game was in development for so long? Well in the first Xenosaga , the graphics looked somewhat mediocre and definitely very Japanese sci-fi looking, while the characters all had that anime look, with the saucer sized eyes and all. In this second installment, the characters are more realistic looking, which gives them a reflective quality that allows us to see all of their inner turmoil and it helps them to express emotion more realistically. This, along with new voices, portrays the characters true age and I like this turn for a more "real" look. The background of the game is as expected, futuristic looking, and considering that most of the game takes place on Second Miltia, therefore providing for more outdoor locales, we are not limited anymore to the cold grey corridors of space craft as much as in the first game. The scene with the encephalon dive into a forest area is the most notable of these outdoor quests and serves as an example of the attention to detail that was given to such areas. I just wish that the city areas were given as much attention, as they still look like the type of city that you would see in any anime show. In overall though, the graphics do give a nice feeling of depth to the game, adding to the feel that you are walking amongst the streets of a futuristic metropolis.
Check out the heels on that thing! Believe it or not, this is actually a guy's mech. I guess that what applies to Japanese rock bands can apply to Japanese giant robots as well. "Looking gay makes us look cool to the ignorant gaijin!"
Sound - One of the elements that give this series its character is it's musical score. None other than The London Royal Philharmonic did episode I's musical score, so of course there probably was a lot of expectation for the second game in that department. In fact I still remember the battle sequence score that set even the simplest battles against minor enemies to this grand and epic sounding orchestral music score worthy of Wagner himself. So the music in this second installment is definitely a let down. It's mostly just standard animeish sci-fi fare and obviously made by a studio band. I guess this can be attributed once again to the need to get the game out on shelves already, which is a shame because despite the attention to detail given to all the other areas, why did the sound and the music have to suffer? Shit, I think I've just figured out how game studios can both rush a game and yet give it good quality. Take out the music all together!
Game play - if there is one thing that hasn't really changed much in the series, besides all the Hebrew sounding names and the knack to confuse the hell out of players, it is it's battle system. This consists of basic physical attacks that are based on button combos that correspond to high, mid and low level attacks. Initially you can use a combination of two button attacks, but you also have a power bar of sorts, which lets you save up so that you can either make your combos longer or to execute individual or team attacks. In order to execute a team attack, the characters who are going to execute the attack must not only meet certain requirements in order to pull it off, but they can only be executed between two members that have similar characteristics, like for example, Kos-Mos and Ziggy, since they are both robotic type characters, they can execute team attacks. Team attacks must also be "collected", as they are not earned with experience. As for magic attacks, you have all your standard attack and support spells, and guess what? They can also be combined with another guys spell! Not as complicated to pull off as physical team attacks, magic attacks nevertheless, must also be pulled off in a way that they don't cancel each other out. So if you combine two fire spells, then you get a stronger fire spell. Combine fire with water and well… you just know that in RPG's it just doesn't work that way. Also, when you are exploring, you may come upon certain obstacles that may block your path and you get to shoot them when a target appears over them. They not only occur out in the field, but most anywhere and you can get items for shooting some of them, or you may uncover a hidden path or maybe even one of the mysterious "red door's" that can only be opened with keys that you find or earn over the course of the game and that you may revisit by finding the blue "encephalon dive" plate next to the standard gold save points in cities and certain locations. One thing that I miss though is that there are absolutely no shops in this game whatsoever. Also, you can't get new weapons, as they just pretty much get stronger as you level up. I guess that's one way of solving the "money in the slime" dilemma that has plagued the genre since time immemorial.
Because I know that you people will be debating about who the hottest video game babe to shamelessly jerk-off to is on our forums, here is a pic of Shion in her swimsuit in the midst of battle! "I has teh yellow fevah!"
Replay value - this is an issue that I definitely have a beef with. First and foremost, this game is pretty much linear. At least it doesn't give the impression that it's as linear as in the first game, but yet it is, which is a bummer because it also has shortened the game to a mere 40 hours if you decide to just go straight through with the game and forgo all the non necessary extra little quests and mini-games. In fact, I was pretty much pissed off when after 8 hours or so of being on one planet, I was asked to switch to disc 2! Ironically, disc 2 has a lot more game time on it than disc one, but this still doesn't help it to achieve the respectful 60+ hours that all RPG's should try to achieve. I don't know. Call my fickle if you like, but I would like more story and less "save the kitty from the tree" quests in my games because mini-games and plenty of unrelated side quests and RPG does not make! Another fact that I believe that hasn't been helping games this day and age is that they now omit world maps from RPG's, which pretty much takes out the whole idea of exploring from a game, and that's what used to make RPG's what they used to be. I blame it on Final Fantasy X for this trend of just putting games on this linear track with no opportunities of going of the beaten path and seeing if you can find that ultimate weapon. Oh wait, I just ranted there. Sorry. But yes, This game also lacks world maps, which again, while completely understandable because of the nature of the game, during the times where a nice world map would be nice, it's more of a point and click thing.
So in overall, while it's a game that will definitely be worth your while if your looking for an excuse to have late night gaming sessions or are looking forward to some quality summer time indoor activity, it has fallen short on some of my expectations, which thankfully, weren't that many, but I felt that if they were going to make an episodic game, with each release being about two years apart, then they should have made the experience worthwhile in the long run. If we were to give out actual numerical game ratings, then this game has earned a 7/10 from me. This is a game that will only be appreciated by the fans who will buy it only to continue on with the story, and by those RPG fans out there who have some fixation with mini-games or virtual babes in bikinis (yes, if you have save data on your card from the first game, you can unlock swimsuits for the characters to wear during battle). If you feel the need to flame me, then you should visit our forums or drop me a line right here.
How many needles of black tar heroin to make this game good?: 3
*all images are courtesy of www.playstationpro2.com and cannot be used without permission from the owners.