An amazing RPG
I'll admit that a good story can often have me condone an otherwise lousy gameplay experience. I think the same can be said for many an rpg fan. If you're captivated by the plot and its coterie, sometimes that's all you need to keep progressing from one mindless dungeon to the next. Xenogears has one of the most convoluted and tediously unveiling stories in a video game. It also has the gameplay to make it one of the most satisfying experiences in an rpg. Combine that with a cosmic score and you have perfection.
The story unfolds like every other rpg of its time. The lead character Fei has lost his memory. Fei's lost memory is actually given a somewhat reasonable explanation in that he is suppressing it through multiple personalities. Once he becomes aware of who he is, his purpose manifests through a series of flashbacks to previous incarnations of himself..(Lacan, Kim, Abel). Tracing back, he comes to the realization that he is the descendant of the sole survivor of a wrecked spaceship named The Eldridge, which self destructed in an attempt to prevent a doomsday weapon named Deus from taking command of the ship. Deus is a man-made invention with it's own pansophical awareness capable of adapting and overcoming any opposition. Deemed uncontainable, the Eldridge was transporting Deus when it became aware of its fate and attempted to take control, thus prompting the captain to destroy the ship. Fei's story begins with the attempt at resurrecting Deus.
The gameplay is turn-based with random battles. You battle as either the characters or their gears. In both instances the use of combos is really what keeps the game fun. As your experience progresses the player opens new combinations for use in battle. Naturally the gear battles are the most fun. There is even a (brief) battle arena about half-way through which moves the gameplay away from turn-based and into live action battles.
The in-game graphics are nothing to brag about. It's a very pixelated world map. The cutscenes are amazing anime, which really drive the story. These were the days when the players were rewarded with cutscenes after long dungeons and big boss battles. Xenogears exceeds in this area of story-telling.
My only knock against this game would be the text heavy beginning of disc 2. It was just page after page of text. I don't know if this was intentional or if the devs were under a time constraint, but it does have a bit of a rushed feel. It doesn't last too long though.
The game takes on heavy themes ranging from reincarnation to god-like beings (Wave Existence) and religious symbolism (Zohar). The music in this game is phenomenal and really adds to the experience. All in all, Xenogears is one of the greatest stories to come out of an rpg. If story is what drives your interest in rpgs, I highly recommend.