zh666's Xenosaga: Episode I - Der Wille zur Macht (PlayStation 2) review

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Xenosaga had a great story, but not enough gameplay.

Even though the battle system had plenty of depth to it, and the story was pretty enjoyable, I was still left pretty empty with Xenosaga. I spent over 40 hours with this game, and most of that was micro managing and cutscenes. I felt like I didn't accomplish anything.

----------Battle System----------
Xenosaga is a standard turn-based RPG. There's six playable characters in all, but at the start of the game a couple people will "semi-join" you like Generic Solider #442, but you can edit their status or equipment and they leave shortly after they join. You can only have 3 people on your team at once in battle. There's only room to move forward or back. If your character is in the back row they can't attack at all, but they're damaged alot less. You can assign a player behind another one, this prevents the front player from getting pushed back, and protects the back player from getting hit to much. This is a good position for a healer. I never had a problem of getting pushed back until a couple boss fights.

In the battle there will be a wheel spinning once each move, there's four marks on this wheel one does nothing, another gives you a critical attack, another boosts your Boost Gauge, and the last boosts your points after the battle if you kill the monster while you're on this wheel. The wheel moves in the same way after each move, so if you can time things right you can gain a good amount of points after battle. The wheel also applies to the monster. When the Boost Gauge fills up, you gain 1 "Boost Point". If you use a "Boost" it gives which ever character that has the boost an extra attack. Monsters also have Boosts aswell.

Every character has Action Points (AP). You start off with zero AP at the beginning of a fight, but as your turn comes up you gain 4 AP. Each move costs 2 AP, so you can have a 2 hit combo, or you can attack once, then cancel your move, and have 3 hit combo (with a more powerful move) the next move. It's smart to do that.

You also have Ether Points (EP), which is basically your characters Magic Points. Each character has a load of personal abilities they can learn, 99% of them are healing or status effects though.

After each battle your current party gets experience split equally, and your "reserve" characters you aren't using will get a fraction of what you won. After the battle you'll also gain Tech Points, Ether Points and Skill Points. You can use these Tech Points in 2 different ways. For one you can boost your characters stats with them, this is pretty simple and should be done early in the game (I didn't start until later, I would of made the game alot easier to do it early as I learned). You can also upgrade your Tech attacks with these points. The Tech attacks are the final attacks you perform in a combo when you do a 3 combo hit. If you max out the speed of the Tech attack you can make it a 2 combo hit (another thing I wish I would of figured out early in the game). You can also upgrade the level of each attack, but it gets pricey eventually.

The Ether points buys you Ether skills. Your Ether chart looks something similar to a DNA chart, you'll start off with one or two ether attacks, and then you can branch (or as they say "evolve") each Ether skill until you can't evolve it anymore. You can also "transfer" these skills to other players at half the cost. This makes the game alot easier if you give everyone healing spells, but it makes micro-managing even more agonizing.

The Skill Points are used for status effects. You learn new skills by extracting said skill from an unequipped accessory. Each character will have 3 Skill slots. For example, you can extract a "Prevent Poison" and put it in one of your characters slots, then you'll never have to worry about being poisoned. You can only equip 3, so that makes choosing a bit difficult. You even have a "Skill Level". You gain higher levels by extracting more and more skills. If your skill level is at 3, then you can only extract level 3 and below skills.

On the stages all the monsters are visible. If you kill a monster and then exit and re-enter a room, that monster will be back with the same exact bad guys you fought before. If you get near the monster you'll hear an alert sound, and a big "WARNING" flash will pop up. The monster will start charging you until the battle has begun, if you run faster than him it will eventually go back to pacing back and forth in a generic fashion. In most cases you'll get attacked by the monster since they're usually fast and you'll be walking down narrow hallways or paths most of the time.

Early in the game they give you a Vaporizer Plug-in. This zapper will destroy certain targets on the screen, such as boxes and... boxes. When you get near a box, you'll hear a sound and a graphic will jump to your target. When you get close enough you can zap it, most of the time it will hide a items or money, sometimes you'll find hidden doors or even monsters. You can also zap traps with this thing. If a monster gets close to a trap, you can zap it and a big fireball or electric mess will explode freezing the monster and giving you the advantage to run past it, or fighting it with a boosted abilities.

Just like Xenogears, you'll also board a Mech machine, they call it a "Anti-Gnosis Weapon System", or "A.G.W.S." for short. The attack system is similar to your normal attacks, but they could cost alot more AP to accomplish. If your character has an "A.G.W.S." then they can board it at any time in the battle. You can upgrade your machine in a few locations. You can boosts its HP and VIT (they attach automatically), or buy new weapons or armor (you have to equip). I thought this was the most boring of all the micro-managing since I rarely used my "A.G.W.S.".

----------Characters / Story----------
You play as Shoin, the young chief of Vector Industries. She is assigned to build KOS-MOS, a cyborg type machine that's made to kill the Gnosis of the world. The Gnosis is a universal menace, that are almost unstoppable. If one touches you, then you can turn into a Gnosis, so that’s why they need KOS-MOS. Your ship is eventually attacked and the few survivors is picked up by a scavenger ship, where you meet up with Chaos and crew. That's when the game starts to pick up. You eventually learn more about the Gnosis, and the government and other secret societies.

The story was great, and the characters had a ton of depth. I'm not a sci-fi fan, so I wasn't expecting much, but ending up enjoying it overall. Chaos was a little annoying, he's just embodiment of effiminate Japanese RPG characters.

All the cutscenes (and there's plenty) are made with the in-game engine and its a joy to watch. The characters movements are very natural and fluent. Their faces show a wide variety of emotion. The only problem is they spent so much time on the cutscenes and not enough time on the level design. Nothing has progressed since the PS1 era of RPGs in this game. The levels are a bit short, you're always walking down a narrow path and only have a few mediocre puzzles to figure out each, just about all are unlocking doors, hitting switches or moving up elevators. Just about every stage is saturated in a bluish grey metal world that gets very boring in time. There was one stage where you fight across a giant Gnosis, but it eventually leads you into another blueish grey building with the same lame puzzles.

All the enemies come in 3 types, a Human, a Mech or a Gnosis. There's not alot of variety with the enemies and for the most part the enemies in each group looks about the same.

The special attacks are ok looking, but some of them drag on way to long, and I only encountered a couple that you could speed up or skip.

This game is no way near as colorful as Baten Kaitos, everything is dull and looks washed out. The enemy variety is alot less imaginative.

The voice actors in this game are great (except for Chaos, he annoys me). The only time we'll hear these voices are in the cutscenes or in battle. The dialog scenes you'll have to scroll through yourself. The music is ok at best, but very forgettable.

----------World Map----------
There's only one world map within this whole game. If you're familiar with Baten Kaitos, then it looks exactly like that. When you're walking around the Kukai Foundation you can walk up to 3 or 4 different links within this map, and that's about it. You can travel within stages by train or spaceship to a few limited places.

The way you travel to worlds is going to them by storylines, you don't travel to dungeons yourself like normal. There's no "real" safe haven in that game, because you'll fight monsters in every stage at some point.

Since you have to backtrack to do some sidequests, and some stages you can't revisit they make up a thing called "Environmental Simulator" or "EVS" for short. The EVS system takes you back to levels you previously completed, but they're not the "real" levels for storyline purposes. Nothing is changed between the real stage and the "simulated" ones, even treasure chests you open in the real stage stay opened when you revisit. It's just an excuse to warp you to past levels.

The lack of actual traveling is a bit disappointing and makes this "epic" game feel less hands on and short.

----------Time to Complete Game (first run through)----------

You save your game after the credits, but I don't think there is a New Game+ or anything. No bonus' that I noticed.

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