Namco is putting the finishing touches on Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose, the next installment in its fledgling RPG franchise. The game is the sequel to 2003's Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht, which kicked off Namco and developer Monolith Soft's sci-fi epic. While we've seen the US version of the game before, today's visit showcased some of the new content that's been added for the stateside release.
Before running us through the original content, Namco reps gave us a peek at two of the cinematics from the game. The clips, which featured tighter editing than the first game's lengthy cinematics, showcased the game's revamped art style and more-stylized presentation. With Xenosaga II's cast featuring many returning faces from its predecessor, the story will unfold at a better pace, as there won't be quite so many people to introduce. Fans left hanging at the end of Xenosaga can plan on seeing subplots such as Kos-Mos' growing independence continue.
Though it will obviously be great to get pulled into Xenosaga II's story, the bigger draw in the US version will be new content that will be unique to the domestic release of the game. The game will feature three new bosses that you'll be able to access by finishing the main quest. We got a sneak peek at these foes, who feature creepy designs and pack a painful punch. The first is an unholy spider creature whose Frankenstein-like appearance shifts to reflect its two battle modes. The most dangerous of the modes is called "creeping mode." This mode focuses on attacks that dole out copious amounts of damage that can have you on the ropes fairly quickly. The saved game that was being used to show off the boss fight featured characters who were maxed out at level 99, and they were still getting stomped. The most annoying of the two modes was the purification mode, which allowed the critter to restore bucketloads of health. There's nothing more irksome than seeing all the damage you just inflicted being removed in a flash.
The second boss is an even odder foe that almost defies description. Fortunately, we've played enough Japanese games to be able to sum up even the weirdest stuff that we encounter. Basically, you'll fight a birdlike critter who's riding a bizarre tanklike thing. The unholy pairing looks a little ridiculous, but the damage it inflicts is no joke. The tough battle also showed off some of the unlockable extras you can find in the game, such as Kos-Mos' sassy bathing suit.
The last boss is the most straightforward of the trio, a portly humanoid with a Buddha-like belly and flaming hair. Like his tank-riding brethren, the boss looks a bit odd. The grimace on his face hints at the grave danger posed by his bile attacks, which you'll want to avoid by moving around the map.
The boss fights also served to highlight the revamped combat system. The biggest change is in the attack mechanics, which now support three levels of attack: high, mid, and low. Every enemy you encounter will have a weak spot in one of those areas, which will show up when you land the blow. An onscreen counter that tracks the blows you land will turn that attack's letter (either A, B, or C) red, alerting you to the weak spot. Once you have that information, you can make sure to use your next turn's attacks more effectively.
You'll also be able to perform new combos and stack your attacks. The boost meter is now shared, as opposed to having individual meters for each character, as in the original game. Finally, there's a new layer of strategy to the action, thanks to a positioning mechanic that lets you arrange your fighters on the battlefield to do more damage. The changes in the combat extend beyond the human players and also affect the mech battles you'll engage in. Unlike in the first game, the mech battles have been integrated more into the core gameplay to add variety to the combat.
Our high expectations for Xenosaga II's US debut appear to be well founded, judging from this latest look at the game. There's plenty to appreciate in the visual and gameplay improvements that have been made. The new content is a welcome, albeit challenging, extra that ought to please fans of the series. Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose is slated to ship for the PlayStation 2 in the States early next month.