User Rating: 10 | Xenogears: Elyhaym Van Houten Edition (Square Millennium Collection) PS
Let me start off by saying that this is an absolute must-have for fans of the genre. If you've ever played and enjoyed a console RPG, don't even bother reading this or any of the other reviews. Go buy it and form your own opinion. That having been said, you might wonder why I'm writing this at all. Good question; I really don't know. But if, for some unknown reason, you ignored my sage-like advice and are still reading, I'll do my best to fill you in. The plot of Xenogears is undoubtedly the source of the game's ridiculously loyal fanbase. It is the epitomy of epic, and those loyal to the Final Fantasy may be in for a bit of a surprise. While full of Square's trademark cutscenes and fantastic characterization, the story takes on a more serious tone that may be unfamiliar to many gamers. That isn't to say it is completely devoid of humor - the game certainly has its moments to ease the tension. Ultimately, the plotline rises suspensfully toward a fulfilling conclusion. And, along the way, it will take you through a huge world with more twists and drama than you could possibly hope for - even from the highest calibur of the genre. The story, deep and well-executed, is neccessarily quite lengthy. I found myself more than once expecting an undelivered "Please insert Disc Two" screen after an impressive cutscene. It wasn't until I had enough time logged to complete another RPG and a half that this message finally came. Despite its length, it has that "good 'til the last drop" quality, though many casual gamers will be turned off by its hardcore appeal. Now for the meat of the game: combat. In between the sprite to sprite chatter you will find yourself needing to use brute force to push your way to the next area. The battle system has two different facets; you'll either fight on foot or in your gear (mech.) Both stray moderately from other RPGs, though are not without their flaws. Fighting on foot requires the use of a combo system. You only have so many points to spend each turn, with attacks of ranging power that use different amounts of points. Attempting new combinations of these attacks will unlock combos that are more powerful then the sum of their parts. Unfortunately, at different points in the game, this can lead to performing the same, ultimate combo turn after turn. With the supporting ether (magic) and items, however, there is no alarming lack of depth. Fighting in a gear is in many ways twin to the aforementioned system. There are, again, combos and different attack strengths, but while in a gear fuel is absorbed by these attacks instead of attack points. Thus, only one attack can be made per turn. Additionally, fuel can be regained using the charge command instead of attacking for a turn. This, along with customizing your gear with a large variety of equipment, adds a great deal of strategy to the fights. Lastly, the production values leave few desires unanswered. The anime cutscenes are sharp and effective, the backgrounds are stunning, and the sprites are works of arts in their own right - and nicely animated to boot. Pixelation on the closer zoom shots is the only problem to be found here. The most annoying aspect of the visuals is the camera itself. Maneuvering through the pseudo-3D platform environments is often hindered by the view, and these make some for some of the more frusterating points of the game. These scenes are not frequent, however, and are certainly not impossible to complete. The score in the game is just as impressive as the visuals; no small feat. The music sets the mood perfectly throughout the game's more intense moments, and it never seems out of place. Some of the score could even be deemed memorable, though I wouldn't place it among the ranks of Final Fantasy VII or VIII. The sound bites are not quite up to par with the music, but do their job effectively. The shouts of your characters during combat are not remarkable, but they certainly do not detract from the damage dealing. All in all, Xenogears is one of the best games ever produced - as long as you like a good story, and don't mind the complex and powerful themes presented along the way. The few flaws I mentioned during the review were just about the only qualms I had through over a hundred hours of gameplay, and, for lack of space, I did not discuss even a fourth of the game's strong points. While it is a 'hardcore' game in many respects, more than hardcore gamers should take intrest - this game truly gives back tenfold what you put into it. So, what are you waiting for?