Gave this game a try, and really didn't get into it. Of course, by that time I had played Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy X, Rogue Galaxy, Dragon Quest VIII...
Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht Review
Not everyone will enjoy Xenosaga, but serious fans of RPGs or anime almost certainly will.
No other single game to date is as story-driven as Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht, a rather conventional RPG at its core, but one with an exhaustively detailed and occasionally long-winded narrative. Playing through Xenosaga involves watching an inspired anime sci-fi miniseries unfold, as the game packs in literally hours upon hours of noninteractive 3D cutscenes. Often, you do more watching than playing, so if you're the sort who gets frustrated at having to sit through cutscenes, then do yourself a favor and don't bother with this game. Also, the emphasis on story means that Xenosaga isn't always the most riveting gameplay experience. However, the story is what will prove to be the main attraction for many fans of the genre--especially for fans of Xenogears, a daring 1998 RPG published by Square that, like Xenosaga, is long, complex, and heavily focused on storytelling. Both games' stories touch on some decidedly sensitive subjects, most notably by making numerous allusions to various religious faiths--and in this case, all in the context of a sweeping, melodramatic space opera. Not everyone will enjoy Xenosaga, but serious fans of RPGs or anime almost certainly will. Regardless, Xenosaga is by all means an impressive and genuine effort, one that legitimately deserves both praise and attention.
Published by Namco rather than Square but designed by the same developers as Xenogears, Xenosaga isn't directly related to Square's cult classic, but the similarities between these games will be unmistakable to those who remember Xenogears. Xenosaga is a science-fiction-themed game set thousands of years in the future, when humankind is being threatened by a mysterious, ethereal alien menace called the gnosis. Shion Uzuki is a young scientist heading up the development of a female android equipped to deal with these bizarre monstrosities. To say much more about the story would be to give away some of its surprises, but suffice it to say that some surprising events bring Shion and her android creation into league with some other unusual characters who, coincidentally or not, are headed to the same destination. Along the way, they will face the wrath of the gnosis, a number of shadowy political factions, a deranged and masochistic villain, and more in a story that's rife with intrigue. All this unfolds in cutscenes that sometimes go on for more than 30 minutes at a time, so thankfully you can pause them. Unfortunately, you can't turn off the subtitles, even though the cutscenes feature full speech.
Its strong cast of characters is one of the best things about Xenosaga. Shion is pretty straightforward as a heroine, though maybe a little ditzy for someone who's supposedly one of the best scientists in the galaxy. But some of the other main characters are really good, like Ziggurat-8 (later just Ziggy), a melancholy cyborg mercenary who seeks only to rid himself of the last remnants of his humanity by systematically replacing his remaining biological parts with machinery. He seems to get a new lease on life when he meets MOMO and becomes like a father figure to her. MOMO looks and acts like a young girl, but is actually a realian--a manufactured humanoid like Blade Runner's replicants, only with mysterious and highly sought-after powers. Then there's chaos, an enigmatic but kind young man who appears to be an angel. And there's also the one who calls himself Junior, who is seemingly a young boy with a penchant for action movies, but is also the captain of an immensely powerful starship. Some of the other characters you'll run across during the course of Xenosaga may not play major roles, but are still well defined and memorable. Despite the amount of time you'll spend with all these characters, Xenosaga isn't very heavy on character development, but its cast is endearing nevertheless.
How religious references come into play in a game that's otherwise filled with monsters, giant robots, and science-fiction conventions isn't made entirely clear. The game's use of things like images of crucifixes, the Hebrew alphabet, the number 666, and direct references to the Bible and cabala seem as though they're in there for shock value as much as anything else. Some may be offended by this stuff, while others may find it creepy, along with the game's subtitle, which translates as "The Will to Power" and appears to be a reference to the work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Others will probably think it's cool. It's definitely unusual material to see in a role-playing game.
Conventional console role-playing games tend to be padded out by forcing you to fight your way through numerous random encounters with enemies. Even Xenogears was like this, but Xenosaga has no random battles at all, as if the designers put in all those cutscenes as an alternative. Not a bad trade-off, since Xenosaga is undeniably substantial, though it tries not to bog you down with its combat system. Even when you're actually playing the game rather than watching it, oftentimes you'll find yourself exploring areas that are completely devoid of danger. Actually, these sequences sometimes fall flat, and at worst are boring and bewildering, since you won't always have a clear-cut objective and may find yourself running around in environments wondering exactly what you're supposed to be doing. When you do find yourself in enemy-infested areas, you'll see those enemies patrolling the map and can often sneak right past them, avoiding battle completely. The game's battle system is as complicated as it is deep, and it's reminiscent of the flashy, rather slow-paced combat systems of recent Final Fantasy installments. And while Xenosaga doesn't shove random encounters down your throat, that's not to say the combat doesn't ever get repetitive.