Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht

We have more gameplay details on Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht for the PlayStation 2, which was recently released in Japan.

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Some of your party from Xenosaga ponders some weirdness.
Some of your party from Xenosaga ponders some weirdness.

The first chapter in the Xenosaga series, Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht, recently hit stores in Japan, and we've spent some time with game so we can bring you more gameplay details on it. The game opens with a prologue in which a group of archaeologists discovers an artifact in Kenya sometime during the 21st century. The main story arc of the game begins 4,000 years later, placing you in the role of Shion Uzuki--the chief engineer of the Vector Corporation--who is on board the Woglinde, one of the battleships owned by the Galactic Federation. The first 10 hours of the game pretty much serve as an introduction to your adventures, and they're mostly filled by gathering your party members and watching cutscenes. The average gameplay time for Xenosaga should fall between 30 and 40 hours. However, that figure could increase substantially if you choose to unlock all the secrets in the game and have all the characters learn every special attack, ether spell, and skill available to him or her.

A character explains the virtues of mechs.
A character explains the virtues of mechs.

You'll explore the world by using the left analog stick to maneuver your character and the circle button to interact with objects and people. When exploring dungeons, enemies are visible onscreen. Enemies will approach players when in visual range and engage in battle. Unfortunately, there is no default escape command available during combat--you'll have to purchase an item or learn the skill to allow your party to escape instead. You can avoid fighting some enemies by luring them into the traps that are scattered throughout the dungeons.It's also possible to sneak past enemies by pressing the R2 button to walk softly, as the enemies will only react to loud noises. While the game's environments are rendered entirely in 3D, it does not allow players to rotate or zoom in and out, which can be troublesome sometimes.

Battle in Xenosaga is a turn-based affair, and it should be familiar to RPG veterans. Each character will start out with four action points (AP) in battle. The square, triangle, and circle buttons are mapped to different types of attacks, and every attack varies in range and damage depending on the type of enemy it's directed at. Every attack (or commands such as "use items" or "guard") consumes two AP. Some of the ether spells consume more. You can only hold a maximum of six AP, and four AP are replenished in every turn. Each character's agility determines the order of engagement in battle, and the order is shown in the group turn window (GTW) in the lower right corner. Also, some characters own mechs called "anti gnosis weapons systems" (AGWS), which can be summoned to replace your character for that particular battle. You can purchase new parts and weapons for your mechs throughout the course of the game, or you can simply buy new mechs. The mechs don't play a major role in the game, but they can be quite useful during particular battles.

A little turn based combat is always a good thing.
A little turn based combat is always a good thing.

Every attack during battle fills a boost gauge. When the boost gauge is full, you can use the boost command to make another character's turn follow immediately after yours, provided that he or she is not already in the GTW at that time. You'll also find an event slot next to the GTW that shows a rotating set of events that are always in the order of "empty," "critical hit," "extra boost accumulation," and "extra bonus points." As the event in the slot changes during each turn, you can then take advantage of any attack enhancement offered during your turn. Your enemy has a similar event slot. If your slot is at critical hit, you will likely induce critical hits when attacking enemies during that round. However, the same is the case when critical hit is on the enemy's slot during the his or her turn. The system requires quite a bit of strategy. For example, you'll encounter a boss enemy who uses a deadly attack when the extra boost accumulation slot is up during his turn. In order to prevent that, your party has to make sure the boss doesn't get his turn when that slot is up by using the boost command. However, the boost command isn't always foolproof. Occasionally, enemies will use the counter boost command, which counteracts your boost command. The main concern with the boost gauge system is that while you also supposedly have the ability to use the counter boost, most of the time you will only see it used by enemies. Furthermore, it seems the enemies fill their boost gauge much faster than your party. Fortunately, as you progress through the game, you can obtain various skills that will compensate for the disparity.

Checking out a hangar.
Checking out a hangar.

Character development in Xenosaga is a variation on the tried-and-true system found in all RPGs. As in most games in the genre, your characters will earn experience points and level up, earning new special attacks along the way. In order to use the special attacks, you'll have to assign them to "slots" that correspond to different button combinations--for example, "square square" is one slot, while "square triangle" is another. The attacks are broken up according to the two types of slots they can be assigned to, which is based on the amount of AP they consume when performed--two-AP special attacks are assigned to the "low" slots, while four-AP special attacks are assigned to the "hi" slots. In addition, characters will also earn talent points, ether points, and skill points that will allow you to modify their existing special attacks. For example, assigning talent points to a special attack will let you upgrade it to a four-AP attack. Mixing normal attacks and four-AP special attacks becomes very useful as you progress through the game. Additionally, talent points can be distributed boost character stats such as HP, strength, agility, and so on.

A cute girl? In an RPG? Who would have thought?
A cute girl? In an RPG? Who would have thought?

Ether, or magic spells, can be learned by using ether points. Each character has a flowchart showing various sets of spells. You'll start off with the basic ones, and, as you go further down the chart, you'll find that you'll need more and more ether points in order to learn more powerful spells. There are also secret spells for certain characters that can only be gained by defeating hidden bosses or finding hidden items. You can also use ether points to let other characters learn spells that you have already acquired. After learning spells, you have to assign them to a list to use them during battle. Each spell has a "weight" factor, and the more powerful the spell, the higher this number will be. Each character's list has a maximum weight, so players are advised to update their lists depending on the situation.

Preparing to inflict a painful attack.
Preparing to inflict a painful attack.

Skills are acquired by using accessories that consume skill points. Skills will provide characters with various abilities such as resistance to poison, a booster gauge that fills faster than normal, and more. Skills are rated according to level, and players must use as many skill points as possible in order to increase the level of their skills. The downside to the skill system is that you'll end up using points to upgrade skills you may not want to upgrade.At first, micromanaging these points seems to be quite a hassle since you have to manually allocate points and set the newly learned spells or special attacks to the characters. But it is very important to keep track of it, since Xenosaga seems to be designed to have players focus more on their skills as opposed to leveling up their characters. There really is no recommended level that you have to attain before reaching certain points in the game, because as long as you have invested enough talent, ether, and skill points into your characters, it is possible to defeat a boss at a lower level than someone else.

Aside from the main plot, players can choose to play four types of minigames: the drill game, a casino game that allows you to play blackjack and slot machines, a trading card game, and a Virtual On-type mech battle game using the anti gnosis weapons systems. You will be given items as rewards upon winning in these minigames. The network system in the game provides you with a database of enemy listings and a dictionary of the terminology used throughout the game. You'll also be able to receive e-mails, which open up side quests. Sometimes you will receive humorous e-mails like Namco advertising Ninja Assault and Ace Combat 04 for the PS2. The game makes use of the hard drive for data caching and extra storage for game saves. Those who own the unit will certainly find it helpful in cutting the lengthy loading times. While the cutscenes tend to be lengthy, they are well presented and feature nice voice acting most of the time. The only drawback is the lack of variation in the game's music. There is only one battle theme throughout the entire game, and you will hear the same music for boss fights. There is no music playing in the background when inside dungeons, either.

Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht is currently available in Japan. A North American release date has not been announced.

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