Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose Updated Impressions

We get a peek at the upcoming US version of Namco's epic role-playing sequel.

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Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose
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Namco has taken the wraps off the US version of Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose, the follow-up to last year's epically named Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht from Monolith Soft. Although the game was released earlier this year in Japan, Namco had not yet shown off the localized version of the game until its recent press event. At this event, we were treated to a demo of various aspects of the game, which has seen some significant changes from its predecessor.

Longer name, bigger environments...shorter cutscenes?
Longer name, bigger environments...shorter cutscenes?

As you'd expect from a sequel to an epic role-playing game that ended with its fair share of loose ends, Xenosaga Episode II continues its predecessor's narrative. The old gang from the original game is back, along with some new faces, including main character Shion Uzuki's big brother Jin, and Canaan, a realian. If you never finished the original game you may be at a disadvantage for a bit as the story begins to unfold, especially since the opening segment of the game is a flashback. Fortunately, Namco is offering a crib sheet in DVD format (courtesy of a bonus disc) that will be a useful bit of preorder swag. The DVD will feature a hefty collection of cinematic sequences from the first game, which should bring you up to speed on current events in Xenosaga Episode II. The game's story will follow Shion and company as they continue their quest to unravel the mystery of an ancient artifact called the Zohar. To say much more would start to give away the game's roller-coaster-like collection of highs, lows, and plot twists that will keep you hooked. One thing we will note is that, while the DVD is a nice way to get caught up on the story, it's just not the same as actually playing the game. Hardcore players who haven't plowed through the first game will want to invest the time, as your clear save from the first game can be carried over into Xenosaga II, and it will yield some nice benefits.

As we mentioned, the game has undergone some significant changes from the original Xenosaga. The graphics and the art style have been completely overhauled, resulting in a more-mature look for the game that offers some top-notch technology underneath the hood. The character designs have lost the wide-eyed Japanese "anime" cartoon look, although the cleavage on the ladies is more realistic, keeping some bouncy ties to the genre. The end result is a more expressive cast that looks great. The change in the character's designs and proportions has also resulted in a grander scale to the cities whose size has increased to accommodate the cast. The new models shine in the many real-time cinematics you'll see as the story unfolds. For those players who are a little shell-shocked from the original game's epic cutscenes, know that some tuning has gone on and that there should be a better balance between watching and playing. From the sound of it, you'll probably still be able to make a sandwich during some of these sequences, but the days of preparing a full three-course meal plus dessert while the game plays are probably over.

The cast makeover has even extended to the audio in the game, albeit to a lesser degree. The bulk of the voice cast has returned for the game, although Shion has been recast and sounds older and considerably less ditzy than she did in the first game. As before, the game's audio will be split between Dolby 5.1 for the CG cinematics and Dolby Pro Logic II for the in-game action.

The sequel will have a completely new combat system.
The sequel will have a completely new combat system.

Aside from the cosmetic changes we mentioned, Xenosaga Episode II will feature some refinements to its gameplay as well. The most notable change is the combat, which has been completely overhauled from the original game. The biggest change is in the attack mechanics, which now support three levels of attack: high (A), mid (B), and low (C). 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 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 if you want. The boost meter is now shared, as opposed to the individual ones 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 in order to do more damage. The changes in combat extend beyond the human players and also affect the mech battles you'll engage in, although the tweaks don't appear to be as extensive as the ones for the normal combat.

It's not too big a shocker to say that Xenosaga II should be an epic RPG that will be worth your time when it ships this February for the PlayStation 2. A great deal of work has gone into the game to make it more than just a run-of-the-mill sequel, and it shows. The upgraded graphics and slick new combat system have a lot of appeal that should be hard to pass up. For more on Xenosaga Episode II, check an exclusive interview on the game on our media page.

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