After playing the first game, I was quite disappointed with how the second game looked. The game did receive an upgrade in graphics, but to me, this is undermined by the radical changes in character designs. In fact, Shion received such a radical change in design (no doubt an attempt to please male gamers) that is difficult for me to recognize her in some scenes. I can understand trying to make the characters look more realistic, but it should not have been done at the cost of the original character designs. Still, to be honest, this is all personal feeling and it does not affect the score I give it much. What keeps this score from being higher is the uninspired enemy designs. Gone is the diverse range of enemies Episode I offered. Instead, you will fight the same enemies, with different stats. The wide use of coloring is also gone as everything has a bland tone to it. Other than these gripes, the game looks good and some parts look great, notably the awakening of Proto- Omega.
Sound - 5/10
Character designs were not the only thing that Namco changed. The voice acting also saw a change as new actors were brought in. Shion, KOS- MOS, chaos, and MOMO all got new voice actors. In some cases, it worked, such as chaos and MOMO. In other cases, it failed horribly, as with Shion and KOS- MOS. KOS- MOS, a battle android, sounds like a human now as compared to her robotic sounding voice in Episode I, and Shion's voice has changed to a less dramatic voice. She fails to convey any emotion other than anger it sounds like. The music in this game also takes a hit. Episode I featured a classical soundtrack while most of Episode II features a pop/techno soundtrack. Perhaps if Episode I hadn't used a classical track, the pop/techno track could have worked, but the new soundtrack is annoying and doesn't fit the feel of the series.
Gameplay - 6/10
I feel like Namco told itself, "If it ain't broke, we'll break it." They do a great job of this in the gameplay aspect. The battle system takes getting used to with a new zone based system. Basically, every enemy (all 4 of them it feels like) has a weak zone. Some have a BB zone break, while others may have a CB or BC zone break. Your attack buttons correspond with the zones. Triangle is your C attack and square is your B attack. Enter the correct combination and you will break the enemy's zone and do significantly more damage than you would have otherwise. After the enemy is broken, you can knock them into the air or onto the ground and increase your damage even more. You can stock your character up to three times, and this will allow your character to attack up to six times in one turn. If everything is timed correctly, you can win battles quite easily. I actually liked this new system, but it's broken by the nightmare known as boost. Every attack adds to your boost gauge, which allows you to boost a character, whose turn is later, to attack the next turn. It's essentially the same as Episode I with one exception, the ease of boosting. Getting 3 boosts (the max limit) is way too easy for you and the enemy. This contributes to the mess that can happen in any given random fight. Sometimes you can kill the enemy without letting them make one move. Other times, the enemy will seriously hurt your party and inventory using the boost system. I sometimes found myself having to replay portions of the game because and enemy was forcing me to use all of my items to just stay alive. Maybe if I could buy items with money, but wait! Namco, for some reason that will never satisfy me, decided to get rid of shops and money. So the only way to get items in this game is to defeat enemies, which can easily suck away your inventory by abusing the boost system. Boss battles also are annoying. In the early boss battles, there is one way to defeat the boss and if you fail to find out the proper way, you're dead. There is too much emphasis on timing. If attacks are timed incorrectly in boss battles, forget being able to win that fight. Another issue I have with the gameplay is the leveling up. Everyone can learn every skill now. Instead of having a unique tree to follow, all of your characters can learn the same skills. While this can be seen as a good thing because of customization, I see it as a bad thing. Unless you constantly level up every character and always fight just for levels, characters just won't get enough skill points for you to be able to give them new skills. You may have three characters that have unique high level skills, but the rest of your party will have low level base skills. The AGWS from Episode I also make a return as ES Machines or AMWS. These machines now have a use. Some battles have to be fought with ES Machines and you don't have a choice in the matter. This isn't a bad thing at all and I actually found the battle system for machines to be quite enjoyable. So, to sum it up, a collection of little bad things add up to one frustrating experience in the gameplay department.
Story - 7/10
The story is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the game. Episode I did a great job of focusing on everyone's (minus chaos) story while Episode II is focused on Albedo, Negrido, and Rubedo. This is not a bad thing but it left me wanting a bit more in the other characters stories. Luckily, there is a third game for this to happen in. Pretty much, Xenosaga Episode II picks up right where Episode I left off. The game opens up with a prologue that places chaos and a Realian named Canaan in the middle of the Miltian Conflict in which the song of Nephalim was played and the Gnosis first appeared 14 years before the events of Episode I. After the prologue is over, the attention shifts back to the present where the party is on the bridge of the Elsa after completing their mission inside Proto- Merkabah. MOMO is to go to 2nd Militia for a dive into her sub conscious to retrieve the Y- Data, the information left behind by the supposed architect of the Miltian Conflict. Albedo is also trying to unlock that information so he can open the closed gate to Militia and link with U- DO, a mysterious life form that awoke 14 years prior. Things go wrong very quickly as Albedo springs a trap to gain the Y- Data. Many new factions are introduced as well in the game. The story, as it does in most sequels, does not live up to its predecessor's story. The pace is slower and it feels like that much of the story is just filler. This can be backed up by boss battles. In Episode I, the bosses had stories and motives for stopping. They weren't just there to be a boss battle. In Episode II, the boss battles, at least until the end, feel like they are just there to be a boss battle. Most of the bosses have little to no story behind them and that hurts the story telling in this game. The whole Ormus Stronghold dungeon serves absolutely no purpose in advancing the story at all. It's as if the developers noticed the game would be too short and just added a dungeon to add time to the game. Again, I'm going to pick on Shion. Her attitude changes completely from the first game to this one. She was a kind, caring person but in Episode II, she comes across as mean and, well, a word that would violate the rules of this forum. chaos also changes from a cheerful character to a dark sad sounding character. This wouldn't be an issue if there was a long period of time between the two games, but there isn't. The second game occurs right after the first.
Overall - 7/10
The only reason I managed to finish this game is the simple fact that I wanted to know what happened next. The game is full of filler, sub par storytelling (for this series), bad voice acting, and poorly designed game play. Too much change can be a bad thing and this game proves it. I don't want you to think this game is terrible. Compared to the first game, it certainly is a step backwards, but compared to most games, this game still stands up as just as good if not better. Maybe my expectations were too high going into this game, but I feel justified with those expectations after playing the incredible first entry in to the series. I only recommend this game if you played the first game and liked it enough that you want to see what happens next.