Moving on, Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose does a great job on trying to improve on its previous partner. Does it succeed? For the most part, absolutely. The graphics are tons better, more atmospheric, colourful and detailed environments are featured. They definitely blow away the gray, silent and empty-feeling ship navigation Xenosaga Episode 1 heavily relied on. The characters lose their chibi-style cute look, and adapt a more stylized and mature look. I found it better matches the dark tone the storyline sometimes features, and makes the characters far more attractive.
Some aesthetic changes have been made, that don't affect the overall gameplay, which I should probably mention. About half the cast's voice actors have been changed since the first game. It's a little jarring at first, but I grew used to it. Most of the changes are for the better, and made some characters easier to listen to. Unfortunately, Shion and KOS-MOS (the two primary leads you'll be focusing on) both have changed voice actresses. Their Episode 1 voices, I found, were very nice, but could have some work done. Episode 2 seems to have tried to remedy that by recasting them, and the result is a very different sounding KOS-MOS, and a Shion voice that -almost- matches her previous performance. KOS-MOS doesn't seem to have the brave, robotic voice she had in the first, and Shion sounds a little more childish, but manages to match most of the previous Shion criteria.
On the game's part, the gameplay in battles has evolved since the first with a few extra additions. Every battle feels unique this way, but unfortunately can cause some battles to drag on or become incredibly difficult. Careful planning for each of your actions must be made, judging several factors while making a decision. I won't go into too much detail because it would last for paragraphs, but some people may like or not like the change in the battle system. The battles seem a little more fast-paced, not many lengthy skill animations compared to the first game to sit through. There is a large variety of unique enemies, along with an excellent use of mech battles compared to the first game. You'll now also control your giant E.S. (the game's series of large human-like mechanical armaments) on the main exploration map, too, and customize more like characters.
Your levelling up system is a little more straight-forward and does a lot of its stuff automatically. On top of this is a really smooth and organized main menu screen to do all of this in. Unfortunately, you won't unlock as many skills and abilities as you'd like to throughout the game (since there's just so many awesome ones you will wish you could have), but the game's duration compared to how often you gain points and level up, is not very comfortable. You'll get to experience some side-missions, that the game really implements in an organized and prominent fashion. There are over 30 of them to do at different parts of the game, some feature boss battles while others are simple delivery missions or fetch quests. There are a handful of unique and memorable ones, like hanging posters around town, helping a chef cook, chasing and shooting mice in someone's attic and finding someone's lost porn magazine. The side-quests really give you some nice rewards that will undoubtedly help you along the journey... Which I should mention is significantly shorter than the first episode's, but is equally as satisfying. Through the game's main levels, you may partake in some very diverse and accessible puzzles, that aren't too hard, and add more depth to each location. The amount of battles scattered throughout the areas is significantly low, as some don't even respawn when you return to certain maps later. This adds more enjoyment for exploration, and less repetitive fights. But it does unfortunately reduce the ease to grind and level up your characters if you need it. Sometimes if you need some bonus points in order to continue, you may struggle to find enemy encounters through the areas you've already explored, so you'll have to backtrack quite far to train.
Along the way, you'll experience a wonderful story building on Episode 1's premise, unleashing plot-twists in a few lengthy and stylish cinematics. The game's compatibility with Dolby Digital Surround (get your optical cables ready) sounds amazing during supported cutscenes, and enhance the cinematics. They are a joy to watch, accompanied by some great music, voice acting and graphical detail. Unfortunately, far too many pre-rendered cutscenes still exist (most likely the cause of the two discs), which look too similar to the actual in-game graphics to really matter. Compression artifacts like pixelation during cutscenes are sometimes noticeable, and can look a bit extra-jagged on HDTVs. Luckily, the writing for character dialogue has drastically improved since the first game, giving us minimal awkward dialogue, and a more comprehensive plot. The music during the game is decent, and there are plenty of different ones that play during each area, but some tracks sound a little too similar, or may get on your nerves due to repetitive tunes. It's fairly electronic-based, and sometimes drains emotion from certain peaceful areas, but overall, it's okay. The cinematic music is breathtakingly good, and that introduction music still almost brings tears to my eyes.
-Some of the best graphics seen on the PlayStation 2.
-Xenosaga once again, blows us away with a great narrative.
-Battles truly feel unique and are never truly repetitive, even for a turn-based battle system.
-Amazing orchestral cinematic soundtrack.
-Character upgrade system is much more accessible for those who found Episode 1's points system too cumbersome.
-Interesting puzzles that won't stump you, but won't give you the answers.
-Improved dialogue that truly bring the characters to life this time around.
-Unique side-quests to have some fun with.
-Some voice acting changes are much appreciated.
-Jarring voice acting change for KOS-MOS and Shion.
-A handful of side-quests are a little tedious or leave you with no direction.
-Fluctuating difficulty for bosses and even regular encounters.
-Significantly shorter than the first Xenosaga title.
-Some in-game music may be agitating.
As a refresher, I granted Xenosaga Episode I with an 8.9/10 rating for its incredible use of traditional JRPG elements, while featuring a great narrative. So, I'll hereby grant this game with an 8.5/10 rating, since it improves on many things, but due to its shortened story, a few annoying gameplay moments, and absolutely drastic change of voice-over talent, I couldn't give it a better score than the first, let alone the same score.