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> My Xenosaga review, or, how the saga has taken me
Kosh K95x
post Mar 25 2003, 02:40 PM
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Well, I'm about 10 hours into Xenosaga, which is a mere fraction of the 80 hours of gameplay that Namco boasts. So this is just my initial impression of the game.

Gameplay
The game takes place mostly in "Quest Mode", which is your basic walk-around-the-map mode, where you can interact with other characters, open chests, yada yada yada. Battles begin when you encounter an enemy while you're on walkabout. There are no random battles (which should be welcome news to many players), and much of the time you can avoid battle altogether. There is one particular segment of the game where you have to covertly rescue a prisoner, so avoiding battles gets emphasized (sort of like with MGS... well, maybe not).

If you've played Xenogears on PSX, then some of the battle mechanics will seem familiar. To execute various commands during battle, your characters must expend AP. Each turn, your characters recover 4 AP, and unused AP carries over to your next turn, to allow your character to have a maximum of 6 AP. By chaining together a combination of basic attacks, you can then follow up with Tech Attacks (provided you have enough AP left). Early on, you only have access to low speed tech attacks, which require 6 AP to trigger. As your characters develop, you can access high speed tech attacks, which will only take 4 AP, allowing you to trigger tech attacks each turn, without having to save AP from one turn to another. Characters can also use Ether abilities, which is the Xenosaga/Xenogears equivalent for magic.

The "Gears" are back, but as A.G.W.S (stands for "Anti-Gnosis Weapons Systems", and pronounced "aigs"). They're described as being about the same size and weight as cars, so the A.G.W.S. aren't as large as the Gears in Xenogears. You can reassign A.G.W.S. to different characters and climb into one mid battle. You can develop your A.G.W.S. in a similar manner to Xenogears, being able to upgrade their frame (for more HPs) or engine (for more power) as well as add new weapons (up to 3!) and accessories. As you perform attacks, your character will charge up his boost meter, earning the ability to boost during extended battles. Boosting allows your character to cut in line, so to speak, and be the next fighter to act during battle. This allows your characters to get in extra turns and cut in at key moments to provide some emergency support ("KOS-MOS is barely alive, I better boost Shion and heal KOS-MOS!"). There is also a revolving battle effect which will affect the battles outcome. This rotating "Event slot" has four conditions, with one of the being a greater probability of attacks being critical attacks. The event slot rotates with each characters turn, including enemy turns, so it adds another strategic twist to turn order and boosting (e.g. by boosting, one of your characters can move ahead of the next enemy's turn, allowing you, rather than the enemy, to attack with the higher critical hit rate).

Character development is a little more complex than in most RPGs. In addition to earning experience points from battles, you also earn 3 other points important for development: Tech Points, Ether Points, and Skill Points. Tech Points can be used to improve your current tech attacks (new ones are learned by leveling up) or improve your character's basic attributes. Ether Points can be used to learn new Ether abilities by "evolving" current Ether abilities. You can also transfer Ether Points from one character to another, at a cost of half the points transfered. Skill Points can be used to extract skills from accessories, allowing your character to use those skills without having to equip the accessory (think FF IX).

Once you explore an area, you'll be able to access it later through the EVS, an environment simulation system. That means you'll be able to revisit older areas to access side paths and hidden items, as well as some basic level building.

Presentation
The graphics are very good, on par with FF X. One little touch I noticed was how your character will turn their head to look at various things as you're walking around the map the way you would expect people to react to points of interest around them. The cut scenes are impressive, and that's a good thing considering there's so much of it, at least early on. Warning: you'll have to sit through quite a bit of story-telling cut scenes with some short burts of gameplay in the early going. Even I got a little antsy waiting for a chance to do something, anything other than just watching.

Story
As mankind seeks to expand further and further into space, they face a hostile, nearly invincible enemy called the Gnosis. Shion Uzuki (bonus points if you can remember the character from Xenogears with the same last name... no word yet whether there's actually a connection) is the lead research engineer for Vector, a company which is working to develop an android, named KOS-MOS, that will be an effective weapon against the Gnosis. Shion is conducting simulation test for KOS-MOS aboard the ship Woglinde, which has retrieved a mysterious object floating out in space among some planetary debris. Before the Woglinde is able to return this object, known as the Zohar, the ship and it's accompanying military escort are attacked by the Gnosis, who also seem to be after the Zohar. Thanks to the successful, albeit unexpected, activation of KOS-MOS during the Gnosis attack, Shion is able to survive the Gnosis attack, despite the entire fleet being destroyed by the Gnosis. The story is full of interesting Sci-Fi themes, from the genetically developed human-like Realians who are viewed as tools, to the Hilbert effect, which is able to pull the Gnosis out of their phantom-like phase of existence and into our plane of reality. There are enough references to prominent people, historical events, secret organizations, and strange acronyms to leave your head spinning. Thankfully, there's a keyword database that becomes available early on to help you connect the dots.

Mini games and other goodies
Even this early in the game, there are several mini games accessible. The most interesting of the mini games is Xeno Card, a CCG based on Xenosaga episode 1! This should be a point of interest for us Chron Xers cool.gif

Xeno Card seems to be a very basic CCG. Both players play with a 40 card deck -- no more, and no less. The first player to run out of cards from their draw deck loses the game. There is about 140 different cards that you can collect in Xeno card. You can buy the cards at shops by purchasing booster packs, which contain a random selection of Rare, Uncommon and Common cards. I noticed during the Xeno Card tutorial that there are even Promo cards in the game. You can make your own decks, with up to 3 copies of the same card in your deck. The gameplay of Xeno Card reminds me a lot of the Gundam CCG I toyed around with a year or so ago. I don't have too much exposure with various offline CCGs, so for all I know, Xeno Card uses some vanilla, cookie cutter format that's similar to other CCGs.

Overall, Xenosaga scores very high from what I've seen so far. More to come later as I get more into the game.


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- Kosh K95x
"That's because it's so full of mercy!" - Nicholas D. Wolfwood
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The Finalizer
post Mar 27 2003, 09:03 PM
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I just played about 10 hours of this myself, and while I echo some of your sentiments about the quality of the presentation and whatnot, I find myself actually bored.

Xenosaga seems to be falling into the trap Square fell into too: way too much storyline and not enough action. Granted there's an option to skip through the LONG passages of dialogue, but geez! I'll read the dialogue in case there's a hint for future use, but it seems that of the 10 hours I've played this, about 8 of it has been of dialogue, 1 was wandering aimlessly around (ie - aboard the Elsa) and the other was actual fighting. Sure, a good RPG needs a good story, but this long and drawn out? Sheesh! I can see why they say 80 gameplay hours now... dry.gif

Don't get me wrong, I find the game enjoyable, but watching all that dialogue does get boring, especially when it runs into the 20-minute-nonstop range.

Next stop: the recently released Dynasty Warriors 4. laugh.gif


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The Finalizer
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Kosh K95x
post Apr 20 2003, 11:11 AM
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After taking a week off of Xenosaga, I finally beat the game today, clocking a little under 72 hours on the way (12 of those hours were spent on purely optional mini games).

Xenosaga's battle system is definitely one of the more interesting ones I've seen in an RPG. The combination of the AP system, Event slot, and the ability to boost, each battle requires you to give plenty of thought towards executing an effective strategy. Looking back on the game, I don't remember getting the feeling that I was fighting the same battle from one encounter to the next the way I've felt with some RPGs in the past.

One correction to my initial post regarding Ether ability development: you can't transfer Ether points to other characters; instead, you can transfer the actual Ether ability, which turns out to be much more useful anyways.

Overall, I think Xenosaga is the best PS2 RGP to come out since FF X. Xenosaga has a few weaknesses. Xenosaga's primary weakness is that there doesn't feel like there's as much gameplay in the game, relative to the amount of storytelling cut scenes. Boss battles tend to be difficult to the point of being frustrating. The final battle, strangely enough, seemed to be easier than most of the other boss battles. As much effort and money that it takes to maintain and upgrades your AGWS, they're pretty much useless. Against normal enemies, AGWS usually take too long to get out to have an impact. Against bosses, AGWS are much more of a liability than an advantage. In balance-talk, AGWS are underpowered and overcosted.

But the good points help out weigh the bad. Xenosaga is worth it. Just beware that this game is the first part of epic (so having "saga" as part of the name is not a misnomer). If you find that you enjoy the gameplay and that the storyline has captured your interest, you may find yourself having been taken by the saga.


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- Kosh K95x
"That's because it's so full of mercy!" - Nicholas D. Wolfwood
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Kosh K95x
post Jun 27 2003, 05:08 AM
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I just stopped by Target today to see if there were any titles on my "want" list that had fallen to a reasonable price point. Couldn't find any I didn't already have, but I did notice that Xenosaga was now 30 bucks! 30 bucks at Target! Meanwhile, Devil May Cry 2 (the much maligned as being horribly disappointing) is still priced at 50 bucks. Is there no justice?

I hope I simply saw the wrong price (e.g. the game was placed on the wrong rack). Well, if you haven't bought Xenosaga yet, and everything you're heard about it hasn't scared you off, go see if you can find this same deal at your local Target.


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- Kosh K95x
"That's because it's so full of mercy!" - Nicholas D. Wolfwood
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