133rd played so far
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Square Product Development Division 3
The internet is great for many reasons. It allows us to order pizza without people laughing at your accent, it contains all the FAQs you could ever want and it brings people together. There is no better example of the internet bringing a community together than Project Rainfall.
As the resident RPG expert (of sorts), you can say that this was initially my game to play (although Peter did get plenty of input, even earlier on which was mostly in the vein of “I’m bored”), so I guess it’s my turn to start…
Xenogears is one of the many JRPGs on the list, and one of many made by Square. It shows, as there’s plenty of similarities, on a high level, to its Final Fantasy games. It has the usual large amount of cutscenes, little interaction and just sit there as people talk at you – not even fully voiced. Some of these, here, are actually ‘FMV’ anime sequences that are fully voiced, giving (almost random) more interesting, different-looking sequences.
Starting with those, the cutscenes got us swearing and cursing quite early on. We were happy to have our laptops near, so we could spend some time doing other stuff while we clicked through the continued text boxes and waiting for the animated scenes to end. The latter are more tolerable – better to watch and listen than slowly appearing text – but I swear that half the time spent ‘playing’ was actually waiting for these cutscenes.
As the resident anime fan (woo!) I enjoyed the proper cut scenes. They were proper anime cut scenes that reminded me a bit of Planetes. The opening sequence was brilliant and emotive with a wonderful art-style that made me tear up a little bit. I have always had a thing about helpless people meeting their doom… it gets to me and the spaceship’s demise was wonderfully storyboarded.
Now, I can see how this would make for a brilliant game, if you’re willing to get into it and take the time to learn all the details and names. When you’re playing the game more casually – like we do for this blog – it’s tedious. I must admit that we forgot half of the plot while going through it and I could barely tell you what goes on. Something about giant robots known as ‘Gears’ that your main character magically already knows how to pilot (probably involved with his amnesia – yeah, that’s a new plot, Square…). Japanese games really do have a thing for mecha, then again Drill Dozer was fun.
Still, the other part that I mentioned is more interesting to discuss. Xenogears uses a version of the by now well known Active Time Battle method seen in most Final Fantasy games, as well as other related games like Chrono Trigger we’ll get to at some point. You have item use and magic, here known as and done through ‘Ethos’ (it’s not clear to me what ethics or such have to do with this and it seems like they wanted to use ‘ether’ but call it different… creating a weird unnecessarily unclear term). This time, however, it’s the simple ‘Attack’ command that’s different.
You see, usually, attack is just that. Jump up, hit, jump back, done. Here, there’s more to it. You can combine three attacks, each taking one, two or three points, and perform a certain number of these each turn – first for three points, but this goes up by a point every five levels. It’s a nice unobtrusive way to add some extra power and strategy to the game.
This system is enhanced by ‘Deathblows’, which are basically combinations attacks. If you execute a certain combination of moves (the first you get is triangle-cross), it becomes a combo that does some extra damage. You can’t use them straight away though – you need to ‘practice’ them first before you get them.
(A note on the cutscenes… Peter is playing as I write this. I quote him: “What the flying hell is happening?”)
The strategy added here is quite awesome and make the whole thing more strategic and fun.
Add to that the Gears. You obviously fight in a Gear every once in a while (which is supposed to become after what is, I guess, about 25 hours of cutscenes (quote Peter again: “I wanna fricking play”) permanently part of the arsenal, but is now still a device that shows up only in scripted battles and breaks after each use. Its attacks are powered by fuel, and using too much means your gear powers down or something. Never happened to us, to be honest, just yet.
The game sounds good – nice music, and good enough voiceovers – and looks nice. It’s a bit blocky in places, but good enough for a PS game. A rarity at this point is that you can freely rotate the world 360 degrees, so you can see everything and don’t have to worry about items or doors inconveniently hidden out of view or getting in the way. A simple thing in a fully 3D world, but one even more recent games like Lego Star Wars struggle with! The characters and such are 2D sprites, which only have a few orientations – they change direction, but not too much. Nice, but not great.
It combines nicely. Just make sure there’s something else to do while you wait for the cutscenes to finish.
I was pretty much silent for the majority of this write-up because it was trying to get to the next play bit under the vast ocean of ‘click X to continue to the next piece of dialogue’.
In our criticism of games like this, Tales of Symphonia and Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes it looks like we take joy in hating games that are loved by many but the wonder of critique is that it’s opinion based. As we said this is a game we know many would love but in the end it was not for us.