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Xenosaga Episode 1

Developer: Monolith Software | Publisher: Namco
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 02/26/03 | Genre: RPG

The year is Transcend Christ 4767; Earth has been long abandoned and forgotten. The Galaxy Federation is at war with a mysterious race called the Gnosis. At the center of all of this is the Zohar, an alien object discovered in Africa in the 21st century. So begins the tale of Xenosaga, Monolithsoft's retelling of the famed Xenogears series. The basic story of Xenosaga Episode I should be recognizable to anyone that has read the Xenogears Perfect Works book, but don't expect a true prequel to Xenogears.

Xenosaga’s story can touch your heart, make you stare in shock, leave your jaw touching the floor in awe and make you wish that there was more to the game then there already is. Xenosaga has a very deep story that should appeal to just about any gamer looking for a good story. The only flaw in the story is that since it's the first of a six part series, it seems as it lacking at times. Just keep in mind that there will be another Xeno game, in fact there will be many more Xeno games. Even though there was an obviously large amount of work that was put into this game, Xenosaga still lacks in a few departments. Overall though, the game is a top notch that can definitely contend with the likes of any square game. Read further for more details, and learn just why you should spit out your precious green paper for this gem of a RPG.

Let us begin with the first thing that pops into your mind when you see an RPG nowadays--the graphics. This subject can be summed up in a single word, magnificent. The character models, A.G.W.S. models, levels, and everything else are great in Xenosaga. On top of the graphics, the camera angles are perfectly chosen, which complements the well-done graphics quite nicely. I really don’t see what else I can say about the graphics expect, “wow.â€?

After you see an RPG, the next thing you typically get is sound and music. Both of which are on par with the quality of graphics. Mitsuda, the composer of games such as Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Xenogears, did a wonderful job of composing the soundtrack for Xenosaga. Every song is very memorable, the only thing that I could really complain about is that sometimes the player is left with ambient sound and that kind of detracts from the feeling of the game a bit. I suppose the upside to this factor is that the music is not overdone really, but there aren’t many tracks in the first place; like I said, every song is extremely well done.

So now you know what Xenosaga delivers in the graphics and sound departments, but how about the gameplay? In the beginning of Xenosaga, the battle system seems a bit weak and slow. This is mainly because of the story being told, not because the system lacks. Later on, the game really gets deep as you begin to travel through harder and harder dungeons and fight more difficult enemies that can kill your entire party if you don’t take the time to level up your characters and buy them new equipment.

The character management system is one of the deepest of any RPG I’ve played so far. By using Tech Points that you gain after battle, you can upgrade your characters basic statistics (Str, Vit, Ether Attack, Ether Defense, ect…). The way you customize your characters can make a big difference when it comes to crunch time. You can also extract skills from certain accessories using Skill Points, which I find to be a good minute addition to the game. You can equip up to three skills on a single character at a time. The only downside though is that there are a lot of menus to work through, if that kind of thing bothers you.

Techs and Ethers also play a very important role in the development of your characters. Techs have three defining factors, Tech level, speed, and wait. The first factor is obvious; it affects the tech’s strength. Speed can only be leveled up once, which allows you to use the tech in one turn instead of saving AP to use it. Wait is essentially the time you have to wait to use the character after executing that particular tech move. When you max out the wait, that character won’t incur any turn penalty for using the tech attack.

In battle, characters do not have weak, medium, and strong attacks anymore. Now they posses short and long range attacks. Each character starts out with four AP (action points) at the start of battle. You can have them guard or only execute one attack (which both cost two AP) and save the other two for the nest round. Doing so lets you use a tech skill, which is basically a super attack. Each character starts out with about two tech skills, but can learn many more as they gain more experience. After the battle, you earn Tech points, Ether points, and Skill points for each character that participated in the battle. Although Ether is used in the same way as in Xenogears, requiring EP to use in battle, you now gain new Ether by gaining E. points; this is of course different than Xenogears where you just earned them by leveling up.

I am disappointed with the A.G.W.S. on one major point, which is the fact that they are fairly useless in battle. All they are really good for is using them to retreat to when your characters are weak and can’t heal, or to weak to attack a particular boss. In the end, there is not as much game-play time as there was in Xenogears. I beat the game at about 44 hours, in which time I finished all of the side-quests for Shion, Jr, Momo and played through 90% of the mini-games. I highly doubt that Namco’s advertised 80 hours will actually happen with anyone, and if someone actually does… I hope that they haven’t gone insane, because there just isn’t 80 hours worth of game here, even if it is amazingly good stuff.

Now for the deciding factor, no not the storyline, because even with a great story a game can fall flat on it’s face. I am talking about translation and localization! Xenosaga has some of the best, if not the best voice acting I have ever heard in a game. Not only that, but the game makes sense grammatically as well! The character’s emotions never come off as forced or overdone, which is a very good thing. Aside from some techno talk, which shouldn’t be an issue for most gamers, the dialogue is perfect in just about every way.

One of the main reasons I completed Xenosaga in such a short time was because of the Bradygames Official Strategy Guide. Without this detailed, 224 page, full colored strategy guide, I would have had a much more difficult time progressing through the title. Xenosaga is a very difficult game at times, especially when you try to complete the side quests and mini-games. I am quite impressed with the amount of information within the strategy guide. On top of the sheer amount of information, the book is nicely organized and easy to read through. So if you’re looking to do every single little thing in Xenosaga, or just wanting to get through the game without to many headaches over those really tough boss fights; I absolutely have to recommend the Bradygames Official Strategy Guide.

Overall, the game is very much worth the time and money that has been spent on it. I should warn you though; people that are expecting a true prequel to Xenogears might be very disappointed by the time the game is over. Since this is only the first episode, it has little to do with Fei, Elly, and just about everything else in Xenogears (which is set in a totally different world). A number of people might also have a dislike for the game's episodic nature; just think of how the first LotR movie ended and you’ll get the basic idea. Others could dislike the game by the amount of cinemas early in the game. However, if you can manage look past these prejudiced aspects of Xenosaga, you will find a game that any RPG fan or otherwise and PlayStaton 2 owner should experience at least once.

By Kyle Horner - 03/17/03
ESRB Details: Blood and Gore, Violence
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Screenshots for Xenosaga Episode 1

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