Reviews: It's like making a huge sandwich and only eating half.
Disappointment. Fear. Ignorance. Intolerance. Shame. Rage. These were some of the emotions many gamers who bought Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht were feeling while they ventured through this 2003 space-based RPG. Emotional and epic, Xenosaga was Namco's chance to show off the new brass knuckles they had acquired from the recently established Monolith Software studio. Composed of former members of the Squaresoft staff, Monolith is responsible for the previous 1998 incarnation of the controversial mega-hit RPG from the same but unequal role-playing franchise, Xenogears. It was in Namco's offering in the early part of the year that most players repeated the question that usually burns in the back of their heads when experiencing a game of this type: "Do we really need all these cut scenes?" For Xenosaga's intention to tell the gargantuan story the way that goes beyond the mere standard and simplistic text-based convos, the game was razed by reviewers and players a like. Not me, though. Xenosaga was my favorite game of 2003, and I'll never forget or deny its magnificence. But because the majority "apparently" knows best, changes had to be made and aspects had to be discarded. Attempting to please the masses after two years in the making, here's Namco's second act of the to-be five part epic series: Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose.
Not the beginning, not the end, but the continuation of a train on the largest scale, Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose returns its listeners to the root of where this story began. Fourteen years before there ever was a KOS-MOS; before there ever was a Ziggy or a MOMO; before there ever was the craziest RPG villain ever Albedo, there was Old Militia. At this point in the tale, the events unfold through the eyes of oldie chaos, newbie Realian (a humanoid robot) Canaan, and Shion's brother Jin, a samurai. By working together, the trio's goal is to retrieve the all-important Y-Data, the key to the result behind a full-scale conflict that's occurring -- one where Realians everywhere have mysteriously malfunctioned and are terrorizing the populace. Where the story goes from here is back in the hands of Shion (babe scientist) and the gang, returning KOS-MOS (hottie super android) to Vector Industries and off to analyze MOMO who contains the Y-Data inside of her (who is a replicated Realian of a famous scientist's daughter). There are those evils who still seek to obtain the Y-Data, and they're about to reveal themselves and set the group off on another journey throughout the galaxy, from here to there...and from "there" to who knows where.
Even before Namco embarked on the journey of delivering their ambitious Xenosaga project, Xenogears was the RPG franchise from which its love child Xenosaga evolved. Though both series share similarities here and there (namely with one of Xenogears's protagonists, Citan Uzuki, as holding the same last name with one of Xenosaga's protagonists, Shion Uzuki -- and now Jin too), the two games exist in two complete different worlds that will never ever collide. Just think of Xenosaga comparable to 2003's Xbox RPG hit, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Set thousands of years before the age of Yoda and the fall of the Jedi, Knights of the Old Republic is based off of a similar principle, however does not tie into its movie's events in any way. Wandering from its original format still has left some things very much the same for Xenosaga and now its sequel, Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose. Its roots still derive from science fiction, and its mechanics are also still very much laid out in a turn-based, combo combat format.
One of the first things Xenosaga II players will find out, is that the battle system established in the previous game is no longer the same. Monolith went behind our backs and did a number on the system of old. In those two years, the game's ditched those mechanics that would allow for players to combine simple strings of button presses in order to create different forms of potentially deadly attributes, as well as the ability to fight human style in that way or inside the belly of a giant A.W.G.S. (now known as the E.S.). Where the game's onsets rest at now, is wherever combinations will take you. While in the first game there was much reliance of upgrading and switching between the human and robot personalities of your characters, this time Xenosaga II focuses its game a lot more on the humanistic perspective alone. Since it's no longer possible to jump into an E.S. to deal greater damage any time you feel the need to, you've now got to focus on a brand-new engine that applies to its familiar combo codes: the addition of zones. The "zone" term quite simply has to do with an enemy's position and figuring out their weakness. Everyone has a soft spot, right? Your job in Xenosaga II is to figure out what makes each enemy tick, and how you can stop their incessant clock from persisting.
To do that, there are a variety of options. First the old. Anyone who's anyone should already remember 2003's Game of the Year (Xenosaga) for its three-piece combo suit. If not, you suck. Tapping down on multiple variances between the square, triangle, and circle buttons put out different reactions, some more effective than others. Pressing square or triangle twice, square then triangle, triangle then circle, or just circle by itself each enabled different types of distinctive power from their respective characters currently on the hunt. No change has been made there except for the fact that those same combos from before don't produce the effects they once did. Now what happens is instead of searching for a specific kind of attack, players are searching for a specific kind of combo. Whatever assault is processed now is submitted to a responding letter pattern. Letters of an A, B, or C telling, either posted as white or red, relate the difference between what's good (white letters) and what's better (red letters). You want your strikes to show up highlighted in red, because those are obviously the ones that when it's nothing but red, you'll know you're on the right track. These letters are represented then through high, medium, and low heights. Or "zones," if you prefer. The meaning behind the letters and the attacks themselves can change depending on each battle situation, however. Different enemies only swallow specific "zone breaks" to be beaten the hardest. Square for instance can apply to B, while triangle can be C, and square is always A. When the screen is telling you B is red and C is white, try pressing BB instead, and you'll see a whole new side of defeat: a stronger one. Figuring out which combo to employ for each combat situation helps to keeps the battles in the game from being pointed in one direction all the time.
Now let's discuss some of what's new. The different approach for combo directories done here help out greatly, but sometimes it's not enough. Enemies, in the vein of bosses, can definitely be stronger than your party of three sometimes. There are other forces at work that constitute further growth in the light of the battle system at hand. One of these additions is the device known as stock. Looking over at the left-hand side of the screen where the easy-to-read combo mapping is placed, you can open the in-battle menu to access an option called stock. What this essentially does is add one stock point to a meter that can contain up to three points max. While this option does nothing but add a point to your turn (and seemingly wastes the turn in effect), you'll notice certain changes as time rolls onward. Once you have three stock points totaled in your gauge for example, certain outcomes that couldn't be triggered beforehand now can be. One thing the stocks are good for are letting fly the double tech attacks -- which are specialized partnerships that can essentially juice up the power of two characters pulling the same ether attack and creating twosome powers of their own. Another aspect made for stocks is in further exploiting those zone offensives from before. Enemies can literally be flattened to the ground or kicked into the air and held there, leaving open space for you to take charge of their vulnerability with a super charged stock attack. Making enemies sit still like that also requires understanding how another aspect of the battle segments operate, which is boosting. Like in the first Xenosaga, characters can cut in line in the decision making of who comes before who in a handy event slot over on the bottom right. Unlike Xenosaga, however, characters aren't boosting themselves anymore. Now the idea is to be able to let friends have backsies in the line. Boosts become most effective when you're able to insert multiple characters in order right behind you while the initial character's offense is in motion. Successively, this measure of thinking can lead to the first attacker thrusting the fragile enemy's body into the sky, where the second comes in right behind further weakening its condition. A third, or even a fourth turn or more can be selected after that. Trapping enemy bodies in the air or down on the ground over there forces them to become immobile and excessively more vulnerable to your licks -- so that's where you want to try and keep them. But this all depends on how well you're able to sustain your boost count. The number of boosts that are appointed for availability per turn can only reach a maximum number of three. That digit sinks when a boost command is spent, and rises the more characters inflict damage on enemies with multiple combo inputs on hand. Piecing together effective combos and strategic boost placements can really determine a greater victory on your part if done right. Xenosaga II's combat is impressively smart. It's just the prior system was decidedly a little funner in the first game with sleeker moves and a greater importance on the A.W.G.S. battles.
Naturally, there's more to Xenosaga II than just confronting your foes. There's also the process of expelling your experience points gained within battle to have characters become an increasingly stronger personality, and the broad range of puzzle and mini-game affairs in between. Xenosaga's G2 Campaign and collection of segment addresses have both made it into the sequel. For the forgetful and uninitiated, the G2 process consists of a long list of people who bear all sorts of problems across the galaxy. When approaching certain folk at particular times in cities across the sea of stars, you'll find yourself being asked by these characters for aid. One character has on his mind a girlfriend who dumped him. Your job is to inquire around town which destination best serves as a dating spot so he and she can try their chances at rekindling their love that was lost. Another type of mini-game will have you checking separate sets of kiosks to detect which individual power supply outputs in a giant sewer route are functioning and which are not. You're to dispose of the inoperable ones by breaking them one at a time (in which, there are many destructible items in Xenosaga II to clear out of the way just like there was in the original). There's even a lengthy G2 mission where it's up to you to backtrack between cities obtaining clues from persons in search of a missing robot. Out of 36 mini-games in all, there's plenty of reason to explore every inch of the game. After all, the G2 Campaign is the only way you're going to unlock some of Xenosaga II's valuable secrets such as double tech attacks, skill sets, and even decoders to gain entry to all 18 segment doors. These segment doors, same as in the first, are colored red and bar special findings of their own within (from robot upgrades to skill point refreshments). Locating the doors themselves isn't always easy, but spotting the doors and nabbing the decoder key to each one is the real trick. As for the game's regular dose of riddles, you'll find a healthy supply of crafty puzzles in the interiors of dungeons, like say one where you'll need to use your smarts in order to lower a lift just enough to head across at the bottom level. Since the elevator doesn't move on its own power, you've got to push the right amount of crate weight onto it and force its height to decrease. A following puzzle involves organizing sliding blocks to create a bridge, and yet another after that features a bomb grid. Move the switches into place at the proper coordinates to get the fuse to detonate at four separate locations simultaneously, and you'll have a blast.
All these mind-busting conundrums, and still no mention of the experience. Not to worry now, because here it is. Can you think of one RPG game you've played where you weren't purchasing health, maybe weapons, and other variations of items in order to stay afloat during the toughened battle operations? Neither can I. Money is no longer a necessity for the Xenosaga game. Those robot parts and status goods that were available from vendors in the first game are now defunct, as of course mech battles are no longer a major contribution to the series. And as for the human aspects of the game, it's no big deal on whether you'll find yourself dying or what, because you'll start receiving a lot of health items and other goodies like revival and ether supplements won from most fights. Another large change is the way in which characters each develops new battle attributes. Instead of supplying their own distinctive forms of battle actions, the playable characters within Xenosaga II receive experience points to level up with and skill points to distribute amongst four major classes of skills. New to the franchise, there are four individual "classes" that provide a banquet of skills, A through H. To upgrade to new skill options first, you'll need a certain amount of class points first. Unlike skill points, class points aren't accumulated from winning battles. In order to gain more of these, you'll have to continue upgrading sets of all four skills within each class window. Just to clarify this confusing arrangement, Class level 1 holds skill menus A through H. Right? Go to level 1, use 600 class points to open letter A, use up all of your skill points to obtain the four abilities within letter A, and there you go. You'll get more class points this way (usually in the hundred percentile), but you'll lose hundreds of skill points as skills can total from 100 to around 1,200 points depending on the stage you're shopping from. Each character retains their own class and skill points, so you don't have to worry about sharing. The only problems with this system include: in order to raise enough points for each of the party members, is by switching them around in your fighting group from time to time (out of a long list that goes up to eight). A second problem might be the fact that every skill for every character is the same exact one. Definitely, you might notice yourself purchasing all the same skills for all the same characters because those are the skills you want to tailor to one particular character. So why not make them all the same? There's a greater chance that at times it won't really matter whom you pick for your party anymore, since they all have the same opportunities to learn specific skill sets instead of being the unique character types they were before.
Xenosaga Episode I: Der Will zur Macht wasn't the most glamorous of games visually, but the RPG world the game established was good enough for seeing the things you had to see. This of course included the extravagantly polished cinemas that told the story in great length, only adding new intrigue with every twist of the turning plot. If you've ever wanted your jaw to drop to the floor whilst an android executed swift kick ass moves onto an invading fleet of several alien organisms in a 3D anime style, Xenosaga was the game to pull off such feats brilliantly. Originally though, Xenosaga's characters were depicted in a more cutesy manner. KOS-MOS and Shion, for example, once had themselves a pair of large (and no, it's not what you're thinking) eyeballs that stuck with the anime inspiration that the series would follow on. Well, that's all gone now, as realism is the key to Namco's new balancing act, evidently. The eyes of characters like Shion and KOS-MOS have been reduced. Some characters have dressed up a little differently, like Jr. whose black jacket is now painted red and chaos who's suited up in slightly altered armor. Shion even starts to expose more skin in an early part of the game. It's not like these changes affect the game itself, although it is a bit weird having gotten used to their original demeanor and now having to view them from a whole different kind of perspective. But the bottom line is, you'll get used to seeing these modifications as they happen, especially with a bunch of new cinematics to dazzle your delights along the way. Sadly though, the amount of these sequences has been greatly shortened. In turn, not only will the duration of Xenosaga II last shorter (the game can be beaten in about 20-30 hours now), but the way in which the story is told is definitely worse off because of that (with short-lived narrated segments inserted in between to speed up some portions of the tale).