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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
Monolith Soft
February 15, 2005
Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra

Xenosaga I & II

Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht

 Written by Chris Reiter  on March 03, 2005

Reviews: It's like making a huge sandwich and only eating half.

Outside this excursion's movie moments, Xenosaga II actually doesn't appear very different from its previous build. This is both a good thing and a bad thing, because Xenosaga Episode I itself was a nice looking game. Despite that fact, the quality of the in-game sights hasn't changed much in those two years -- other than those same character upgrades, and the inclusion of some new levels to breathe in. This just means that technologically, Xenosaga II hasn't advanced that much since its last trip. Its friendly neighborhoods and its dungeons give off sort of a bleak quality some of the time (they have a colorful and clean quality, although these details aren't elaborately fashioned in any way). There's a hugeness to the game, but with that comes plainness in new places like a forest level filled with bushes, rocks, flowing water, and some trees that can be knocked down and crossed over. There is more space age areas present, like one dungeon set inside a boxed up warehouse with flashing lights flickering across the wall and a conveyer belt dropping you off into the rooms below. There are city centers to navigate through as well, fitted with people standing, sitting, and wailing around here or there. You'll wander through ship corridors too and spot some nice noticeable effects like glossy floors and large windows peering into the blackness of space. While Xenosaga II is viewed from a 3D perspective, there's no control over its fixed camera positioning. Much of the time you'll see yourself running along as Shion, Ziggy, chaos, or whoever you have selected to head the team into battle at multiple angles, including standard, 2D, and overhead points, where you'll have to solve some puzzles from this somewhat annoying bird's eye view. Level details aside, the cast and characters of Xenosaga II aren't much different in quality from the levels they surround. That is to say the character models are effective, but more on the plain side. Jin's model, for instance, is of a drab black samurai gui that opens and closes when he runs to reveal a little bit of legging. Yowza! Shion's new getup alters that old science fiction lab outfit she used to wear for a more dressy one that exposes her cleavage, and attaches these moving bands to her wrists as her arms sway back and for while she runs. The characters and their animations are kind of quirky (mostly during text-based conversations where the non-main NPCs of the game react strangely with wild arm motions), but still manage to blend in well with the Xenosaga theme. What was definitely more stylized in the original Xenosaga was also the battle actions. Where the moves were prettier there, in Xenosaga II they're seemingly less dynamic. You will see some stylistic combo attacks like KOS-MOS or Jin punting an enemy into the air, and Shion frying them with her electric ray gun (or Jr. in the same essence then blasting them with his twin pistols) -- but this sort of scenery was definitely more impressive the first time around.

What the hell happened to KOS-MOS? She used to sound like a robot with a certain charm in her voice. The actress who performed the original dialogue for this once awesome central character, Ruby Marlowe, is no more. Some crappy unknown has replaced the KOS-MOS players became familiar with in the first game. Not only is KOS-MOS presented as one of the least relevant characters in the new saga (probably because this stand-in actress cannot bring the same productivity Ruby did before her), she now sounds more like a human trying to be a machine. Pathetic! Xenosaga II's just not the same without the "real" KOS-MOS. Even if this one actress replacement comes at a great cost to one of the primary characters in the game, there's still a full cast of characters who remain unchanged from their first (and what should be only) representative speakers (or so it seems the rest are unchanged). Made up from the likes of the hot headed childlike Jr., the cool and calm chaos, and the strong but sweet sounding Shion, the talents who once brought a perfectionist's touch to these amazingly acted heroes come back again and do their duty twice to make the most out of the plot's continuation. Some new actors in addition come on board to bring to life such introductory faces as the soft-spoken Jin and the structural Canaan -- although due to the lack of plot, Canaan's character in particular isn't given as much room to speak as the rest of the cast who steal the spotlight are.

Surprise tweaks haven't just affected some the vocal points of Xenosaga II. Those epic sized instrumentals tiding the likes of any great RPG have noticeably disappeared from the series' second chapter. Rather than put forth a traditionally strong schematic for Xenosaga II's musical fill, the option to follow more upbeat orchestral and electronic-sounding tracks replace that kind of classic approach in the second opus. In effect, the lighter tone used for much of the game isn't necessarily a bad way to go. These musical touches are decent in their own right. But, ideally the more prominent type of themes would've been the preferable route. Digging Xenosaga II's oddly mixed score is just harder to get into. Amongst all the running around and breaking environmental objects, there actually isn't a whole lot else to hear in the game's muted range of in-game noises. But then, a lot of RPGs are like that. What can be heard mostly and mainly consists of character footsteps tapping along the solid floors of ships, city locales, and dungeons, to the sliding of doors as they open and shut. In battle, everything's different. Electricity blasting, sword slashing, hitting, exploding, and also an array of both cute and foul enemy reactions lineup for a decent if sometimes bizarre collection of audible bits.

Bottom Line
Taste is an inclination acquired from sampling all fragments of flavors in many forms. Some prefer the usage of less story and more gaming in their RPGs, while others tend to go with the opposite. Being a sucker for stories with intriguing and fully developed characters, my choice would be for Namco to have stuck with the design they had already intended their Xenosaga series to pursue. From an opinion standpoint, there really was nothing majorly wrong with Xenosaga. The gameplay was great, the graphics and sounds were very good, and the story windows could be skipped at any time if players really had no interest in them. But, if Namco's really got to listen to all the complainers, they're only setting themselves up for more disappointment -- and not just from those previously who bitched. These are accusations filed from those fans who once cherished Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht for everything it was and will be remembered by. Maybe some people couldn't stand the kind of RPG Xenosaga turned out to be, but just think about this for a moment. If there was no variation in games, then all games would be the same thing. How utterly tragic that would be. Namco, in trying to fix what wasn't broken to begin with, ended up loosening a few screws where the job wasn't needed. Less plot and a fresh gameplay system that was ultimately better off the first time through, takes Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose down a peg from what was once thought to be an already radiant RPG quest by some folk. Undoubtedly one of the best RPGs of this generation, the Xenosaga franchise has turned over a new leaf...only for the worse.

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