It's flawed, for sure, and it's a bit too heavy for its own good. But if you give it your all, you'll come away from the game exhilarated and exhausted, with sexy android images and deep metaphysical questions rattling around in your mind for months to come. [Mar 2003, p.112]
Several years after the release of Xenogears, we were finally given a follow up in the form of Xenosaga. This being a Namco game and not a Squaresoft game, Xenosaga is a spiritual successor, though it borrows ideas and concepts from its predecessor. Unfortunately, Xenosaga didn't fully live up to expectations.
Xenosaga can feel like more movie than game, similar to its contemporary in Final Fantasy X, though it's even more egregious here. The game is extremely linear -- with long, drawn-out cutscenes. Thankfully, the battle system is still strong, the music (once again composed by Yasunori Mitsuda) is still excellent, and its story is still a major highlight -- though it does suffer from a hint of pretentiousness, which prevents it from reaching the heights of Xenogears.
Xenosaga was also the first part of pre-planned 6 episode series, which would eventually be cut down to 3 games due to poor sales. If they had just focused their attention one game, instead of outlining an entire franchise before they even knew if it'd be successful or not, maybe Xenosaga would have been the successor that Xenogears deserved. As it stands, it's just all right.
Xenosaga has an excellent story that is truly unique, unfortunately, as a game it is mediocre. I think that any fan of imaginative storytelling should experience Xenosaga but I think you would probably be better off watching the game instead of playing it. The gameplay is not only mediocre it doesn't really fit with the story as a whole.
If you like turn based RPGs you will probably enjoy the combat well enough, it isn't bad but it is far from the best in the genre. Outside of combat gameplay is mostly limited to running down hallways and exploring confined spaces. There isn't a lot to interact with. There are a few stealth sections and little mini-games but overall I found the gameplay below average. My biggest problem with the gameplay though is that the abilities of the characters don't at all reflect their abilities in the story. For example, Shion is supposed to be a scientist with limited combat abilities yet somehow you can make her more skilled than Kos-mos, a super powered android that commonly wipes out entire fleets in cut-scenes. It is incredibly stupid and was a terrible creative decision that makes no sense.
The story is clearly where the game shines. It is a very strange story but it is deep and thought provoking while also being entertaining to watch. It manages to blend so many elements that normally wouldn't fit together. It deals with religion, alien life, cloning, and genetic engineering. It also deals with more character driven elements such as artificially created beings trying to understand their identity and purpose. The story is one of a kind and even though it is a bit convoluted at times most of it is very well written. It does suffer from some anime tropes but never to the point that I found it unbearable. The story is very complex with many characters from different backgrounds with different motives. This is not a simple tale of good vs evil, it is a layered space drama that raises far more interesting questions than most movies or TV series.
The characters are also unique and well thought out. Shion is far from a generic protagonist, she has an interesting backstory and evolves substantially as the story progresses. Nearly every character has depth and there is a very wide range. One character is a man who was a clone built for war yet his body does not age so he is trapped in the body of a child. Another character is a cyborg who wants to be turned into a robot so that he can forget his humanity. Each of the playable characters is explored in depth and each has an interesting backstory. The villains are just as good and there are several all with interesting and complex motives.
The visual style is decent but nothing special. There are some really cool designs. Kos-mos is an iconic character and some of the spaceships are very unique looking. Environments are mostly uninspired though and aside from a few exceptions the characters are pretty standard anime designs.
The sound design is pretty good. The voice acting was quite good for its time although some of the characters do sound a bit unnatural. The music is also appealing and almost always fits quite well within the story. It is a great blend of classic almost religious sounds and more futuristic sounding styles. It isn't the type of soundtrack that I would listen to much outside of the game but it adds a lot to the experience.
I would recommend Xenosaga to anyone who is a fan of deep RPGs that focus mostly on story telling. For me it was a great experience but I didn't bother playing either of the two sequels, I just watched the cutscenes and honestly I think I enjoyed that as much or more than playing the game.
Xenosaga is a great experience but a mediocre game.
I give it 75%
very mediocre JRPG. The game tries to do many different things with it's combat system which does help it stand out however for the most part it feels very unfocused. The combat is occasionally satisfying but is held back largely by the dated JRPG approach to encounter design which will have you doing the same set of long drawn out animated moves over and over again on the same set of trivial non encounters. The story is a little interesting but it is unforgivable how little actually happens in the span **** JRPG. It feels blatantly drawn out for a sequel. Lastly the presentation here is pretty good but is shockingly undercut by the lack of any environmental music. This is a baffling terrible decision that ends up contributing to a dull play experience.
SummaryThousands of years into the future, man exists only in deep space. Brutally opposed by a merciless alien race, humanity faces an uncertain destiny as it unlocks the secrets of the Universe in search of the ultimate truth. Features four exhilarating mini-games, innovative battle and control systems, and over 80 hours of gameplay. [Namco]