Xenogears – Retro JRPG Game Review

Xenogears is easily in my top 10 favorite games of all time. I also enjoy Xenosaga and Xenoblade as well which are spinoffs of this series (and involved most of the same staff). Xenogears was revolutionary for its time because of the extremely dark storyline and incredibly strong religious overtones which were considered to be almost “too mature” for a video game, especially in North America.

It had both scifi and fantasy elements; by that I mean, it really went into depth in some areas explaining the scientific theories and concepts behind certain things – but then other things have a more “magical” feeling that require suspension of belief. It also blended high tech (mecha, A.I., and space travel) with primitive “fantasy” style settings and characters.

Xenogears had some stellar production values and featured beautiful cutscenes, along with possibly the best soundtrack on Playstation One. Not only that, but it had 65+ hours of gameplay. Its storyline was not cookie cutter – it was very different from most other JRPG – and even its combat system was different from the traditional menu-based systems used by most other RPGs of the 90s.

To this day, Xenogears remains quite possibly one of the best JRPGs of all time. It has aged extremely well and is a game that really any JRPG fan should consider a must-play.

Title: Xenogears

Platform: Playstation One

Genre: JRPG

Publisher: SquareSoft

Release Date: 1998

Where to Buy: Your best choice if you have a PSP, PSVita, PS3, or PS4, is to pick it up on the PSN store. At time of writing it is priced at $9.99 – which is such an incredible buy for such an incredible game. https://store.playstation.com/… – However, if like some gamers out there, you are a Retro Game Collector, you may want the physical edition. At time of this review, Amazon has quite a few copies in stock ranging from $29.99 to $115 depending on the condition of the game disc, case, manuals, etc. You can see what they have available right here: http://www.amazon.com/Xenogears…

Geeky: 5/5 geekygeekygeekygeekygeeky

Sweetie: 5/5 sweetiesweetiesweetiesweetiesweetie

Overall: 60/70 86% B “Very Good Game For Girls”

Gameplay: 10/10 The game world is huge and rich in lore and history for those who love to explore and talk to NPCs or search through books and hidden objects. But even if completionism and immersion aren’t your thing – fear not – this little RPG actually has a pretty fun combat system. The combat system is two fold – in some battles you will be controlling human characters, and using martial arts like abilities as well as items to aid you in battle. This part of the combat relies on a slightly modified version of the “ATB” “Active Time Battle” system used in Chrono Trigger. – The second aspect of combat is with the introduction of large mechs known as Gears. While piloting a gear, you have much more powerful attacks and secret abilities for each character. Either way, when battling, things are sped up a great deal over other primarily menu-driven 90s JRPG – In Xenogears, you have various different levels of attacks, strong, moderate, weak, etc, and each are accessed via a simple button press. The trick is learning which orders of these presses will activate new special abilities and combo attacks. This made the large amount of random encounters (too many in my opinion lol) more enjoyable since combat felt more fluid.

Story: 9/10 I’m not going to really go into too much detail on what the story is about, because I feel, the main point in playing the game is to enjoy the story. As a brief overview, the story initially takes place aboard a spaceship but quickly jumps to present day in a tiny village where a child has lived with no memories of his past. Circumstances happen which drive the child (now a man) out of the village. He seems to go berserk when in the presence of mechanical weapons known as “gears” – As more is revealed we learn how the seemingly unconnected spaceship from the prologue has lead to the events in the present day. But that’s all I will say because to say anything more would definitely spoil the surprise.

So instead I will critique the technical writing and setting of the story. To achieve a more mature “scifi” story, they use a lot of technical details in how the mechs or vehicles, or space technologies or artificial intelligence, etc all work. They borrow from real world theories and terminology which if you look into these theories, you will find more details which helps create the impression that the world/story is very real and quite fascinating.

There really are very few games which rival the “scifi” nature of this title – keeping in mind the difference between scifi and fantasy – scifi is something which could in theory at some point become a reality – and in fact many things that authors have written about in the mid 1900s’ have come to pass as reality today – it’s something that although it seems “unbelievable” could in theory work (example Star Trek goes into explicit detail about the way their ships work – to the point where NASA has even tried to borrow ideas from this series) – Where as with fantasy – it’s more of a magical element, where you’re just expected to take it as “faith” that this is how something works (example, Harry Potter, etc.).

There are few games therefore, with very realistic (all be it, futuristic) technology (such as that found in Star Trek, or in this case, such as that found in Xenogears). – However, Xenogears also blends that Scifi with its own sense of Fantasy and Charm found in your typical JRPG. Not everything is “Scientific” but compared to just about any other JRPG – Xenogears does a pretty good job staying “Scifi” as opposed to dripping into Fantasy when it comes to describing the tech found within the world – Of course, the exception to this is the glaring point that Xenogears deals with Religion as the MAIN focus of the game – the technical stuff is just a backdrop to the story. It creates a believable lore and setting for the game, but ultimately, in the end, due to the focus being on Religion which is in direct “conflict” with science, it creates an interesting dynamic and blend of these two very opposing viewpoints.

Some similarly written games (which rely on real world theories and science to tell their stories) include Stein’s Gate, Ever 17, 999, Never 7, and Remember 11. If you’ve played any of those, that gives you a clue as to the level of detail that really went into creating the story of Xenogears.

However, much like the similar in concept, Evangelion (an anime about mechs and religion), the concepts of Xenogears are sometimes hard to understand. I don’t think Xenogears is quite as philosophical and heavy as Evangelion which can be really “out there” at times – but the subject matter and technical and religious topics dealt with in the story definitely require some critical thinking to fully understand and appreciate.

Also, we never got to see the entire story the way the developers had intended. Xenogears was supposed to be part of a nine part game series however, the studio largely responsible for developing this game (Monolith), broke away from their parent company (Squaresoft) which left fans without a sequel for many years. It’s widely believed that Xenoblade is a “prequel” to Xenogears, however the developers prefer to think of it as taking place in the same universe, but ultimately, an unrelated and separate entry. Of course there’s also a multitude of Xenosaga games as well which also deal with the same themes of space, mechas, war, and artificial intelligence.

Characters: 8/10 – For me, I didn’t find the characters as likable as in Xenosaga. Out of Gears, Blade, or Saga, in my opinion, Saga had the best and most memorable characters. That said, the characters in Xenogears are far from bad – in fact, they are very unique and unlike most other JRPG characters of the 90s. The story begins with a crew aboard a spaceship, which then transcends to a small village and meeting our “hero” Fei Wong. Fei is an orphan with no memories of his past. Things quickly escalate as the village is under attack. Fei goes into some kind of rage which leads to him accidentally destroying most of the village and being banished. He is joined by a village doctor who has extensive knowledge of technology and history. Together they begin to search for clues to Fei’s past. They meet up many other memorable characters including a desert pirate, a prisoner, a religious zealot, and even a cute, fat pink rodent, and of course, a lady love for our hero.

Character Development is really high in this game. The story is told primarily through character interactions and the characters themselves evolve and shift motives and change deeply as the story progresses.

What I really enjoyed was all the mystery in this game. Things, and people, are not at all what they seem at first. From our hero, to the doctor, to the king, to even god, – what you think of the characters and their roles initially will be turned completely on its head by the final quarter of the game. It’s a long game (65+ hours for a single play through) – and the way the story slowly unfolds and learning the true pasts and identities of our “heroes” is very interesting. In fact, I’d say that solving these mysteries is what makes Xenogears such a well-written and fun, and memorable video game.

Graphics: 8/10 – I love the blend of hand-drawn anime cut scenes as well as stunning 3D cut-scenes to help tell the story. However, I feel some of the graphics outside of these cutscenes don’t use the PS1 to its fullest capabilities. The textures have a distinctively grainy feel to them – even for a ps1 game, and the battle animations were not as flashy as I had hoped. Overall though, it is a very detailed game with a high variety in both enemy design as well as environments.

Music: 10/10 – This was the first Squaresoft game to use vocal tracks (something that is super common now among their titles) – and it is a freaking FANTASTIC vocal track too: “Small Two of Pieces”. The piano pieces throughout the game are also just simply beautiful. Small Two of Pieces is maybe my favorite single song from videogame history. Of course there are numerous more up-tempo tracks for battles and when the suspense and action of a scene calls for it.  But what I really enjoyed were the serene and melodic tracks that made up a majority of the album. The music also stands out from any other game with a distinctive Celtic influence.

Replay Value: 5/10 – This is a super long linear game. It is interesting to replay however, as you go into it with a different perspective and knowledge that you didn’t know on your first play through. There may be things that make more sense now, or new things that you notice in the story now that you have all parts of the puzzle. However the 65+ hour long time and huge number of random battles can make multiple replays a bit of a chore.

Overall: 60/70 86% B “Very Good Game For Girls”

Xenogears – Retro JRPG Game Review was originally published on GeekySweetie.com – Geeky & Kawaii Anime, Tech, Toys, & Game Reviews & News

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Steambot Chronicles | Retro Game Review | JRPG | RPG | PS2 | Playstation 2

I hope everyone had an excellent holiday. Today I’m reviewing Steambot Chronicles for PS2. This is one of my favorite games because of the amount of things to do and see as well as the unique steam punk setting within the game.

Title: Steambot Chronicles

Publisher: Atlus

Platform: PS2

Release Date: 2006

Where to Buy: Amazon seems to be the only way to go (aside from ebay of course). The game was a commercial failure in north america, so not many copies exist; and it was before Atlus “struck gold” (and attainted a cult following) with games like Persona 3 and 4. There are currently 2 copies available on Amazon at time of this review for $90 – $120. You can keep checking back. Here is the page for the game on Amazon right here. Edit: Actually there appears to be 2 pages on Amazon; and this one has 11 copies of the game available; some for only $45 – You can check this page also for where to buy Steambot Chronicles on PS2.

Geeky: 

Sweetie: 

Overall: 71/80 89% B+ “Very Good Game For Girls”

Concept: 10/10 Steambot Chronicles combines traditional JRPG elements with a rhythm game. Mechs also play a huge role in the game, as the player can buy or find new mechs, new parts, and customize their mechs to their play style with either fast moving, but weaker mechs, or more heavy duty but slower mechs. Similarly, you can customize your concert experience by purchasing new instruments. You can also find and purchase new outfits and accessories for your characters as well. At the beginning of the game you can customize your hero’s personality by taking a personality test (similar to Tactics Ogre – which I have reviewed here) which will change some of the dialog throughout the game in terms of how the other characters will interact with you. The game is mostly linear with the illusion of choice, with lots of options for you to choose but often resulting in similar outcomes; except for one important choice near the end of the game. In all, the game has a total of 3 different endings. There’s also cooking, dating, and minigames that add to the depth of the gameplay as well.

Gameplay: 10/10 Gameplay is really two fold – the main focus of the game is battling in mechs similar to games such as Xenogears or Robopit. Combat is in real time and you can run, jump, and try to out maneuver your opponent. You pilot your mecha with the two analog sticks and issue commands with the controller buttons. You work on upgrading your mech or can purchase or find new mechs and parts throughout the game. Mechs are used for everything, from travel, to battle, to even mini games. The other main focus is on music, you, and the other members of your party travel around the world putting on concerts. During these events, you, the player, interact with the game in a rythym game that’s similar to games such as Parrapa the Rapper and Umjammer Lammy. There are also other interesting “side” elements to the game such as a stock exchange, dating simulator, city building / interior decorating, cooking, arena battles, and dungeon crawling. There’s also day/night cycles and other elements which make the game feel more lively and immersive.

Story: 6/10 I’ve only played the “good” side. You can also be evil in this game, if you want to, which drastically changes the second half / end of the game. In both sides, the story focuses initially on helping a girl named Coriander whose mother is very sick. This prompts you to join a band with the young girl and several other quirky characters who become your comrades and orchestra members. Most of the conflict and drama in the game comes from rival gangs which are taking over the cities and causing corruption. In the evil side, you cut ties with the band in order to join one such gang in exchange for profits and power. Police will be chasing you and most of the missions will involve things like stealing or breaking and entering. In the good side, you stick by your band members, but like most bands, there are growing pains, and conflicts arise which cause the band members to eventually go their own way. The ending is left somewhat “open” and you can continue to play in sandbox mode after completing the main story. The story is at times heart warming, and even heart breaking, but it takes a back seat to the gameplay. This is not really a game that you play for “story”. The story is not bad of course, but in no way is it the main focus of the game.

Characters: 10/10 Each of the characters are truly unique and it shows through deep attention to detail in character development and the way in which they are all connected through a tragic backstory. It throws a few punches and has a few surprises in store for you when the story is played out and the cards are on the table. The band as mentioned above, has some “growing pains” and the cast who were once all childhood friends, face losing these friendships, or learning that perhaps certain people were harboring dark secrets all along. Actually you become very attached to the characters and when it throws its punches as it will, it will break your heart.

Music: 10/10 – Music plays such a huge role in this game. Similar to Atlus’ other quirky musical rpg (Rhapsody), the localization of this game, in terms of voice acting and singing, is actually very well done. I am usually anti-dub, but I guess when it comes to musical games like this, I enjoy a game where I can “sing along” (in my head lol). I really liked all the tracks in this game, and the way it engages the user with the rhythm game aspects which makes you really pay attention to the music and appreciate it that much more. Also the music itself ties into the storyline and helps you feel closer to the cast of characters.

Voice Acting: 8/10 – The voice acting is good, for a dub. I would have preferred the option left in for Japanese voice acting; but to be honest, not sure I would have played it in Japanese, because I prefer to play similar games such as Rhapsody in English (the later released portable edition of Rhapsody removed the English tracks; and kinda “ruined” the game for me). I think when it comes to a “musical” rpg it just “helps” to have it in your native language. I do listen to jpop and kpop music and enjoy it; but in this case, in Steambot chronicles, the music helps explain the story and helps tell key scenes or helps you to sympathize with the characters. So it’s one of those rare cases where I feel I’d probably enjoy the dub more than the sub. Rhapsody and the upcoming SMT X FE # are two other cases where I could see myself playing the dub more often. I think dubbing it was a smart move in the case of Steambot Chronicles. The dub is not “bad”. It had some big name Anime Voice Acting talent of the 90s.

Graphics: 7/10 – The game is cel shaded and done in a cute and colorful anime style. You can see your outfits which gives it a sorta dressupgame style. You can see the customization to your mech too. The world is lively with traffic in the cities and day and night cycles. The overworld is large with mountains and bumpy terrain (the original japanese title is Bumpy Trot). There’s lots to see and lots to do. But the graphics have some pretty poor textures and the special effects in combat leave a bit to be desired. Still, overall it’s cute with lots of customization, so it gets high marks on graphics from me. The cel shading is not of the quality of say, Catherine (which I’ve reviewed here); but it is also one generation older than that, and a PS2 Game. I think given it’s timeline, the graphics in Steambot Chronicles are quite adorable and vibrant.

Overall: 71/80 89% B+ “Very Good Game For Girls”

Steambot Chronicles | Retro Game Review | JRPG | RPG | PS2 | Playstation 2 was originally published on Geeky Sweetie