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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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Ups:Great FMVs, nifty combat system, and the gears.
Downs: Repetive plot and inane dialogue.
System Reqs:
Sony Playstation.
xeno3.JPG (12124 bytes)Squaresoft makes great games. This much we know already. Xenogears, one of the biggest RPGs of the season is no less than any Squaresoft fan would expect: lengthy, involved play, long-winded and stocked with absolutely gorgeous FMVs.

The premise is that you are far in the future, on a planet that, if not Earth, is what Earth could become given that we all built huge fighting robots, blew ourselves up, lost the technology (of course), and are now struggling to put back together the human experience. And the robots.

You play Fei, a young man with hidden potential, who finds himself caught up in the fight to bring an end to the tyranny of the evil Shakhan and his Gebler cohorts. Your past is murky, and, as with any respectable Squaresoft game, flashbacks illuminate the plot. Along the way you're aided at various times by Citan, a doctor from your village (which is destroyed about five minutes into the game, per the Squaresoft template), a randy young sand-pirate, Bart, and his men, and various other characters you meet. At first, Fei is reluctant, but all that changes and then you really kick ass.

xeno1.gif (13674 bytes)The best thing about Xenogears is the Gears. The story is that long ago people built Gears (think Voltron, not Mechwarrior) and did battle. Now people are excavating the centuries-old battletanks and renovating them for use. Fei happens upon a truly remarkable Gear, Weltall (all of the Gears have pretty goofy names, but look spectacular), and finds he's a natural at Gear-to-Gear combat. You can upgrade Gears by buying new engines and frames, and by adding on special circuits and better weapons. You also learn Gear combos, a major plus to the fighting in the game.

That's really the other place where Xenogears shines. The combat is a blast. I found that most of the opponents were pretty easy to defeat, but the fighting is much more involved on the part of the player. In general, most RPGs simply put up a menu with options like attack, item, magic, etc. The player then picks one of these and the round continues until your character gets to attack again. In Xenogears, you choose from the menu of standard options, but when you attack you get to actually hit buttons. There are three different levels of attack, weak, medium and strong, and you must use them in a variety of combos so that your characters can learn new power moves. The power moves are great because they are two or more button combos that allow you to get a lot of hits off and do much higher damage. Both character and Gear fighting are done this way. The battle is not real-time, but turn-based as with most RPGs.

xeno2.gif (10585 bytes)The third best thing about Xenogears is the FMVs. Squaresoft is always on the cutting edge of cutscenes and graphics. The movies in Xenogears outdoes anything else I've seen on the Playstation thus far. It's a mixture of computer generated backgrounds and objects, and anime-style drawn characters. As an avid anime fan, I put the FMVs in this game just shy of the Ghost In The Shell level, which any Otaku will tell you is phenomenal. The reason I rank these scenes third in my list of great things about Xenogears is that there just aren't enough of them. In an RPG the story is an important component, and after the introductory sequence I found myself drooling for more. It makes me shiver with anticipation for the Final Fantasy movie, in production now with Columbia Pictures and Squaresoft, because I truly believe that these guys are doing something seriously right.

xeno4.JPG (11826 bytes)The game graphics are good. I can't say that they're great, because really I was a little disappointed after playing FFVII, but they also work in an entirely different way. As opposed to FFVII, Xenogears has no pre-rendered backgrounds. They are 3D (it looks like vector-traced graphics to me), and you can pan the camera around to get a good look at your surroundings. I like this because in FFVII it was occasionally confusing trying to hit just the right part of the screen to get into another room or whatnot. The characters are just sprites over the background, so they occasionally get all pixelized when the camera zooms in on them, and that looks ugly. But overall, during play the graphics are more than adequate and the ease of steering is welcome.

xeno5.JPG (10980 bytes)The biggest problem with Xenogears is inherent in RPGs, and especially, I think, in Squaresoft titles. It's long-winded. And I don't mean in the way that, say, Metal Gear Solid is long-winded. The story just gets long and boring. FFVII was like this also, and if you could put up with the multitudes of flashbacks and character development in that game, then Xenogears will be no problem. Is there anybody who is truly enthralled in hearing about the deep soul-burning convulsions these characters are going through? I mean, let's face it, the dialogue is absolutely unredeemable (I'll make allowances for the translation and all, but still…), and it's the overall plot that kept me going in both Xenogears and FFVII. In order to really build an attachment to a character, one needs more than just boo-hoo suffering in the past flashbacks. What gets me attached to Fei is the fact that I want to, as a player, be able to do more combos, get a better Gear, and fight as many baddies as possible. The dialogue has little impact on me as a gamer, aside from giving the old thumb a little repetitive stress.

Overall, I think that Xenogears is one of those not-to-be-missed games of 1998. There is a raging debate about its superiority to FFVII. I'd come down on the side of FFVII, since it had more variety in the game and was longer, but it's a tough call to make. Wherever you come down on the issue, Xenogears is a great way to kill a few dozen hours.

cheat.gif (1707 bytes)--Shawn Rider