Nut Load. Mini reviews of games old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional shock face.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Xenogears (1998)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Squaresoft

I missed this one the first time around, but being an avid fan of all things Square I pulled it off PSN. The game starts with our protagonist Fei Fong Wong who has been brought to a small town with a bad case of that ever-so-useful amnesia. After a few years of peaceful living, a centuries long conflict between the 2 nations of Aveh and Kislev spill over into town and the town is destroyed in the battle between the armies' huge mechs called "gears". Now Fei must travel the continent with the town doctor Citan and discover the origins of the conflict and the forces behind it that may go back even farther.

Gameplay is a fairly standard RPG model with a twist on the turn based battles. During each character's turn, they are assigned attack points that can be used for either low, medium or high powered attacks that are mapped to the triangle, square and X buttons respectively. Using different combinations will allow the use of special deathblow combos that can be learned with experience. Unused AP can also be saved and then used for a long string of deathblows for devastating damage. There is also ether points (EP) that are this universe's form of magic which acts in an identical way to most other RPGs, but the main draw for most is probably the battles inside of the gears. Gear battles are pretty much the same except AP is replaced with fuel which every attack consumes as well as any special abilities the gear might have like healing. Woe be to the player who gets stuck fighting a gear sized enemy without their own gear.

The story starts out almost cliche, but gets more interesting as more subplots and characters are added. Then it goes too far in the opposite direction with so much going on that the whole narrative becomes muddled and confusing. The majority of the subplots are never resolved and it comes to a head on disc 2 when they are all mostly dropped completely as is most of the actual game.The story becomes a long slog of characters narrating events to the player instead of actually playing it out. Only sparse scenarios interrupt this shift with things like the world map and visiting towns and such disappearing completely until the endgame. This fault line was so bleh that I almost stopped playing, especially when I sat for over an hour reading narration with no gameplay. Whatever the reasons for the rift, it mars the game and it took considerable effort to maintain the motivation to keep going which I did mostly to justify the hours already spent. The themes based off of different psychological practices were interesting until they became overblown like everything else. There is a bunch of stuff ranging from reincarnation and gene manipulation to nano machines and living gods when just picking one would have made a much more cohesive experience. It feels like a bad case of spectacle creep and a nasty extension of the weird habit Japan has of giving divine qualities to large robots that I am rarely willing to accept. They can never just be weapons.

Otherwise the game held up better than most of the time even if the sparse anime cutscenes are nowadays nothing special and the voice-overs for them are laughably out of synch and there are way too many random battles, often within a few seconds of the previous one ending. Altogether, an interesting experience if not always an enjoyable one.

Buyer's Guide:
The original PS1 release is a collectors item, so expect to pay a premium for it even though it is now available for download on PSN.

But at least there was kung-fu and gun-slinging priests out of 5

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