Xenosaga - Episode I - Der Wille zur Macht
Review

Remember Xenogears? A few years after this well-received RPG title Xenosaga intends to raise the bar for RPGs on the PlayStation 2!

It took me a while to get into this game. Why? Well, I was mostly expecting a prequel to Xenogears as was hinted by many publications and early announcements, however Xenosaga has very little to do with Xenogears. Yes, there are some similarities but Xenosaga is completely independent of Xenogears. That's a good thing as it enables players who have never played Xenogears to jump right in without having to read up on the game world first. But after a few hours I got totally hooked on this game and Xenosaga sets a new standard for RPGs! Read on for a detailed review!

Story

Thousands of years into the future, mankind has abandoned earth and colonized space. These colonies form the a federation called the Unus Mundi Network (UGM) which has its capital on the planet 2nd Miltia after the original capital on Miltia was destroyed in an experiment gone horribly wrong. During the first 3 to 4 hours of game play you learn about the evil Gnosis, a destructive alien life from that is threatening mankind and is somehow related to an ancient artifact called the Zohar. Humanity is on the brink of destruction and you have to save it! Sounds familiar? Well, the story is actually much(!) more detailed than that and the depth of main plot and sub plots is really amazing. Throughout the game you will be shown long cinematics that will continue to tell the story and can last well over 30 minutes! But these cutscenes don't interrupt the flow but instead are an integral part of the game. Expect a lot of cutscenes in the beginning and then they'll become less after about 10 or 15 hours of total play time and you can always skip them if you want to.

Gameplay

As you set out in quest mode you will explore your surroundings, communicate with non-player characters (NPCs) and find items. You can also enter shops to purchase things or inns to rest and recover your health. Some shops or NPCs will also upgrade or repair your weapons system. As you venture out on your quest you'll encounter an array of hostile situations and the game switches over into battle mode. Xenosaga employs a turn-based combat system and I prefer those over the real-time systems. Why? Because a turn-based system gives you more time to really think about a strategy. Your Action Points (AP) limit your actions and you can save them for the more powerful Tech attacks versus the normal close-up attacks or Ether attacks. Ether attacks? That's the equivalent to magic and is of course limited by Ether Points (EP). EPs let you cast a wide range of spells from various battle attacks to healing spells. While in Xenogears the battles were centered around your mech things are different in Xenosaga. The mechs aren't as important anymore although you can still use them if you want to. Personally I liked the less-mech-centric approach although some people will be disappointed. A big plus for me: Xenosaga has no random battles. However monsters do respawn - bummer!

Just as you would expect you can gain experience and grow your character throughout the game by earning Experience Points (Exp), Skill Points (SP), Ether Points (EP) and Tech Points (TP). TPs let you upgrade your more powerful Tech Attacks, EPs allow you to learn new spells and SPs enable you to increase your skills extracted from certain accessories. As you explore and fight you can grow your character in any direction you want to. Chose the path of Ether or pick the route of physical combat instead - it's your decision!

The environments are vast with plenty of things to explore and manipulate. You can climb ladders, destroy things, search for hidden items etc. - lots of things to do! I just wish there was some music playing while I'm exploring (more on the music below).

Graphics

So, what about the graphics? Xenosaga has very nice graphics and although sometimes the textures are a bit less detailed then I would prefer they are always solid. Nowhere did I noticed any slowdowns despite tons of characters and action on the screen. Overall the look is a little bit on the cutesy side of things but hey, it's a Japanese game - right? The characters and the mechs are detailed and designed very well and even the enemies look spectacular. The background are a bit plain once in a while but since there is always lots of action you won't have time to become bored with them. A highlight are the very well done Ether spell effects and explosions, they are truly excellent! In general the graphics are at the top of the line for PS2 games at the moment!

Sound

Music and sound effects are another big plus in Xenosaga. The voice acting is very well done and really matches the characters. The musical scores are nothing short of fantastic although I wish there was a bit more variety as you will start hearing familiar tunes after a while. Actually I wish there was more music in general since it is only played during game parts of bigger importance. The sound effects are great as well, make sure you have your PS2 hooked up to a good stereo to really enjoy it! My personal wish: I hope Namco publishes a CD with the orchestral score on it.

Final Verdict

Finally the mini games! Yes, Xenosaga has four mini games in it and they range from somewhat boring to absolutely addictive. A nice addition to an already very rich game.

Overall Xenosaga is a great game and delivers on everything it promised! Too bad there is no Xbox version planned...

Although the description on the back of the box promises 80 hours of playtime it took me just under 50h to finish this game and I was taking it slowly. Not that I'm complaining but I am curious how these official play time estimates are being determined :) Experienced RPG players should be able to complete Xenosaga within 35 - 40 hours which means they will get solid entertainment for their buck, something that the Final Fantasy series with its rather short games is missing in my opinion.

Graphics

9 out of 10

Sound

8 out of 10

Gameplay

9 out of 10

Overall

9 out of 10

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