Xenogears: Nostalgia Reviews

You got your Anime in my Videogame…

Playstation | Squaresoft | October 1998

Nostalgia Reviews look back and highlight the greatest games of previous generations. The review is rooted in fond memories and appreciation of the game during that era. There are times when memories differ from reality or modern techniques are superior to earlier design.

No game captures the scale, style, substance, and elements of anime as perfectly as Xenogears. This RPG borrows heaving upon tropes and archetypes manga fans know, but manages to keep them unique and engaging. Xenogears utilizes an active time battle system, with an interactive input structure, introduces giant mechs, referred to as Gears, and tells a story which starts off small but reveals a mystery that defines all of creation.

The protagonist, Fei Fong Wong, lives in a peaceful village, nestled in a valley surrounded by two warring nations. Fei suffers from amnesia, allowing players to discover the enchantment and danger of the world through his eyes. A, slightly predictable, series of events draws Fei into the centuries long conflict and a journey of self-discovery.

What is a Critical Hit!

The battle system in Xenogears contains classic RPG layout but with a twist. Once the active time battle gauge fills combatants choose between items, magic (which is named differently for each player) or attack. Within the attack structure, players can unleash a series of combinations that coordinate with the face buttons. If a player doesn’t use all of their action points, they can store them between rounds to unleash a larger attack. These combination of light, medium and heavy attacks are necessary for defeating various foes. Not only do characters level up their stats, but by using certain attacks will unlock various combos. Combos start off as a wicked head, but later become explosions of ice and lightning that engulf the screen. Half the combat is spent on foot; the other battles take place in giant robots.

The Gears are an important story element and a welcome change of pace in fights. The transition from pilot to Gear emphasizes the scale of these towering robots. The landscape adjusts appropriately, attack animations are more powerful and the sound effects have increased weight. Some, but not all, magics and combos the pilots possess carryover to Gears. The battle system is updated to use a fuel gage instead of the ATB. Gears use light, medium or heavy attacks until their fuel runs out; heavier attacks charge a premium on fuel. If it runs dry, Gears can charge during their phase until they can rejoin the fray. Character stats do not necessarily coordinate to a Gear’s; requiring an element of planning for stages which are split between each combat type.

The first few hours mixes storytelling by talking to NPCs, exploring the world and anime cut scenes. These scenes match the style of the game, contain pitch-perfect voice acting and detail some of the most epic moments of the saga. While watching these sequences, you might want to rush out and watch a Xenogears anime, but no such thing exists. The story concludes with another well done event, but there is a noticeable lack of cut scenes during the middle of the game.

Characters make or break an RPG, and the cast of Xenogears is fantastic, which is good because you will be spending 60-80 hours with them. From the daughter of the world’s greatest engineer, an enigmatic mentor, debonair pirate, steadfast priest and the perfect soldier everyone within the party has their place and distinct personality. Characters are introduced at a decent pace throughout the first half of the game; they drive the story forward and add extra layers to the greater narrative. Through sidequests, discussions in base and battle cries each character comes alive and players will gravitate towards favorites. Most of the time players choose their party and during instances where you can’t, it isn’t a chore to bring a pre-destined companion into battle as no one has an overbearing, annoying personality.

Outside of battle Fei travels across vast deserts, dense forests, floating cities and ancient metropolises. The variety of locals keeps the setting fresh and captures the feeling of a vast world. Unlike most RPGs traversing the land is not always done on a flat plain. Fei is capable of jumping, climbing and moving within the environment. This means that there are multiple paths to travel within the same screen and sometimes a treasure chest can be easily seen but requires backtracking to reach. The world contains interactive puzzles for Fei and the player to solve. These can vary from fetch quests or levers and switches which require math skills, or an FAQ, to solve.

The intro sequence reveals a quaint village; the final scene takes place somewhere radically different with a fair amount of sci-fi arenas and themes in between. The transition from a simple boy visiting a friend to a reluctant hero and beyond is never jarring or out of place. The game introduces new elements and mechanics at a steady pace, but takes the time to explain their meaning and impact. Xenogears tells a large tale that questions the human psyche, the role of God, pre-destiny, meaning of family, friendship and many heavy subjects. At times it will break the action and drama with humor, but at its core this is a serious game.

What is Not Very Effective…

The pacing is all over the place. At times, a character monologues for a few minutes about their motivations when it is obvious. In other instances a quick plot twist occurs with little explanation now, for shock value, followed by a post-battle in-depth analysis. When loading the 2nd disk the game changes narrative modes for a little bit, instead of players interacting with the environment and exploring, key moments are ran through like an 80’s montage to setup the next scene.

The themes of psychology and religion can be preachy at times. Depending on your openness to discuss these concepts it can be off-putting. Individual characters are stalwart in their viewpoints but the game does a good job of articulating each side of some of the debates.

Care and attention is placed on the environments; everything is there for a purpose. When something isn’t it sticks out and the only real explanation will be due to space-magic. This can also apply to certain characters and the more over-the-top story elements.

Status Summary

Xenogears is the quintessential anime experience in videogame format. The action can be fast, larger than life and filled with wonder. It also means a lot of care is placed in the stories formative moments and rushed near the end to ensure a conclusion. The combat is varied and will require more than button mashing to avoid the “game over” screen.

If you enjoy Japanese RPGs, epic animes and long multi-layered stories than this game will keep you entertained for weeks. If you prefer your plot to be light-hearted and upbeat, then you might not want to jump into this Gear.

Score: 9.0 /10

+ Unique RPG Combat
+ Classic Anime Element
+ Gears Look Awesome
+ Characters and Story Intertwine Well
+ Long Complicated Narrative
– Long Complicated Narrative
– Pacing


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