This 1998 PS1 hit has quite the strong following. Hit the link to hear what I thought of it.
Originally supposed to be Final Fantasy VII, Xenogears was turned into a separate project when it was deemed too dark to be a mainline Final Fantasy game. It is set in the continent of Ignas where a war between two countries, Kislev and Aveh, has been raging for 500 years. The war is predominantly fought in Gears; giant machines designed to be piloted by people for a variety of purposes. Our main character is Fei, who makes his home in the town of Lahan, located within Aveh. When Lahan is attacked and his best friends killed, Fei leaves the village and finds himself caught up in the centuries-old war.
Xenogears’ story may sound clichéd on paper, but in reality, it is far from it. Each individual character has their own set of motives which all intersect in a multitude of ways through the staggering number of subplots found in the game (there are fourteen of them). It took ideas from psychologists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, as well as from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and blended them into the single greatest story I have ever experienced.
There was, however, an issue with the storytelling on the second disc. Where before the game had the player explore all of the places relevant to the plot and allowed for exploration, in the second disc it switched to a more visual novel style where the story is dictated to the player by Fei and another member of the party, Elly. I still enjoyed the story and the overall game on the second disc, but it was something of a disappointment after the phenomenal scope seen in the first disc.
Fights in Xenogears are all turn-based and differ depending on whether you’re fighting on foot or in your gear. In both cases, there are three attacks to choose from. The triangle button is the weakest but most accurate attack and the X button the strongest but least accurate attack, with the square button acting as an intermediate. Using these attacks repeatedly unlocks deathblows, which have you input certain button combinations to unleash a powerful attack. To unlock deathblows, two things must occur. Firstly, you must have input the correct button presses a certain numbers of times throughout the game. Secondly, your character needs to reach the appropriate level. Your button input progress can be tracked on the in-game Skills option in the menu. There are also a number of skills available to each character which require a given amount of EP to use.
On the side of the battle screen is a bar telling you how many moves each character can make per turn. Each character is only allowed a certain number of moves; you start with three and by the end of the game will have seven. The triangle button uses up one, the square button two, and the X button three. You can press circle at any time after your first attack to end your turn, which will build up your AP bar. Building up the AP bar will allow you to unleash a number of deathblows on your opponent all at once in a single turn. Its downside is that building it up quickly means giving up a few turns. Aside from attacking or using skills, there are also options to defend, use an item or escape. These are all self-explanatory, and take up your entire turn.
Fighting in gears uses the same basic principles, but alters them to suit. Each attack in a gear builds up one attack level, so only one can be gained per turn. A gear’s attack level never exceeds three, and it allows them to execute deathblows. Triangle consumes one attack level, square consumes two, and X consumes three. The more attack levels consumed with a single deathblow, the more damage it will do. Each of a character’s skills are still able to be used in a gear, but have been altered to reflect the change in battle style.
Attacking in gears uses up fuel. The more powerful the attack, the more fuel it uses. Gears do not level up, so fuel and other gear stats increase when you buy upgrades for the gear, which can usually be found close to the same places you buy regular equipment.
As in most RPGs, defeating foes in Xenogears nets you experience, gold and items. Experience allows party members to level up and gain more skills and deathblows. Gold is used to purchase items and fresh equipment for the party, both for themselves and for their Gears.
The music of Xenogears is always good to listen to, especially the battle themes. I was also quite a fan of a couple of other tracks, and it did a great job setting the scene throughout the game. The soundtrack was composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, who has worked on a number of games including Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Soma Bringer, Soul Sacrifice and Inazuma Eleven, and he truly did an outstanding job for Xenogears.
The game took me 60 hours to complete, of which around 15 would have been spent grinding for deathblows. The reason this took so long for me was because I stopped story progression in order to attain them and also insisted unlocking every single deathblow for every character. Neither of these things are necessary to complete the game, so in reality it should take 40 – 50 hours depending on your pace, which I think quite impressive for a game released before the turn of the millenia.
In all, Xenogears is a phenomenal game, especially for its time. It contains a story whose complexity is like none I’ve ever seen, as well as a battle system I never tired of. The soundtrack lent itself very well to the game’s scenes. My only gripe was with the disappointing visual novel style of the second disc, but everything else in the game and even the rest of the content on that disc more than made up for it. Xenogears is a game I would enthusiastically recommend to anyone who asked me about it.