It has been 25 years since RPG followers first bought their arms on Tetsuya Takahashi’s first Xeno challenge, Xenogears. Whereas newer Xeno entries really feel extra superior, enjoyable, and full than Xenogears, the unique has a powerful fashion all its personal. It stays a fan favourite within the long-running franchise for (pretty) good purpose.

The sport was initially proposed as Closing Fantasy VII by Takahashi and his spouse, Kaori Tanaka. This DNA is noticeable all through the sport: Xenogears is just like FFVII (or, maybe, the opposite means round) in fashion and gameplay; even “Restrict Breaks” exist in some capability by the sport’s Motion Level (AP) system. Xenogears ultimately grew to become its personal challenge, titled “Undertaking Noah” throughout improvement — it’s fascinating that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 comes full circle again to the identify Noah (which can be my identify, hey) for its protagonist.

Anybody who has performed a Closing Fantasy recreation will discover a comforting familiarity in Xenogears‘ gameplay. The sport options animated cutscenes, intensive dialogue, an epic rating, and a tech-punk, anime-inspired visible fashion. Its fight is turn-based and options an Lively Time Battle (ATB) system. Its battle menu contains choices for protection, merchandise use, escape, and magic, titled “Ether” right here. Apparently, Ether powers are labeled in another way between get together members: most important character Fei makes use of “Chi” whereas aspect character Citan makes use of “Arcane,” and so forth. This offers a personalised aptitude to Ether use, although I admittedly discovered it inferior to doing bodily strikes for injury assaults till very late within the recreation. Moreover, with out the “Ether Doubler” merchandise, which is prohibitively costly early on and unattainable to acquire later when it’s helpful, Ether turns into virtually ineffective exterior of therapeutic and help in a while. It is a disappointing actuality contemplating how cool Ether powers look and the way a lot persona they add to the sport’s characters.

Our protagonist gearing up to attack and spend action points in Xenogears.
Xenogears fight entails spending Motion Factors (AP) to combo gentle, medium, and heavy assaults.

None of that is to say that the sport’s fight isn’t compelling. Bodily assault strikes within the recreation are dictated by combos that use Motion Factors (AP). Every character begins with 4 AP, they usually can do gentle, medium, and heavy assaults costing 1-3 AP, respectively. As you execute repeated button-press sequences with the three, your characters achieve superior “Deathblow” mixture assaults to execute for bonus injury. As they degree up, characters achieve extra AP, which can be utilized along with Deathblows and smart conservation of AP to achieve entry to the sport’s model of a “Restrict Break,” specifically the flexibility to chain Deathblow combos along with leftover AP. You possibly can preserve, say, 4 AP every flip for 5 turns, then unleash a large combo value 20 AP in flip six. Although it’s extra complicated, I like this technique higher than FFVII‘s Restrict Breaks — there’s extra room for clutch late-match assaults, and you should use these strikes in each match. Relatively than dynamic closing strikes, Restrict Breaks at all times felt to me like final resorts to hoard for powerful encounters (if you aren’t grinding them towards puny mobs); they’re a disappointing mechanic when you possibly can’t summon them immediately, reminiscent of in FFVII Remastered.

Talking of FFVII Remastered, it’s abundantly clear to me after taking part in Xenogears for over 80 hours that it desperately wants the identical therapy. Xenogears is (spoiler alert for this evaluate) an 85-worthy recreation in its present state, however I’d rating it a lot greater if it had buttons for random encounter blocking, 3x pace (or at the least instantaneous textual content pace), and Max AP/instantaneous heal. It’s because, whereas fight has the potential to be enjoyable in Xenogears, it’s usually an train in tedium. Random encounters are dreadfully excessive; you possibly can hardly ever stroll greater than ten steps on this recreation with no random encounter. Anticipate to do loads of strolling, too, as a result of the sport’s open areas are huge and lots of require backtracking; the Aveh Desert is an egregious offender right here, with an obtuse puzzle harking back to Zelda‘s Misplaced Woods.

What’s worse, although, is that fight encounters are a complete crapshoot to flee. On-line boards declare that the “Escape” possibility has a 50% success price always, however I query the validity of that: I attempted escaping from early battles upwards of 10 occasions with out success and was solely near (however by no means above) that fifty% when my characters have been means over-leveled. They have been usually over-leveled, too, as a result of the excessive random encounter price meant my characters have been usually far above the mandatory degree to finish areas. Till 20+ hours into Xenogears, the technique of repeatedly utilizing the strongest assault combo with each character led to a fast victory over each boss — I hardly ever even needed to heal. Whereas space bosses look superior and have first rate dialogue, I really feel the sport has no stakes as a result of my characters crush them like 100-foot mechs crushing a taxi cab, even when they don’t seem to be inside their mechs!

The mechs are rad, although. If you management them in battle, each assault is ten occasions cooler. It’s nice enjoyable watching your mech suplex and power beam large bugs and super-mechs into vapor. A part of me needs the gameplay fashion modified out of the turn-based mode when participating in mech fight, however I’m completely satisfied that the sport sticks with a well-recognized method, and nice animations make it value it. Along with epic fight motion, mechs add a technically spectacular scale to the sport, particularly for the PS1. Troopers and mobs look minuscule subsequent to towering mechs, airships, and the like. I used to be shocked to see dozens of little characters on the display at a time in some in-game cutscenes; whereas it tanked the framerate, this many transferring entities is a uncommon sight for a recreation predating the Xbox 360/PS3 period. Followers of mechs and science fiction expertise won’t be disillusioned. In truth, anybody who’s a fan of operatic science fiction motion pictures or Neon Genesis Evangelion will really feel warmly embraced by the heavy tech-punk mech-punk vibe of Xenogears. And, equally to NGE, Xenogears‘ lengthy, lofty, generally convoluted plot will even really feel like dwelling.

The scope of Xenogears is big, but I used to be surprisingly entertained all through. That is due to a zany and impressive story stuffed with non secular allegory, deep characterization, motifs of dying, trauma, and resurrection, and a completely banger aesthetic. Maybe I’m nostalgic for PS1-era graphics, however I may additionally be the primary to argue that the majority video games of that period, whereas extra visually legible than their progeny, appear like technicolor pixel manure. I may see a lot of Xenogears‘ aesthetic surviving age, nevertheless, as it’s extremely detailed, cinematic, and artistically succinct.

Xenogears is unquestionably a protracted recreation. Probably the most time I can recall spending on a single playthrough of any recreation pre-2000 is 45 hours (Closing Fantasy VII). Xenogears is on an entire totally different degree. Between one full playthrough of largely the primary story, one sixteen-hour recap video of simply its pivotal dialogue and cutscenes, and a revisit of the opening few hours, I clocked in simply over 100 hours of time spent on this recreation. Even despite the sport’s ludicrous bodily value nowadays of $150+ for a complete-in-box copy, that’s one mighty bang to your buck.

There’s little fluff in Xenogears‘ visible design, although its exposition may have been reduce fairly a bit — particularly a number of the recreation’s extra dated dialogue like Citan’s heavy-handed shut studying of the Nisan cathedral’s heteronormative one-winged angels, or Billy (a toddler) admitting he thought of turning into a prostitute, amongst different cringey dialogue:

Xenogears Screenshot of Grahf and Alpha Weltall. Grahf asks, "Doth thou desire the power?"
An instance of the sport’s dialogue

Xenogears is a wrinkled masterpiece that’s worthy of an RPG fan’s consideration. Nonetheless, it’s dated in some ways. Along with these I’ve already listed, I discover it baffling that it launched virtually a yr after the Twin Analogue controller however lacked analog help — of the 20+ PS1 video games I’ve performed from the yr 1998, it’s one among two to take action, and the opposite recreation is a puzzle recreation. It additionally irks me that there is no such thing as a textual content pace possibility, no approach to view Deathblow button combos, and that the second disc is relegated virtually solely to dialogue and cutscenes. A remaster or, higher but, a remake would resolve a lot of this and provides gamers a approach to expertise Takahashi’s flawed however visionary first symphony of a recreation. Once I mirror on Xenogears in my reminiscence, it’s a sprawling, beautiful epic; the observe of taking part in it in 2023 feels extra like a reminder of how far video games, particularly Xeno video games, have are available in 25 years.


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