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Xenosaga II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse

Developer: Monolith Software
Publisher: Namco
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Players: 1
Similar To: Suikoden IV
Rating: Teen
Published: 03 :15 : 05
Reviewed By: Jayson Napolitano

Overall: 7 = Good

 

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The Xeno series is an interesting anomaly. Its dedication to unique and cinematic storytelling, interesting characterizations and odd relationships make it unlike other RPG franchises, but its often frustrating gameplay can make it tedious for veterans and unapproachable to newcomers. The latest chapter, Xenosaga II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse, doesn't stray far from tradition.

Like the previous games, the new Xenosaga is principally about character development. The emphasis this time is on the relationships between returning characters Rubedo and Albedo, explored through flashbacks of their childhood, and between scientist Shion Uzuki, who had a key role in the previous game, and her brother Jin. The complex story continues to unravel in this chapter, although many new questions arise by the end of the game. Players looking to learn more about the mysterious Chaos, for example, will be left mostly in the dark. Still, the game manages to flesh out some of the heroes from the first installment while offering new perspective on the villains.

The game picks up where the last one left off: the party from Xenosaga I arriving on Second Miltia to turn KOS-MOS, a weapon created to destroy a mysterious breed of monsters called the Gnosis, over to Vector so she (KOS-MOS is very female and very attractive, as weapons go) can be upgraded and analyzed. Important data is also to be extracted from a character named MOMO concerning the events of fourteen years ago and the appearance of the Gnosis. The adventure begins when there are problems with the extraction of the data from MOMO, leading to the information falling into the wrong hands.

There are some problems with the way the game flows, though, as certain story concepts can get a little repetitive. Like in the first Xenosaga, there are countless encounters where the party faces certain doom only to have












 

KOS-MOS show up and unleash a super attack to dispatch thousands upon thousands of enemies in one blow. There are also at least three instances where the protagonists encounter something in space which "can only be destroyed from within." This leads to the party landing on whatever the obstruction is, finding its core, and "destroying it from within" in order to make progress. It's a silly, contrived way to stretch the already lengthy 30-hour game.

The battle system seems to be built to make things go faster, but it really doesn't work out that way. To start, a three member party can be formed out of the seven playable characters and party members can be switched in and out on the fly. Also, the boost feature, which allows players to cut into the turn queue to steal an extra attack against enemies, has returned. The intended speed of the system is rendered moot, however, because Monolith has opted for fewer, but (naturally) much longer, enemy encounters. This means that while players can "boost" to sneak an attack here or there and switch out characters if their current party appears ineffective against a particular baddie, enemies have so much health that battles can drag on for up to ten minutes despite whatever clever tactical choices a player may make. In the end, battles degrade into total monotony, with characters performing the same attacks over and over again against a fairly homogenous set of enemies. The boss battles are a cut above the regular encounters, as they offer a bit more challenge and require some actual thought, but overall fighting is very tiresome and frustrating.

The dungeons are equally lengthy and tedious. The aforementioned time-consuming encounters abound around every corner, and many of them are essentially unavoidable. On-screen enemies are often stationed at very narrow passages to make them extra difficult to sneak around. One particularly boring dungeon must be played twice in a row, back-to-back, with only a short FMV sequence in between. The first time players tackle the dungeon, it will be covered in grass; the second time, snow. That's the only notable difference. I found this one instance so boring that I simply stopped playing the game for a few days. It's this sort of nonsense that makes me wish the game were merely an FMV movie without the actual "game" part.

Mech battles return, but they're disappointing. Gone are the A.G.W.S. (anti-gnosis weapon systems) of Episode I, as players control experimental mechs named E.S. Asher, E.S. Dinah, and E.S. Zebulun in their place. That's a grand total of three mechs, and only two can be selected to form a party at one time. Characters pair up to operate the E.S., and different combinations of characters allow for different attacks and abilities. The E.S. battles are plagued by some of the same problems as the on-foot battles, as the increased damage inflicted by the E.S. is offset with even greater amounts of health for enemies. The E.S. battles only appear a few times in the game.

The two colonies in the game, Kukai and Second Miltia, are equally dreary. They're vast, open areas with NPCs everywhere, but braving their lengthy conversations is rarely worth the effort. Most of the minor characters have at least two things to say, and many of them will have more over the course of the game. Usually, having non-repeating dialogue is an asset, but in Xenosaga II there's just so much that it's tough to wade through it all to find the useful or interesting bits.

I will give Monolith credit where credit is due, however. The character customization in Xenosaga II is well-implemented. Basically, there are multiple levels of skills, and then classes within those levels. Players accumulate skill points (sp) and class points (cp) by defeating enemies and by using certain items scattered throughout the game. Every character will begin on level 1, where he can use class points to unlock any class within the first level. Within each class are four skills, which players can activate by expending the required skill points. Every class and skill is viewable even if they have not been unlocked, giving players the opportunity to map out how they want a specific character to function in the party. For example, a beginning character can access any class within level 1. Class B can eventually be opened by using 300 cp. Within class B, medica can be learned by using 400 sp. If a character masters an entire class, additional class points will be awarded, and the proceeding level (level 2 in this case), will be unlocked. As players progress through the levels and classes, more cp and sp will be required to master additional skills. To add a twist, many of the skills appear as "??????". These are skills which must be unlocked with special keys which are found throughout the game.

Some of those skill keys can be acquired through sidequests. Unfortunately, these are about as tedious as the main game. In XSII, all of the sidequests belong to "the Good Samaritan Campaign":the party encounters the annoying Agent Bunny near the beginning of the game, who will ask Shion if she wishes to participate in the Campaign, which more or less translates into doing long, boring, and sometimes even difficult "chores" for civilians scattered throughout the two colonies accessible in the game. While the rewards are decent (decoders to unlock secret doors and the skill keys), the Campaign really isn't worth the trouble. There are a total of 28 GSC tasks to perform: some are simple, five-minute affairs, while others require hours upon hours of running around and talking to people. An example of one of the most absurd tasks: there is a ship captain in debt that needs assistance and the only way players can put him in the black is by selling off unwanted items. Sounds deceptively simple, however the captain has a debt of $10 million, and the highest selling item in the game, which can only be stolen from the last boss, sells for 500k. So, to accomplish this little errand, players would have to defeat the boss about 20 times, which would come out to about eight hours of "fun," if not more. Other tasks require players to run back and forth between the two colonies and to remember the names and locations of various NPCs so that they can deliver notes, verbal messages, seeds, etc. from one character to another. I get bored just typing about it.

At least Xenosaga II is more visually appealing than its predecessors. The developers have decided to move away from the anime style in favor of more realistic renderings. The new style adds some visual depth to the already-nuanced characters. While most of dungeons in the game are drab and brown or gray, the few areas that do utilize some color are a real treat. The Kukai Foundation, which could also be explored in the first Xenosaga, is a prime example of the vibrant landscapes Monolith's artists are capable of creating. The few FMV battles that take place are also vibrant and epic, even if they tend to be a tad on the cheesy side.

The audio also shines. The original Xenosaga had credible voice acting, and it sounds as though most of the cast returned for their roles in Xenosaga II. Some of the characters sound a little odd (MOMO sound strangely like Ralph Wiggum from the Simpsons), but most of the cast works well. The music is also good. While composer Yasunori Mitsuda of Chrono and Xeno series fame did not return, a relatively unknown composer, Yuki Kajiura, managed to take the reins remarkably well. While his new electronic score is a departure from its celtic/orchestral/religious hymn dominated predecessors, the music is still very fitting for the series. There are a few tracks which do contain the more classical influences mentioned above, but the majority of the music is electronic. Although I do recall a few J-pop pieces in some FMVs that made me cringe, and some tracks that reminded me of Mega Man, the heavier synthetic sounds are very appropriate and offer more in the way of melody. The orchestral/break beat blend heard in the final battle, for example, is highly memorable.

Though it may seem that my praise is restricted to the shallow elements of the game, I cannot stress enough how amazing the storytelling in Xenosaga II is. While the game would have made a much better book, it is worth a play just to appreciate the characters and the deep storyline. The ending was particularly touching and offered much more closure than was given by the ending from Episode I.

Overall: 7/10
Xenosaga II and other games in the series are about story and character development, but the unforgivably monotonous gameplay detracts heavily from the other strong aspects of the game. The gameplay is poison, really, but that's not why people play the Xeno series. I can recommend the game to fans and those who enjoy solid stories, but this game is not for the casual audience. It seems unlikely, but I sincerely hope Monolith Software can revise the mechanics for Xenosaga III, so everyone can experience the amazing story they've developed.

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