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
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.
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.
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.