The original Playstation is home to some of the best role playing games of the genre, Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Cross, Wild ARMs, Lunar, and countless others. One often mentioned in the same breath is Xenogears. A theological sci-fi philosophical psychological tale, mixing together fantasy, sci-fi, mythology and mechs, the game is easily the longest RPG I’ve played, and possibly the longest ever. With such a mismash of genres, does the experience become too muddled or is there an overwhelming brilliance beneath the veneer? Funny you should ask.
Two components could make or break an RPG, the battle system and story. Sure, there’s plenty of other bits, such as item creation, side quests, and more, but without those two core elements, the game could faultier. First, the battle system. Xenogears has one of the best I’ve experienced, featuring essentially two different mechanics as characters each have their own mechs, with battles requiring them to fight in or out of the giants robots. This employs two different unique systems.
Fighting outside the mechs, called gears in the game, is your standard affair using an active time battle (ATB) system. Three characters are brought into battle, with the strength of their attacks governed by a point system. Accruing or spending points being the key strategy. Many attacks, like main character Fei’s abilities, are similar to a fighting game, entering button combinations to accomplish moves.Fighting in gears is a different story. In gears, the ATB system stays, but with fuel consumption rather than points being used. As the game progresses, combat focus shifts from outside the gears to in them.
As for the story, I really don’t know what to say. This is easily a complicated game with a story that stretches past the 80 hour mark to complete. That’s not an exaggeration either. To complete the main game, not that there’s a plethora of side quests to fulfill, takes nearly that long. Over this time the game touches on ideas of government, identity, religion and creation. Touches isn’t a strong enough word, more like hammers. Characters with split personalities that are reincarnations of people who fought god machines brought to present day with their lover to once again battle this god machine and descended from the first human. More or less. That’s a lot to take in. Playing through it is very enjoyable, particularly do to the battle system and other game elements (leveling, items, etc.). The story was never a detractor, but expect levels of abstraction similar to Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Speaking of playing through, how many discs would you wager it took to house such a massive story? Three? Four? Actually, only two, and barely at that. I can’t recall how many snow days and weekends I booted up the game, telling myself I’d make it to the second disc that day, only to be wrong. It wasn’t until somewhere around the 60 hours in that I was prompted to switch discs.
Xenogears was created by Tetsuya Takahashi, who worked on other Square games like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. After Xenogears, he created Monolith Software. They developed the Xenosaga trilogy on Playstation 2. Those game featured similar elements and is somewhat of a prequel, though not outright billed as one since Xenogears was published by Square and Xenosaga by Namco Bandai. Xenosaga was meant to have six parts, but was cancelled after the third. Monolith was purchased by Nintendo, ending the Saga series, but releasing Xenoblade Chronicles releasing on Wii and Xenoblade Chronicles X on the Wii U. All the games deal with the same sci-fi theological bend, with relations between them shown in underlining currents.
Xenogears was a blast to play and is current available on the PSN. I would only advise against playing if you don’t have the time. If you do, you’ll be treated to a fantastic battle system and at least a good, if not great story. And if you do, tell me your secrets.
How long did the game take you? Prefer fighting in, or out of the gears? Comment below!
Many snow days were sacrificed to this game.