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Cidolfas's RPG Reviews: Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht (PSX)

You Are: Shion, leader of the KOS-MOS development project in Vector's First R&D Division.

Your Goal Is: Now that would be telling.

General System: Xenosaga subscribes to the Grandia-style "you see the enemies but they chase you". It adds to the fun, though, by giving you access to strategically placed traps which you can trigger, stopping the enemy in their tracks; if you fight them while trapped, you get various bonuses in battle. You can also run around destroying things (they magically return when you re-enter the screen). As for the menu system: it's not perfect from a usability aspect, but it's interesting. Each character has three types of points to spend, all of which are won in battle or by using items. S. Points let you extract Skills (such as raising defense or counterattack) from accessories; T. Points let you build your techniques or statistics; and E. Points let you learn new Ether spells or transfer them to other characters. Characters can also use AGWS (giant robots) in battle, and they can also be equipped in the menu. Different pilots affect AGWS stats differently.

Battle System: A bit overcomplicated, but challenging. First off is AP. A character generally gains 4 AP per turn (and can have a max of 6 AP). Each attack takes 2 AP, spells take 4, and items or moving around the battlefield take 3. If you have 6 AP, you can use "W-Item", meaning spending two items to affect the entire party. Defending takes no AP. However, techniques (before being built up) can only be fired off after attacking twice, meaning you need 6 AP to do it. If you build up their speed using T. Points, though, you can use them after only one attack, meaning you can do it every turn. Special weapons (for two of the characters) also require 6 AP. Basically this means if you want to do some of the more special moves, you'll have to defend often to raise your AP next turn.
Then there's the Boost Gauge, which rises as characters attack. You can see the turn order at the bottom of the screen, and if your character has a Boost Gauge of at least 1 (up to 3) and does not appear in the turn order, you can Boost them to act immediately. However, the enemy can also Boost - and counter-boost, meaning they'll override your own Boost!
You can also ride in your good ol' giant robots in battle, but unfortunately they're so slow that it's often not worth it. Their power, oddly enough, isn't all that much better than characters, considering they only get one attack per turn while characters get up to three, and since they can't use items there's often no way to cure debilitating status effects, nor can you heal HP or revive the pilot if the AGWS runs out of HP.
Bottom line is that while battles are challenging, there's a lot of things you'll rarely use, such as moving around the battlefield or pretty much ever using AGWS. Ether attacks are also never worth the time and effort. Most of your strategy will rely on techniques, Boost, and accessories.

Graphics: A 3D take on anime style. The characters tend to be a bit too chubby, and often a bit too smooth in the face, but the animation is more than adequate, and the environments are very detailed.

Music: Nonexistent most of the time, unfortunately. The only time music usually takes place is during cutscenes, and then you're trying to hear the dialogue, not the music. There's only a single battle theme in the entire game, as well, which gets on your nerves after a while. However, what music there is, is big, epic, and powerful.

Story: The voice work is excellent; some of the best I've heard in video games (although the Metal Gear Solid games probably beat it). Because it's only episode I, most of the questions that arise aren't answered yet, but there's a nice amount of suspense, and the direction is more bold than, for example, Final Fantasy X, with a lot of sudden cuts and flashbacks.

Challenge: Medium/Hard

Length: About 30-40 hours

My Thoughts: It's true when they say that a session of playing Xenosaga usually consists of a half-hour or an hour of cutscenes, followed by an hour of gameplay. However, I don't mind at all, because the cutscenes are the best part of the game. And they're skippable, which is awesome. The battles are also challenging without being too cheap, and the dungeons are interesting. Unfortunately, there are some hiccups that make the game a bit too much sometimes. First off are the loading times - often you'll have to wait ten seconds or more to load a particular map, which is crazy. Second are the huge waits between save points: if you don't have a full hour to kill, don't bother sitting down and starting up, because you'll likely not be able to save before that. The lack of music also means you'll start to get tired far more easily. The e-mail function, while really original and a great idea, is badly done, requiring you to be in a specific place at a specific time to get an e-mail, which is very silly. Other than the Segment File bit, the other side quests/mini-games have no interaction with the main game, and consequently are easily ignored. I do love the keyword database, which is a wealth of interesting info building on the main story.
Overall, Xenosaga is a worthy game if you don't mind watching a lot of fairly interesting cutscenes. Hiccups aside, it's a good first offering.

Overall Rating: 8/10

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