Cidolfas's RPG Reviews: Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Boese (PS2)
You Are: The same guys you were in Episode I, plus Shion's brother Jin.
Your Goal Is: Well, you're already on Second Miltia, so just follow the storyline, basically.
General System: Episode I plus many significant tweaks. Towns and dungeons are pretty much the same, except that hitting traps in dungeons will always stop enemies in their tracks (not that it makes it easy to get past them). Most of your time is divided between navigating dungeons, watching cutscenes, and doing inane side quests as part of the Global Samaritan (GS) initiative. This generally involves helping out random NPCs, and can range from the interesting to the extremely tedious. The Segment Files are back as well, which is just as neat. Money and shops have been eliminated; you want items, you find them or beat enemies to get them.
Tech and Ether points have also been eliminated. The skill system has been expanded to allow characters to learn any skill, provided you've found the "key" for it. The downside? It takes a LONG time to gain enough Skill Points to learn anything decent, even with the items you find that help you. (Although I just might be unlucky; I only got the Skill x10 bonus once in the entire game, and never on a boss battle.) You also need Class Points to unlock different categories, and the primary way of getting those is learning all four skills in a category (bosses also give them). This makes for a more flexible system, but also one that's a lot more frustrating due to the tiny amount of skills you'll actually learn.
Battle System: There's two types this time round: Character and E.S. (mechs). Both are some of the most challenging I've seen, and generally in a good way. For characters, AP has been replaced with Stock. Stocking allows you to use double attacks (once per battle), or more importantly to build up a chain of regular attacks. Boost is still around, but now is shared amongst characters, meaning that it's much easier to boost, and using boost and stock judiciously can give you an enormous combo. In addition, the element of each character's attack matters tremendously, as do their attack types; some have the ability to throw an enemy down or up into the air, doubling damage while Stock or Boost is in effect, while some can't hit high-flying enemies. There's also the idea of Break Zones; hit an enemy in a combination of one of three "zones" and he'll take more damage. Plus there's the Move command; get behind an enemy and increase your power. Oh, and you can use up a turn to swap places with a reserve character.
E.S. battles are simpler but no less difficult; you've got three mechs, two of which can be in battle at once, each of which have different skills. Change your copilot and your skills change. Like characters, you can Stock (or build Energy), but you go from 0 to 300% (in 25% increments). As you increase your Energy, you increase your Intercept chances, which allow you to stop an enemy attack and get him instead. E.S.'s can equip accessories found or dropped by enemies.
Battles are long, but generally interesting. They're also quite hard most of the time, meaning that characters in reserve often have to heal up front-liners after battle (luckily, reserves get 25% of their HP/MP recovered after every battle). Save points are also in abundance, and they completely restore your party, so battles tend to be more like bosses in regular RPGs - bang-fests.
Graphics: Pretty much the same as the original, except that character models are a bit blockier (what's with the hands?). There's been a lot of sound and fury about the new graphical style of the main characters, but I actually can't see much difference except with Shion and KOS-MOS (the former of which looks like an entirely different, if cooler, character, the latter of which looks a lot less menacing).
Music: On the plus side, it actually exists this time round. On the minus side, it's almost exclusively annoying electronica. There's also been moments in serious cutscenes when upbeat music played, really ruining the scene. I miss Mitsuda. 8-(
Story: More of a side story than the kind of powerful stuff you've seen in episode I. It focuses almost entirely on Jr. and Albedo (luckily they kept their voice actors; most of the original cast has been replaced, but since most of the original cast get very few lines, the indignation at this fades after a while). You'll spend a large chunk of your time in flashbacks or in fairly interchangable dungeons. A little disappointing, but I hope episode III will pick up again.
Length: 20 hours with no sidequests, 40 hours with, 60 hours including postgame stuff
My Thoughts: At first I didn't really like the game. I hated the fact that they changed the voices, the music grated on me, I didn't like the slow rate of the story, and I didn't like how they papered over most of the questions of episode I, added new ones, and barely answered any of them. The loading times are, if anything, even worse than the original. The e-mail and database systems, which I thought were great ideas that needed a little tweaking, were entirely removed. But once you realize that this is more of a side outing than a real continuation, it's not bad. The battles are consistently challenging, and although some side quests are tedious as all get-out, some are pretty interesting. So are the puzzles. I'm a bit confused about the inanity of those, actually - they're really out of place. So is the GS system; I got annoyed that people who were saying the same thing all game suddenly seem inclined to ask you to help them. No rational explanations given. All in all, I think this game could have used a lot more work to make it more palatable; the battles redeem it, but everything else ranges from mediocre to bad. Your mileage may vary.
Overall Rating: 6.5/10