Xenogears is a JRPG published by Squaresoft in the late 90s for the Playstation, and it is the first entry of the Xeno series. It was actually meant to be a sequel to Chrono Trigger and at one point, it was even considered to be Final Fantasy 7 but due to the dark storyline, it eventually evolved into its own project under the title. “Project Noah”. It is actually the 5th episode according to the perfect works book of a massive spanning lore. However, due to time constraints, it eventually became its own game with many events being told in past tense or in passing.
The story is a science fiction and fantasy mixed world like Chrono Trigger since many concepts of it were not suitable for a fantasy game so it was combined with both genres as a compromise. The world has a very dark and brooding atmosphere with lots of blood and violence, and should have been rated M instead of T. In fact, the game was almost not released in the west, due to the religious content it has in the game at that time. Today, concepts such as “killing god” is very much common place in JRPGS.
The game is set in an unnamed planet and it focuses on Fei Wong, a martial arts teacher and local painter who lives a peaceful quiet life. Suddenly one day, Fei’s village was attacked by a shadowy organization and he has no choice but to fight. He has to figure out why his village was attacked and soon, he and his friends get caught up in a much larger conspiracy and also the truth behind humanity’s existence.
The story and themes itself were influenced by many philosophers from Jung, Nietzsche and Freud and were very compelling to learn. Amnesia is theme heavily explored in the game as Fei has trouble remembering his past and is determined to find out how its connected to the main events of the game. Other psycholgical concepts explored are PTSD and Multiple Personality Disorder. Religion is a very important aspect and it's based off Abrahamic religions and borrows many references from it. It also isn’t afraid to show how dark religion can really be. There were also references to pop culture and it also was an interesting use of it too like for example Soylent System being named after “Soylent Green”
The game also explores the many negative aspects of human nature. Xenophobia is another aspect as the game shows the many conflicts between differences in culture and race. Like Demi-Humans and humans. One other theme explored in Xenogears is the consequences of blindly following any ideology without question and how people searching for a place in the world end up having extreme beliefs.
The main characters were quite complex and complicated in terms of morality. Fei Wong is a pacifist by nature and he avoids fighting at all costs. He suffers from very low self esteem and often wallows in self pity. Throughout the story he struggles with many events happening to him and to many others. There is no definite good or bad in the game as some characters are involved in morally grey areas while other characters are very much morally black. For the most part they were pretty likable.
The gameplay is a mix of the active time battle system seen in Chrono Trigger but with elements of martial arts combat. Each character has their own fighting style and special abilities to use both off mech and on mech. When forming combos by pressing certain buttons, you can pull off “deathblows” which are powerful attacks that are useful for taking down many enemies in the game. Some enemies could counterattack or even instantly kill you if you use them so you have to vary your techniques. You also earn AP points which can be used to pull off death blows without forming combos. At higher levels you can be able to earn more AP points.
Another important aspect of the game is also fighting in gears which are mechanical robots. You can be able to use special options for a gear which gives you the edge in combat by giving powerful blows to enemies. Later on in the game, depending on how much successful blows you deal to enemies and how much damage you have taken, you can use infinity mode, which allows you deal super powerful attacks to assailants.
You can call on gears anytime during combat and you can also use them to traverse the world, like the Yggdrasil ship which gets upgraded as the story progresses to the point you can freely explore the world more. It's also where you can customize gears and purchase items on the go and rest as well and later on change party members.
A very important part of the game is upgrading and customizing your gears. Enemies progressively grow more powerful as time goes by and you have to upgrade to keep up. Magic is used and each character depending on their background, like Fei using Chi or Citan using Arcane, it has different names and each character has their own unique elemental ether abilities: offensive or defensive.
In the game you can also find “drive” items to help increase your stats like health or ether. Gear combat is hand to hand but there is an annoying fuel system where you have to reserve your fuel carefully depending on each move you make consuming varying amount of your fuel. You can use boosters to speed up your attacks in combat which can be pretty useful.
The artstyle looks really incredible and so did the mecha and character designs. The pixelated graphics looked kind of fuzzy and so did the backgrounds of the world but that is to be expected. The sprites were decently animated as well too. The design of the world is a mix of 2D sprites with 3D backgrounds due to the technological limitations at the time.
The animation which looks very good for its time, was made by Production I.G and directed by Koichi Mashimo of the Noir fame. The animation was chosen because at the time, the art would have been too complicated to really animate in 3D animation so anime style was used. The controls were pretty straightforward and easy to learn. The Celtic inspired musical score by Matsuda Yatsunori was very good, if somewhat repetitive as you often heard much of the same songs over and over again.
There are some extras in the game. A mini game called “Men Of Sea” which is pretty much poker and if you win, you could get a useful prize. There is also a fighting tournament during disc 1 in Noturne where you have to defeat enemies in real time combat that plays out pretty similar to Tekken, but with mechs where you have to defeat enemies and form combos to defeat them quickly just like the active time battle system the game uses. As you win, you earn prizes and also money to purchase gear parts. There's also hidden Easter Eggs of stuff you can find so be on the look out for that.
The game had some flaws. Disc 2 was very rushed and the sections were played out as visual novels instead of in game visitation. The narration was excessive and long winded. Squaresoft rushed the game to release so they didn’t had time to fully polish the section off so they opted for a mostly visual novel styled disc 2.
The voice acting isn’t the best and neither is the script which is full of grammar errors and many other mistranslations. The comedy was really annoying and it distracted too much of the serious cutscenes. Many plot holes were there in the story such as the fate of certain characters. There was also a lot of missed chances like being able to take part in battles mentioned in disc 2. The level design was average and there was a lot of backtracking and filler in both story and level design. The camera especially in the game was pretty annoying. The cutscenes tend to drag out very long and the dialogue was quite slow. Some enemies you fought over and over again and sometimes it can be hard to grind for money as well since they don’t often drop it. Also, some enemies had very unfair attacks like instant kill or were damage sponges and took a while to defeat. Enemy battles are very random and can often happen every few seconds to the point it just gets so annoying. There was also a lot of cut content that sadly did not appear in the game. Overall, the flaws were minor annoyances in a great game.
Xenogears is considered one of the greatest JRPGs ever made and is still highly sought after. It gets 5 out of 5 stars.
This game would be absolutely perfect for a complete remake with all of the cut content that was supposed to be in the game included in it.