Since it is Xenoblade Month, the folks at BagoGames decided to give all of our readers a surprise. That surprise is a review of the game that started it all, Xenogears! Without this game we wouldn’t have had the Xenosaga Trilogy, or Xenoblade 1,2 and X. We owe a lot to this title and the titles it spawned, please enjoy our look down memory lane.
The late ’90s and early ’00s were a golden era for Squaresoft JRPG’s, they seemed to have been pumping these bad boys out for the SNES and PlayStation at an inhuman rate. During that time period I wasn’t as into video games as I am now, and didn’t really know about all these quality games I was missing out on.
Thankfully due to re-releases like Chrono Trigger and the PlayStation Vita’s ability to play original PlayStation titles I have some long games to enjoy while under lockdown still. Xenogears has been a game I’ve wanted to play for quite some time. I found the original version for the PlayStation, but with life being the way it is, it can be difficult to play for hours on end as an adult.
Instead of plopping down in front of my Retro games television, I decided to spend ten dollars and play the game on the go with my PS Vita. This is probably the best way to play it now seeing that life just gets in the way of what we all love.
The game takes place on the continent of Ignas where, for hundreds of years, a war has been going on between the Kislev Empire in the North and the Kingdom of Aveh in the South. As in all wars both sides strive to find the best technology to defeat their foe. “Ethos” is what the warring nations used to excavate and repair the tools and weapons they found from ancient civilizations.
As the search went on “Gears” were found, these “Gears” were used to fight instead of men. This saved millions of lives on the battlefield. These “Gears,” or giant mechs attempted to turn the tide of the war, but Kislev eventually gained the upper hand. That was until a mysterious stranger named Gebler went to talk to the leaders of Aveh. Soon Aveh, ripe with power began to take over Kislev’s land.
The city of Lahan is where you story begins. You play as Fei, a young man who fell in battle 3 years ago. Fei was brought to the town by an old man who took care of him for those three years. Now, an integral part of town Fei begins to wonder where he came from. It seems the battle game him mild amnesia. This is where your quest begins, and man is it a long quest.
Xenogears happens to be lots of long dialogue scenes that you must read. That’s what seems to make it so long. If you could skip through them a little faster then the game wouldn’t take fifty hours or so. The storytelling is great, but if Square Enix was smart they’d toss this game into the Final Fantasy VII Remake engine and surprise everyone. It would be easier to handle, it’s like I’m reading a novel as I battle in a giant mech.
This title has aged wonderfully, somehow the mix of 2D and some 3D elements have allowed Xenogears to withstand the test of time. Basically the character sprites are 16-bit 2D goodness and the backgrounds are 3D. Developing the game like this gives it a very unique look and has allowed it to withstand the test of time.
If you put this up against Final Fantasy VII, which was released 2 weeks prior, Xenogears looks leaps and bounds better in the gameplay department.
3D cut scenes are somewhat hard to look at, but the Anime like cut scenes are gorgeous. Every time I play a game with Anime scenes like these it makes me want to get into that as well. Sadly I have enough hobbies so I just must dream.
All the characters and NPC’s have been very unique, I could tell who they were just by looking at them. That’s generally rare. The enemies you face though are all pretty common, they vary when you get to a new area but then you kill plenty of them.
The controls are actually pretty straight forward for an early Squaresoft JRPG. As usual, the D-Pad is move, if you want to run hold down Circle while you move. You’ll want to do this, this is a lengthy game. Triangle is jump, which is actually surprising in a JRPG, but you’ll need it for some awkward platforming. To access your menu, press Square; this is how you save, change equipment, use items, and the like. The left and right triggers rotate the cameras around so that you can see the terrain.
There are two different battle systems, one for hand to hand and the other for the mechs. They are similar, but have some glaring differences. It is good the developers kept them close to each other. Had they not then battles would have been confusing and difficult.
Fighting out of a mech you obviously have to wait your turn, as with all these JRPGs. When you get your turn you decide what you want to do, ITEM, CHI, ATTACK, and DEFENSE. CHI is the magic that you learn through the game which is metered and can cause havoc on certain enemies.
ATTACK allows you to attack different ways once you hit your face button, then you chose from Triangle, Square and X. These attacks take a certain amount of turns. Triangle is one point, Square is two points and X is three points. In your first few battles you only have three points to use, so you can press X once, or Triangle three times. As you gain levels you will be allowed to hit more and more because your limit gets bigger.
In the mech the battle mechanics are very similar. You get to pick from the same three choices but replace DEFENSE with CHARGE. Instead of only having a certain amount of hits you have fuel usage. Each hit takes a certain amount of fuel from your mech. If you run low on fuel use CHARGE and it will bring back about 30 to 40 fuel points. Both battle mechanics are fun and just a new way for Turn-Based. I know I’m not good at JRPG’s but I have not encountered a battle system like this before.
The Rough Development
Xenogears had a very difficult time being born. The brainchild of creator Tetsuya Takahashi, Xenogears had a sordid development in around 1995. Seeing that Final Fantasy VII was being developed at the same time, not as much money was given to Takahashi’s dream. Also at that time Squaresoft was adamant that a game takes two years to develop, then it must be ready. This damaged the second disc, and basically the ending of the game.
Since Takahashi was given a relatively new staff to develop his game, and with this being some of their first forays into 3D on the PlayStation; development went at a snail’s pace. After two years the amazing first disc had been completed, but they were far behind schedule. Takahashi had to pitch the almost prose second disc to Squaresoft just so that players could get some form of closure.
Xenogears is a MUST PLAY JRPG for any gamer. I’ve always been a survival horror enthusiast, but now that I’m middle-aged I’m trying to play some of the must-play games I missed out on. This title blew my mind and made me a little sad that I didn’t experience it before all this time had passed.
I do remember buying Final Fantasy VII when I was eighteen, and since I was pre-occupied trying to understand that game, two weeks later I completely missed out on Xenogears.
I’m glad that my tastes have changed enough to allow me to enjoy some of the finer games of our past. This game is difficult to play as an adult seeing as we have to work and other responsibilities so I would suggest if you have a PS Vita or PSP to download it to one of those and you won’t be glued to a TV.
Having a portable version of the game made it easier for me to enjoy, I wouldn’t be able to play it on a TV nowadays. When I was eighteen I’m sure that I could find the time, but I know the only reason I finally beat the Final Fantasy VII Remake is that I’m on lockdown.
What do you think about our Xenogears review? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section. Are you enjoying Xenoblade Month? Why don’t you take a look at the unboxing of the EU Collector’s Set? Don’t forget to register for the tournament we have going on right now!
Another look back at an early Squaresoft title that unfortunately wasn't finished properly due to funding and other unforeseen events.
- Amazing all encompassing story
- Long game, well worth your time
- Mix of 2D and 3D graphics works very well
- Combat is simple to learn and very fun
- When you move as a 2D sprite around the 3D areas it can be a bit disorienting, I found myself getting turned around a lot in the towns
- The back end of the game really wasn't finished due to internal problems in Squaresoft and lack of funds