Saturday, September 16, 2000

Xenosaga Episode II

The story is Good. The movies are always entertaining, and the story is always interesting. It never reaches the emotional depths that the last game did. There seems to be a greater emphasis on making the whole thing more...unrealistic. The first game presented a believable future - all the technology was explained, things behaved realistically, etc. That's all thrown out in this might sound strange, but it seems to be more "Japanese" than Episode 1. Characters now swordfight in a Samurai style and shout things in what sounds very similar to Japanese. They shoot lasers out of their swords (and it's never explained why). There's even a character that wears samurai-ish robes. It destroys any believability this universe had.

Also, I'm personally disappointed that the game focused so much on Jr. (couldn't stand him from the first game), and not so much on wonderful KOS-MOS, who's not even present in the first half, and barely says two words in the second. And this is a Very Good Thing, because some of the voice actor changes were not for the better. Shion's VA is improved, but KOS-MOS's was a huge downgrade.

The music is also terrible compared to last game's. Episode 1 marked the first time I ran out and bought the soundtrack to a game. The beautiful orchestra and haunting chorus from that game have been replaced by forgettable boppy tunes, with maybe one decent melody in the whole thing.

Now, one to Dark One's taint = the gameplay. The battle system is easily the worst I have ever seen in any RPG. Ever. They aren't random - the enemies are onscreen. This is the One and Only Good thing. When you do touch an enemy, it takes a strangely long time to load. Your characters appear, one-by one. Then the monsters appear, one-by one. Sometimes, you'll be surrounded by the enemy. Other times, you'll surround the enemy yourself. This is Completely Random. Even if you attack an enemy from behind, you won't start the battle at the enemy's back. Which is too bad, as Back Attacks do more damage, and every time you enter a battle, you'll be desperate to scrape up as much damage as possible.

There's no such things as Powerful Moves here. You're forced to hit an enemy in specific "zones", which you do by hitting Triangle or Circle (did I mention the moves you do have no titles? Bye-bye, Moonlight Serenade or Spell Ray). Hit Triangle/Circle in the right order, and you get what's called a Zone Break. Now, you have to Boost your other characters in so they can damage the enemy while it's in this "break" stage. You boost the other characters by having them sit there and Not Attack during their own attack phase.

You are FORCED to do this - while some enemies do have special weaknesses, they're not exactly mind-blowing helpful for the majority of enemy types. Instead, you have to do the Zone Break, or all of your moves will do about 20 a creature that has 5,000 HP. And there's still 3 other creatures in the battle, all with 10,000 HP each.

Sound fun to you? Admittedly, once you DO get an enemy's weakness down, and get a Zone Break in, then Boost all of your characters in a row to take advantage of the enemy's weakness and the zone break, you can rack up huge damage. Sometimes it's even enough to take a single enemy down - and it only took 10 minutes to build up!

So, yes, the battle system will corrode your soul. Expect every battle to last at least 5 minutes, and that's if you're quick and know what you're doing. Meaning that you've already fought this enemy before and have either memorized it's Zone Break and weaknesses, or you've taught one of your characters a Memory skill.

And here's another embarassing part of the game. Every single character can learn every single skill. This completely destroys any individuality the characters had. KOS-MOS still has a couple special skills only she can use, but they're not nearly as impressive as the classics from the first game. Instead of being awed by what your characters are capable of, you cooly assign specific skills to each character based on what attributes you want in each battle. If that sounds fun to you, it's not. Many of these skills are useless, and characters will repeat skills that are helpful.

It's possible to "unlock" new skills and Double Attacks (two characters team up to attack) by undergoing the torture that is the game's sidequests. You run around, doing good deeds for people. These good deeds are very loosely explained, and very often involve playing fetch from place to place. I didn't even attempt it.

Other things that will leave you a blackened husk inside when the game is done: The puzzles in the dungeons. Oh how I wish my mind could let me forget them so I could live again. Unfortunately I can't, and so I will always remember shooting boxes to form a bridge, shooting boxes to clear a bridge, and shooting boxes of a specific color that explode other boxes of the same color around them. To form a bridge.

In conclusion, let me just say that I hope Episode 3 is better, or I will go insane. Or the Red Ajah will come for me in the form of Final Fantasy XII.

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