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Xenosaga: Episode II - Jenseits von Gut und Böse (PlayStation 2)

73
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.6
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Kyle Levesque (329)
Written on  :  Jul 29, 2010
Rating  :  3.86 Stars3.86 Stars3.86 Stars3.86 Stars3.86 Stars

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Summary

The second course is served without gravy.

The Good

I really enjoyed Unicorn Lynx’s review, many good points were made. I will try not to tread over the same ground, but I do feel the need to share my frustrations with the over-all lack of polish I felt this game has in comparison to the original.

LET’S TALK GAME-PLAY
  • The battle system is sped up considerably, cutting down the time you spend watching the same battle animations over and over.

  • The new way to destroy obstacles with a character specific attack instead of a ‘vaporizer’ gives more flavour to the lead character.

  • The mapping of the interface is fine, and the menu system is logical. The ‘skill points to unlock skills’ system means that every character is a blank template vis-à-vis FF8’s Junction System - The roles of healer, fighter, supporter are determined by the player, and I do like having such freedoms

  • The action seems faster in a lot of scenario’s because of environment layout. The camera is improved from Xenosaga I in that it doesn’t blind you to doors as often.
LET’S TALK GRAPHICS
  • Proper human proportions are observed far better in this game. It takes serious balls in my opinion to so radically change the art style of some characters while staying static with others, but why should I complain? They are the designers and the changes were all made with good intent. Shion, KOS-MOS, and MOMO bear the brunt of the changes and they are all positive in my opinion.

  • The size of the maps seems to be increased, the areas are much larger in the encephalon dive into MOMO.

  • Better physical motion capture for cut scenes.
LET’S TALK SOUND
  • I’ve got nothing to say. Read “The Bad” section on sound though. Okay, I will say that chaos’ voice is better than in the original - there is a world-weariness that wasn’t present in the first installment.
LET’S TALK STORY:
  • The intent of Episode II Is fully and wholly to continue the story of Episode I. It does this while staying true to the established story and was obviously intended and pre-planned during development of Episode I. It does what it is supposed to do, and in the final acts it does it very well.

The Bad

This game was either pushed out ahead of time or the developers did not feel the need to put the same amount of effort into it that went into the first.

LET'S TALK GAME-PLAY
  • Although the speeding up of the battle system is nice in one way, the changes over-all rob the feeling of power you felt in the first title. The amount of FX is also reduced, no longer do clouds of sparks shoot off simple attacks. It would be anathema to have to exact battle system from one game to the next, I understand that, but I do not agree with this change. Gone also are the 'rows' function from the previous, which would have been handy considering that you now have two long-range only characters.

  • I complimented the interface of the menu earlier, it is very simple compared to Episode I. It is also very simple compared to Episode I, and not in a good way. Here are some things torn out of the menu for this sequel:

    • E-mail function; In the first you could invest in different corporations and reap different rewards. You also got personal e-mails and items through this. It made it feel like a fuller world.

    • Encyclopedia; Everything about the plot and characters. This reference was handy with such a complicated story. Considering the story gets more complicated in II, this would have been even nicer.

    • Equipment; The idea of upgrading weapons, armour and accessories is a STAPLE of role playing games. It allows developers a carrot on a stick to lure players down difficult side quests in hopes of a cool reward. The logical step would have been more visible weapons and outfits. They decided to remove them all together.

    • Techniques; Upgrading different attacks depending on the battle tactics you favour was a neat part of Episode I. You could only equip a certain # at a time, and would unlock new ones at certain character levels - so it required tact to decide when to upgrade an old skill or replace it with a potentially powerful new one. All of these were a thrill to watch in battle, at least the first 10 times. I would not complain about this if they had replaced it with something, anything. But now it's just gone.

    • Tech points; Ether points, Skill points. In Episode I Tech points could be spent on base stats like HP, Strength, etc, or on upgrading techniques. Ether points were used to unlock new abilities on a character specific "tree" that had spells tailored for each character relevant to their back story. Skill points were used to extract skills from items, and you would independently 'level up' your extraction skill by using this ability. While Episode II allows for about the same level of character customization, it's done in a much less thoughtful way.

    • Mini Games; This is the worst for me. What kind of Japanese RPG doesn't have mini-games? Final Fantasy 1 had a mini-game. Xenosaga Episode 1 had three great minigames: Xenocard, the Driller Game, and an A.G.W.S. fighting game. Phenomenal for a single game, that ads 10-20 hours easy. Even a watered down or inferior game (like the change between the FF8 and FF9 card games) would have been something.
LET'S TALK GRAPHICS:
  • The sheer polygon count may be higher, but this game lacks the polish of Episode I by leaps and bounds. Look at the in-game hands for the characters. They look like action-figure hands with all four fingers glued together in a blocky fashion. I wouldn't care if this was carried over from the first - but in Episode I each finger was crafted separately like an anime figurine - and that is the difference I'm getting at. This game was cranked out like a $12 action figure - not sculpted like an $80 collectible figurine.

  • Where is Ziggy’s hardware? I understand that the in-battle huge switch-blade on Ziggy’s arm was integral to the combat system of the first, but removing it altogether just makes him seem disproportional. Now he has huge legs and a tiny upper body.

  • The small objects that impressed in Episode I are replaced by wide-angle shots in cut scenes. Data pads, cell phones, little things that are hard to produce were just left out.

  • The area’s are distinctively blander than the first Episode, the interplay of spaces and camera angles are not used with the same effect. The church, and the forest in the encephalon are examples of the first episode outshining the second.
LET’S TALK SOUND:
  • “Magical Powers, Grant Me a Miracle” Oh, my, God. This is one of the most frequently heard lines in either Episode, MOMO is a healer and this is what she says when she casts a spell. In Episode I the audio was clean, crisp, and done in a way that wasn’t grating on the nerves. Episode II she must have phoned this one in - it’s terrible! Crackly, forced, croaking - who was in charge of approving this? Do we need any more proof that this game was rushed?

  • ‘Say it faster this time’ the battle quips that were retained from the first were re-recorded with the actors speaking faster. It robs the emotion from the statements.

  • I own the Episode I soundtrack. I will not be buying the Episode II soundtrack. Yasunori Mitsuda did not return for this round and it shows horribly. One track in particular is so discordant with the theme of the series that I was in disbelief. The ‘light comedy’ theme that plays when Shion and Jin are reunited is completely out of place. The ‘light comedy’ theme from Episode I that played during the “Elsa Diner” scene was a masterpiece by comparison. Again I’m going to blame time constraints or laziness, remnants of Mitsuda’s work like the ‘Song of Nephilim’ are the only positives.
LET’S TALK STORY:
  • Perhaps we should be thankful that the story was mapped out as a trilogy from the start, because this is an area that it doesn’t suffer in. But then again perhaps if they had not felt constrained to push this one out to start working on the third we would have gotten a finished product.

  • The direction in the cut scenes, despite having more advanced motion capture, is amateur at compared to the first outing. I felt much more compelled to skip scenes as soon as I got the gist of where they were going.

The Bottom Line

I’m not sure who to blame, but I’m not happy with this game. As soon as canal chase was done and I actually got the play some of the game I realized this. Can I understand the reasons for the changes I don’t approve of? Yes, I can.

With this game came a special “Xenosaga Episode I DVD”. It was the cut scenes from the first game. Xenosaga is first and foremost a story told in cut scenes and secondly a game to the developers. The first Episode put a lot of complex RPG elements into the game-play, making it old-school and for hard core players who need to be able to play with stats.

Maybe they thought to themselves; “Hey, if this is a game where you primarily walk from point A to B and watch a 5 minute cut scene before repeating the process - why bother with complex menus and equipment?” Out of the 25 or so hours it takes to play the story through at least half of that is cut scenes.

I really like this kind of cinematic approach to gaming that started with Metal Gear Solid - but cinematics aren’t an excuse to downgrade the game-play. If this had been the first run I would not be complaining, but I have seen them do better and I hold them to their past work.

SO WHY IS THE RATING ABOVE AVERAGE IF I HATE THE GAME?

Because I need to be honest. This game doesn’t deserve lower than mediocrity in any field except for my personal feelings. It is, when compared to its contemporaries, a very decent game. It just doesn’t break the ground of its predecessor.