Xenogears

aka: Project Noah, Xenosaga Episode V: Xenogears
Moby ID: 4154
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Description official descriptions

A war has been raging on the continent of Ignas between the Kislev Empire to the north and the kingdom of Aveh in the south. It has gone for so long that people have forgotten the cause. As a mysterious organization known as "Ethos" introduces an ancient technology in the form of huge mega-robots, the tides are turning. Gebler, a military organization with an unknown agenda, is pulling the strings and supports Aveh to regain its authority over Kislev.

A failed attempt to steal one of Kislev's new Gears, a giant robot named "Weltall", leads to a fight between a group of Gebler and Kislev guards in the remote town of Lahan in the outskirts of Aveh. One of the villagers, Fei Fong Wong, impulsively takes possession of "Weltall" and steers it to fight. As Fei's best friend Timothy is killed during the battle, he releases a massive wave of energy and destroys the whole village together with one of his close friends, Alice.

After this tragedy, Fei is blamed for the destruction of the village and the death of his friends. Pursued by military governments and mysterious forces, Fei sets out on an epic quest for answers and his own forgotten past.

Xenogears is a Japanese-style RPG with a few distinguishing features. The characters have the ability to jump, which must be used on several occasions to access specific locations. There are two types of combat in the game: standard and gear. In standard combat, the characters fight with equipped weapons, learning and performing different combos that can be executed in one turn. But often the heroes will have to explore dungeons while piloting giant robots called "gears". Gear combat follows different rules: they are able to perform actions until they run out of fuel, therefore the player must concentrate on finishing the enemy quickly. It is possible to equip various accessories on the gears, including those that will let them partially restore fuel. Gears cannot level up, but can be upgraded in workshops.

Spellings

  • ゼノギアス - Japanese spelling

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Credits (PlayStation version)

292 People (282 developers, 10 thanks) · View all

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Mechanical Design
Co-Character Design
Co-Mechanical Design
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Chief Artistic Design
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[ full credits ]

Reviews

Critics

Average score: 91% (based on 23 ratings)

Players

Average score: 4.0 out of 5 (based on 96 ratings with 5 reviews)

Ye Olde Bible Could Use Some Japanese Mecha In It

The Good
You know those games. Games, that don't require you to save the world, don't feature outlandish mixes of fantasy and sci-fi, short on exposition and usually dealing with "relationship" problems and personal dramas. These games can be adequately described as chamber games, taking cues from filmmaking and classical music. Do you like the sound of it? Well, suck it up, pal. Because, Xenogears, is the exact opposite of the game I described above. It's 100% concentrated epic. Hell, if you ever wanted to define "epic" in a single word, Xenogears is the word to go for. This game is grand, it plays with titans and gods, Freudian psychoanalysis, organized religion and Jungian philosophy. It doesn't shy away from destroying nations and exploring the genesis of life itself. It's an enormous leviathan, filled with delusions of grandeur and megalomania. It's monumental and relentless on its mission to explode your brain from within, with hundreds of plotlines, dozens of twists, numerous characters and the whole library worth of backstory, shifting gears (no pun intended) far beyond the capacities of any reasonable gearbox. And it also has giant robots and a cutesy sidekick animal that says "chu" instead of "to" or "too".

You can immediately tell its a Japanese game. The maxim of making everything either as cool as possible, or as grand as possible or as saturated as possible is in full play here. However, there is also aplenty of stuff that really separates the game from other <moby>SquareSoft</moby> RPGs. The most important difference here, is that story is the ultimate boss, not a single character can be named a protagonist, even Fei - the character you play with most of the time is but another thread in weaving the tapestry of Xenogears story. Leave your emotional problems upon entry, nobody cares if your father didn't appreciate for what you were, nobody cares if you can't express your feelings adequately, here people play with gods and demons, far beyond the petty problems of mere mortals.

In the end, it's definitely cool, that moving at a breakneck pace, in effort to tell its grand story, the game forgets the half of its cast on the sidewalk, once they've served their function as many cogs moving the story of Xenogears forward. Including an obligatory cutesy animal, thankfully. No time for comic relief, we have a powerful story of majestic proportions to tell! Actually, there is rarely time for anything. Thinking about it now, it seems that the game pace moved with the speed of light, changing major players, motivations and identities every two minutes or so. Which is rather impressive, for despite its length, neither part of the game's narrative feels dispensable. Something happens all the time, the development of plot never stops. And it's nothing but commendable, in light of many jRPGs, artificially prolonging their narratives, just to put a bullet point about 100+ hours of story and gameplay.

About gameplay. It's hilarious how immersed the creators have become in their story, that they often forget that its actually a game, and that the player is also expected, by definition, to do... stuff. It feels like they've hired someone specifically for the purpose of entering the busy room of developers team once in a while, and saying "Are you working on gameplay portions?" followed by the disgruntled sighs "Oh, yeah... totally forgot about that. Let's put a boss fight here... or something". Not to say that the gameplay isn't without its share of imagination. It's part generic jRPG fare, with random battles and grinding, part a fighting game with combos and special moves. Once a selection of moves has been learned, one can employ those abilities while fighting in giant robots or, as they called them in the game, gears. Unfortunately, the game doesn't really have time to explore this promising system at any significant depth, for the reasons mentioned above. Thankfully, the gameplay portion of this visual novel is never a nuisance, the game is very easy. Every single boss requires only but a few strategically placed kicks in the nuts to get out of your way.

Another thing worthy of praise is the game's presentation. It's basically a Playstation game with SNES sensibilities. No need for fancy 3D model, if a lushly animated sprite will do the trick. And looking at the horrible simplicity of character models in <moby>Final Fantasy VII</moby>, I think it was a correct choice. The environment is in full 3D, however, removing much of the annoyance of pixel hunting in the prerendered stills of Xenogears bigger and more popular <moby game="Fina Fantasy VII">sistergame</moby>. The design is also great. Especially the interiors. Little cups, pots, pictures, sinks, stoves are painstakingly detailed with warm light flooding the room through the open window, evoking the first moments of <moby>Chrono Trigger</moby>, the game featuring the same level of detail. Another similarity with <moby>Chrono Trigger</moby> is Xenogears score. While not exactly well-versed in Japanese game composers, I have still unmistakably identified the author of Xenogears music, by his style and touch alone.

Robots are cool too. I'm not a mecha fan, but I definitely enjoyed the introduction of every new gear, and always looked forward to trying them out in battle. <br><br>**The Bad**<br>The major problem is the one I've already mentioned. While I don't mind long cutscenes to munch popcorn (I hate popcorn, btw) to, I do become easily annoyed when I'm asked to hit a confirmation button every time someone finished a sentence, or even performed the infamous Japanese art of dots pronouncing i.e. ".....", ".....!", ".......!??!", and my all time favourite  "!!!......!?..I..?". No idea what those are supposed to mean.

No to say that substituting dots with actual words makes sentences any better. While on macrolevel, the narrative of Xenogears is incredibly complex, entangled and rich, on microlevel of words, sentences and phraseological units, its rather dull and pedestrian. A sin shared with many other jRPGs, so no big deal, if you're used to this strain of Japanese/American teenage anime talk.

Another point I would like to make deals with the fact, that the game is unfinished, and obviously was rushed towards the release by the forces unknown to me. The 2nd disc is a good indicator of that. Having lost the support, money or time, but not willing to sacrifice the original story plan, the developers chose to present the rest of its grandiose storyline with walls of text backgrounded by a handful of still frames. Obviously, the game suffered as a result. The already fast pace nearly skyrocketed, with events happening so fast, that its beyond human abilities to keep up. Side plot lines like those of Rico's claim to royalty, or the relationship between Bart and Sig are also never explored, let alone resolved, the same with many other characters arcs like Billy's, Emeralda's etc.

And lastly, although it isn't really fair to criticize the game for being what it is, I can't help but feel, that perhaps Xenogears does take itself too seriously. Don't get me wrong, I did dig all the Biblical stuff, and as I said in oneliner, it definitely is a much more enjoyable piece of work than Bible, now that it has giant bipedal robots, and god is nothing but a... nah, won't spoil it. But really, sometimes, it does go a bit too self-conscious with its epic madness of a story. And given the amount of symbolism it carries over from religion, philosophy and psychology, it wouldn't have hurt to be, I dunno, more playful with it. Mirroring the crucifixion scene at Golgotha, with Jesus substituted with a giant mech is an example of that. And, unfortunately, it never gets any wilder that that.

The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that if you never experienced even a faint interest in the genre of jRPG, Xenogears won't sway you over. If, however, like me, you are equally mesmerized by them as you are frustrated by their deficiencies, Xenogears is a gem. It's a game, which couldn't have been made outside Japan. It's a grand, awe inspiring and a genuinely deep adventure, with no equivalent to be found in miles. It's better than any Final Fantasy and it's one of my favourite jRPGs ever.

Basically, if there ever was a way to convincingly marry Jesus and Freud in a ceremony involving giant walking robots and flying submarines - this is it.

PlayStation · by St. Martyne (3648) · 2009

Ye shan't be as gods if ye have more cutscenes than gameplay

The Good
Xenogears became famous for its enormously complex story that tried to deal with deep psychological and religious issues.

The game's main hero is Fei, an orphan who was found abandoned in a village. Most of the time you control Fei or his party (whose members change all the time). Fei will start his journey once he is chased away from the village, but soon he will find himself involved in a war between two kingdoms. This is, however, just the beginning of an incredibly complicated plot that outdoes pretty much everything I've seen before in Japanese RPGs or any other kind of video games.

The amount of psychological, social, ethical, and religious problems raised by Xenogears has few, if any, parallels within the medium. The gradual, relentless development of the story is singularly impressive, and the amount of plot twists mind-boggling. The story starts as a more or less conventional tale about war, but what grows out of this is a remarkable (though not necessarily successful) attempt to analyze the nature of faith and religion, trace back the origin of mankind, and face unanswered questions.

The game has an overwhelming amount of characters, each with a well-developed background and importance to the plot. The smaller quests - personal stories of the characters - are organically woven into the main plot, and every character brings with him a piece to the puzzle that will be solved only at the end of the game. Fei is easily one of the most complex video game characters ever, and most of the supporting characters are interesting, colorful, and varied.

The one interesting aspect of the gameplay is gear combat, where your characters fight while piloting large mechs. Nearly a half (or perhaps more) of the game's dungeons can be accessed only with gears. Gear combat doesn't work the same way as hand-to-hand battles and requires different tactics. Your gigantic armored suits can't level up, and you upgrade them only in shops or at certain points of the game. They also lose fuel each time they attack. Gear combat can therefore get quite tricky, especially during the last portion of the game and the final battles, where fuel is precious and you have to think about preserving it all the time.

The Bad
Unfortunately, Xenogears is just not that good of a game. It is a classic example of a late-nineties Japanese RPG where plot matters more than gameplay. The creators of the game crammed huge amounts of cartoony plot twists and uninspired dialogue into the game, but forgot about what matters most.

For starters, the game's system is nowhere as flexible as in Final Fantasy games. Characters have neither pronounced class traits nor allow any kind of free-form customization; they automatically learn some fairly meaningless spells when they level up, and that's it. They can execute and store combo moves, but this never surpasses the level of a harmless gimmick because no tactical thinking is required: the game is too easy. On-foot combat is generally utterly forgettable, not in the least due to its disproportionally low difficulty; gear battles are a bit better, especially in the later stages. But overall, there is almost no challenge in the game.

In fact, it seems that combat system and much of the gameplay were added to the game as an afterthought, to accompany its monstrous story rather than the other way around. The game masks its linearity fairly well during the first half of the game, where you explore large areas and where setpieces are varied and progression is dynamic. It all, however, goes downhill in the second half - which is where Final Fantasies usually open up and provide optional areas and access to secrets. Sadly, there is way too little of that in Xenogears, and it comes too late, just before the final confrontation. The rest of the second disc consists of long text blocks unabashedly summarizing events that should have been shown through gameplay, interspersed with streamlined dungeon romps in a most weirdly artificial, disjointed fashion. The game is generally fond of lengthy cutscenes done with the engine, with little cinematic handling and plenty of averagely translated, overly verbose exchanges between characters. Only very few cutscenes are presented as anime-style movies, and they are very short.

Finally, the ambitious story of Xenogears is not all good. First of all, like with most anime-influenced narratives, one should take it cum grano salis. An example is the determination of the Japanese to include "cute" characters in every story. Personally, I didn't "hate" Chu-Chu as much as many other people seem to have; but I can understand how annoying such characters and similar instances can be for someone who expects serious treatment of very risky material. Unfortunately, said material is often handled with irksome nonchalance. Biblical topics are being thrown around with next to no coherence, and the developers' comprehension of religions is revealed as roughly matching the ravings of a confused adolescent who has just discovered the romance of mythologized philosophy from a book written by a nineteen-century amateur. Basically, it's all a giant mess, albeit one the writers clearly tried to infuse with creativity.

The Bottom Line
In the end, Xenogears is an overblown, messy game that treats its own gameplay with unjustified negligence, and collapses under the enormous dead weight of its freakish narrative. The storytelling megalomania of the game's creators cannot compensate for its lackluster and chunky gameplay.

PlayStation · by Unicorn Lynx (181794) · 2016

The reason why even after some slips I still respect Squaresoft

The Good
Xenogears is truly an incredible experience, and much of it comes thanks to the fact that it is a very experimental, chance-taking game. Riding hot on the success of FF7, Square took a big chance and released a very atypical rpg with the knowledge that even if it bombed due to it's weird graphics, complex and philosophical story, etc, etc. FF8 would redeem it since it was tailor-made to please the masses. I really don't know if Xenogears was a commercial success or not, but I do know that it is one Square's greatest games.

The game takes place in a fantasy world (which is, in turn, surprisingly similar to ours) where two powerful nations are at war with powerful mechs named Gears, and secret organizations move all sort of strings from the shadows. Suddenly the war will reach an innocent village, home to an orphan named Fei, and when said village becomes attacked, the naive Fei will take control of a Gear and in a sudden release of power, destroy his enemies, the village, and everyone he loves in it. That small confrontation will be the stepping stone to one of the most complex and ground breaking stories I've ever encountered in a game, as Fei leaves the remains of his village in a self-imposed exile, he'll become entangled in the war that is brewing and find out that his release of power wasn't all that accidental. He'll eventually join a revolutionary movement and discover that the war is secretly being motivated by a shadowy nation whose objectives will grow to be larger than the typical "world domination" scheme and actually include human evolution and very deep religious and philosophical affairs. And if you think you have seen that before you are right, the game is heavily inspired by that masterpiece of animation known as Evangelion. But Xenogears, free of the constraints that a tv show has, is able to go the extra mile and pose all sorts of questions regarding life, religion, and our own identities. But perhaps the finest achievement in Xenogears is the way the story is presented, instead of marching proudly to accomplish an objective or perform a specific task, the plot is revealed in layers and layers that transcends each other, the patented Square "complex hero" plotline reveals a deeper dilemma when all reality is shattered and exposed as a lie, after which you find yourself confronting god itself (if it can be called that) and the source of all creation... and after which you come full circle in a... well, let's leave that as a surprise ;)

The graphics in the game are also very rare, instead of CGI cutscenes Square used traditional cel-animated ones, and for the in-game graphics they used a mix of 3D backgrounds and objects, with 2D characters! That's right, I told ya this game took chances and none are more evident than the graphics. Plus instead of going the super-realistic route, the characters are rendered in the traditional "Super Deformed" way that make them look like they were ripped right out of a Snes, given a technical workout, and placed in a fully 3D world. You may ask how can I include such an unholy union in the "good" part, and that is simply because it gives the game a unique and excellent style that no other has. It takes the subtleties that only simpler art can give you and the freedom of exploration that a 3D environment give to make one stunning game world.

Also interestingly inventive is the game system, which includes some platform-game touches (tough don't worry... or actually do! [read "the bad"]) and features a fighting game-like fighting system. Fights are turn based, and can be on Gears or mano-a-mano, but instead of being handled over a buttload of menus, they are controlled by your pad's buttons: press X and you execute a hard blow, press O and you do a kick, etc. with your only limitation being a series of Action Points. As your character goes up in levels you'll be able to execute "special moves" by pressing sequences of buttons and even unleash combos by not attacking and storing those APs. Once again this system works perfectly with the game and seems like a breath of fresh air by cutting out the hassle and enhancing the action for each encounter.

The Bad
Well for starters some of the stuff in the game are, due to their experimental nature, love-or-hate. I loved the graphics and the arcade-like battle system, but I'm aware that some of you will grow to hate them (especially the graphics), ahh...what can you do...

The only big gripe I've got with the game is that it is completely linear in nature, even for a console rpg! Save for some secret items and the choice to finish the game with merely a competent cast or with every character at level 1.000.000 there's not much you can do. There's one BIG (and I do mean BIG) side-plot that explains some stuff, but all there is to do is obligatory, so there's no "buttloads of secrets" in this one like on the FFs. Also, for as chance-taking as the storyline is, there are unfortunately quite a bit of the Square-touches (cue in the patented flying ship, the cutey character, the "big-strong-character-that-is-menacing-but-really-has-a-heart-of-gold", the hidden traumas for the main character, etc. etc. etc...) not enough to detract from the experience, but enough to make you think "Couldn't they leave those things out at least ONCE??!".

The other big gripe I've got is with the platform touches, they include some stupid jumping puzzles and obstacle avoiding, I said don't worry because unlike other console rpg's (hello Nintendo!) they are few and far between, but this is also bad because it means that when you get to them you'll be ill prepared and get incredibly frustrated as you fall, get killed, etc.

Lest I forget, the dubbing is HORRIBLE! I hear this is not Electronics Arts fault since the animation wasn't even done for Japanese dialogue in the beginning, but still... the mouths keep moving for up to 5 seconds after the dialogue has ended!!

The Bottom Line
A very odd console rpg that holds one of the most complex and well constructed stories ever to grace a computer game. I usually tend to think of this one as FF7.5, but it is actually a great game in its own right. Despite it's few flaws (which were something to expect in a game that is really one big experiment) it is quite simply a game that is too good to be true. If only Square dedicated to take chances more often instead of trying to keep making "hip" pseudo rpgs...

PlayStation · by Zovni (10503) · 2001

[ View all 5 player reviews ]

Discussion

Subject By Date
2D Sprites? SharkD (425) Aug 17, 2009
Preparations for the final boss Donatello (466) Sep 28, 2008
Question regarding gear deathblow skills Donatello (466) Sep 4, 2008

Trivia

1001 Video Games

The PS1 version of Xenogears appears in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die by General Editor Tony Mott.

Artbook

A companion artbook called Xenogears: Perfect Works exists. In addition to containing tons of original art from the game, it also contains details on events, character names, places and references to the backstory including all the other Xenosaga games (published years after Xenogears)

Controversy

There was some controversy surrounding the US release of Xenogears regarding the religious context of the title. Apparently the game was originally going to be heavily edited during the translation process. The reason? the game makes use of lots of catholic references (the Babel tower even appears as a location in the game) and makes some...controversial allegories on the game (ie. -SPOILER- the major religion on the planet turns out to be an entire fraud and a front to exploit people, etc). Fortunately save some item/monsters renaming the entire translation ended up being faithfull to the original.

German Language Usage

The creators of Xenogears made much use of the German language, in particular when naming the gears. A large amount of gears' names are actually German words. For example, "Weltall" means "universe", and "Stier" is "bull". Two gears are named Achtzehn and Seibzehn: the first word means "18", and the second would have meant "17", if it were not incorrectly spelled: the German word for 17 is "Siebzehn". Another gear is named "Vierge"; this is not German, but French, and means... "virgin". Hmm. If you say so... ;D

Kislev

Kislev, the name of one of the two rival empires of the game's universe, is actually just a month of the traditional Hebrew calendar!

References

  • There's a ton of sci-fi references in this game, both to the obvious japanese "giant robot" series, as well as some western sci-fi. For instance, the elements final form of attacking you is by joining their gears in an exact replica of all the Super Sentai (Power Rangers, etc.) sequences; When the Yggdrasil joins the Norturne city to form the super-gear you see it's called the "Super Dimensional Gear Yggdrasil" this is a reference to the old Robotech show were the big city-ship SDF-1 transformed itself in a giant robot (on the original japanese version (Macross) the ship was called Super Dimensional Fortress Macross).

  • References to western sci-fi include the name of the ship in the opening, the USS Eldridge (remember the Philadelphia Experiment?) and the Soylent System, which is, of course, made of peopleeeeeee!!

  • Heavy references to the Bible are found in abundance in "Xenogears". The old legend about the first humans who ate a forbidden fruit and thus "became like gods", which is the core of the game's story, is taken from the beginning of the Old Testament. The Babel Tower also appears in the first book of Moses. There are some subtler references. For example, the three wise men Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior are the exact names of the three mages who visited Jesus in Bethlehem.

  • Lucca from Chrono Trigger makes an appearance in Xenogears. She can be found right in the beginning of the game, in Lahan's Information House, teaching you about save points.

  • The name of one of the key characters in the game, Citan Uzuki, is a reference to Dr. Gitanes, the hero of Square's very first game, The Death Trap. Also note that both characters are doctors.

Special edition

There is a special edition of the game available in Japan as part of Squaresoft's Millenium Collection. The game is the same but can be found on two different packages with brand new cd art, one featuring Fei and the other Elly. Also the Fei package comes with a Fei and Bart plastic figure and the Elly package comes with Elly and Chu-chu.

Information also contributed by Ash Ligast II, Unicorn Lynx and WildKard.

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by msl.

PS Vita added by Fred VT. PSP, PlayStation 3 added by Charly2.0.

Additional contributors: Zovni, Unicorn Lynx, Shoddyan, DreinIX, —-, Patrick Bregger, Thomas Thompson, FatherJack.

Game added May 25, 2001. Last modified January 16, 2024.