The Greatest Game I Ever Played – “Xenosaga”
After my first trip through Xenosaga Episode I, I could not wait for more. At the time, I had never played an RPG that brought it’s story to life in such a wonderful presentation. Episode II came and was considered a letdown to many, though I enjoyed it (despite my enjoyment, I can still admit it is the most flawed entry in the series) as the story I became so absorbed in over 30+ hours in Episode I just entangled me in deeper in its web. Finally, Episode III was released, and I have not enjoyed a game (RPG or not) to the same extent since.
Xenosaga crafts its magic in large part through its story. The story is highly complex, symbolic, and expansive (all great qualities). If you have not heard of the series, or its spiritual predecessor Xenogears, the plot is heavily rooted in philosophical (in particular Friederich Nietzsche as you can tell by each episode’s subtitle) and religious themes, with depth in character development, and clever plot twists. The story focuses around Shion, a head R&D employee at the Vector Corporation, who is involved in developing an android used for battle against an alien life form called the Gnosis. The story grows more complex as the Zohar, an object capable of immense power that supposedly spawned the Gnosis and also provides the only way to return to Lost Jerusalem (aka Earth), is sought after by different corporations and factions. More and more layers to the plot are unraveled and the story spans the universe in scope. To say more would be to spoil the exceptional plot and to deprive the player of any enjoyment of this story would be a crime.
To make the story come to life, the developers present it in extremely well-crafted cutscenes and movies. When the game was released, many argued that the cutscenes were too much, pulling the player out of actually “playing” the game (and, yes, there are scenes that last upward of an hour – think Metal Gear Solid-style presentation in an RPG, which is certainly a compliment from me). The scenes are very well done and, for me, brought me further into the experience as opposed to taking me out of it. To sum up these last two paragraphs – if you play your games for plot, and are pushed forward by waiting to see what happens next, this is a game for you.
Speaking of the cutscenes, the graphics throughout the series are top-notch for the system. The cutscenes look beautiful and even the in game character models are excellent for the console generation. From battle animations, to character designs, to the mechs both in and out of combat, everything has the attention to detail that sets quality titles apart from the crowd.
Another aspect of Xenosaga that brings everything together is the wonderfully composed soundtrack. Every scene is enhanced by and each new area perfectly defined by the music done by Yuki Kajiura (and the always great Yasunori Mitsuda in Episode I). There are plenty of standout tracks across all three games and the music is another piece that makes the series such a great gaming experience.
Moving on to the core of the player control, gameplay. The battle system used across the series evolves in each series, but still has a similar core. This core revolves around points that characters can use to act (with each action costing a certain number of points). This becomes more in-depth as you can save points for the following turn to allow a character to perform a more powerful special attack. This combat is enhanced by the use of mechs in combat along with some very strategic systems (including the ability to “boost” a character’s turn to alter the turn order), with more being implemented in Episodes II and III.
Xenosaga is one of those games that is a complete package. With a fun, intricate battle system, beautiful graphics, and a moving soundtrack, all surrounding the greatest video game story I have had the pleasure of experiencing, the series has crafted something that I have yet to experience before or after in a video game. Xenosaga is the greatest game I ever played.