When we started playing Final Fantasy VII, a delirious Cloud Strife would mumble words that at the time seemed like gibberish. He said, “Xenogias…is coming”. Little did we know that a year later Xenogias would arrive in the form of Xenogears, one of the greatest role-playing video games of all time.
At times, the foreshadowing in the plot may seem confusing to players because of the amount of fictional jargon used to construct a universe filled with its own beliefs systems, but gaping questions are all answered throughout the course of the game. The subtlety with which the game handles somewhat heavy-handed issues (religion, death, abandonment, etc.) also keeps it from seeming too dark or overbearing.
The gameplay within Xenogears features highly innovative elements that far surpass any other console RPG. It completely immerses the player in the game’s world and gives the player a high level of interaction with the game systems. The combat system features not only the trademark Active Time Battle gauge but the ability to enter in a string of attack commands that are then carried out by the character chosen in real-time. These attacks can be either paired together manually to perform learned combos for extra damage, or they can be automatically unleashed on an enemy by powering up your AP meter beforehand. This feature in combat is not only refreshing in a turn-based RPG but gives players a higher level of interaction during battle.
After a certain point in the game, characters can also fight enemies while controlling large “Gears” or mechs. The controls for these combat sequences are almost the same as regular battles, but they incorporate a different type of strategy that is dependant upon the amount of fuel and the Attack Level of the character’s mech. The result of such variety in combat is a completely unique experience only matched, perhaps, by the battles in Sega’s Panzer Dragoon Saga.
Visually, Xenogears presents a mix of old and new by placing highly detailed sprite-based characters into polygonal 3D environments. With a good frame-rate and responsive controls, character movement within any terrain is fast and fluid. Characters can also jump, climb and swim during certain episodes and provides a good sense of flexibility for navigating different areas. This is key to giving what is usually the fairly static chore of exploring areas outside of battle a rather active feel.
But, beyond the technology and graphic flair of Xenogears, at its heart, the game spins a wonderfully written tale. It’s comforting to find a game of this caliber that made you realize that Xenogears definitely delivers. With an epic, involving storyline and highly innovative features, this title deserves to be heralded as Square’s pinnacle achievement.
Xenogears received critical acclaim, with praise from its storyline, gameplay, characters, and physiological and religious themes, though the rushed pace of the second disc, due to a lack of gameplay and excessive narration, was generally panned. The game had shipped over 1.19 million copies worldwide and it gained the cult classic status and is often acknowledged as one of the greatest role-playing video games of all time. While a direct sequel was never developed, Takahashi would later found the studio Monolith Soft and develop the Xenosaga trilogy as a spiritual successor.