February 27, 2003

impressions/replay

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at February 27, 2003 9:51 AM Before you die, you see the pendant.

I'm going to write about my Xenosaga impressions today, because I've been walking around in a daze all morning replaying the cutscenes in my mind. The Federal Office of Spoiler Protection mandates that I issue the following spoiler warning: I'm going to write about the first few hours of the game; if you've seen Ziggy make his first appearance, you're safe.

Like Xenogears, the game starts out with a long and fairly boring introductory sequence. Walking around the Woglinde talking to people is not very different from walking around the Garden in Final Fantasy 8. (Except that Squall's not around, which is always a bonus.) However, the game is also like Xenogears in that it lulls you into the introductory mode only to shatter it with an action sequence that grabs you by the collar and pulls you into the game like a hapless Gnosis victim. From this point on I was completely enthralled.

Speaking of the Gnosis, the first thought I had on their first real appearance is that they are very reminiscent of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Instead of mindless incorporeal beasts that inflict instantaneous mystical death, the Gnosis are mindless incorporeal beasts that inflict gruesome and unpleasant death. (Actually the Gnosis are fairly obviously not completely mindless.) Personally I don't mind this similarity; the problem with FF:TSW was not really the monsters but the lack of coherent plot, compelling characters, or interesting dialogue. Xenosaga Episode 1 has none of these problems so far.

As for the characters, it's obvious that I'd prefer a game that stars a research scientist to one that puts a professional sports player in the role of the hero. The fact that said research scientist is female and wears a cleavage-exposing uniform only helps matters. However, the real show-stealer in the opening is not Shion but the awe-inspiring KOS-MOS, who should be an example for Square of what a badass character is like (they seem to have forgotten recently). At the beginning Shion displays a maternal affection towards her creation, and the player naturally thinks of the android as a child, so we share Shion's dismay when she enters the real world as a deadly and heartless machine.

The use of subtlety in this game is greatly appreciated, again in contrast with Final Fantasy X where the hero's every thought and emotion was explicated in a tiresome voice-over. Xenosaga has no voice overs. Instead, we take cues from the characters' dialogue or body language. In perhaps my favorite moment from my session last night, we see the bridge of the Elsa just for a moment through the android's eyes after chaos enters. She seems to be taking in the scene calmly, but in the corner of her perception she is replaying, over and over, her memory of chaos walking through the door. (For those trying to decipher this paragraph without having played the game, "chaos" is a character's name, spelled deliberately in-game with a lowercase c. This is either gratuitous quirkyness, or representative of his being a manifestation of chaotic forces in a human form.)

One thing I'm undecided about is that this game is even more plot-heavy than Xenogears; I had my controller sitting on the floor unused for 20 or 30 minutes at a time while pre-scripted scenes played out. The great thing about Xenogears, though, was the story, and if this installment continues to be so good I probably won't mind if it's light on gameplay.

Now, some predictions:

  • The master villain of this episode will also be the master villain of Episode 6. If I recall correctly 6 episodes of the saga are planned, but Episode 5 (Xenogears) resolved all running conflicts on the Xenogears planet itself. The only thing left to do for a sixth chapter is for the inhabitants of the planet, perhaps the descendants of Fei and company, to go out into space and resolve any unfinished business from this episode.

  • Allen will die before the ten hour mark. Allen is too bland and shallow a character to have a major role. I'm actually surprised he's survived this far. The alternative is that he is relegated to some kind of support role - he might be the person to talk to when switching party members, for example.

  • chaos knows more about what's really going on than anyone else. A stereotypical character is the young boy with amazing innate powers who doesn't understand his abilities or his role. chaos is just pretending to be this character, and he's not trying very hard to keep up the ruse, either. He's too confident in his actions. I suspect he's a major behind-the-scenes player. That or the Lord of Nightmares.

  • Hammer is the most loyal and reliable character in the game. Just because we're all thinking of his Xenogears predecessor.
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