March 27, 2006

Xenosaga: Episode I

I finally completed Xenosaga: Episode I. I'd started it before changing jobs, but all the movies in the mail distracted me from my gaming. The great thing about Xenosaga is the story. About 40% of the actual gametime, which I clocked in at about 44 hours, is spent in cutscenes. This can be a little annoying, because it means you start watching a movie instead of playing a game. And the cutscenes can be very long. Regardless, the story really drives things forward, and does make me want to play the sequels despite the follow-up games also having problems. Xenosaga is a flawed game, and besides the story, most of the time is spent in a dungeon-crawl.

So the story is excellent, and the visuals, graphics, and music used during the telling of that story are first rate, although a little dated now. Facial expressions are cartoonish, but at least they have them. The thing that was lacking was really mouth expression. They got the eyes pretty well, but mouths didn't do anything except open and close. Now for the things that really needed work.

The background music was a little boring. Combat music especially so because it never changed throughout the entire game, and was extremely repetitive. The audio logic was also messed up, because sounds came out of the speakers relative to the character on screen. But this meant your character may be on the left side of the screen and something to the right of him or her, but still on the left side of the screen, would come out of the right speaker.

There was a similar problem with combat navigation. Depending on the camera angle, tapping left on the D-pad might select a character to the right on screen, and vice versa. Combat itself was also a bit boring and very repetitive. Your normal attacks do very little damage, so you must always use your tech attacks. And using those attacks involve longer action sequences during which you cannot do anything except watch. The only way combat maintains your interest is because to make sure you advance statistics fast enough, you must control the sequence of turns by delaying or interrupting the natural sequence. Watching the same thing over and over again, with unimaginative action, gets boring.

One other thing that annoyed me was how the game always asked for confirmation when using an elevator. If I step onto the elevator, it means I want to use it. Same with buttons and switches. The game doesn't ask if I want to go into another room when I walk through a door, so why is it asking that for the elevator? Random destruction of objects using a vaporizer-type weapon is also a little strange, although the developers do poke fun at that.

I also didn't like the controls. The combat menu button is also the normal cancel button. Sometimes you have to use the confirmation button to continue through a menu action, even though you want to go backwards. In other words, you're using the confirmation button to perform an exit command. Navigation through the in-game menu is also annoying. It is too many levels deep and hard to move between characters because sometimes you need to back up before you can switch to another character. This becomes especially annoying as some screens are naturally tied together, such as equipment and skills (equipment can provide skills, and you can also set skills) which would be much easier to manage if they were on the same screen.

The A.W.G.S. units were useless. You don't do more damage or take less damage even though you're in a giant robot, your turns occur much more slowly, and if your robot breaks down, you cannot exit it. It's a complete waste of money to invest in your A.W.G.S.

Offensive magic is also useless. I used them only a few times to discover that they don't do any more damage than your normal attacks, but your tech attacks can be upgraded to do more damage. So, offensive magic uses up magic points, doesn't do any more damage than normal magic-based attacks, and cannot be upgraded to do more damage while your physical- and magic-based tech attacks can.

There aren't enough technology points to go around. As it happens, I sort of lucked out and didn't use any technology points for statistic or attack upgrades until near the very end of the game. I horded my point upgrade items as well. I probably could have benefited from better statistic upgrading, but then I wouldn't have had enough technology points to really upgrade the final tech attacks to be as powerful as I did. If you really want to do stat raising, which can be very effective, then you won't be able to do tech attack upgrading. The only alternative is to engage in even more repetitive combat to earn more points.

Posted by josuah at March 27, 2006 5:56 AM UTC+00:00

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