May 17, 2006

Xenosaga: Episode II

I just finished Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose and I did enjoy this installment much more than the first. While there are still many flaws, a great deal of the gameplay was improved, and in particular combat was no longer a drag. I also liked the updated character designs and 3-D models, and the more detailed and cleaner environments rendered in full 3-D. The music was done by Yoko Kanno, and so actually much better than the first game in my opinion.

Some people have complained about the combat system in this episode, but I liked it quite a bit, even if I found that magic still played an incredibly minor role due to not being able to chain magic but being able to heavily chain regular attacks. As a result, it is much easier to do significant damage using normal attacks and chaining and attempting to do so with magic is pointless. Having the boost gauge be shared, and allowing up to four combination attacks per character, with chaining depending on boosting and character turns, made things much more strategic and interesting. And being able to switch characters during combat is both important and allows for a more enemy-specific strategy during combat.

Battles still did sometimes have a tendency to become repetitive, but that was less of an issue unless there were exactly two or four combatants involved, as the combat sequence revolves in a four-stage cycle. Double attacks were pretty useless for me, for the same reason as magic. What was interesting is that in the same way you can use boost and chain attacks to take out an enemy very efficiently, the enemies could sometimes (although rarely) do the same to you. The AI doesn't seem to have been made intelligent enough to take advantage of this the same way you can.

A couple of the annoyances that still persist are having to confirm the use of elevators and having character target selection sometimes opposite the controller direction pressed. I don't know why the developers still haven't figured that out. And while the cutscene sequences are shorter than the first episode, there is still a great deal of time spent watching. But the story is still this game's greatest strength, so I didn't mind the cutscenes this time. They were short enough to deal with.

I do think the developers missed out on some great opportunities for mini-games instead of cutscenes. There are several situations where having to press the correct buttons with correct timings, or pilot a ship, could have added to the fun.

I also thought the skill system was extremely flawed. All characters have access to the same set of skills, which technically means you can customize them. But it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to customize them "incorrectly". Yet accessing more powerful skills requires you to unlock less powerful skills in specific sets to get the required amount of class points. As a result, you will often have to learn skills you have absolutely no interest in to access skills you do want. This is wasted class and skill points, and you now have a skill you'll never use. This is not all that different from the first game, except those were all status-based skills, while these skills include magic. So you might have to get Ziggy, a fighter, skills like Medica or Boost +1 when all you're really interested in is Expansion Slot.

Perhaps the most annoying part of the game is the Good Samaritan side-quests. The vast majority of these quests are scavenger hunts involving a lot of back and forth fetching and delivering. This, coupled with the somewhat slow load times and the fact you cannot execute a quest before it gets triggered even if you know what to do, becomes quite annoying.

Posted by josuah at May 17, 2006 6:58 AM UTC+00:00

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