der wille zur macht

I took mdxi’s advice and bought Xenosaga. Sure, I waited a week or so, but I bought it. So far, so good. Lots of praise and a few major annoyances to follow.

fighting [aliens] in a future time

I really like the basic plot and setting. I can’t say, yet, whether it’s very consistent and well-developed, but it looks good and feels good enough. The tech level is really up there, so I’ve got lots of fun gadgets to play with. The weaponry is pretty cool, as are the various types of humans, meta-humans, robots, aliens, and other moving things.

The art style is good, although I’d prefer a little more realism and a little less boobyism. (More on that later.) I like the ultra-clean trans-IKEA design of The Future. Everything looks /good/, which makes the intrusion of the weird biology-gone-wrong aliens all the more effective. mdxi said that this might be the best RPG since FF7. At least in terms of visuals, I’d probably agree – noting that it’s a strict since. I’m a sucker for those urban dystopias and looming Mako reactors.

The believability of the setting, though, really lacks. I think Xenosaga is a game that wants to seem realistic, in many ways. I think it does some goofy stuff, though, that just doesn’t make sense. Why does Shion’s skirt barely come past her ass? Why are giant mechanized robots equipped with swords? (Why do other people carry swords, too?) Why, four thousand years into the future, when seemingly real-time communication bridges the whole galaxy, could it possibly matter that I left a floppy on my desk? They’re quibbles, but they add up and become annoying.

Now, there was a time when I thought that More Rules Means More Fun. Oh! Behold, my beliefs are lain low. I can only handle so many mechanics. Xenosaga does a good job at simplifying a lot of obnoxious mechanics in previous RPGs, but other things drive me nuts.

The lack of an “active time” system, like those found in most of Square’s RPGs in the past few years, is a blessing. With all the options I’ve got to think about, the pressure of real-time decision making would have been Too Much. It’s good to be able to think about my strategy. I feel like I can be a lot more strategic, and moreover that I /need/ to be a lot more strategic. It’s good.

There’s a play element called “boosting,” whereby you can re-order your characters turns. I don’t really get it, yet, and I can tell that it’s critical. I think I can probably figure it out, given some more battles. One of the things I miss about Square’s active battles is that visibility it gave into turn order. I knew when I could attack and how often. I really can’t tell with Xenosaga, but I think it must be understandable.

Something else I like is the Chrono Trigger-like “sneaking around enemies.” There don’t seem to be any random encounters, and I can see enemies on the screen when I walk around in “Quest Mode.” If I’m really craft or quiet, I can often sneak by them. Many maps, in fact, are designed to have tricky ways to lose pursuers, and taking very careful stock of your surroundings before battles start will really help you survive. It goes back to strategy: Xenosaga really encourages it.

Unfortunately, the usefulness of sneaking around and scoping the whole map is made /vastly/ more annoying by the load times. Going through a door takes about ten seconds. Sometimes I spend more time going through a door than in the room into which it leads. Sometimes a short cutscene breaks in with before and after loads equal to its own length. I know I shouldn’t expect cart load times, but this is ridiculous!

Equipping stuff is also more complicated than I like. My “stuff” menu seems to have about nintey-five sub-menus, and they let me do all kinds of neat stuff. I can reconfigure my elemental (er, I mean AGWS), move my weapons around, check my simulator passports, make ramen, and occasionally save the game. Again, this just might require more playing-around, but it feels really complicated. Also less-than-helpful are the status displays, which are printed – and, yes, I know how silly this sounds – in a font that makes them look even more confusing. I don’t know why, but really angular fonts make my brain hurt.

the unus mundus network

One of the game’s chief gimmicks is the U.M.N., which serves as a vast hyperspace intranet. I can get email (some of which is spam), access databases of useful terms (which really helps flesh out the universe) and enter a virtual reality simulating places I’ve been before (which lets me go back and get pick-ups that I missed the first time around; neat!).

This drives me nuts, too, though. It’s really archaic in many ways, most of which seem to be clearly imposed by the developers. Rather than break the setting, I wish they’d made the limits more coherent. Why do I have a cell phone /and/ a UMN terminal, other than having a cell phone allows me to lose it? Why can’t my Agent, which is clearly smart enough to hold conversations with me, filter spam for me? Why are we hauling cargo at all, if we can (as seems possible) transmit matter instantly across hyperspace?

from the WTF department

Arrgh! And why are androids performing magic? I can live with magic and tech coexisting. I can live with magic-like-technology. I am not so fond of droids invoking the “Mystic power of rhythm and life!” Again, maybe it gets explained – but either way, why isn’t it a big shock? (On a side note, the performance of this magic involves a suspiciously Sailor Moony wand.)

Also, why do I need to keep seeing a little girl’s panties?

…but I really like it

If I sound like this game makes me miserable, it’s only because I like it so much. The graphics are super, the gameplay is really pretty good, the plot and setting are far superior to almost everything else on the market, and the hours and hours of exposition only rarely become anything less than awesome. The voice talent is of average quality, but the story and storytelling more than make up for it.

I largely agree with everything mdxi said (although I can’t say much about spending my experience, as I’ve barely done any of that). This report should be taken as the “yes, but” to his “omfg!” The game is awesome, but its brilliant awesomeness serves to illuminate its own many, tiny shortcomings.

Written on March 17, 2003
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