“To Be Continued” was the last phrase on my TV as I finally cleared the finishing minutes of the most annoying rpg that I have ever felt compelled to play to completion. Xenosaga Episode 2, the second game for the Playstation 2 in a three game series manages to compel suckers, not unlike myself, into playing it for one reason: Xenosaga 3: Also zach Zarathustra. This final chapter in the series is rumored to bring together the best parts of both previous games into a finale that stands at or near the top of science fiction rpg’s in the last 20 years…maybe of all time.
But to really enjoy it, you have to play the prequels. Or do you?
I already played and retro-reviewed the original Xenosaga, a game that had some minor issues, but was still a wonderful experience at the beginning of the summer. Fueled by my excitement about the future of Shion and KOS-MOS, I immediately popped in Episode 2. And my enthusiasm died a slow painful death.
Man was this game brutal! Will it all be worth it when I finally pop in part three sometime in the future? Honestly I’m not sure. But for those of you that are considering working through this series, let me share my experiences so far, and perhaps this will help you in your own Xeno questing.
Xenosaga Episode 2 is a direct sequel to the original Xenosaga. You are still following the exploits of Shion Uzuki, a specialized engineer who is responsible for the robotic life form KOS-MOS, one of the greatest rpg characters of all time. KOS-MOS is a sci-fi femme fatal of apocalyptic proportions. She would eat the Terminator for breakfast, and the liquid guy from T2 for dessert. And she would probably manage to do it with style. Shion and KOS-MOS get wrapped up in a series of adventures that surround the Zohar, a massive alien artifact that is found floating out in space. In episode 1, they partnered with a realian named Jr. who goes on to become a major player both in Episode 1 and here in Episode 2. Actually the story in Xeno 2 almost entirely revolves around Jr.’s relationship to MOMO and his two brothers: Gaignun and Albedo. Both are cool and interesting, but Albedo takes the cake. He likes to blow up his own head after all.
The rest of the protagonists from Episode 1 return as well. Ziggy the 99% android assassin; MOMO the realian with a deep secret embedded in her sub-conscious; Chaos, a strange white haired teenager with seemingly supernatural powers; the only new addition is Jin, Shion’s older brother. He adds a nice samurai feel to the team, and becomes something of an older brother to the whole crew. I included him in my active team for most of the game because I love the theoretical relationship between him and his future relative Dr. Uzuki, from Xenogears. Cool right?
The story is at its best when the main characters are on center stage leading the plot along through intriguing scenes that range from massive explosions and mech battles to a couple fantastic sword fights. (Yep. Jin again.) These moments really carry the game, and leave you loving the cast. Each and every character has fascinating motivations for their behaviors, and bring the story light years ahead of your typical character development.
But that’s where all the good stuff ends.
While the characters are fantastic, (and have received even welcome cosmetic changes for Episode 2) the overarching plot itself is kind of confusing. MOMO has a secret in her subconscious, so the team dives in to find it, only to discover that Albedo (Jr.’s evil brother) has planted a sort of psychic bomb in her mind. Oh and while he was in there he stole the key to harnassing the powers of the Zohar. This gives him supernatural power over space and time, and he grows into the main villain of the game.
While I loved Albedo in both of the first two games, and truly appreciated his background story, I really felt that the pacing during the early sequences was brutal. You play through the same dungeons multiple times working through this one scene, after chasing Albedo’s phantom all over MOMO’s subconscious. I almost quit the game at this point, because the pacing just totally died out. I somehow managed to perform ps2 CPR and not delete my save file.
Ok, so the story and pacing had some serious issues. But what about the battle system in 2.0? Surely that had to be superior to the first game?
Xenosaga 2’s battle system is turn based, and uses the agility stat to determine speed. Each turn a character can perform a spell, a two hit combo, or a “stock” that allows them a longer combo next turn. You can rotate in and out characters anytime in battle, which is nice, and the recipe for success is to find an enemies “break point” and use a large combo to KO them in one turn.
So with all those cool features, why is it that I absolutely despise this battle system? Simply put, the stock-combo-break formula is incredibly time consuming, but is the only way to dispatch enemies.
In one late game battle, I fought five enemies against my three characters. I was about ten levels higher than necessary. I had to stock each character three times in order to KO one enemy. So that’s nine turns per each enemy killed. Thats FORTY-FIVE turns. In one battle. This is not a joke. And by the way that’s only the turn’s my own characters had. That doesn’t include each enemy turn, which was five turns for my three. I’m not going to complete the math for you but seriously, that’s just stupid.
But it’s not all bad. At some points the battle system was fun and had a nice rhythm. Discovering the combination to break an enemy and then comboing him to death was a good time, particularly during the challenging boss fights. Episode 2 also adds a nice combination attack system, where if you boost a character with at least two stock, next to a character who also has 2 stock, you can perform some decent damage. But the whole stocking/boosting thing means this is so complex that you will probably just use normal combos, like I did. The occasional mech battles also play into the overall battle system, and these I enjoyed significantly more. In fact the mech battles are probably the only area of true improvement over Episode 1.
Here is a video showing one of the double attacks that Jin and Shion can perform. Also, you will note that both characters are in their unlockable “swimsuit” a special skill that adds agility and extra skill points. It’s also pretty amusing…
Ok, so the characters are still great. The story is a convaluted mess with a few cool moments, and the battle system is a bit rough on the old sanity. What about side questing and customization?
This is where I REALLY dislike this game. There is NO equipment in this game. All you get is four skill slots. At the end of every fight you get skill coins (just like in Xeno 1) and you can apply them to your characters and learn skills. This is fun to do at first, but by the end of the first disc, you realize that there aren’t actually any cool skills to learn until the end game. And in fact, all the decent skills are locked by secret key’s that are only discovered by doing ridiculous sidequests. Ok, so lets talk sidequests.
The entire sidequesting in Xeno is tied up in a system called the “Good Samaritan” campaign. Basically, as Shion and company travel the world, they will find people in distress (usually morons who need help with absolutely asinine things) and you can help them. They will give you secret keys for you help (which unlock skills in your skill tree) or segment files, which unlock special doors that hold…you guessed it, secret keys.
So is there anything to find other than secret keys? There is one thing, and it’s the only redeeming quest in the game. Its the professor’s Erde Kaiser quest. If you remember in Xeno 1 you can build a giant robot and destroy even the last boss in one hit with it. I did this. It was super amusing. Well you can build a giant robot in Episode 2 as well, and if you find all six pieces of the robot you can experience the great robot of Xeno 2. Hurray for giant robot summoning!
Ok, time for the rundown:
Do you recommend that I play this game? Honestly? No. I cannot in good conscience recommend this game to anyone. Terrible pacing, a horrid battle system and boring skill tree cannot all be alleviated by decent characters. Unless you are (like me) absolutely committed to experiencing this entire series, stay far far away. If for some reason you are dedicated to the task, plan on avoiding the GS campaign entirely and simply cut your play time as much as possible. Avoiding the ridiculous GS campaign you could possibly finish around the 20 hr mark, which I wish I had done.
How hard is Xenosaga 2? Xeno 2 isn’t all that hard. I actually only died I think twice, and both times it was in a mech battle where I wasn’t liberal enough with my healing spells. The problem is that each encounter takes SO LONG that it feels much more difficult than it is. I was never in danger of a game over, but I just couldn’ t figure out how to lay the hurt on the enemy either. (Incidentally, I was over levelled significantly because I wanted to accomplish a particular GS quest early. TOTAL WASTE OF MY LIFE. Wish I could have those hours back…)
Do I need a strategy guide for this game? I wouldn’t spend the money on something official, but a decent gamefaqs guide will help if you really get into the GS campaign. Especially for the stupid kitten quest. And the flyer quest. Barf.
Who is your favorite character in the Xeno games? I really enjoy the entire cast, especially now that MOMO uses a bow instead of a staff, which really adds to her character. I ended up using KOS-MOS, MOMO and Jin for most of the game. Shion and Ziggy also got lots of time. I stayed away from Jr. because I abused Xeno 1 with him.
How much is this game? If you spend $20 or more on this game you should be ashamed. So many copies of this are available that you can have it to your house almost over nite from amazon for under $10. But I’d say save your money and buy the anime.
Ok, that’s it for part 2! I seriously cannot believe I managed to wade through it to the end. I feel like I need a Xeno break for a while, so while I am looking forward to Episode 3, I don’t think it will be happening anytime soon. Maybe a good way to kick off 2013 if the world is still here. Here’s a final trailer to help you get a feel for the game if you’re somehow still interested!