Sunday, September 21, 2014

Emulator Hour: Xenogears (PS1)

Seems like a sufficiently villainous goal

You know, in my endless pursuit of nostalgia, I've come to the conclusion that the Playstation 1 actually had a lot of really great games.  Back in the great CD Burn-off of '01, I acquired quite a few excellent RPGs from Square.  In fact, I think the rate of US release for Square really increased around that time.  'Only in Japan' was no longer a phrase to frustrate the RPGphile.

Xenogears - it's been twelve years since I played through the first disc, but I still remember it like yesterday.  Would I do it again?  Maybe.  I think I'll just read a plot summary instead.   This is a very good plot summary, full of love and criticism.   You know, I played this game yesterday for barely an hour, and I've had its image in the back of my mind all day today.  I think this may be due to the sheer number of hours I put into it twelve years ago.  This  game is long-  50 hours on one disc!  (of two)

Playing Xenogears is like watching 300 episodes of some Shonen Anime.  You know - the kind whose story just keeps getting bigger and bigger, new twists, bigger bad guys, greater powers.  Xenogears is epic, sweeping, daring and strange.  The music is good, the environments have character, the battle system is fun.  All in all, a great jRPG from 1998.  

 But, there's no getting around it:   Xenogears starts to drag after while.  Then it proceeds to drag on for a very long time.  After a point, it's hard to say what is dragging the most, the story or the gameplay.  You start to notice the encounter rate is maybe a bit too high.  Or that the story simply takes too long to reveal things that it has been hinting at for a long time.  On the one hand, I like that the game takes its time with the story.  On the other hand, when two things are dragging at once, it really takes its toll.  This game is in dire need of an editor.

And yet... I would still consider playing it through again.  Or at least trying.  Boy it would be nice if I shorten some of the gameplay though.  It feels weird to say so, like some kind of betrayal of my young self, who loved long games.  But it's true, and I don't think it's just me being old. I think that Zeboyd games were onto something when they made monster encounters manual.  Or Chrono Trigger with the encounters being featured on the screen, sometimes avoidable, sometimes predictable, but not hyper-persistent and random.   There are so many times when I'd like to explore a little-- hell, even hear some more of the music play out, but I know I'm going to hit a random encounter every five seconds.  In an already long game, this is just too much. 

So, ultimately I'd say Xenogears:  play at your own risk.  If you like jRPGs, particularly 90s era RPGs, Xenogears is a great game.  Compelling, unique and mysterious.  But it takes like 50 hours to get through the first disc, and it can really drag.

It's really tough to encapsulate Xenogears in just a pic or two.  But here's a cast shot.
P.S.  I decided to read through the Let's Play Xenogears article rather than play through the second disc.  It was enjoyable and entertaining, with music links for each scene, and a pretty funny sense of humor.  I can only recommend it as a cop-out for those of us unwilling to dump another 20 hours into this game.  

P.P.S.  Xenogears gets a lot of criticism - the same criticism I also levied against it.  So here's an article from Joystiq coming to its defense.  It really is a great game!   Mostly.

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