The JRPG genre has been around for a very long time, and there’s one particular title that I’ve been eyeing for many years: Xenogears. Considered to be one of the most iconic JRPGs released on the very first PlayStation console, I finally got around to finishing the game after its initial release in 1998 – that was over 20 years ago.
It may have been two decades since Xenogears was released, but for those who have never played the title, it’s definitely worth picking up – it’s easily one the most memorable JRPGs I’ve ever played.
Okay, confession time: I actually first played Xenogears about 15 years ago on the original PlayStation, but I didn’t manage to finish the game. I’ve always wanted to complete the game ever since, but I just never got around to it. That is, until Sony released the soundtrack of Xenogears on the PlayStation Store to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the game.
The soundtrack’s release really got me wanting to play Xenogears again, so I purchased the game on the PlayStation Store – it’s only going for RM21 on the Malaysian store – downloaded it to my PlayStation Vita (probably the best use of the portable console now, unfortunately), and spent over 50 hours completing the game. Needless to say, I enjoyed every single hour playing it.
Even though Xenogears was released over 20 years ago, I’d say the game aged really well. Obviously the graphics aren’t particularly great, but it has a retro feel to it, and it looks good enough to not detract you from the game’s immersion. Soundtrack is also another great element of Xenogears: the various music scores fit in very well with the game’s story, settings, and cutscenes.
And then we have my personal favourite part of Xenogears: combat. The turn-based combat system in the game is split into two parts. Gear combat is relatively straightforward – your damage output and defense are mostly dependent on how upgraded your giant robot is – but character combat is where things get really, really fun.
It’s difficult to understand without reading up guides, but the Deathblow system is very interesting. The game doesn’t really explain the mechanics of the system, but it involves pressing certain button combinations to activate flashy combat moves. You’ll also have to “learn” these Deathblows by
varying your attack inputs. Without going into too much detail, read up this excellent guide to get a feel for the Deathblow system.
Once you know how the Deathblow system works, it’s very satisfying to pull off these amazing (sometimes bordering on ridiculous) combat moves.
But what makes for an excellent JRPG lies in the story it tells, and Xenogears has a lot to offer. So much so, in fact, that the game is split into two discs. The first disc is very fleshed out, but the second disc shifts to a more simplistic approach, which relies on narratives to push the story forward.
Personally, I like the shift in storytelling. Not only do I get to skip the sometimes arduous dungeons – some of them are filled with so many random encounters – it’s still progressing the story of Xenogears. In fact, the second disc had to be more simplistic in order to finish the game in time. Otherwise, the game would’ve ended on the first disc itself, and the whole plot of Xenogears wouldn’t have been resolved at all.
Nonetheless, I’m not gonna talk too much about the main plot of Xenogears; I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. But trust me when I say it has a very compelling story to tell. There are even some psychological concepts thrown in, giving the game even more depth than what you’d expect to find in a conventional JRPG.
Last but definitely not least is character development, and Xenogears excels in this regard. The main protagonist, Fei, appears to be your typical, amnesiac hero at first glance. But as you progress further into the story and learn about his past, you’ll find that he’s much more than that – it’s very intriguing. Of course, even the other characters in the game have their own appeals; my favourite is Citan’s backstory.
Xenogears has its strengths and weaknesses, but what it does best far outweighs any flaw the game has. It’s an excellent game every JRPG fan has to play, and it’s unfortunate we won’t be seeing any sequel of the game, especially considering the fact that the game was meant to be a six-part series.
That is, unless you take into account the spiritual successors of Xenogears, the Xenosaga and Xenoblade games. While these two game series are not strictly related to Xenogears, all of them are developed by the same person: Tetsuya Takahashi. However, I can’t quite immerse myself with the other two series as much as I am with Xenogears – it’s just not the same.
If you haven’t had the chance to step into the world of Xenogears, I envy you. To be able to enjoy the game for the first time is something I wish I can experience again. It’s truly a JRPG like no other, and if you’re a fan of the genre, please pick up Xenogears – you won’t regret it.