Let’s Play #41: Xenogears

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The game who started it all: Xenogears. I say it because Xenogears started the “Xeno” saga which comprehends, Xenogears, Xenosaga I, Xenosaga II, Xenosaga III, Xenoblade Chronicles, Xenoblade X and Xenoblade 2. This game kept me in front of the screen for hours. You should try it too if you get the chance.

But watch out! This is a RPG for grown-ups! Xenogears’ story tells about lots of themes which are really complex and might hurt your sensibility. Xenogears deals with the concept of religions, sexuality, politics, the psyche and others. More on this matter further down.

“I am Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end. The first and the last”

With these cryptic words Xenogears begins. Then we see the opening cinematic (it’s made in an anime style cartoon) where we see a huge spaceship suddently malfunctioning. The cause of the faults is an “entity” which took control of the ship, displaying on the ship’s screens “Ye shall all be as gods”. After that, the ship’s cannons attack the ship itself, which crashes on a planet. From the ruins of the ship, a naked unknown woman wakes up and looks ad the rising sun.

From that event, we skip almost 10’000 years in the future. There, we get to know our main character and the situation we are in: two counties (Aveh and Kislev) have been in war between each other for many years. If they used foot infantry at first, a religious group know as the Ethos discovered remains of an ancient civilization and provided the soldiers with Gears: huge human-like robots.

Our main character, Fei, lives in a small rural village near the Kislev border. He suffers from amnesia as he was brought in the village 3 years before from a masked man and he doesn’t remember anything before that. One day, his village gets attacked by a mysterious army piloting Gears. As he see his village burning, he jumps into a Gear without a pilot and incredibly, he can operate it no problem. The fight rages on and the village is destroyed. The villagers then put the blame on Fei saying that “if he hadn’t jumped in the gear, the fight would have been over already and nobody would have been hurt”. Following that, Fei and his friend doc. Citan leave the villagers and Fei decides to wander the world looking for his own path.

I’m not telling anything else to avoid too many plot spoilers because this game is best experienced blind, but I want to talk a little about the battle system in Xenogears.

The basics of battles are easy enough. The turns are decided via the ATB mechanic (similar to Final Fantasy VII). When the ATB is full you decide the action of the character which executes immediately. You have all the time to decide your action, so you don’t have to rush any decision. Characters have the usual stats of all RPGs. HP for the life, EP for spells (which are labelled differently for each character such as Chi, Spirit, Ether or Arcane but at the end of the day they are all the same thing), attack, defense, etc.

On foot battle

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The unique mechanic of this battle system are the deathblows. But before I can explain those I need to explain attacks and AP.

When you select the “Attack” command you can perform 3 types of attacks depending of which button you press. “Square” for a weak attack, “Triangle” for a medium attack and “Circle” for a strong attack (these buttons are different in the american version). So what’s the point of 3 different attacks? Simple: a weak attack costs 1 AP, a medium 2 AP and a stong 3 AP. You can combine as many attacks as you can until you run out of AP. You start the game with 3 AP, so you can either use 1 single strong attack; or 3 weaks; or 1 medium + 1 weak. Later in the game you will gain addtional APs maxing them out at 7 allowing a variety of combos.

In the picture above, I have 7 AP. The APs are represented by the red gauge on the left.

AP can also be “stored”. Example: we have 5 AP, we press “Circle” and we still have 2 AP. If we press X we can stop attacking and keep those two AP for later. It’s not like we can use them in our next attack, but they can be used to make combos of deathblows, which I will explain now.

Deathblows are special combos of buttons which unleash special moves. Those are learned by using the buttons of the deathblow. For example, Fei’s first deathblow “Rajin” is “Square, Circle”. That means you have to use these two buttons a certain number of times before you can learn it. The more AP you have, the more powerful deathblows you will be able to perform. 7 AP deathblows have even elemental proprieties such as Fei’s “Suikei” with requires “Triangle, Square, Square, Circle” and it’s water-elemental.

Stored AP can be used to chain deathblows and you can store up to 28 AP. Suppose you store 20 AP. Fei’s “Rajin” costs 4 AP, while Fei’s “Senretsu” costs 5 AP. Fei will be able to use “Rajin” up to 5 times in a row or “Senretsu” up to 4 times in a row, or chain something like: “Rajin-Senretsu-Senretsu-Rajin” and still have 2 AP in stock.

That explains all the on-foot battles. As you can see, deathblows are the bread and butter of on-foot battle.

Gears battles

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I personally don’t like gears battles on the visual side. Why? Because, in my opinion, “on foot” battles are visually more satisfying when you see the characters performing thier deathblows. But on the flip side gears battles are way more strategic. “On foot” battles are often repetitive, and you just mash button to make the deathblows over and over. Most on foot turns are really fast. While in a gear though, I sometimes take like a full minute to decide what to do. And here’s why:

Gears can do lots of things, but the basics remain. They have 3 attacks (weak, medium, strong) but they don’t have AP. Gears have fuel. Only one type of attack can be used at a time. Weak attacks cost 10 fuel, Mediums cost 20 and Strongs cost 30.

Gears deal with deathblows in a different fashion. It works like this:
A gear starts at “Attack LV 0”. After it attacks once, it goes to “Attack LV 1” and will be able to perform 2 deathblows: “Square, Square” and “Square, Triangle”, the first costs 40 additional fuel and the latter 50. If it performs a deathblow, it drops to “Attack LV 0”, otherwise, if you attack but don’t perfom a deathblow, it goes to “Attack LV 2” and will be able to use 2 more deathblows (which cost more fuel but deal more damage). Gears can reach at maximum “Attack LV 3”, after which there is another level called “Infinity mode”.

If you are at “Attack LV 3” and you don’t use a deathblow you have a chance of entering “infinity mode” this chance increases as your gear’s HP are lower. Infinity mode lasts 3 turns, and 3 bonus powerful low-fuel deathblows become avaiable.

Gears have also other commands: “Ether Machine” allows the usage of the ether moves of the pilot (no fuel consumed), “Special Options” allows the usage of special tecniques at cost of fuel and “Booster” toggles the booster mode, which makes the gear’s ATB fill up way faster at the cost of some fuel each turn.

Gears can also “Charge” in order to restore some fuel, and the higher the “Attack LV” they are in, the more fuel gets restored.

What I really like about gears is that they too have status problems like characters but they are called in a different way to reflect the fact we are fighting in gears. Examples are below, where the first term refers to character, the second to gears.

Poison > Fuel Leak (This one is unique since Poison makes characters lose HP but Fuel Leak affects fuel not HP)
Forget > Ether Machine Shutdown (Can’t use ether moves, it’s the old “Silence” in many RPGs)
STR down > PWR Loss
DEF down > Armor Damaged
ACC down > Camera Damaged (Accuracy down)
Confusion > Pilot Confusion

Gears also have 2 unique status problems:

Ether Machine Out of Control: it’s like poison but for EP.
Ether Machine Shut Down: lowers strenght of ether attacks.

And what if a Gear runs out of fuel? Easy, it’s useless. They can still Charge though, or use ether.
Ether moves don’t always do the same thing as we were fighting on foot. For example, Fei’s “Inner healing” while on foot restores HP to one ally, on gear cures the “Armor Damaged” status only to Fei’s gear.

As you may have noticed, Gears battle are complex. But at the end of the day, your main focus in gear battle is find the best way to manage your fuel and health. And that can be hard. Gears HPs aren’t easy to restore, the main way to do it is to use Special Options called “Frame HPXX” where “XX” can be 10, 30, 50, 70 or even 90 and indicates the percentage of HP recovered. A “Frame HP50” for example will recover 5000 on a gear with 10000 max HP. But the problem is how much fuel they cost: at the time I wrote this post I was playing through the game and my “Frame HP50” option consumed 1350 fuel on a gear with 4000 fuel or so.

Other on gears:

While character level up as usual, gears don’t. You can only upgrade them with better equipment. Here’s a breakdown on how this works:

Like characters, gears can have a weapon and 3 accessories which give them special bonuses. They range from healing abilities (such as “Frame HPXX”) to stat bonuses (“Extra Armor”) or other things (“Deathblower 1” grants you an extra deathblow at Attack Level 1).

Other than that, gears can get upgraded on three things:

  • Engine: affects both how much damage the gear can deal and the max amount of fuel.
  • Frame: affects maximum HP
  • Armor: affects defense and ether defense

You’ll soon find out that in Xenogears you’ll spend more gold on gear parts then anything else.

Outside battles: the exploration

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This game was called “the anti-Final Fantasy VII” for a reason: in Xenogears, characters and NPCs are in 2D while the areas are in 3D. As for enemies, the ones you fight on foot are in 2D, the big ones you need a gear to beat are in 3D. Final Fantasy VII did the opposite: 3D characters in 2D backgrounds.
Xenogears beats Final Fantasy VII here for me: with the ability of running basically in every direction, the possibility of moving the camera and the ability to jump, the areas in Xenogears are much more enjoyable to explore.

Apart from that, something it was always been said is that the game is pretty linear. Sidequests aren’t really a thing in Xenogears, as they are in Final Fantasy VII.

Plot analysis, and the “Disc 2” change of pace

As for the plot, expect something as confusing as Final Fantasy VII, if not more. After all, you need to remember that Xenogears and Final Fantasy VII where developed around the same time.

Lucky for us, even though the Plot is confusing as hell in the beginning, the more you proceed, the more it all makes sense. There was a point where I couldn’t tell who was with which side, but after a while it all started to fall in the right place.
Exactly the opposite of Final Fantasy VII, where the more you progress, the more confusing it gets.

Anyway, as you come closer to the end of Disc 1, get a shield up your mind before it gets blown by the immense plot twists that get thrown at you.

And then that’s Disc 2. The infamous Disc 2.

So what exactly happens during Disc 2? Instead of you playing through the game, the characters just tell the facts to you, like a story. Sometimes a Save prompt appears in case you want to take a break/change party etc. You only control the characters for some boss fights or some small dungeons. After which, it’s cutscenes galore once again.

Basically a good 80% of Disc 2 is just cutscenes of the characters telling what’s happening. After which, you get thrown in the overworld and everything turns back to the usual Disc 1 pace. This forces you in a even more linear path, which gets boring after a while.

They said this happened because the devs team where out of budget and time, and as such cut out lots of content. Too bad though, ’cause I wished we could really play thorugh all of that in a normal pace.

Then again, in very early development they thought that the story should have been written over a grand total of 4 discs so I don’t know if I really wanted to play through 4 discs…

In any case, I’m not saying Disc 2 isn’t enjoyable. It still is, since the stories of all the characters’ past answer most of the plot-related questions you still have. But the random glitches in cetrains points and the huge amount of cutscenes just make it boring.

And mostly, because it puts me in a mood like:

“OMG, how much is this going to last?!? I want to save! I want to be able to turn of the power and take a break without losing progress!”

This story never truly ends…

The ending was something incredible. Thankfully nothing similar to Final Fantasy VII’s crappy ending, whew. But seriously, even though my first time playing I wrecked the final boss with no efforts (seriously, I was doing 2500 damage per attack and the final boss has 40000 HP), it still felt like that was an epic fight. And after that, the final fight with the human-snake-monster-whateveritis it’s even more satisfying to win.

And if that was not enough, after the final cinematics and after the credits, the game slaps you this in the face:

xenogears ending
“Wait, so this was episode 5? Then what the heck happened in the first four?!?”

I really have nothing else to say. Xenogears: A game that, if you can get into it, will change your life.

You should really try it out at least once. Or enjoy this immensly long LP:

Notes for LP:  XENOGEARS_ENG

Let’s Play’s stats:

-First episode aired on: 6 Sep, 2018
-Last episode aired on: Apr 7, 2019
-Number of episodes: 95
-Total time of Let’s Play: 46 hours and 36 minutes