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Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose
Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Namco
Developer: Monolith
Media: DVD/2
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose (which means beyond good and evil) is the second game in the ambitious Xenosaga series. Arguably more an interactive movie than a game, Episode II throws away all pretenses of being a conventional RPG. The focus here is clearly on the story rather than the game. You could, in fact, take away all the interactive portions of the game and you wouldn’t lose much. Such a product might actually be better as it would be the second episode of a sci-fi serial that this “game” clearly wants to be.

There are many things the Xenosaga games have going for them, and graphics is one of their top draws. The most notable change from Episode I to Episode II is the change of art style. While Episode I featured an anime style of art with big eyes and everything else that goes with it, Episode II makes a move toward more realism and I think it works much better. The storyline of Xenosaga is a very serious one, and I think this change pushes Episode II a step ahead of its predecessor, at least visually.

In my Episode I review, I mentioned the game had a “clean room” feel to the environments; they felt plastic and unlived in. Since Xenosaga Episode II takes place primarily on the surface of planets rather than in spaceships, this problem is far less of an issue, and there seems to be a conscious effort to give the world a more organic feel to it.

Cinematic – that sums up what you can expect from the music and sound effects. Episode II takes itself very seriously, and this is reflected in its soundtrack. You have your explosions, laser blips, and all the rest of the effects you expect from a sci-fi story. The music consists of your usual eerie electronic tracks, your chipper upbeat tracks, and your fast-paced techno, among others. There’s nothing revolutionary about the audio, but it does what it does well.

I must admit, I have a bit of an ironic prejudice against the Xenosaga games. Though a great story is one of the top things I look for in an RPG, I also feel interactivity is very important. I have no problem with cut-scenes, but Episode II, like its predecessor, seems to go a bit overboard. You get about 20-30 minutes of cut-scenes, a 5-10 minute period of moving your character around, another 20-30 minutes of cut-scenes, and occasionally a 15-30 minute dungeon. Though this evens out as the game progresses, it is truly no exaggeration to say that you’ll watch Xenosaga Episode II as much as, if not more than, you will play it.

Some people may have no problem with this. For those that do however, you may become increasingly frustrated as hours pass and you’re still not playing a game. If you enjoy a great storyline and sit down knowing what to expect, Episode II makes for a very entertaining experience. I will say that the consistent use of acronyms is very frustrating though, as you’re likely to have forgotten what they mean and, unlike Episode I, this sequel does not contain a dictionary of terms to look to.

Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose picks up right where the original left off... sort of. After a great introduction given as a flashback, you rejoin Shion and friends as they land on Second Miltia. Most of the plot lines of the original are continued; the search for the Zohar, the data stored inside the 100-Series Realian MOMO, Kos-Mos’ development, the conflict between the Republic and the U-Tic organization, etc. If you have not played the original, Episode II does provide you with something of a summary of what happened in the original. However, since these games are primarily story-based, and you lose much of what happened with just a summary, I can’t advise anyone to play this sequel without first playing the original. For those of you who saved your game data at the end of Episode I, you’ll find slightly powered-up characters, side quests, and other extras as you play.

Though Episode II is a little longer than its predecessor, now spanning two discs, the game system has received a major overhaul and is a little easier. Since your characters all have access to the same library of abilities, the primary difficulty comes from being able to balance the choices of which characters learn what so that you have an effective force under any circumstances. As with Episode I, the true test comes from the game's boss battles, which can be very difficult. They require a player to be prepared and use the game's very unique combat system to exploit every advantage.

Game Mechanics:
The combat system has also been completely revamped. Characters can still stock up power for combos, use items, and perform ether spells. Various character attacks also have types associated with them like beam, electrical, long range, and short range. In addition to being able to attack enemies up in the air and down on the ground, each attack also targets a specific location on an enemy. Certain enemies can have their defenses broken by targeting the correct spots in the proper order. This sounds more interesting than it works in practice, however, since these locations are just designated A, B, and C, and are frequently taken out of the equation during boss fights.

The way in which your characters advance has also changed. You still gain experience points and levels as usual, but the secondary points has been limited to just two types: class points and skill points. Class points are used to open up new “sections” of the ability library to a character, and skill points are used to buy specific abilities in that section. Once you meet certain requirements, you can unlock new classes of abilities to be purchased. You can also come across items in the game that add special skills to some of the higher tiered classes.

Xenosaga Episode II is a very original sci-fi RPG title, just like its predecessor. It does, however, put the focus far more on the storyline than the gameplay. If you can enjoy a game that you watch as much as play, then Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose may be for you. Otherwise, you’ll probably want to stay away.

-Alucard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Stephen Triche

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