Xenogears (Zenogiasu) is a role-playing game for the Sony PlayStation. It was released by Square Co., Ltd. in February 1998 in Japan and subsequently released in North America in October 1998. It was followed up by the Xenosaga series on the PS2.
Xenogears gameplay format is standard for console RPGs: the main characters advance the plot by traversing the game's world, which includes cities in the sky, vast deserts, and arcane ruins. Throughout the game, various characters who have different strengths and weaknesses join the main protagonist, Fei Fong Wong, in his epic journey.
Battles are turn-based; the player chooses the party's fighting moves by pressing a combination of buttons that correspond to strong, moderate, and weak attacks. These attack combinations are limited by the number of action points (AP) that are available; a strong attack consumes three AP, a moderate attack consumes two, and a weak attack consumes one. Initially, at low levels, Fei can use only three AP per turn, but each character has the potential to use seven AP eventually. Combinations that end with a strong attack (three AP) will result in a highly damaging deathblow after some training.
Most of the characters can also use magical abilities that either aid the party or damage enemies. These abilities are limited by the number of ether points (EP) that are available. Unlike AP, EP do not replenish between attack rounds. For most characters, these abilities are called 'Ether,' although some characters' abilities have a different name, implying differences in their origins. For example, Fei's magic is called 'Chi,' and Citan's is 'Arcane.' Unlike the main characters of most RPGs, who specialize in either physical or magical strength, the main characters in Xenogears generally are competent in both areas, although few characters have more than one or two direct damage spells.
In addition to the small-scale, hand-to-hand combat, the characters sometimes fight from within their respective combat robots, called 'Gears.' Gear combat is simpler than regular combat; the combination style is reduced to a selection of strong, medium, or weak attacks that build up the attack level of the Gear with each turn until it can unleash a special, more powerful attack. The limiting factor of AP is replaced by the Gears' amount of fuel, with each attack consuming an amount relative to its power. The main characters can purchase Gear fuel, parts, and upgrades at various shops; a feature that, compared with other RPGs, makes money management somewhat difficult.
Xenogears' plot centers around protagonist Fei Fong Wong, an eighteen-year-old man who was mysteriously brought to his current home, Lahan, by a "Masked Man" three years prior. Because of the events surrounding his arrival at the village, Fei has no apparent memories of his childhood; the rediscovery of past events, both pleasant and torturous, prevails throughout the game. In the beginning, the player is introduced to a peaceful village, but, in RPG tradition, disaster occurs when the town becomes involved in a larger conflict between the warring nations of Aveh and Kislev. Following the dire events that befall this once peaceful landscape, Fei leaves the only home he knows and begins a quest that will leave him and his friends with the ultimate fate of humanity resting on their shoulders.
Much of Xenogears plot is detailed in the Japanese-only book Perfect Works. This book, produced by the now defunct DigiCube, details the history of the Xenogears universe in great detail. For the avid Xenogears fans, an important aspect of the book is the explanation of the "Episode V" label that is seen after the game is completed. According to the Perfect Works schematic, Xenogears is only the fifth episode in a series of (at least) six, but the book provides minimal details about the plots of the other episodes. There is considerable debate within the Xenogears fanbase about how accurately this timeline is followed by producer Tetsuya Takahashi's subsequent Xeno title, Xenosaga, which contains many elements that were introduced in Xenogears.
Xenogears remains a critically divisive title, even years after its initial release. Those who praise it emphasize the game's discussions about religion and philosophy and the multitude of works from which the game draws (ranging from 2001 and Soylent Green to Neon Genesis Evangelion and Norse Mythology) as features that give the story extraordinary depth for a video game. Critics, however, argue that many aspects of the game are flawed. Examples of these alleged flaws are the overabundance of cutscenes, deficient game mechanics (such as linear gameplay and change of style on the second disc), and the extensive usage of allusions to Judeo-Christian religious jargon. [An oft-circulated rumor is that Xenogears North American release was impeded because of these religious allusions, although there is no substantial evidence that supports this theory.]
Graphically, Xenogears combines 2D sprite characters with 3D environments. The environments and Gears (the game's mecha) are principally all created within the 3D engine, but the characters are created using low resolution 2D sprites. In addition to these things, Xenogears also utilizes both traditional Japanese cel-animated scenes and pre-rendered CGI movie clips during emotive or important plot points, a trait that was common in Squaresoft RPGs during this gaming era. Another commonly-lauded aspect of Xenogears is the dramatic and powerful soundtrack that was arranged and composed by Yasunori Mitsuda. Aside from Mitsuda's official music, two other Xenogears soundtracks have been published: Xenogears: Creid, another release by Mitsuda that remixes selected tracks from the Xenogears soundtrack, and Xenogears Light, a fan-arranged album.
In the years following the release of Xenogears, the speculation that the production of the title was cut short for various reasons, such as lack of funds, inability to move deadlines, etc., has accrued considerable credence, despite the lack of a reliable source. The main cause of this speculation is Xenogears' second disc of play, on which the plot seems to degenerate into repeated instances in which a few major characters narrate the events of the story rather than fully experience them. This issue polarizes the Xenogears fanbase to this day; there are those who love the game but feel that the second disc depreciated the overall experience, whereas there are others who feel that, since the storyline was the most compelling aspect of Xenogears, the switch in narrative style was appreciated. Some people have speculated that Square began to lose interest and confidence in the profitability of Xenogears. These people cite the formation of Monolith Soft, a subdivision of Namco that was composed primarily of ex-Square employees who had worked on the Xenogears project, as evidence. Monolith Soft created the Xenosaga series under Takahashi's direction, although Square still owns the rights to Xenogears.
Interestingly, the character Lucca from Chrono Trigger appears in Xenogears. Some fans sometimes theorize that the Xenogears project could have originally began as "Chrono Trigger 2" and evolved from there. Many key members of the Xenogears development staff had worked on Chrono Trigger. However, it should be noted that this is contradicted by official informations which labeled the original project as "Project Noah".
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