Xenogears starts out following the protagonist character of Fei Fong Wong, who had been abandoned at the door step of a small village elder when he was young by a mysterious man with a mask. Fei trained in martial arts through his life in the village and came to love painting. During his time in the village he made friends and accepted the rest of the village as a new family. On the day of his best friend’s wedding, two neighboring countries had flew over the village fighting in giant mechanized robots, known as Gears, in a battle for a stolen Gear from a third party. The stolen gear lands in the center of the town and the pilot is quickly seen to be dead. Fei seeing his village burning under gunfire from invaders looks at the giant machine and something snaps inside of him. The next thing he knows he is outside of a crater the next day where his village, Lahan, used to be. His best friends are dead, along with half of the village, and he comes to find that he was responsible for most of the chaos.
Throughout the game Fei continues to struggle against finding a place of isolation and being pulled into fights that he has nothing to do with, and doesn’t want to take part in more senseless murder. The only surviving friend along the way was the village doctor, Citan Uzuki, that aids him throughout his journey in finding a place he can belong where he won’t hurt anyone else.
The game eventually leads into Fei’s struggles of personality disorders, political espionage between military superpowers, and even the origin of the world itself. Many settings are biblical depictions and related to stories of the bible and even references to Sigmund Freud’s philosophy on the Ego, Super Ego, and the Id. The story, for a lot of people, was confusing or they just got lost in some of the translations and even some of the plot changes throughout the course of the game and sometimes you’d get lost with no direction. Part of the second disk actually consisted of directly going to areas of the game and getting thrown straight into boss battles with dialogue in between to catch you up to the events happening for several party members being separated.
The area where I felt the game truly excelled was actually in the combat system which, at the time, was outside of the box and hadn’t really been attempted too much. It was still a turn based battle system like in most other RPG’s at the time, but it gave options of allowing multiple different strengths of attack, as well as Combos, Deathblows, and then character Skills. Characters started with 3 Attack Points (AP) and, as they leveled, would eventually get up to 7 AP to use per turn. During a character’s turn you could choose to attack and had three options, Triangle for Light Attack, Square for Medium Attack, and Cross for Heavy Attack. Accuracy was higher with weaker hits and lower with stronger hits, it took one to three points respectively for each attack strength. Characters would learn Deathblows which were combinations of the three buttons that performed special strikes with varying elements or strengths themselves. You could also store unused points each turn to unleash a flurry of Deathblows all at once in a single turn to devastate your enemies or use skills to attack, heal, or buff your party.
On top of the interesting battle system, it was one of the first times that the size of an enemy had changed how you fought it in an RPG, as every character would eventually pilot their own Gear and could freely swap in and out of gear in battle at the cost of their turn. Fighting in your Gear would consume Fuel per turn instead of AP, and still had a limited Deathblow system, but Gears were mostly used for fighting massive sized enemies but could also quickly dispatch regular sized opponents as well.
The game had several departures from a regular Squaresoft title at the time by making use of not only Full Motion Video (FMV) but cutscenes using anime style animation with japanese and english voice acting for dialogue instead of using subtitles, which was something not present in the Final Fantasy series until Final Fantasy X. To keep character in line with their cutscene anime style, all characters were actually rendered as Sprites instead of full 3D models like other games at the time. The sprites were then put into fully 3D environments with 360 degrees of camera control and motion. Though many did complain that the sprites were in poor quality and it made some simple platforming sections of the game a little more challenging, I always found it to add to the appeal of the game as one of the previous games I had played at the time would have been Final Fantasy 6. I also wouldn’t play another game to use 3D environments and sprites until Ragnarok Online several years later.
If you were to ask most of the gaming community today if they’ve heard of Xenogears they would probably think you just got the name Xenoblade or Xenosaga wrong, but Xenogears was the original title that those other series were based from. It was developed by Squaresoft, now Square-Enix, and released in 1998 and a good portion of the team working on it actually moved on to Monolith Soft, under Namco-Bandai, who went on to make Xenosaga and now is making the Xenoblade Chronicles titles but, because of changes in staff and companies, none of the titles are directly related in story line officially. It went onto the Playstation Network in 2008 for Japan and wasn’t released in North America, despite many requests and complaints, until 3 years later in 2011.
While Xenogears is one of my favorite games when I was growing up, I know that for most people it’s confusing or just not interesting. When I first played it I didn’t understand half of the things I saw out of it because I was still a teenager. I still enjoyed the combat and the overall plot to the game and, because of it’s release on the PlayStation Network, is one of the only reasons I sought to get a PS Vita when PSX Classics would be playable.