In Depth Review: Xenosaga: Episode I [PS2]
It sounds very similar to Xenogears' game engine, however, it is much more watered down and allows for less variation because each character only has a maximum of six action points (they start off w/ 4 each turn) to play around with. So basically, there are not that many combinations since the circle special attack always comes at the end of a sequence. Normally, you can do a special attack when you have six action points. So you can do something like square-triangle-circle, but, when you have enough tech points to upgrade your special attack, you can perform them with only 4 actions points. So later on, my attacks only changed from square-circle to triangle-circle. Not too much variation.
Sure, I could have used AGWS to mix up the battles, but they are usually not too much stronger than the regular special attacks. Furthermore, the AGWS move slower so you get less attacks in. Ethers (the magic of the game) also fail to do significant damage and are usually reserved for healing and support. Also, to gain more ethers you have to upgrade them through ether points, also gained at the end of battles.
An interesting idea came with skills. Basically, any item that gives you some kind of bonus can be converted into a skill so that you can equip the skill without having to equip the item. However, the skill points required get really expensive and because there are 5 levels of skills, you probably won't get to the higher levels unless you spend lots of time leveling up. So yeah, the gameplay is decent, but got really repetitive to me. Perhaps, I could have had more fun with it if I leveled up a little bit so that I had more stuff to play around with, but I'm just not that type of player. I like my RPGs to require less leveling up, but revolve around strategy to win my battles.
Enough about the mediocre gameplay. The game comes through with its FMVs and plot. I felt like the characters were very well developed. You definitely get attached to them, even the minor non-playable characters. The story involves topics such as free will and whether cyborgs can be considered human if they have pre-programmed emotions. The writing staff did a good job in making this game's plot stand out slighty from being a typical run-of-the-mill "we are in control of our own actions" story. The voice acting in this game was superb. It is one of those rare games where you don't want to puke at the poor voice overs. This helps you a great deal to get closer with the characters.
The last topic I will touch on is the miscellaneous elements of an RPG. The game has several minigames. I didn't give many of them a chance, but I'm sure those who eat this stuff up will definitely enjoy it. There is a pretty extensive card game, which to me did not hook me like the card games from FFVIII and FFIX. There is an annoying drill game, which I sucked ass at. There is a AGWS battle game which I never touched. There is also an extremely crucial casino game which you must play if you want to buy the more expensive items and AGWS. Without it, you'd have to fight lots and lots of battles to buy the stuff you want. Next, there is an email system in which you can receive and send out emails. This can help you get some cool items and bonuses if you want to take the time to play around with it. Lastly, there is a great minigame that lets you get the most powerful attack of the game. This involves getting decoder keys and finding special doors throughout the game.
You'll eventually collect parts of a robot which some professor can make it into this super power-ranger-esque robot that rapes just about anyone you're fighting. Oh yeah, there's also no need to fear that you might miss any of these doors because there is a great EVS(environment something system) that lets you go back to places where you've fought so that you can collect items. Good stuff.
My final synopsis on the game? It was a very well-done game. It wasn't fun enough for me to be addicted and beat it in a week. But it was interesting enough to make me want to finish it eventually. It's definitely a great start to the series, and I'm definitely excited to see how the cliffhanger at the end will continue.