Welcome to a new series of lists here on Arcade Sushi. Our “Reasons You Should Play” lists will take a look back on some of the more obscure releases of our gaming past and tell you why you should give then a second, or first, chance. Our first title is Xenogears, an amazing game by Squaresoft that started the Xeno series. This franchise has changed hands more than the ball in a game of hot potato. We have seen it change publishers to Namco Bandai with the Xenosaga series, and then Nintendo with Xenoblade. Now a new game, X, is being created for the Wii U. But this strange ball of pseudo philosophy and innovative gameplay all started here, with the original Xenogears, and it deserves your attention. These are the 10 Reasons Why You Should Play Xenogears.
It’s easy to make a game with idealistic spikey haired protagonists that everyone loves. Xenogears, on the other hand, gave you a party of protagonists that had flaws that made you hate them. Fei was whiney, but not in the way most whiney JRPG protagonists were. He actually suffered from serious depression and identity issues. Elly suffered from anxiety and an inferiority complex. These flaws made the characters seem more human and though it made you hate them, it also made you attached to them. It’s this very humanity that gives you one of 10 Reasons Why You Should Play Xenogears.
Speaking of human characters, Xenogears’s villains were almost more empathetic than its heroes. Grahf was, essentially, a protagonist in another lifetime. Ramsus was a ruler who wanted to do great things, but plunged into insanity when he encountered our heroes, one thing he couldn’t deal with. Even Krelian, who was scheming to destroy the entire world, has empathetic reasons for doing so.
Inside the epic RPG of Xenogears is actually a fully functional two-player fighting game. In it, players take control of opposing gears, each with their own attacks and special weapons. The controls were simple, but the game was a lot of fun. While this fighting game side quest was kind of annoying when you were forced to do it in the main game, it was a bunch of fun if you had a friend over and just wanted to kill some time.
Xenogears constantly one upped itself in terms of beautiful places to go. At the very beginning of the game, you get to see a huge sprawling mountain metropolis and a kingdom of sand in the middle of the desert. Then, as if to take it one step higher, you proceeded onward to a city floating amongst the clouds. Then, you went into a colony in space overlooking the entire planet. Eventually, you traveled to an ethereal realm where the laws of space and time break down.
If you go into the beginner’s room at the beginning of Xenogears, you’ll see a recognizable Squaresoft character, Lucca from Chrono Trigger. Sure it’s just a cameo, but she reminds you that this is a Squaresoft game, an early Squaresoft game, before Square became obsessed with gunblades and MMOs. Xenogears is, in many ways, a spiritual sequel to Chrono Trigger, from the sprites to the music. It satisfies that Chrono Trigger itch in ways Chrono Cross simply did not.
Most RPGs just make you level up. Not Xenogears. Xenogears handled your stats via leveling, but your skills were handled via gaining advancement points for each attack you do in battle. Then, there was your giant robots, a.k.a. Gears, which advanced primarily based on how much money you spent on upgrading them. Of course, there were also Gear techniques which were primarily tied to your human techniques, which meant you had to spread yourself out and focus on every area of character advancement. Just another one of our 10 Reasons Why You Should Play Xenogears.
Xenogears was originally not going to come to America due to its deep religious overtones. The idea of the church being corrupt, and of God himself being nothing more than a machine, was troubling for localizers. Nonetheless, Xenogears prevailed, coming to our shores despite its themes, and in a very real way managed to pave the way for other video games with religious themes.
Yasunori Mitsuda may be the best composer Squaresoft ever had, if not the best video game composer ever. Mitsuda worked on games like Chrono Trigger and Shadow Hearts, but Xenogears is one of his best sountracks. His soft melodies are haunting. His happy tunes are joyus and uplifting. His boss themes drive home the idea that you are truly fighting against god himself. Take a listen and tell us this isn’t enough reason to play Xenogears.
Xenogears forces you to play the game in two different ways. While fighting as characters, HP only ever got as high as 999, and damage was much, much lower. Combat was mostly determined by attacking the enemies with combos and healing up when damage was done. However, characters would also frequently have to get inside giant robots, at which point, HP skyrocketed to 99,999 and damage was done in the thousands. Combos were ditched for short attack commands, and battle was decided by charging engines and conserving fuel. Giant robots couldn’t even be healed outside of repairing them at specific stations, or by expending fuel to do so in battle if equipped with a very specific accessory.
Finally, our number one reason why you should play Xenogears, is this character, right here. Citan Uzuki is a wonderfully written character with deep and complicated motivations. He’s a doctor, a dedicated husband, a friend to Fei, but also a sleeper agent and quite possibly an angel who has existed for longer than most mortals can remember. It’s never quite clear what side Citan is on, but one thing is for sure, he is totally badass. He even has an attack that hurts the enemy by stabbing himself! Do you need more than 10 Reasons Why You Should Play Xenogears? Nope.