Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 06/01/2019 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse (which translates to “Beyond Good and Evil”) is a direct sequel to the first Xenosaga game, and it picks up pretty much right where the original left off. Because of that, I won’t go into the story itself at all in this review but rather focus on how this part of the story is told. It’s immediately clear that Monolith took note of the things that were criticized in the previous game because there are some pretty major changes to some of the gameplay elements especially combat.
The combat in Xenosaga II makes some big changes from the first game. The flow of the combat feels a lot less monotonous first and foremost. Rather than being based on having enemies vulnerable either to energy attacks or physical attacks, Xenosaga II changes combat to focus around vulnerable “break” areas, and each enemy has their own target pattern to exploit. Basically, your attacks are broken up into three “ranges” – C attacks target low areas, B attacks target middle areas, and A attacks target high areas (these generally – but not always – correspond to Triangle, Square, and Circle, respectively). To exploit an enemy’s weakness, you have to hit the right areas in the right order. One enemy might take three consecutive B hits to “break” and make vulnerable whereas another’s pattern might take CBCB attacks in order to break. It’s not groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it definitely requires a bit more strategy and planning than combat in the first game the end result of which is an overall less mundane fight system.
Unfortunately, I was immediately pulled out of my immersion once I got past the prologue by some rather jarring design choices. KOS-MOS, Shion, and MOMO all went through some fairly major character design changes (especially the latter two), and the voices for Shion and MOMO are radically different. I think MOMO’s new voice is legitimately bad, but regardless of good or bad, how big the changes were made for a fairly abrupt shock for me, and I just wasn’t feeling it. They did give MOMO a bow for combat in this game, though, so that’s pretty dope. I’d still rather have her old voice and give up the bow, but if I have to deal with this terrible new voice, at least I get to shoot things with space arrows. To the game’s credit, though, the visuals saw a nice improvement in the transition from the first game to this one. It’s not a revolutionary change – it’s still PlayStation 2, after all – but the game’s visuals overall look more detailed, a bit sharper, and overall more refined.
Xenosaga II is a good bit shorter than the first game averaging around 20 hours rather than 30 hours, but that’s probably due to the cut scenes; from what I’ve been able to gather, the first game had somewhere between eight and nine hours of cut scenes, but despite being around 30% shorter, this game only has about an hour less in cut scenes, clocking in somewhere between seven and eight hours from what I’ve read. This leads to cut scenes’ having a tendency to feel EXTREMELY long and, after a while, EXTREMELY boring. Yeah, there are some cool cut scenes, but good lord, guys, all things in moderation. The story itself feels even more chaotically told than what I saw in the first game. The Gnosis is barely mentioned in this game, and while it does mention U-DO more than the first game did, it only somewhat explains what, exactly, U-DO is. It talks about the URTVs, artificial people created specifically to fight U-DO, but again, it doesn’t explain what it is that makes them different from Realians, the other artificially created people. As I told someone on Twitter, I feel like there’s probably a really good story waiting to be told here, but it’s told so haphazardly that I just end up getting irritated rather than intrigued.
Xenosaga Episode II is largely considered the black sheep of the trilogy, and I have to agree with that assessment. It had the potential to be an overall improvement – it looks a lot better, and the combat is significantly less mundane – but the questionable design changes and the storytelling that’s just all over the place totally killed it for me. It was, mercifully, much shorter than the previous game, but all things considered, I’d say it’s about on par with entertainment value. Like the first game, it’s definitely not bad, but it definitely didn’t do it for me. It’s a competent follow-up, but it’s not winning any awards for engrossing storytelling or innovative gameplay.