Next up, we have the second Xenosaga episode. This episode suffered from massive amounts of fan backlash, seeing as how it was more or less the sales of this game that caused the series’ shortening from six to three episodes. Still, despite that, how does it actually fare? Well, you’re here to find that out, I bet.
The second game’s plot was… honestly, kind of disappointing. It immediately follows the ending of the first episode, though I can’t say much more than that. While the plot starts off on a relatively high pace, and has plenty of interesting bits, I feel as if it’s very weakly connected in this installment. It seems there was a ton of filler, including one entire dungeon that could very much be removed and the overall plot would not be affected at all. There was this one boss in said dungeon that showed up out of nowhere, had three lines of dialogue with the characters or so, and then disappears. Nobody cares about said boss, either, so this boss is by and large ignored. While there aren’t any other egregious examples, I’d be lying if I said that boss was the only example. That being said, the relevant stuff is still pretty good. There are some really engaging scenes, and you get to go to places you only wish you could go in the first game, and you learn some really important things. For example, the first segment of the game is a flashback to the Miltian Conflict. If you’ve played the first game, you probably already know how important that seems. Regarding the title, you can start to see how it applies not just to this episode, but to the entire series, as well. The comparisons you can draw, at this point, are really thought provoking. That being said though, the game’s pacing is off. The game spans two discs, yet the first disc is over in about seven hours of playtime. While the entire game is pretty short, at least compared to the other two titles, it’s rather ridiculous how quickly someone can get through the first disc. At any rate, while there’s a decent amount of filler, and while the pacing is off, the second episode’s plot is still pretty engaging, though it’s not as good as the first episode’s.
The characters are by and large the same. In this episode, an oft mentioned individual now joins the party. He’s Shion’s brother, Jin, and he’s a samurai and a scholar. He also kicks tons of ass. However, despite coming in to the adventure late, he’s not at all shoddy, either. He’s got as much as depth as the other party members. One thing I should mention is that the focus shifted to Jr. in this episode. Most of the plot revolves around him, and he gets the most development. Unfortunately, the other characters don’t get all as much development. Shion, for instance, is relatively static in this episode. Fortunately, there’s enough content for other characters such that they do get some development, but it’s easy to say that these characters got shafted. One thing I will comment on is the relationship between Jr. and this episode’s villain. I thought it was fantastic, and I was really sad to see how that part ended. I can’t say the same about the rest of the characters. Still, I guess you’d enjoy the characters in this episode if you enjoyed the characters in the previous episode.
The gameplay takes a radical shift from the first episode’s style. First and foremost, what you’ll immediately notice is that there’s no money. Yep, they removed any and every form of currency from the game (except for one sidequest). “But how do you get equips and items now?” you may ask. Well, about that: there aren’t any equips. Yep, those are some pretty radical changes. The only things you can equip are select skills you can learn. Items, additionally, can only be found, gotten from enemies, and received from people. This episode also added a pretty large sidequest system, called the Good Samaritan Campaign. Here, you do certain tasks for people, and they’ll reward you with important items (some may give your characters access to new skills, some may open up new areas, etc.). This really adds to the game’s relatively paltry length. There is also quite a lot of postgame content available after you beat the game. The point system has been trimmed down, and quite well, I might add. The game does a good job of explaining it, so I’ll leave it out of the review. However, one problem that I had with the first game, having to constantly play catch up, is pretty much eliminated in this game, so I consider that a plus.
The game’s battle system is quite a large departure, as well. For starters, the game introduced break zones. These zones basically prevent you from doing any significant damage to an enemy, so if you want to win battles, you gotta go ahead and break those zones. How do you go about breaking those zones? Well, attacks are done via square/triangle and circle. Square is for hitting B zones, triangle is for hitting C zones, and circle is situational: it can hit either B zones, C zones, or even the very rare A zones. So say an enemy has a break zone of BC, you’d have to first hit them with a square attack, then a triangle one. With CB, triangle, then square. The game also revamps stock: you have a maximum of three stock, and they’re used to give you more attacks in one sequence. One square/triangle attack, followed by another will not consume any stock, nor will an initial circle attack. However, beyond that point, you can only use circle attacks, and each one costs one stock. You occasionally get stock from attacking, but there’s an option in the X menu to stock up, and gain a stock (this is also puts you in the guard state). Stock can also be used for special attacks, sort of like in the first game. Additionally, boost has been revamped to be used as a common pool for the entire party, and not just separate bars for individuals. Fortunately, boost fills up a lot quicker in this game, so you can use it pretty liberally. An enemy, once broken, will recover when your turn ends, but using boost keeps them in that broken state. Additionally, if you haven’t broken an enemy yet, but have made some progress on breaking their zone, boosting will keep that progress. For example, if an enemy has a break zone of BCBB, with one character, you could hit their B and C zones, then boost to another and finish off their zone with BB. This is really important to remember for bosses, as you don’t want to have to use your stock to break a boss, when you could be doing a lot of damage, instead.
There are also several states, once broken: you can either air or down an enemy. These states are rather self explanatory, and they require certain characters to do so. For instance, KOS-MOS’ and Jin’s attacks air enemies, while Ziggy’s and chaos’ attacks down them. Aired and downed characters and enemies take a lot more damage, but they recover from that state after a turn ends (though an aired enemy will fall and be downed, instead of getting up). Finally, there exist elemental chains: you get a damage multiplier for doing attacks with the same elemental property in a row. So what’s the proper method of handling enemies? Stocking to full, then breaking an enemy with one character (without wasting stock), boosting with another to air the broken character (or down if airing isn’t available), then blowing all your stock on the aired/downed enemy, boosting with other characters to continue doing damage. For most enemies, that’ll be enough. For bosses, you’re going to have to use ethers to raise damage output and give your attacks elemental properties. This will kill most bosses in the beginning, but by the end, you’re gonna have to repeat the process once, maybe even twice. Bosses can get really dangerous as they get low on health, so it’s important to use this process to avoid their power ups.
While all that sounds monstrously complicated, it’s actually quite strategic. It stresses preparation, rather than pure attacking. However, while it does stress strategy, I find that it’s not really tactical, as for most enemies and bosses, you don’t have to deviate from this ideal strategy. And it minimizes the amount of preparation you need to do before battle, as even if you get caught off guard by a boss battle while you have your non-ideal party in play, you can easily switch to them. However, that being said, I feel as if the battle is heavily imbalanced. The fact that characters don’t have break zones, and can be aired/downed at will by enemies with skills that can do these things, put the party at a disadvantage, especially since enemies can very well beat your party by just straight up attacking. The party, however, is going to have to set up for each enemy, and finally bring each one down. If you’re lucky, you may have some boost or stock remaining, so that might save you some time. Still, a battle against multiple enemies can take a while, which is not really all that fun, considering you’re repeating the same tactics. Meanwhile, a boss can be trivialized, and taken down in a few minutes. For instance, my fight against the final boss took a mere five minutes, while fights against normal enemies in the surrounding area would take ten. While optional bosses do present a challenge, I still feel as if this game was designed with fighting one enemy in battle in mind, as there are no real effective ways of dealing with multiple enemies until near the end of the game. Still, I will give it points for attempting a strategic battle system.
Furthermore, you also have separate mech battles, this time in E.S.’s, not A.G.W.S.’s. The battle system changes radically in E.S.’s, though they’re radically simpler. Fortunately, that’s probably a good thing. E.S. segments tend to be breathers from the tedium of character battles. How they work is rather simple: you can attack once per turn, and attacking fills up your energy meter by 25. The energy meter maxes out at 200 (or 300 with items), and when you hit certain thresholds (100, 200, and 300), you can perform special attacks. Additionally, selecting charge from the X menu fills up your energy meter by 100 (charging also guards). These battles, as a result, are much more straightforward, and battles against enemies go by much quicker. Oddly though, E.S.’s and characters level separately, and E.S.’s don’t have a skill system, so they don’t get any skill points (making the skill point slot useless). Additionally, E.S.’s have a main pilot, who cannot be changed (E.S. Asher has Jr., E.S. Dinah has KOS-MOS, and E.S. Zebulun has MOMO), and a subpilot, who can be interchanged between units. The subpilot affects what sort of special attacks you gain access to, as well.
The graphics are also, unsurprisingly, revamped. The style used for the characters shies away from the anime style of the first game, and instead opts for a more “realistic” style. The results can be… jarring. I can’t say which I preferred more, the first game’s, or the second’s, but the change is pretty off-putting. Still, the backgrounds look a bit better, the textures have improved, and the animations are even better. Many of the cutscenes are pretty cinematic, and when it came to some of the fights, I really enjoyed some of the choreography, though it got ridiculous and over the top at times. As a result, I enjoyed the graphics a fair bit more than in the first game, as jarring as they are.
The sound, on the other hand, got worse. Yasunori Mitsuda was replaced by Yuki Kajiura and Shinji Hosoe. “Wait a minute, is that THE Yuki Kajiura? How could it have gotten worse?” you may ask. Yuki Kajiura only composed the cutscene music, and though a lot of it is good, some of it is pretty bland. This is because, in my opinion, she can only really do certain types of songs well, but others, not so well. Similarly, I did not really like Shinji Hosoe’s music too much. I did enjoy some of his songs, and his music is not technically bad, but I couldn’t remember liking much of his music. I don’t even think I remember much of his music, at all. The voice acting got worse, as well. They brought in a number of new voices actors, and boy, do they not fit in this game (specifically, for the main characters, Shion, KOS-MOS, MOMO, and chaos got new voice actors). Though I can’t necessarily criticize the voice actors alone, since I think the voice director wasn’t all that great, as well. Some dramatic scenes, as a result, come off as pretty laughable and forced. I couldn’t take Shion’s voice actress seriously at all, for example. Still, at the very least, they’re not unbearable.