CHRISTIAN: Episode II starts slow, but once in gear, this sci-fi role-playing game’s story is absolutely top tier. The newly redesigned (and cooler-looking) characters get into fascinatingly deep trouble. If anything’s clear at this point in this multigame mega-epic, it’s that the developers have more ideas than they can actually use—but they sure try.
But where the story is overstuffed, the gameplay is streamlined. The battles are better structured than those in the last game, giving you great feedback on how well attacks are working. There’s also more strategy, as you’ll have to jockey for turns and connect attacks to do decent damage. The feeling of trouncing a boss when everything aligns just right is a big reason I love RPGs so much.
I’m less keen on the fact that Episode II’s character development, the backbone of any RPG, has been kneecapped. Each character has the same pool of skills. The skill trees in the last game were a bit scattershot but at least they were unique.
But most disappointing is that this game is but a Xeno snack, less than half as long as Episode I. Sadly, Episode II regresses as much as it impresses. I still love the story’s Japanese existential bluster, and its characters are varied and intense. The slick sci-fi visuals are also second to none, but it’s just a bit short on content to reach the sprawling heights of its predecessor.
SHANE: So much for sequels improving on their predecessors. Episode II ranks as a cosmic downgrade for the ambitious multipart space opera: It’s substantially shorter (you can solve the game in 20 hours) and surprisingly simpler than the last game. Plus, the developers failed to fix Episode I’s main problem—though the grand, sweeping narrative is actually quite engrossing, too much of it unfolds through never-ending cut-scenes of people talking.
Nevertheless, intrepid players will probably want to stick with it for the strategic-yet-speedy battles, huge dungeons, and snazzy visuals. Plus, even by game’s end, you’ll feel like the meaty center of the ongoing narrative still lies ahead. Let’s hope it’s all been rising action to set up Xenosaga III....
OFFICIAL PS MAG—SCOOTER: How do you follow a sprawling sci-fi epic that takes most gamers 60 hours to complete (40 if you’re “fast”)? Make a sequel that’s less than half the length! Sure, you can do those goofy Global Samaritan subquests for cool loot and extra play time, but if you’ve been waiting for a heaping helpful of RPG, prepare to be bummed. While the battle system is better than the one in the first game, that’s only when you’re on foot; step into a robot and it’s hold-down-Square-while-reading-the-Internet city. And the story, well, it’s good—past hour 10. Yet, despite the game’s pacing, the graphics, cut-scenes, and second half of the story end up making Episode II a solid RPG—just not the epic sequel that the previous game deserves. P
The verdicts (out of 10)
Good: A fascinating, visually rich story punctuated by solid battles
Bad: The pacing is broken, and the game’s too short to compensate
Thank Namco For: The redone character designs. Slick
Brilliant scientist Shion Uzuki is not content with merely trying to save the universe from an insane terrorist organization, diving into her friend’s psyche to save her from grave peril, and performing battle operations with the most advanced android ever created—she also helps people find misplaced items, fetches fertilizer, and even destroys broken machinery for sewer maintenance workers. That’s all part of the Global Samaritan campaign, a minigame that has you fixing the lives of the game’s hapless civilians. Anyone know where to deliver this love letter? What about how to help this struggling advertising agency? Samaritans have it rough....
Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Electronic Gaming Monthly.