This is sort of a review of xenogears, but from two angles: the me from right now and the me from 1998 (I was 16). Now, this might still be a little tricky, but effectively the reason for this article is for a lot of us we have this rose-colored glasses look of games from the yesteryear that we used to love, then when we go back to play it, we either make excuses for it or outright cannot enjoy it anymore.
Honestly, I don’t think the same can be said for games like Xenogears, which is important because when you get right down to it, games like Xenogears, Final Fantasy 6 and 7, Super Mario RPG, etc. have always been held in high regard, but I was worried that like so many other games I used to love back then, delving back into it would lead to nothing but sadness. One reason I still love it is the music holds up. It was good then and it’s good now.
Granted, music really comes down to personal taste, but also quality in design, not only in how it’s applied on a given console, but how it’s remembered and enjoyed (or despised) by future generations of gamers. Another thing that’s fun is something that really isn’t done much in turn-based RPGs: having it be more actiony.
What I mean is sure, you have games like Xenosaga, where you get to set up different combos and true, you have games like Super Robot Taisen OG Saga Endless Frontier, where you’re able to juggle enemies in the air with complicated, but awesome combos, but these are in the minority. Most RPGs have it where you select a command, your character runs up and strikes, then runs back into formation…wash, rinse, repeat.
That’s all you do, all day, every day. And I’m certainly not criticizing that; this is exactly what I grew up with. However, it always feels like it’s missing something. Some RPGs compensate by having lots of cinematics or really over the top attacks, possibly even well-animated sprites and whatever. With Xenogears, they allow you to create your own combos and throw in deathblows, so very similar to that of Xenosaga, which if you haven’t picked up on it already, are connected to Xenogears.
Another thing that helps is, as blocky as they look close up, I still LOVE the high quality sprited characters over 3D environments. Not only did it help show what the PS1 could do, but you didn’t have that shitty, early 3D modeling stuff, which a lot of people still criticize Final Fantasy 7 about (and I gotta admit that it does show its age as a result).
Another thing I like is that even though the game is mostly about scifi, giant robots, duality, god slaying, and all kinds of extra weird shit that Squaresoft likes to throw at us anyway, it also has a martial arts feel to it. Now, that could just be because half of the characters beat people down with their fists, but it’s also because if it was just simple martial arts, it would feel good, but not great.
No no no, Fei beats the fucking PISS out of people with incredible combos that, yes, wear over time, but still look very nice overall and with the sound design, you always get the feel of “ohhhhhhhhh, that bitch SUPER dead.” And keep in mind that half the characters fight with their fists and…well, there you go. While I feel Fei’s are the most calculating and brutal, you also never feel like he’s a brute, just a martial artist (unlike certain other characters you recruit).
There’s still a lot about the story I don’t quite understand and a few localization issues, but the game is still really fantastic. But again, this isn’t just about Xenogears. Not all games can hold up like this, so what gives? Well, imagine this: the McDonalds triple cheeseburger. You know the last time I had one? In the 90s. Why? Because apparently they don’t make them in my region anymore (or possibly just not at all).
How I remember it is it was an incredibly hot burger and it was HUGE. But the last time I had one, it wasn’t so large, seemed kinda flat, and wasn’t nearly as hot. What gives? Well, we can blame the economy, incompetence of the workers, new cooking practices and whatever, or we can call it like it is: it was huge because I was smaller and younger and may differ from how I remember it because it was wonderful…back then.
So naturally, I thought the same thing would happen with Final Fantasy 7. Nope. Final Fantasy 6. Nope. Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Arc the Lad 2, and Final Fantasy 5?! Do you even need to ask? So what gives? Well, it just goes to show that some games really DO hold up over time. Not everything, no, but many really do. In fact, I have confidence that ALL of the previous winners of Game of the Year totally and completely hold up.
Some might claim it’s another case of rose-colored glasses and that could be. These games were special to me way back and still hold up, for me at least. All the same, it’s an interesting test. I would recommend going back and trying a game you haven’t played in forever, just to see if you find the same.