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    dkirschner's Xenosaga (PS2)

    [March 31, 2012 08:41:17 AM]
    I just finished Xenosaga, then looked at some walkthroughs to see how much stuff I missed and read a few boss strategies, and then re-read my previous logs for the game. Turns out I did a pretty thorough job for what a normal person would know going through! I got the vast majority of the segment addresses open, did very well with managing character stats and abilities, and got a ton of the special items. The stuff I missed was almost exclusively "secret" where you have to, say, go to a specific spot with a specific character as the leader in your party and perform a specific action, with no hints or anything to do it. Also, from reading my earlier logs, I played this game much less critically than I started out playing it. That's good on one level. I got into it. That whole gender issue faded into the background in the game, but damn if it was obvious in the beginning. And regarding the whole Nietzsche title, Albedo likes to talk about how will is all that matters, and he's certainly chasing power, but other shady people are trying to control him and say that he's not as powerful as he thinks. Yeah so, it's about will and power, but not Nietzsche. There are no more uberpeople than the insane villains of all other RPGs, who are all superior beings of higher consciousness and whatever they've deluded themselves into believing...until you defeat them.

    I don't have much to say. It was an awesome game, took me a bit shy of 50 hours. I somehow remember it taking 80 the first time. Perhaps that's because I was obsessed with the card game. **Edit - I read the box back when pulling out Xenosaga 2, and the box boasts 80 hours of gameplay, which is nonsense. On the average is 45 hours to complete the main story and sidequests.** So my previous 80 hours must have been just playing that card game so much. This time I started excitedly playing it when it became available, but it didn't grab me, so I quit bothering with it. I really wish you could have actual opponents in the game instead of just playing against stock decks. It's odd the things you spend time with in a game on multiple playthroughs, and/or 10 years down the road. I don't remember last time paying so much attention to upgrading my characters and killing enemies on skill point modifiers. This time I was meticulous about it, and a good thing too. Those skill point modifiers are amazing and I was able to max out all of Shion's stats with leftover Tech points, give almost every character Medica All and the revive spell, and I got really far in the skills. I don't even know from last time that I could spend Tech points on stats, but it made a huge difference. Max out defense and you take so much less damage. By the end of the game, Shion was a beast. Killing enemies on the modifiers was a little tedious at first, but as the game progressed and I began to have more control over boosting, it typically didn't stretch battles much. It was actually kind of fun and an added challenge to kill enemies only on that one modifier. There were definitely some tense moments in boss fights as I was trying to time the battle slots just right. So yeah, in a sense I feel like I was abusing the point system.

    The story is pretty confusing. There are a lot of moving parts, and what I'm going to do next is browse through some story online and see if I can't make more sense of it. Or I'll boot the second game and check the encyclopedia there. If I remember correctly, the second game did a very good job of catching me back up. There was one story bit that was stupid. The party is protecting MOMO, the 100-series Realian, because she's got super universe-maintaining important data in her that all the bad guys are out to get. So what do they do? They LEAVE HER ALONE to help injured people after the Gnosis attack the Kukai Foundation. How freaking stupid can you be? So of course Albedo is there and abducts her. Good job driving the story forward, but that is the most unlikely scenario I can imagine. Do you often leave the key to saving the universe alone and unattended? No. No you don't.

    I did good not using walkthroughs. I only had to do it once, and that was this elevator with boxes on it and a panel in the center that you push to take it up. But it was this weird puzzle that I would never have figured out. Once I read the answer, I think it's clever, but I dunno how I'm expected to think in those terms. So there are 6 floors, named 2-7. Each floor has another number next to it. 2 has 3, 3 has 6, 4 has 9, and so on. I got the pattern. Now what to do with it? I had been just shooting boxes and pushing the elevator button when it lit up. Shooting the boxes was somehow tied to being able to raise the elevator and to which floor it went to. I couldn't figure it out. Nothing made a pattern. So I looked it up. Turns out the numbers (3,6,9...) are how many boxes you have to shoot to get the elevator to go to the corresponding floor. Whoa. Now, there aren't just boxes, but different sized boxes that use a single block as a basis for size. So there are boxes that are one block big, two blocks big, three and four. So you've got to just shoot combinations to give you the corresponding number of the floor you want to go to. Spent a lot of time on that one.

    One of the biggest realizations I had while playing had to do with managing my EP resource. I had used Shion as my primary support character most of the game. Since I timed killing enemies on the skill point slot, I took a lot of extra damage, so I had to heal a lot. That's a lot of EP! At some point I realized that I could save myself a lot of EP and time. Shion has a Boost +1 skill that just gives someone +1 boost. In minor battles, you often don't build the boost gauge, so if you need to boost to jump ahead in line and attack on the skill point slot, you can't. BUT, if you cast +1 boost immediately, it's the same EP cost as a normal heal and that'll allow you to jump in line and kill enemies on the skill point slot instead of just waiting x number of rounds for it to naturally land there on your turn. Good times.

    Okay, so thumbs up for Xenosaga. I'm going to pull out Xenosaga 2 and see how that starts off. According to the internet it's like 25% shorter than Xenosaga 1, and since I took extra long on 1, I imagine 2 will feel relatively short. Hopefully it's good though. I do remember it being less awesome. Onward!

    This entry has been edited 1 time. It was last edited on Mar 31st, 2012 at 09:01:56.

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    [February 6, 2012 09:20:44 AM]
    10+ hours into Xenosaga. I forgot how much of the game is cut-scenes. They prompt the 'interactive movie' critique from some. I enjoy them because they effectively tell the story and develop the characters, and to me, that's useful and entertaining. These definitely take away from the 10 hours I've supposedly played. A big chunk of that has been watched time instead of played time. Another big chunk has been the Xenocard side game. I bet I've spent no more than 2 hours actually running around in missions and another 2 hours running around ships exploring, then probably 3 hours in the card game, which leaves another 3 in cut-scenes and menus. But like I said, I don't mind, because everything I'm doing is compelling.

    The Xenosaga games didn't do as well commercially as the developers and producers hoped. That's why they cut off the series at a trilogy instead of the original six games it was supposed to span. I was playing last night and realized how odd it was that I was playing a female main character, Shion. And the second main character, KOS-MOS, is a (female) android. Games favor male characters. I imagine that creating a game (in most cases) with female leads would be considered "risky," although sci-fi RPGs might be a more flexible sub-genre than some. Imagine the newest Call of Duty game with a badass female sniper. I seriously doubt it would garner the same wild success as the macho male-driven CoD games. So I began thinking about Xenosaga in light of this risky decision to place two female characters as leads. What other really successful games have female characters? *crickets* Tomb Raider...ummm...uuuh...B..Barbie...uuuuh...successful games with female leads, successful games with female point exactly. I can think of some other really good or interesting games, but none terribly successful, like Beyond Good & Evil, Fatal Frame, Alice, Bayonetta...In fact, these are all the types of "best games you've never played" variety. Successful games with male leads? Ummm...all the rest! Hell, there are more successful games with animal leads than female leads. And most of those animals are male anyway.

    My point? I think Xenosaga took a risk that ultimately did no good for the series. I'm not saying Xenosaga wasn't a massive success because it has female lead characters. I'm saying that I think it would have done better if it revolved around males. That would be an interesting question to study. You can also count off plenty of other variables that may or may not have contributed to the series' shortening, extensive cut-scenes, a weak second installment, or whatever else people have had problems with.

    But since Xenosaga is a game revolving around two female characters and their supporting cast, that's a great step forward right? Well, I can't help but notice the sexy sexy outfits Shion and KOS-MOS are crammed into. Mini-skirts, tights, high heels, boob-enhancing body armor. Hey, it's a JRPG, what do you expect, right? Shion is the shy, sexy, smart librarian scientist type with glasses. KOS-MOS is the sexy badass battle robot that will kill you without thinking twice. And of course Shion has a guy on her crew who really likes her, but she's oblivious and he's a stammering, hopeless romantic about it. So, female leads, not quite Tomb Raider-style objectification, but still obvious.

    Shion is also submissive, unless she's talking about KOS-MOS. She follows stereotypical gender roles. At one point a man calls her a "bimbo" for walking where she's not supposed to. Instead of getting mad or defending herself, she says "Sorry, sir." The guy was in no position of authority over her. She could have some attitude, some no-nonsense rebuttal for men who make comments about her. Another guy on a ship comes on to her, tells her that he's going to buy her dinner and then take her to his room, and it just goes over her head. She says "Uh, okay," because she's supposed to be shy and doesn't know that she's attractive and that men like her. It's sexy right?! She's so pretty she doesn't even know it! She doesn't know how to interact with guys who are being forward with her! Oh man, there must be tons of these clueless hotties in real life. Every guy's fantasy right?

    The first day she is on this same ship with the guy who hits on her, she cooks the all-male crew dinner. They make comments about how they can finally have good food because she's on board now, and that they always eat crap because none of them can cook (because they're all men, it's implied, and they need a woman around because women can cook). They're eating, and the Captain, who is a pig (metaphorically while eating, not literally -- I know it's an RPG so he could actually be a pink pig) is stuffing his face and can only say "WATER" when he wants a drink. Shion pours him water. There are four people at the table and she pours him water two or three times after he says "WATER." I think it's supposed to be funny, but I was busy thinking about how the woman is serving the men. They finish dinner, and she and Allen (the guy who likes her) go into the kitchen to clean up. She's the only one seen washing the dishes as she and Allen talk. Allen is just leaning against the counter. Then and androgynous character named chaos (little "c") comes in and offers to help dry the dishes. Shion says okay, but he never does it. He leaves, and to me it is implied that Shion dries them. Then, Shion is concerned that the Commander didn't show up for dinner, so she takes food to him. This is the infamous food delivery quest in Xenosaga where you run around the ship looking for the guy to deliver his dinner. You find him, he eats, and then puts the tray, literally places the tray, in Shion's lap, for her to take away. Then in an instance of game magic, the tray disappears after the cut scene and you go off to do something else.

    So in the span of last night, I went from thinking how neat it was that this was a female-driven story, to thinking that might have helped the series abruptly end, to becoming defensive and thinking that this must be progressive or feminist in some way, to paying attention to how gender operates in the game and realizing that, in fact, it's not progressive at all. This makes me sad.

    KOS-MOS and Shion do represent opposite ends of the spectrum in emotionality vs logic though. KOS-MOS, though not *really* a woman, is a being ruled by rationality. She's 100% machine and she calculates all her decisions, and behaves based on prime directives and probabilities. Shion (the real woman) is very emotional. She cries over death, berates KOS-MOS for being so rational, even when KOS-MOS's rationality saves Shion's life at the expense of another. But nevertheless, Shion is a great scientist, head of designing and testing the KOS-MOS project. It's an interesting juxtaposition between the rational scientist Shion and the emotional Shion, and between Shion and KOS-MOS. With Shion, her emotionality dominates even though she is a scientist. She's seen as trying to infuse KOS-MOS with human feelings and to struggle with what kind of a "person" KOS-MOS is for being so emotionless and calculating regarding life and death. I'll keep paying attention to this kind of thing. There is one other female so far, MOMO, but she's a Realian and a "child." I don't have too much of a sense of her role right now, except that she's a "100-series prototype" that her mad scientist "father" (creator) implanted with some codes or schematics or something that a bunch of different powerful people/organizations are trying to get. So basically she's a valuable commodity who needs the protection of (so far) a male cyborg named Ziggurat 8 (Ziggy, she insists on calling him).

    And to switch topics and make this even longer, I noted some other things so far...

    I don't see much Nietzsche yet. There's some talk about free will, and there are some "Uberhumans," who are just a side note in the encyclopaedia. Most philosophical topics so far are on what makes a human a human, and the treatment of human-like beings, namely Realians, who are actual biological humans who have been manufactured, generally as cannon fodder for military use. Do they have the same rights as normal humans? Is it right to treat them as commodities and to create them for the sole purpose of dying for normal humans? To what extent do they have free will? If they are "programmed" to be loyal to humans and fight for them, and they want nothing more than to fight for them, then are they exercising their free will? There is mention of Jung's unus mundus, which the name of Xenosaga's interstellar internet is taken from (UMN, Unus Mundus Network). Makes sense enough literally, one world, connected. I'm still not sure to what extent the game actually treats Nietzschean ideas, or Jungian psychology or any of that stuff, or if the writers just thought it was cool to name the games after Nietzsche's books, or that they had just enough to do with these old controversial dead guys' ideas, by mentioning them or superficially touching them, to name the games as such. Will figure it out as I play though.

    Another interesting thing is the in-game encyclopaedia, or database. It's self-referential and intertextual within the series. It talks about the game in third-person and even references future episodes. I was reading some entries, and for one of them, don't remember what it was, some skill, it said "unfortunately this skill does not appear in this episode" and it will mention "the game" and talk about the characters as a narrator might: "In an early scene in the game, Shion and KOS-MOS..." It's an interesting choice of style. My gut feeling is that is takes me right out of the game world that I'm trying to immerse myself in by reading the database in the first place, the database which is integrated into the story and the gameplay a plug-in to the UMN system that I downloaded from an email in the game's neat email system. Even though it brings me out of the game world a bit, I can't say I dislike the narrative style of the encyclopaedia because it's clever for talking about itself.

    The battle system is very fun. I remember enjoying it last time, and this time is no different. There is an "event wheel" or something that ticks every turn. It goes from blank (nothing special), to an increased critical hit rate, to an increased boost gauge, to an increased points reward if you kill an enemy on that tick, then back to blank and so on. So I attack on blank, right. Then the next character attacks on increased critical and has an increased crit chance and (?) damage. Then the next character who attacks gets an increase to his/her boost gauge. And so on. Anyway, the points are where it's at because that's how you upgrade skills, learn new ether attacks, upgrade stats and tech attacks. So I'm meticulously killing as many enemies as possible on the point multiplier (it's either x2, x4 or x10, and I think it's random, with x10 being extremely rare because I haven't seen it yet). So if you're fighting 2 enemies who each give 2 tech points, 2 skill points and 2 ether points, you kill them normally and get 4 of each point (2 points times 2 enemies for each point = 4 of each type of point). If you kill one of those enemies on a x2 point multiplier, then you get 6 of each type of point (2 points x2 multiplier = 4 points from one enemy, and the normal 2 points from the other). Say you get lucky and kill each enemy on a x4 multiplier. That's 16 points! 2 points x4 multiplier = 8 for each enemy. Bosses and bigger enemies give you like 50 points, so hitting a x4 is huuuuge. Although the last boss I completely killed him on accident too early and missed a multiplier, and I seriously thought about resetting it because, say 200 points from him, is like learning a new ether attack straight away. Huuuuge. I don't remember doing this last time, but this time I'm all about it. Speaking of ether attacks, you learn them from a skill tree, and you can't see the skills in the tree until you have enough ether points to upgrade the root in the tree. This is weird to me from playing World of Warcraft for so long because in that game I had all the skill trees pretty much memorized. In MMOs you plan your character. In single-player RPGs, I feel like half the fun is not planning your character. You just go with it! Like the first time I played a character in WoW, there was no planning. I just went with it. But it feels weird, kind of scary, like I could mess it up.

    Finally, the game's difficulty is definitely there. I guess it's been a long time since I played a turn-based RPG like this one (the last one was Rogue Galaxy in July 2010 -- thanks GameLog, that's handy to be able to look up!) I've gotten a handful of game overs already. There are definitely some things the tutorial aspects and manual don't tell you that you just have to figure out, early lessons to learn. Some of these lessons are unforgiving. Learn now or die! The first was when Shion has to navigate the ship when the Gnosis attacked. You're supposed to go through it without being attacked by a Gnosis. Can be tricky, but did it on my third try I think. The thing is if you do enter combat with one, you can get away if and only if you've (a) bought escape packs, or (b) learned the Goodbye skill with Shion. I had done neither of these things, spent my first ether points on Analyze instead of Goodbye; therefore, I could not under any circumstances enter into battle with a Gnosis. Other optional and hidden things are extremely valuable. The first time you control Ziggy, there is a hidden Scope, an equippable item that lets you see the enemy's HP, always very handy. If you don't find it, you've no idea how much HP enemies have. Not necessary, but extremely useful. You also learn, in his segment, how poison works. The manual only tells you that it ticks away 20% of your total HP every tick. When and how often the tick occurs it doesn't say. Turns out poison can tick even after you kill the last enemy! I died once this way, killed the enemy, then poison ticked and I died. Personally, I think that's cheap and I should not have died, but hey, now I know not to try and finish off the enemy before the poison gets me. I should heal or remove it, then kill the enemy. The game also doesn't give you the abbreviations for enemy weaknesses. It'll say L, B, Sl, Pr and so on. Is L laser? Is is light? Line? I'm not sure, but I wish I knew! I'll probably go look this one up online because it's ambiguous. I have been figuring out enemy weaknesses by using Analyze with Shion, or if she's not in the party like in the Ziggy segment, just trial and error. But even when you analyze an enemy, its weakness doesn't display when you select it from then on. You've got to memorize it or keep checking the monster database between battles. Another thing I figured out is that some enemies will do painful attacks if you use an Ether attack on them. That's where the poison happened so far, mostly area and line attacks that hit multiple party members. Some of my characters use some Ether attacks and others don't, so I'm figuring out the situational strengths and weaknesses of my party members.

    Aaaaand the best for last...card game! Yes, the beloved RPG-embedded card game. I thought you walked around and challenged NPCs in Xenosaga, but turns out (so far at least, and I hope it's only so far!) that you just play stock "players" at save points through the UMN terminal. There are 10 decks I can play against. I spent forever looking at my starter deck and buying a few booster packs, building and editing a deck, going through the tutorial, and then playing my first game, which I won without too much trouble. I will likely spend a lot of time trying to dominate the card game.

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    [February 1, 2012 02:16:08 AM]
    History: I played Xenosaga way back when in 2002-2003. I played Xenogears on PS1 before that and never had any clue how the two relate. Xenosaga is one of the most memorable RPGs I've ever played, (from what I fondly remember) a brilliant sci-fi RPG with a fun battle system with enough complexity and strategy to keep me really entertained, a ton of impressive cut scenes, interesting characters and plot, etc. etc. OH, and a sweet card game. I played Xenosaga 2 at some point after that and never bought Xenosaga 3 until now. It so happened that I bought it with Xenosaga 1 and 2 because I certainly don't mind playing a great game again to catch up with the trilogy finale.

    So how does it hold up? What's it like 10 years later? What are my first impressions after an hour and change of play time?

    I *immediately* recalled the metallic sci-fi 'door-opening' swish sounds of the menus. When I pushed "New Game" and the menu made the sound it makes when you select "New Game" or "Continue" I was transported back to my room in that shitty townhouse I lived in my second year of college. I was brought right back to that room on the second story with that silver TV with the Knife Trade sticker across the top, and remember that time that Gesci got pissed off at me for taking the PS2 into my room because then she couldn't watch DVDs, which she only seemed to want to watch when I was playing PS2, and then she wrote Paul a letter at boot camp complaining that I'd taken *his* PS2 into my room and wouldn't let her use it. Hilarious. But I'm not being poetic or going into story-telling mode for fun or verbosity. All these memories literally flooded back when I heard that menu sound.

    I remembered the first time watching the opening CG movie about the discovery of the...of the...well there's one thing I don't remember...of the Gnosis artifact, whatever it's called. I watched that opening movie over and over back then and showed it to all my friends because I thought it was so cool. That's definitely a sign of the times because regular gameplay of an average game today looks better than that CG. But it's still cool. I did notice now that the characters in that movie, a guy who looks either Middle Eastern or Asian of some sort, and some Kenyan workers, all speak neutral American English. Why? I read a neat article on language and accents in games showing that whoever decides that ends up perpetuating certain stereotypes about people in various places in the world. So all these workers speak perfect English, whatever that means.

    I really don't know how I remember this game so well. I remember the tutorial, the battle system came back to me very easily. I remember the characters, I remember the dialogue and the events that have happened so far in the first hour. It's literally almost all familiar. The first real level of fighting I remember. I remember the secrets, I remember exploding barrels, I remember so much. My only conclusion is that I must have freaking loved this game and it must have had a huge impact on me.

    Ten years later though, I've read some Nietzsche, and the titles of the 3 games are titles of his books, so I figure there is some philosophical commentary and ideas explored through the characters and the story that I wouldn't have picked up on last time. I'll look specifically for that out of interest. I'll probably play Beyond Good & Evil after/during this to go on and make it a Nietzschean gaming semester.

    Looking forward to playing some more this weekend!
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    dkirschner's Xenosaga (PS2)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Tuesday 31 January, 2012

    GameLog closed on: Saturday 31 March, 2012

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Must have been memorable because it's all familiar and coming back to me. Looking forward to doing the whole series! --------------- Excellent game, love all the cut scenes, characters, story, complexity...

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

    Related Links

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    See info on Xenosaga

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