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Image credit: Eurogamer

Xenogears (1998)

  • Gamepage
  • Developer: Technosoft
  • Developer: Square
  • Publisher: Square

Xenogears was Square's other RPG; development commenced alongside that of its sibling, Final Fantasy VII, but it rolled out a year later to a rather more muted commercial response - so muted, in fact, that we never saw the game here in Europe. In some ways, that's understandable. Xenogears was heavy going, with religious imagery and references which saw it condemned as blasphemous in some quarters, and frequent references to the works of Nietzsche, Freud and Jung. It got even tougher on the second disc of the game, which contained an unhealthy and often criticised mass of cutscenes, and somewhat restricted gameplay.

For all this, however, Xenogears remains a stunning game. You have to be prepared to deal with a fairly hefty dose of Japanese pseudo-philosophy and some astonishingly high-concept science fiction - but by and large, it's worth it. A combat system which allocated action points to various different abilities and martial arts moves turned out to be more flexible and entertaining than anything on offer elsewhere at the time, and it was hard not to find a soft spot for the epic drama on display in the storyline, even if the Nietzsche sections and crucifixion scenes left you cold.

What's more, Xenogears today is a title which is - whisper it - an altogether more enjoyable experience than its justly more famous stablemate, Final Fantasy VII. By opting for sprite-based characters and 3D environments, rather than diving headlong into 3D, Xenogears' team created a game which escapes, to some extent, the march of graphical progress. It's still rough around the edges, and the poor pacing of the second disc will never be forgivable - but Xenogears remains videogames' Dune, a messy, high-concept, gorgeous and patently unfinished beast of a game which everyone should try at least once.

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