Link to Official Homepage
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Namco
Developer: Monolith Soft
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US 02/05 - Japan 07/04

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Christopher Holzworth
Preview Update
Christopher Holzworth

Xenosaga Episode II made its debut at this year’s E3, showcased on two stand-alone monitors that played an updated trailer around the clock. The second installment features a new and improved battle system with team and double team combination attacks, an updated boost system, and what is referred to as the zone attack/break system.

Although the changes are the result of the discontent Xenosaga Episode II’s battle system was met with, Namco was decidedly pleased with the sales and how well-received Xenosaga Episode I was – both in Japan and America. According to Namco, at least two more of the six total Xenosaga episodes can be expected to make their way overseas. This is especially true if Episode II hits off as well as it’s projected to.

Xenosaga has come to be Namco’s flagship RPG series – beloved by both the company and gamers alike. The developer’s affection for the series is beneficial, as those within Namco responsible for bringing the Xenosaga series over to us put much more effort from their heart’s and souls in order to achieve the success and notoriety that they feel it deserves.

There’s always a concern whether or not all six installments will make it to North American shores, especially with the upcoming wave of next-generation consoles. Namco is unable to make any definitive promises but, we have the word of numerous people within their employment that all measures to complete the series in its entirety will be taken.

Christopher Holzworth
Preview First Look
Christopher Holzworth

Few RPGs have achieved the recognition and notoriety that the Xeno-series has. Although considered an “underground hit”, Xenogears’ stirred tremendous ripples throughout the RPG community as a result of its unbelievable storyline, plot intricacies, and characters. With the announcement of Xenosaga, a six episode series of epic proportions, Xeno-fans and the RPG community followed news of the series with anticipation. Although Episode I was a success, a lot of its game-related aspects had a lot left to be desired. In Episode II, Monolith Soft seeks to polish their union of movie and game elements as one and increase balance between the two. Battle system enhancements, diversity in dungeon exploration, and tuned-up visuals are a fraction of the refinements Monolith Soft has both exhibited and promised.

As expected, the story of Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut and Boese will bring resolution to many of the unanswered questions and occurrences from its predecessor. It’s been indicated that the opening cinema of the game will setup the core of Episode II’s plots and what part of the overall story it will play. Having finally made it to Second Miltia, Shion and her companions will meet up with her brother, Jin, a new playable character. From there the story will rocket into a series of revelations and discoveries predominantly revolving around Jr’s past as a U.R.T.V., the events that transpired on Old Miltia some fourteen years before, and of course, Zohar. Another new face to the Xenosaga story, Canaan, will play a role in the story as a friend of chaos’, an acquaintance of Jr’s, and possesses a major role regarding the Miltian Conflict. A special-type Realian, Canaan is said to be lacking in emotional diversity, and speaks more like a machine then an entity who strives for human rights and equality in treatment. His tune-ups are performed personally by Vector Industries, although his purpose in creation remains a mystery. A great deal of flashbacks will be exhibited pertaining to chaos, Canaan, their duties involving the Miltian Conflict, and of course, Jin Uzuki. This includes an epic sword battle against Margulis that many may remember from the original 8-Minute Xenosaga trailer. The fight has since been remodeled and given motion captured choreography to further illuminate its intensity.

Impossible to overlook, Episode II’s graphics have been given a slight face-lift, this time almost literally. While environments and effects seem to retain the same level of detail and touch found in its predecessor, characters from Episode II have been altered to improve realistic appearance. For most characters the changes have only been to their proportions, which have been adjusted to fix height discrepancies and awkwardness. For others, namely Shion and KOS-MOS, a much more noticeable change has occurred. Shion is no longer is the bookworm-large glasses-wearing geeky scientist, but instead a rather attractive young female of slender body and shape. She has a much more Asian look to her now, almost like she’s half-Japanese. KOS-MOS, on the other hand, has lost her extremely anime-styled bean-shaped head and owl eyes in exchange for an older, more mature face. A branding of sorts has also been incorporated into her design on her forehead. Many have complained about KOS-MOS’ new look, arguing that the new physique is more appropriate for an android, especially of KOS-MOS’ stature. Other characters, such as M.O.M.O., have been re-shaped as well; abandoning the more generic anime look for a refined anime style. Kunihiko Tanaka remains as the character illustrator, so the changes are not the result of a staff change within Monolith Soft.

Junya Ishigaki and Kouichi Mugitani are responsible for the design of the AGWS and AMWS units in Xenosaga, adding a stylish flair to a previous bland appearance in the mechs. This is most apparent in KOS-MOS’ unit, E.S. Dina., which boasts an almost “mechanized angelic” look to it.

The second most noticeable – and important – revision to the Xenosaga series is the battle system. Episode I’s was the source of much complaint, grief, and boredom with the game. Many hailed its storyline, characters, graphics, and sound, but shook fists angrily because of its slow battles and dungeons. In response, Monolith Soft has incorporated a combo-attack system into Xenosaga Episode II. It remains to be seen how characters will link attacks together, as the battle system remains fundamentally the same. Nevertheless, it’s been promised that up to three attacks can be joined together to unleash one devastating string of mayhem on the enemy.

With Episode I, players were able to set-off traps that could adversely affect enemies before battle was initiated; hidden passages or items could be exposed by blasting walls or obstructions to pieces. This concept is revived in Episode II, with the promise of further interaction and more animations by the on-screen character. Much like how Xenogears toggled between dungeons designated to the characters and those specifically intended for the Gears, Episode II will offer much more play-time allocated for the AGWS and their cousins, the AMWS; which will also be able to interact with dungeon environments to a degree.

Save data from Episode I will carry over to Episode II, and is said to certainly not be a waste of time, but rather something to look forward to.

Another trademark for the Xeno-series has been outstanding music. Both the original and Xenosaga Episode I’s soundtrack were composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, renowned for his work with Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, and of course, Xenogears. With Episode I he brought the kind of epic sound previously only heard in the movies to RPGs; unfortunately, he has no involvement with Episode II. There is no information concerning the reason for his departure, but there has been a great deal of hype surrounding his replacement(s). Announced some time ago, Yuki Kajiura will be the great Mitsuda’s substitute – and there’s been little complaint of that. Kajiura has a privileged, distinguished career due to her phenomenal work for the anime series Noir and .hack//SIGN. Much like Mitsuda, her style reflects ethnicity and diversity, but incorporates more modern lines of percussion as opposed to Mitsuda’s more rigid classical sound.

There is some uncertainty concerning just how much Kajiura will be composing for Xenosaga. Briefly mentioned on Namco’s official Japanese website, another composer by the name of Shinji Hosoe may have the honor of collaborating with Yuki Kajiura. It seems Kajiura will be lending her talents primarily to the game's opening movie and other cinematic sequences. The in-game soundtrack will be scored by Hosoe, whose most notable works include Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion.

It would seem Xenosaga Episode II’s promise shines beyond the expectations involving its plot and characters. Many of the disappointments expressed over Episode I have been addressed and corrected, and many additions and changes have been promised that would seem to repair Xenosaga as a game. It’s safe to say that Episode II is a stunning achievement, and may just be the turning point for this epic series to stamp its name in greatness not just in story, but as a well-rounded game too.

Look forward to more details and news regarding Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und in the future, as its release in Japan draws nearer.


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