Xenosaga II: Jenseits von Gut und Boese
PlayStation 2
Reviewed: 03/23/2005


So we have come to the second part of episodic Xenosaga series. Continuing from where the first game left off, with a few minor and major changes, this one charges deeper into the storyline and is ultimately a more satisfying experience. But enough with mild comments! On to the review!

The meat and potatoes of any Xeno game has to be the storyline. In the second episode the story shifts heavily onto Jr. and Albedo’s past. Without having to deal with all the pesky introductions, the story proceeds at a fairly good level and is very engrossing. The story does suffer a little bit from this only being a beginning part of what promises to be a larger story. As such, it’s hard to say if everything going on is going to finally pay off in the end, whenever that is. However, it stands alone as a very nice piece of storytelling and will delight those gamers looking for a good yarn. For full enjoyment a background in the first game is recommended.

Screen Shot
Hmm…and Albedo was absorbed into The Matrix…

The gameplay in the second episode is rather a vast improvement over the old formula. Xenosaga II sports a rather unique battle system, though it is very similar to the first game. The main difference from the old system is the inclusion of defense breaks. Defense breaks are what basically makes or breaks your strategy. (Excuse the pun.) The basic idea is you have to execute a certain order of moves to break an enemy’s defense, greatly increasing any subsequent damage you manage to deal. The specific sequence varies enemy to enemy, so the main thing you’ll be doing when entering a new area is trying to figure out what breaks the local nasties. Unlike many RPGs, levelling up isn’t going to make your battles a cakewalk. Even well-levelled if you just attack over and over you’re going to wind up dead. Regular enemies can often times take off half a character’s HP in one hit if you’re not careful. Every battle has you on your toes for survival. Add to this a disturbing lack of any shops to buy restorative items and you have a recipe for a difficulty leaning towards hard. It’s not all that bad when you get the hang of it, though. After you have mastered the unique battle system you’ll be dealing out death like…well…Death. The real secret here is the lovable combination of stocking, breaking, and boosting. If you get the strategy down, you’ll be doing fine. A rather refreshing battle system overall, and with the enemies being few in number and set in specific, visible places on maps, it doesn’t become too cumbersome to have these more intense battles. No matter how you level and strategize though, the boss battles are going to be a wee bit on the hard side. Just about every one of them has some nasty special attack biding its time until you bring their HP down to low numbers. The secret then is to kill them quickly so these attacks don’t hurt as much. If you don’t have the system down by now, you’ll probably be visiting the Game Over screen.

The skill system in Xenosaga II is modified from the one in the first game. Now, any skill can be learned by anyone in the party. This is accomplished through the use of Class Points to unlock classes, which each hold a set of four skills, which you use Skill Points to learn. If you learn all the skills in a given class, you are given a bonus of Class Points to use on your way to other skills. The classes are strewn about four different levels as well, which become unlocked once a character has mastered one class in the level before it. Skills are divided into three types: Ether, mastered, and equipped. Ether skills are basically the magic system of the game. Characters use Ether skills in battle to various effects and they cost Ether Points. Mastered skills are skills that give you innate powers that you don’t have to mess with after you’ve learned it. Equippable skills basically replace an equipment system in the game, and allow you to equip three skills to a character initially, although through other skills this limit may be expanded. Overall, it’s pretty simple to understand and execute, although it does lack some individuality among the characters. This is somewhat made up for by Double Attacks, which are attacks done by two characters when certain stock and boost conditions are met, but they can be hard to acquire and hard to execute. Ether skills can also be combined with other characters to great effect.

It wouldn’t be a Xeno game without some kind of robot battle system. Thankfully the set up in Xenosaga II is better than the first game. Much like in the original Xenogears there will be times when the player is forced to use their A.M.W.S. to fight boss battles and explore dungeons. This time around, it takes two people to drive them, a pilot and a navigator. Only two E.S. units can be in the battle party at one time, and the mech battle system can seem a bit simplistic next to the character-driven one. There are no breaks to worry about and usually only two attacks per bot. They have special attacks that vary with the pilots, and these take Energy to perform. Energy is gained at 25 per normal attack, and will go up by 100 if you Charge. Only Momo’s E.S. unit allows you to use Ether skills and none of them let you use items. That’s basically all there is to the mech battle system. On a side note, the extras gained from having Xenosaga Episode I saved data are rather on the skimpy side. It’s just a few skill points and some swimsuits. I was kind of hoping for some extra story sequences or something, but it doesn’t really matter much.

The graphics in Episode II take it up a notch from the first game as well. Explosions are prettier, character models are more solid, faces have more expression, hands move better. Everything is looking pretty good. There has been a lot of controversy over the character model changes for Shion and KOS-MOS, but overall I think the changes are an improvement. The movies are gorgeous to look at and the environments are generally better looking and more interesting than Episode I.

Screen Shot
“So Jin’s sword can slice a giant robot in half, but acts like a perfectly normal sword in a duel?”

The music in Xenosaga II has a bit of a different feel from the original, with the changing of composers. Compsers Yuki Kajiura of Noir and .hack//SIGN fame and Shinji Hosoe stepped in to take up Yasunori Mitsuda’s work. Hosoe brings a sort of techno-ish feel to the game, while Kajiura was in charge of scenario scores. The main theme is outstanding, and while a lot of the background music doesn’t jump out, it achieves ambience quite well, which is the best kind of music for Xenosaga. The sounds are your standard fare, with mechanical hums in all the right places, and lovely explosive and breaking noises. Of particular note is the voice acting. In such a story-driven game voice acting is important, and boy did they pull it off. AniMaze, one of the larger anime dubbing companies, did the voices on this one. If you’re an anime fan, you’ll probably recognize a few of the voices. Of special note is the famed Crispin Freeman playing the insane Albedo to perfection. Shion and KOS-MOS both apparently got new voice actors for this episode and while Shion’s voice sounds much improved over the old one, KOS-MOS is about the same. Regardless, the new voices take a bit of getting used to. Overall, the aural experience of the second episode was a treat.

To sum up, Xenosaga II: Jenseits von Gut und Boese improves on the Xenosaga formula in many ways. However, the length of the game was a little on the short side, and the story’s real pay-off could still be a long way off. Many a Xenosaga fan is already holding their breath in anticipation for Episode III.

-Orie House

Score Breakdown
Very Good
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Very Good
Story Great
Graphics Great
Sound/Music Very Good
Replay Value Good
The Verdict: 7