Playthrough: Stand Tall & Shake the Heavens

The Starlight Megaphone is pleased to present our Winter 2010 feature: Stand Tall & Shake the Heavens, a Xenogears playthrough.

North American Xenogears Box Art

When it was released in 1998, Xenogears received praise from critics and gamers alike. The storyline, soundtrack, and battle system were lauded as being at the pinnacle of contemporary achievement. So well has the game held up that eight years after release, in 2006, the readers of Famitsu magazine voted it the sixteenth best game of all time. Maintaining a 91% at Game Rankings and an 83% at Metacritic, Xenogears continues to satisfy gamers more than twelve years after release.

Success made it possible to bring the game to an even wider audience: a Greatest Hits release was announced in 2003, and then in 2008–ten years after the initial release–Square Enix ensured that the Xenogears was released via the Playstation Network in Japan. At the time of this printing, many fans of the series expect a North American and European PSN release to eventually follow.

This is the second week our our playthrough; this week will cover the second ten hours of the game. Use the comments thread to discuss where you are, strategies for battles, and your opinions about how your perspective of this game has changed since the original release twelve years ago. A selection of this week’s comments will be read on Megaphones Ahoy! Podcast episode 96.

Xenogears awaits!


  1. I am already 11.5 hours into my Xenogears playthrough. I rescued Margue abd attempted to retake Aveh and now I’m chillin’ with my home boys down in D Block. I shall tryyyy to refrain from playing this week, so that I can keep pace with everyone else in the upcoming weeks.

    Graphically I have to admit, the game does not hold up so well. It’s very … blocky. Luckily I’ve never been a graphics whore, so it’s not a big deal.

    I’m still really impressed with the music and the storyline.

    Battles are kinda easier than I remembered. I don’t think I can die even if I try. I’ll keep trying to learn new abilities, though. I know that I’ll need them later, for gear battles. I really like the way your character’s progression actually does have an impact on their Gear. I wish it had -more- of an impact, as late in the game levels don’t matter as long as you have a lot of G, but eh, we’re not there yet. :)

  2. The game still looks very aesthetically pleasing to me, if anything doesn’t hold up, it is the translation.

    I am currently trying to configure epsxe for optimal results. Looking forward to beginning my playthrough shortly.

  3. @Blitzmage: There are plenty of copies on Amazon at very reasonable prices. I’d suggest picking up one used from there.

  4. A decent alternative to ePSXe is pSX.
    It’s basically zero-configuration aside from setting up a few paths, your controls, etc.

    PCSX-Reloaded is more ePSXe like, but not abandoned by the developers (it’s open source, too).
    It seems to run Xenogears faster for me. And it is compatible w/ ePSXe memory cards which is a nice bonus.

    In any case, I’m replaying Xenogears for the first time since ~1998 and have to say the awesome soundtrack is much better not coming out of the single speaker mono on my tiny 13″ TV. :D

  5. isnt the game available on psn? too bad i already finished it like ten times. second best game ever and im too busy playing rpgs with my Recently Acquire psp.

  6. @Juan: It’s available on Japanese PSN, in Japanese. It will probably come out, one day, for North America/Europe, but not yet.

    If you have a hacked PSP and a legitimate copy of Xenogears for PS1, it is fairly easy to put it on your PSP and carry it about with you.

  7. my bad, i thought it was available in English.anyway, i dont want to play it again, its one of my favorites rpgs of all time and i want to keep it that way, too many years have passed and it might look too old now for me. Plus im so tired of random encounters i could barely finish final fantasy 1 for the psp (awesome port, unlike “3d nintendo crap”, but too many battles arggh)

  8. Aww…I was going to import this at some point, I didn’t think the playthrough would be starting so soon. By the time I find one on ebay or amazon and it gets to me over here in the UK with international shipping you guys’ll probably be a week or two into the playthrough..

  9. @Berserk: Pick it up anyway. You’ll certainly still be able to join in, and for $40 you can have one of the best games of all time, at a cost less than that of a new, much worse game.

  10. Yeah I probably will, I need some imported games to play on my NTSC PS2-it cost me a fair bit to get a hold of it. I’ve heard very good things about Xenogears as well.

  11. I made it to Blackmoon Forest last night. Got the RPS Badge, the bird’s egg and the spider on the mountain path, and Midori’s Ring at Doc’s house.

    One thing I’ve noticed on this particular playthrough is that the game constantly insinuates that Fei and Alice are in love with each other, even though Alice is marrying Timothy.

    Timothy, who seems like a nice guy, also seems a bit stupid. One gets a very Keanu Reeves feel from him. “Whoa. I’m getting married. Dude.”
    Dan shows up and tries to convince Fei to run off with Alice. If you say yes, Fei will quite eagerly declare his intention to do just that.
    When you talk to Alice’s aunt, you find out that Alice wanted Dan to do something for her. Later on, it seems that this was the camera-fetching, but it could just as well have involved her putting ideas into Dan’s head to encourage him to get Fei to run off with Alice.
    When Fei talks to Alice, she spontaneously puts forward the idea that things could have been different–if only Fei had been born in the village, she might be marrying him instead. Cue awkward silence.
    On the back of the sign at the entrance into town, someone has scrawled the words “Fei and Alice are in LOVE!”

    It’s worth noting that Xenogears really began several important development concepts which went on to affect future Square (and SE) titles:

    The English localisation team worked directly with the Japanese developers–the first time Square had ever done this.
    The Small Two of Pieces end music is the first time Square ever had sung, vocal lyrics in an ending theme.
    This was the first Square game to feature voice overs and anime cutscenes.

  12. Wow, so I was all set to sit this playthrough out on account of not having a copy of the game, but I was thinking back this morning and remembered I have played through a portion of it. I don’t remember much except the room I was in at the time, but I do remember I was playing it on a laptop. This means either a.) I broke down and downloaded a copy of the iso or b.) I had a copy of the game somewhere. Sure enough, I went digging through my gaming shelf and found a black-bar not-quite-mint-but-in-great-condition copy of Xenogears! Anyway, hopefully this means I can start up a playthrough tonight provided I can find a PS1 memory card somewhere. Not sure how far I’ll get (I usually play games pretty slowly compared to the rest of the site on playthroughs), but I’m glad I’ll be able to participate at all!

  13. i really enjoyed that part when you visited that underground city located under the lighthouse, its a sidequest but its so nostalgic. I also enjoyed when you visited that sky city, i think its name was solaris or something and
    the other part i really like is the ending when your gear opens it wings and the music stars playing i was “OMFG”. and also the part when Fei and Elly had sexual intercourse. i believe thats the only time it has happened in an rpg, except for the persona series of course and bioware games, but bioware games are shooters so they dont count.

  14. I reached the underground cave last night, and just fired up Xenogears for the day.

    Some thoughts:

    This is one of the few RPGs with actual platforming elements. Luckily, those elements are not too difficult (at least to me), and generally improve the experience of ‘treasure hunting’ that I love in RPGs. It doesn’t feel tacked on or secondary in any way, and it isn’t so prevalent that it becomes irritating. It feels completely natural to the point that I can’t imagine XG being designed in any other way.
    That said, getting attacked by an enemy right after a jump, which then causes you to fall, is incredibly irritating. Luckily, this rarely happens.
    Though the translation feels very stilted today (spoiled as we are by the likes of Alexander O. Smith and twelve years of PROGRESS), at the time it was considered extremely well done. There are typos here and there, and a bit of bookishness, but the idiomatic English is remarkably developed, especially considering the complex and abstract nature of some of the dialogue.
    As Darth discovered, XG was invented before the concept that anyone would play this game on Mute. There are no subtitles and they cannot be turned on. Anyway, why would you want to play this game on mute? Yasunori Mitsuda’s soundtrack for Xenogears is seriously my favourite game soundtrack of ALL TIME. Don’t mute it!
    Speaking of the soundtrack, Mitsuda announced last October that he is preparing a Xenogears Orchestral CD, and is taking fan solicitations for what ought to be on it. SO EXCITED. I loved Creid, and I think Humans + Gears is amazing, but I’d die for an orchestral disc.
    There is apparently some confusion about the relations between Xenogears and Xenosaga. I’ll clear that up here: they are not related in anything but the most superficial way. Both Xenosaga and Xenogears take place at the same time in their respective timelines (4176, I think?), but obviously they are not the same retelling of events.

    This confusion stems from the fact that the end of Xenogears shows it to be Episode V of a six-part series, and the original intention on the part of Monolith Soft was to make Xenosaga also a six part saga. However, they are not the same storyline. Xenosaga is a complete reimagining of the events of the Xenogears universe, and bears little resemblance to the complete Xenogears story, which is available in the Japanese-only book called Xenogears Perfect Works.

    So, though both Xenogears and Xenosaga are parts of a six-part series, those two series are entirely different, with different characters, different plots, and different intentions. Any similarities are, as the developers themselves said, “like a director who has a favourite actor who frequently appears in their movies.” i.e. though there is a Citan Uzuki in Xenogears and a Shion Uzuki in Xenosaga, they are not related.

  15. Ok, so I’ve played a really tiny bit so far (just got out of town and started to make my way up the mountain). Here’s the random stuff I can remember noticing:

    I was sitting around for about 15 seconds trying to figure out why my guy wasn’t moving until I realized the game came out before the analog stick was standard. D-Pad fail!
    The camera is reaaaaallly swingy. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but so far it’s been really hard to aim Fei at where I want to go. This isn’t a problem in town, but I can tell it’s going to make platforming segments difficult. One of those cases where I really wish I had a save state button :D
    I think the graphics are pretty good for PS1-era. The sprites are certainly blocky and everything, but the opening cutscene looked well-done (even if I had issues hearing what was going on) and I like the character portraits. All except Dan, that is. I’m seriously not sure what happened with that character, but I keep expecting him to steal my gold and hide it at the end of a rainbow.
    The battle system seems like it could have a lot of depth once it opens up. Right now I don’t really have any options or anything, but I imagine that’ll be remedied soon enough
    The translation’s a lot better than I expected it to be so far. Some of the dialog sounds a bit unnatural, but it’s all at least coherent and grammatically correct (at least as far as I can tell, while I’ll admit isn’t exactly setting the bar very high).

    Anyway, I look forward to playing some more tonight! Hopefully I can get into the story a bit so I’m not so far behind everybody.

  16. -I’m currently in the underground cave sequence.

    -So far the translation is relatively par, but if I recall correctly it goes downhill later on.

    -I had forgotten how impressive some of the game’s sequences are, such as escaping the Aveh sandcruiser as it sinks into the sand.

  17. @SN: Compared to other JP translations of the era, especially those preceding it, XG is a masterpiece.

    @DG: The camera can be rotated to any of the eight cardinal points on the compass. It’s not swingy–it’s that you are probably trying to put it between those points. This is one of the limitations of using 2D sprites in fully 3D rotatable environments. There are only views for the sprites from used angles–if you watch, they ‘snap’ from view to view as the camera rotates around. They are actually entirely 2D.

    Just headed into Aveh at the 8h mark, but I’ve left my game running quite a few times, and done every sidequest thus far, and gotten every item, so I am probably well behind where I ought be. Gosh the music is excellent.

    What does Ol’ Man Bal’ eat!?

  18. In terms of Squaresoft I’d say FFVI, FFVII and CT were all done far better. I’d wager that most Working Designs translations would handily beat it also.

  19. @Lusi: Thanks! I actually figured that out while playing last night, and it makes everything much easier to navigate. It was another case of my being spoiled by analog controls.

  20. @SN: Having played through FFVI, CT, and FFVII all within the last year in their original translations, I can tell you without an ounce of doubt that you are categorically wrong. FFVII is one of Square’s weaker translations, the original translation of CT is very stilted, and FFVI even more so.

    If you’ve been playing the GBA/DS remakes, they have been touched up (and in the case of FFVI, almost entirely retranslated).

    As I said, compared to other Japanese translations of the era. Working Designs was an American publishing company, not a Japanese one. And they translated other people’s games, not their own. They also took ENORMOUS liberties with the scripts in order to accomplish those ends–one of the reasons that some RPG fans hated their work.

  21. FFVII was a Sony translation, not a square one. It was lousy with grammatical errors, but I found it to be more coherent than Xenogears once the game reaches a certain point. I found Xenogears to become a little flat and stilted. Then again I am working off of my recollection of about four years ago, so I reserve the right to change my mind.

  22. Made it to Nisan just a few minutes ago at the 11h mark–once again, that’s with lots and lots of leaving the game running whilst I was off doing other things, and also being very completionist. So, it should be doable in as little as 8h.

    Observations thus far:

    I will never cease to be amazed at the design choice for Margie. What the fuck is she wearing? Why is she dressed like that? How is this person the ‘Holy Mother of Nisan’?
    Chu-Chu is as creepy as fuck and I hate her.
    The first time I played through this game, I found some of the battles during Operation Aveh to be practially unwinnable. I hadn’t learned how the combo system worked and consequently thought Ramsus was invincible and that the game required massive amounts of grinding.
    When you sneak into the fish tank to get the gold nugget, why does the water not pour out of the hole that Bart came through?
    When Fei shows up in the citadel after the first Ramsus battle, how did he get there? Bart had to sneak in via the water system, but Fei can just waltz right in? What?
    I mentioned this on Skype but it is worth repeating here. In Xenogears, ‘Evolution’ is the religion taught by the church of ‘Ethos’–and it is all lies. The real ‘truth’ is apparently that men were created in paradise by God. But, after eating fruit which gave them infinite wisdom, they built giant robots to kill God with. So, in Xenogears, science is a lie and myths are the truth. All the ancient legends are true–except, oddly enough, the one about the Omnigear. That one couldn’t possibly be true. Infinitely wise people who are bent on destroying God couldn’t have built a gear that they intended for that purpose! Don’t be silly. Listen to Ol’ Man Bal’!
    However, that explains the pyramids. Now we know our TRUE history.
    The soundtrack still blows me away. Best game soundtrack ever.

  23. Far from my favourite OST on the whole, but it contains 5 or 6 of my favourite tracks ever to appear in a game.

  24. October Mermaid,Wings,Small Two of Pieces,Distant Promise, and there are about two more tracks, the names of which escape me at present.

  25. -I have just rescued Margie, and am prepared to echo Caspius’s sentiments of WTF were they thinking with her character design/name/personality etc …

    -Many people seem to greatly dislike Xenogears’ graphics these days, but I still find them most pleasing. I am very impressed with all the unique environmental objects and wall textures full of unique details. The game could have so easily reused art assets to save on time, but decided that the visuals required more character than that. This is the difference between Squaresoft and Squeeeeeenix.

    -I can see how the team ran out of time, creating a massive detailed castle to a relatively brief rescue sequence.

    -One thing that really pisses me off about Xenogears is how long it takes to save a game …

  26. @SN: The level of detail in Xenogears is absolutely unparalelled. If the FFXIII team had done it, Fatima Citadel would have been a hallway with a room at each end — one where you start, another where you finish.

  27. Fatima castle is even impressive compared to XG’s contemporary top-tier Squaresoft titles like FFIX. The Alexandia and Lindblum castles are most impressive, but you are still left with the distinct impression that there are parts of the castle which are inaccessible to us, and thus that we are exploring incomplete locations. Fatima Citadel on the other hand is a fully realised locality, and it doesn’t even play as great a role as the castle locations in FFIX …

  28. … I actually think this is why I was so upset by the second disc of Xenogears … you go from some of the most holistic game design that I have ever experienced, to cut-down environments book-ended by reams of exposition …

  29. “You resemble your father.”

    “My father? You mean my dad?”

    Gotta love translations.

  30. Actually, it is because he had a surrogate father in the form of Chief Lee, so Fei is alarmed that Grahf knows his actual father.

  31. The Mech platforming sections really are woeful. The design of the jumps is unforgiving (but that’s OK), the controls feel loose (but are nevertheless serviceable), the camera can be downright awful for lining up jumps (but I can live with that),ultimately the aspect for which I reserve 90% of my ire is the high encounter rate all the while. That’s poor game design IMO (assuming that the point of a game is to be tolerable, if not fun).

    Thank goodness for save states. Emulation really is the way that Xenogears was intended to be played.

  32. I am currently in Cell-block D.

    -I always find it curious the extent to which Rico looks like Blanka.

  33. Just got through the Cell-block D sewer sequence, I really hated it. Thank goodness that I am back to gear battling!

  34. Just reached Norturn this evening.

    I like this segment of the game.
    I hate the stupid battle arena.
    I prefer normal battles to gear battles.

    More to follow!

    @SN holy crap you are racing through! You’ll pass Gin soon!

  35. I’ve had little else to do, and despite my complaints I have been having fun.

  36. Ugh, just ran into a random battle mid jump over a pit…Battle ends and I fall through the pit… That is really annoying. The platforming in this game could have been done so well but it falls more often than not.

  37. I try to run around the edge of a platform to trigger a random battle if I am worried that one is due to pop up when I am about to jump. Especially in areas like Babel Tower where there are long series of jumps.

    I’m working my way out of Nortune now, yippee! Although the sewers were not as bad as I remembered, I am still glad to be through. Having Rico in my patty is getting annoying. HURRY UP.

  38. I know I’m a little behind here (kind of anticipated I would be. Busy week), but I just got Bart in my party. So far I’m liking the story, but I haven’t found any reason yet to hit anything but the triangle button in non-Gears combat. It seems like I could use the medium attack, but it doesn’t do as much damage as 2 light attacks (same goes for the heavy and 3 lights). Am I missing something?

    Also, I’m already incredibly frustrated with the platforming. I’m sure some of it’s just my natural inability to platform (I’ve never been a fan of the genre), but it seems like the controls are just really sloppy. Sometimes I’ll hit triangle and Fei just won’t jump at all and I’ll have to get back up from wherever I fell. Still not a fan of the camera, but it’s certainly manageable. I’m not looking forward to platforming in high random encounter regions, though X_X.

  39. @Darth: Fortunately platforming really isn’t a huge part of the game. Only a few dungeons really use it.

    Also I find that hitting square and x will do more than the appropriate # of triangle attacks, but you sacrifice some accuracy, you could miss or have the attack defended (half daamge).

  40. @Darth: You’ve seen nothing as of yet, the platforming gets more frustrating as jumps become more complex and challenging later on. Luckily (as Ginia said) these sequences only crop up occasionally.

  41. Tonight’s notes.

    I am constantly amazed at the action sequences in this game. The ‘sinking’ of the Yggdrasil and the subsequent exterior encounters between Bart, Ramsus, &c., are all splendid stuff. I am astonished that no one has had the bad taste to make a movie of this yet.
    One of the four battlers in the D Block prison is named Leonardo. Not naming the other three Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo was a chance squandered.
    Rico. Really? Your name is Rico? No, your name is BLANKA.

  42. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


    Playthrough target for Week 3: Complete the Ethos Headquarters!


  43. -I really loathe Billy, he should make like Prim and say fuck all.

    -Jessie is really cool though.


    Seriously though. Why the Thames? It’s a river, not a sea. Why not the Caspian, or the Baltic, or the Adriatic?


  45. Well, I know I’m a little behind, but I just made it through the Margie-rescue sequence. Glad I figured out how combos worked almost immediately before the Ramsus battles, otherwise I would have had a really difficult time. Also, I agree with Lusi, chu-chu’s been on screen for maybe 2 minutes and already I’m irritated with it. Please tell me she gets less intolerable (seriously? They can’t enter the bridge because a stuffed animal’s in the way? Kick it out of the way and then go save, you twats!)

    Also, the translation’s getting more and more quirky. There have been a few lines where I had to pause for a moment to try to figure out what characters meant.

    Also, knowing our luck, Xenogears will be available on PSN less than a week after the site playthrough’s finished.

  46. -Chu chu never gets better.

    -Darth seems to have had a similar response to the translation as myself. It gets a little bit looser later on (right about the time that the plot is heating up).

  47. Fucking Chu Chu is a horrible little shitturd.

    And unfortunately if you want the last battle to be easy, you need to use her.

  48. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


    Playthrough target for Week 4: Complete up to the Defence of Nisan, after Shevat!


  49. I am, I haven’t played in over a week, however i will attempt to catch up this weekend.

  50. I’m going, put a few hours in last night. I’m still dreadfully behind, but now Xenogears is the only game I’m currently playing, so I should start clipping along much faster. One of the problems I’m having is that I frequently play the game right before bed and all the text puts me to sleep pretty quick X_X. Not through fault of the text itself, reading has just always done that to me.

  51. Between being sick and my first week back at school, I haven’t played much of anything this week, and no XG.

    Sorry guys. Looks like I’m well behind now. Ginia might still be ahead, though.

Comments are closed.