Intelligent, well planned, "we will make you think" RPG.
Gears: Supposed "man made" machines built to do battle, which are being dug out from ruins of an ancient civilization. While the name of the game may lead you to believe that these machines are the whole purpose of the game, there is much, much more to be had here.
The game starts you off by watching a 3-minute full motion video (anime style), of a ship in space, being evacuated due to 'something' that has gained control of the ship. Truth is, this full motion video seems very much out of place for most of the game, and you don't quite discover its relevance to the story, until disk 2. This may sound strange, but it is done very well.
Xenogears main focus is on story telling, and it does a very good job of it. Without ruining the plot too much (for those few that have not played this amazing game), it is based on its characters, who they are, and what relevance they have to the 'greater meaning' of things. When the game is not dealing with character interaction, it's focused on the struggle for power on the planet by multiple organizations. To be able to explain the entire plot of Xenogears without playing, and seeing the tension between these forces, would be nearly impossible, as it can even get a tad confusing while playing the game. However, it makes watching it all come together much more rewarding.
While there are up to nine playable characters (three controlled in a single party); most people stick with the same three or four the entire game. This is one flaw, as some of the characters seem to only hold a few very fleeting moments to the story, and after that are just "there." Game play is open-ended though (mainly on disk 1), and there are a ton of secrets to find. Battles in the game are very easy to pick up on, but can get redundant over time. When you fight, you are doing it to advance the story... not to get from point-A to point-B. Random battle areas that you are forced to go through, are very sparse in the game, but at the same time, you can go out of your way to find them if you just want to level up.
When the game was being made, rumors were that is was going to be a three-disk game, however, deadlines and time constraints held this game to two disks. With those cuts, came major presentation issues on disk 2. While the storyline held up just fine, it's a tad more rigid. Example: A lot of disk 2, is Fei or Elly sitting in a chair explaining things, story time style... and you can tell where battles were cut out in the middle of major plot points. It is a tad annoying at first, but by the end of the game, you will be wishing that someone would come back and redo the second disk, just for the full effect.
When I first played Xenogears in '99, I got to the very end of disk 2, and my game save got erased after 60 hours of game play, The only thing I didn't get to see was the ending. Over all this time, the one main thing holding me back from replaying it was the graphics. I was so worried that they would not hold up to today's standards that I didn't want to be put off. While yes, they are dated now, It did not bother me as much as I thought it would... even more so with the PS2 texture smoothing on (this makes the world blend together much better). Now, after replaying the entire game, and seeing the ending in March of '04, i'm upset that I didn't sooner.
The replay value game-play wise is lacking, but the story line is second to none. In fact, I understood it a lot better this time around.
If you have not played Xenogears as of yet, make sure to pick it up. A big thank you to Squaresoft to re-releasing the game in GH version for those who could not afford this wonder at $70 used on EBay. It's worth whatever you do have to pay though. There is a reason that more than five years after its release, more people on GameTZ.com have this on their wanted list, than their available list.