Xenosaga Episode II Part 01: Past Beginning

The story continues…

You could say Xenosaga Episode 1 was many things, but you certainly wouldn’t be able to say it was short. Clocking in at somewhere between thirty and fifty hours, XS1 had plenty of content, and, complete with the segment addresses and various optional bosses, even had a splattering of stuff to do after completing the “actual” game. If you bought one video game for all of 2003, there was probably something seriously wrong with you, but, conceivably, that one game could have been Xenosaga Episode 1, because, one way or another, there was a lot of “there” there.

But it wasn’t complete.

As the story goes, Episode 1 was, basically, just what the design team had time to finish. Originally, Episode 1 was going to contain a great deal of content beyond landing on Second Miltia, and, had everything panned out perfectly, Episode 1 would have had as much plot as Episode 1 and Episode 2 combined. We only got half a game!

Of course, this might not have been a bad thing. Unlike a lot of mediums, where sequels are often seen as dubious franchise cash-ins (has there been a single sequel in the Marvel movie canon that was better than the original? Captain America squeaks by because it changed genres…), video games almost universally get better with later editions. Show me a man that would rather play Mega Man (1) over Mega Man 2 and I’ll show you a man about to be sent to jail. Bad taste jail. While marketing will always tell you the sequel is going to be better than the original, history has actually proven that to be true with a number of video game franchises, from Super Mario Bros. 3 to Pokémon X/Y. Hell, it took, what, seven games for Castlevania to hit Symphony of the Night? In a number of ways, in the “early years” of a franchise, a sequel is practically inevitably a better game than its ancestor.

So maybe “Episode 1” being divided into Episode 1 and Episode 2 was a good thing from the very start. Episode 1 had more than its share of problems, both from a gameplay (Cathedral Ship) and story (Cathedral Ship) perspective. And, really, this is a JRPG. Name one JRPG franchise that had the exact same battle system between sequels, with no improvements or innovations. Shut-up, slime, don’t try to tell me there haven’t been tweaks to even your tried-and-true system, even if they do seem miniscule. This was a chance to continue a very established story with upgraded, superior gameplay. It’s Groundhog Day, Monolith Soft, and you get a chance to do it all again, but better!

And, from another perspective, a sequel could only do Xenosaga good. Episode 1 took a lot of time (like, entire presidential administrations) establishing its characters. Every character got their own introductory dungeon (well, at least pairs of characters) (and chaos doesn’t count) with entire subplots that just happened to dovetail into the main story. It’s a great way to definitively establish your characters, but it also means a lot of time given over to introductory and expository dialogue (“As you, vice president of the Kukai Foundation, know, we are currently collecting Zohar emulators, which are…”). And that’s even before you look at the setting of Xenosaga, a “space sci-fi” universe set thousands of years in the future with Realians, gnosis, URTVs, the U.M.N., nerdlingers, etc. How does everyone eat or breathe and other science facts are important in this universe, and, yes, there’s a whole ship full of NPCs wandering around to explain to you (Shion or the player) the minutia of exactly how gravity works.

And it gets boring.

I’m glad everyone on the Woglinde is dead.

But here’s the sequel! All the place setting is over, so we can get right into the giant robot fights we were all expecting in the first place! We know Shion, Junior, Ziggy, and MOMO by now. KOS-MOS and chaos may be mysterious, but we basically understand how they work. We know we hate Margulis, U-TIC, and Albedo. Wilhelm is up to something, and we’re keeping an eye on that dude. We’re no longer in a situation where Junior has to explain why he doesn’t get along with Albedo, we can move on to an actual fight!

And, speaking of fighting, this story may be “just” the second half of the opening story of Xenosaga, but it’s the good half! It’s the second, final half, so there are very good odds we’ll actually get some closure on some of these plots, something that was sorely lacking from Xenosaga Episode 1. Most of the big bosses in Xenosaga Episode 1 were practically anonymous gnosis (quick, name the boss of Encephelon Dive, aka “the Virtual World” dungeon. It was a three hour area! You should know this!), and the only villains you actually fought were Margulis, Albedo, and Blue Virgil; all of which ended their battles by scoffing at your meager skills and then walking off like nothing happened. This story should be the chance to actually beat at least one of those nitwits, and maybe get a climatic confrontation out of the deal. Everybody has something exciting to say about the final battle with Sephiroth, but people barely even remember Schizo.

All in all, Xenosaga Episode 2 had every opportunity to be better than its predecessor in practically every way. More exciting, more refined, more polished, and all with familiar characters with hours of preexisting investment. It wasn’t guaranteed, but couple this all with the assumption that there’d be some damn answers, and you can guess why the average Xenosaga fan was excited for Episode 2.

And did it live up to the hype? Well, that’s what we’re all here for.

Let’s get this LP on the road.

(Oh, and this post will likely be the “thickest” in this LP… lot to cover, even if it’s about the same number of screenshots)

Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse begins! I’m not whipping this subtitle through the ol’ German translator, but I’m pretty sure it refers to a woman named Jade taking pictures with some manner of pig man.

First change from Episode 1: the title screen’s background changes to a full video of some mech being constructed within Vector industries. Music also plays! The Episode 1 title screen would just stay white and silent forever. This is an improvement!

Your first choice in Xenosaga Episode 2 is to search for that all important XS1 clear save data and unlock… a pair of swimsuits for Ziggy and KOS-MOS. Yay? Alright, yes, these items are completely unavailable if you don’t have the clear data, and you do get them from the first moment you have the characters, so it’s a nice reward for clearing XS1… but I’m still bitter about how insignificant it feels in the face of any actual “you put in the effort, here’s your loot” rewards. I want something more… 1:1.

We also received a Geriatric Swimsuit. Ew.

Alright, this one takes a little explanation. See, Namco really wanted Xenosaga to be the next Final Fantasy, and that, naturally, involves a lot of promotion. In order to drum up interest for the upcoming Xenosaga Episode 2 after two years of practically nothing, Namco released Xenosaga Freaks on April 28, 2004 (Episode 2 itself was released June 24th of that same year). Nowadays, this kind of “game” would be a downloadable “paid demo”, but back in the day, the Land of the Rising Sun was saddled with a complete retail release that was, in its entirety:

  1. A game of scrabble
  2. A glossary of Episode 1 terms
  3. A demo for Episode 2
  4. A visual novel featuring a random day in the life of the Xenosaga cast

And that was about it. It really only existed for the most dedicated of Xenosaga fans, and it never made its way across the Pacific, presumably thanks to the glut of voice acting required and the fact that its scrabble game would literally not translate well.

For anyone curious, the “visual novel” tells a tale that presumably takes place after the Encephalon Dive but before the gnosis invasion of the Kukai Foundation, and it involves Professor and Assistant Scott (!) kidnapping Allen (!) to use his security clearance to investigate the Zohar Emulators, and then plant a virus on KOS-MOS (!) that causes her to pursue an imaginary cat through the Elsa/Durandal (!), and she blows up half the friendly locations of XS1 along the way. Also, infected KOS-MOS interprets all speech as meows, and a number of female cast members wind up with cat ears. Also also, we learn that when Ziggy gets bored, he just sits in his room and counts to himself, which is the saddest thing.

Anyway, this whole ridiculous scenario is apparently canon, because Assistant Scott asks how Allen is doing in XS2, and KOS-MOS has gained the ability to understand cats between games.

If you would like to experience this nonsense for yourself, there’s been an English fan translation in the works, and what has been completed is available here. I got my fill of visual novels for the decade from Aksys fighting games, so you can let me know how that all goes.

Oh, back to my original point, the “geriatric swimsuit” was an award for having Xenosaga Freaks save data in Japan, but since we never got that game, it’s unlocked with XS1 save data like the other swimsuits. Always nice to see a game account for regional marketing differences.

The game officially begins… and it brought presents!

Come in, Corneria?

Monolith takes credit as some kind of news broadcast begins.

Hey, we’re looking at that nonsense from the Virtual World. Guess we’re kicking off this story back on the Old Miltia of 14 years ago.

Apparently the Miltian Conflict originated with a sort of Realian Rebellion. I understand the Realian Wreckers lost the Miltian Cup and things… escalated.

So we’re in a flashback of a guy watching TV? Alright.

Hey everybody, it’s Helmer, and he’s wearing a kicky lil’ beret!

Note: Please combine MGS and Xenosaga references responsibly. Should their plots merge… the density would swallow us all.

Before we go any further, let’s talk voice acting. Helmer is no longer Jet Black, as his voice actor has been replaced. Want to know who else has a new VA? Shion, KOS-MOS, MOMO, and chaos. It’s not all bad, because MOMO is a little more mature in this game, so it’s appropriate that she no longer sounds like an eight year old. Also, “new” chaos is doing a pretty good impression of old chaos. But Shion and KOS-MOS? It’s jarring, particularly given these two are the main characters of the franchise (… though maybe not this game). I want to say a number of the bit players, like Mary and Shelly, have new VAs as well, though there’s less of an impact there, for obvious reasons.

Luckily, we’ve still got Junior, Ziggy, Margulis, and, probably most importantly, Albedo/Gaignun (yes, they both have the same VA. Presumably Junior would, too… if his balls ever dropped). Hooray for some level of continuity.

Oh, and we’ve still got Allen. You aaaaaall still have Allen.

Actually, in looking up voice actors, I found that Dave Wittenberg, voice of Allen, is also the voice actor who gave breath to the most important fictional character of the last century: TIME BABY. So I guess Shion’s lame assistant isn’t all that bad, if only by association.

Here’s our POV character for the moment, an orange haired fellow that identifies himself as a Realian pretty quickly.

Like a lot of Realians, he speaks with a vaguely robotic monotone, but he’s got some misgivings about this “mission” Helmer is apparently sending him on.

And apparently he’s Canaan, a Realian that was literally built for this kind of mission.

Canaan is our first new Episode 2 character, and, in a perfect world, he’d probably be a playable character. To skip ahead just a tweak, when we get back to the present and a few random things go down, Canaan will join our “real” team as its second Allen, aka that guy that always seems to be along for the ride but never actually does anything. Whoops. He’s not entirely useless, though, as, like MOMO and Johnny Mnemonic, he becomes a walking USB drive that must be… I’m getting ahead of myself. Point is that Canaan is more a plot point than actual person, and if you want any personality out of this guy, it’s going to be relegated to this update.

Anyway, as Helmer is giving Canaan an ego boost to get him to do his damn job, another fellow saunters in.

No, that’s Canaan, we just covered this.

Canaan, who must be stuck in doubt mode, doesn’t believe this chaos kid is going to be useful to the mission.

chaos claims to not be a normal human. Well, duh.

chaos is also our first real introduction to the shift in art style, thus why I’ve stuck a shot from his introduction in XS1 up there, too. As you can see, we’ve moved away from the more “anime” proportions and over to something slightly more realistic. It’s not that dramatic with the male characters, but when we get to the rest of the cast… well… brace yourselves, gentle readers.

We’re all counting on you.

Initiate launch sequence.

First tiny glimpse of our craft in the blue there.

If you’re really paying attention, you’ll notice the pans across this craft reveal it to be the same thing being built during the title screen.

Hey, this kinda looks like the inside of Albedo’s mech.

Yeah, because that means something.

Other than “make the Miltian conflict suck less”, we finally get an explanation of the purpose of this “top secret mission”: it’s to rescue the URTVs. Aw, chaos is heading down there to save Junior.

And, hey, if you’ve got time, go ahead and hack U-TIC while you’re in the area. Anything else? Want us to save Shion’s parents while we’re at it?

Incidentally, between Canaan the wannabe robot and chaos the cryptic, both of these dudes sound incredibly… bored. Like, they’re preparing for a mission that sounds incredibly dangerous, and they’re about to be in the middle of super duper action, and their every line sounds like your Great Aunt Bernie reading a shopping list. It’s appropriate for both characters, so I don’t fault the VAs, it just creates an uncomfortable dichotomy with what’s actually happening. Weird way to start the game.

We’ve got a name for the craft du jour. It’s the ES Asher.

There it is! The ES Asher is a new invention for Xenosaga Episode 2. Kinda.

Let’s talk about giant robots. Xenosaga Episode 1 had the AGWS, and they were boring and stupid and I hated them. They were barely giant, they didn’t have any impact on the plot of the game, and their combat versatility were severely limited by their lack of healing and constant need for expensive upgrades. And to add insult to injury, a number of bosses had distinctly anti-AGWS attacks, meaning that the one place where they might come in handy, nope, you’re dead now.

The one shining outlier in Xenosaga Episode 1 was Albedo’s ES Simeon, a giant mech that dwarfed AGWS and proved itself capable of trashing an entire galaxy of Federation Ships and gnosis. Sure, it was powered by sucking the life out of Realian orphans, but that was more of a feature, not a bug, to its sadistic pilot.

Well, to even the playing field, AGWS have been trashed for XS2, and we’ll never see them again. Rejoice. Now we’ve got an ES, and, eventually, so will the rest of the party. First of all, the ES stands for “Ein Sof”, which roughly translates to “no end” or “infinite”. This is a reference to the fact that every ES is powered by a Vessel of Anima, which is connected to the Zohar, and effectively provides unlimited operating energy (even when the Zohar is hiding in a double black hole). The downside of this setup, though, is that Vessels of Anima are very rare in this universe, so there’s only twelve ESes, total.

The party gets three (and one more in a side story), Albedo has his, the Testaments each have one, and the remainder go to U-TIC, if you’re curious. Think that’s all the major players.

ES are not to be confused with AMWS, though. AMWS (Assault Maneuver Weapon System) are the mechs that belong to everybody that isn’t important to the plot, and are just there so your party has a whole army of enemies to shoot at. If you see a mech, and it’s piloted by someone without a character portrait, it’s an AMWS, and it’ll be gone in a few rounds. I believe exactly one “hero” pilots an AMWS once, and we’ll see it this update, and then watch it get abandoned.

Anyway, for now, the ES Asher is being piloted by Canaan, with chaos on support. This means that, almost literally, God is Canaan’s copilot.

You know what? New game, new font, let’s crank up the ol’ pixel count for the LP.

Wooo flying down into the fun zone.

After clearing the cloud layer, we can see that Old Miltia is basically lit up with gunfire.

And oh boy! AMWS (pronounced “aims”, by the way) to fight!

Pew pew pew.

So here’s another big change for Xenosaga Episode 2: someone remembered they were making a video game.

Let’s remember Xenosaga Episode 1 for a moment. Think about it, think about its important scenes, and consider what you were watching. I reviewed XS1 before writing this, and I realized something: 90% of XS1 could have been a stage play. A very healthy portion of XS1 was just two or three characters standing around talking. Action sequences existed, like the finale with KOS-MOS’s random sacrifices, but most of the big action moments, seriously, could be replicated “live” with costumes and proper lighting. Albedo and Junior both stand around shouting at each other while freaky auras shine on. KOS-MOS launches the X-Buster, which just involves her standing there and opening her death womb. Ziggy is an inhuman cyborg, and I think the most physical thing he ever did for the plot was carry around MOMO.

This is, of course, in stark contrast to the battles of the game, where Ziggy could bicycle kick meteors into space monsters or chaos randomly grew wings to swoop around and attack. Same for the mechs of the game, the AGWS, which, if you didn’t use them in battle, you’d forget they ever existed at all past the opening chapter.

In contrast, Episode 2 decided to up the ol’ action budget. We’ve got a bitchin’ aerial battle between mechs here, and, before this update is out, we’ll have a thrilling sword fight. Unlike XS1, where important scenes are punctuated with Shion and MOMO chilling on a park bench, nearly every dungeon in XS2 involves some crazy something happening.

While I enjoy the plot of XS1, I do have to commend XS2 for being about 1000% more exciting, and right from the get go. Reminder, at this point in XS1, we’re either watching a scientist find a rock, or Allen boot up a computer.

Anyway, this whole scene basically just exists to show that the Asher (I reserve the right to randomly drop the ES prefix) kicks all of the ass.

Again, this is announced with all the excitement of ordering coffee.

Nobody ever called anyone in the Xenosaga cast “normal”.

The “battle” is a lot longer than these screenshots indicate, but eventually they run out of… I don’t know… fly fuel, and decide to land.

Yeah, just bring her down in front of that flaming car. Seems like a great spot.

Couldn’t have landed any closer? Alright.

Yeah, “cover”, like we’re not going to just obliterate everybody between here and our goal.

Now that we’re down on the ground, chaos reveals to Canaan that there’s more to this mission than meets the eye.

chaos is uncharacteristically concerned about the URTVs. Alright, I guess it is pretty characteristic for him, as he’s super duper caring about everyone, but it seems uncharacteristic five seconds after blasting a bunch of robots to Kingdom Come.

URTVs : good guys :: U-TIC : bad guys

“I understand that they’re bioweapons sent in to sever the link between the U-TIC’s mobile weapons fleet and their source of power, the Zohar.”

Hey, first mention of the Zohar for the game. And we know U-TIC has it at this point. And is using it, apparently.

And the scene ends with chaos alluding to the fact that the URTVs may be a double-edged sword. Dude just does not understand how to end a conversation without leaving more questions.

Okay, we’ve got control! We’re about ten minutes in, and it’s time to play video games!

First order of business: the ES Asher has dainty little heels and an amazing walk.

Here’s our new and improved (?) menu. We’ll get into the details over the next few updates, but what’s important at the moment is the ES Asher itself. The mechs of this game are not like the gears of Xenogears or the AGWS of Xenosaga, they level up all on their own, technically independent of the characters. Effectively, they’re their own playable characters, albeit characters you can only use in predetermined areas. This means you don’t have to stay up on buying the latest equipment/upgrades just to make the mechs viable. Additionally (and this will be more important when we have a full party of the suckers), ES crafts each have a pilot and a co-pilot, and, while the pilot is always the same, you can swap around co-pilots for different special skills.

And our first savepoint is just inches from the starting line. I realize some people may think this is wasteful, but I’m someone who anxiously pops a new disc into the system du jour, presses X to start (circle in this case), and then starts counting down to the first moment I can take a break. I hate games that take forever to give you that first savepoint (like Xenosaga Episode 1), so good on you, XS2.

New gameplay quirk! Savepoints now restore your party’s HP/EP automatically, so you don’t have to go through the menu and shell out a Bio Sphere (space tent) every time you see a savepoint. Streamlining is awesome.

Like for XS1, I’m hacking my way to a more pleasant experience. For instance, I granted myself the boon of 99 of all consumable items, because I’m lazy, and would rather chug a megalixer than blow another ten minutes of my life trying to beat Boss X. Additionally, I granted chaos a larger (but not too large) HP and EP count, and did the same for another character that will be joining us shortly. Amusingly, neither of these hacks will significantly impact ES combat.

That’s what I like to hear from a game! Like XS1, we’ve got the ability to destroy any random object that the game deigns destructible. XS2 will wind up doing more interesting things with this concept (for better or worse), but, for this area and a lot like it, the idea is to just blow up everything and hope to find random items.

Like this mech-sized treasure chest. Who builds something like that?

This sounds a lot more exciting than it is, but it’s still pretty alright. I mentioned that an ES will level up, but it still has three “accessory slots” for equipping items like +DEF armor, anti-status ailment protection, or items that otherwise increase your combat parameters. Almost all of the accessories are defensive, but there’s a few that will help blow things up.

After a little wandering around, we get back to another cutscene with Canaan asking chaos for further information. Good luck, buddy.

chaos cares about the URTVs as people, not weapons. Aw.

“The system that currently controls the Zohar was actually designed to be used for the U.M.N. transport system. However…”

Yes, chaos?

Oh yeah. Have you noticed this? People have no problem transporting objects through space, like KOS-MOS and her materializing chain guns, or how the entire party could summon AGWS anywhere last game. As was actually explained in XS1, this is a function of the UMN, which also provides email, Wikipedia, and savepoints to the galaxy. But you don’t ever see anybody except vaguely omnipotent freaks (like chaos) teleporting.

Whoops, looks like using the UMN to teleport is not something that leads to a long and happy life. Also, how many test subjects do you have to use to get a percentage like 99.26?

And the survivors… hm. Didn’t exist as people? Does that sound familiar to anybody?

Yes, it’s consciousness that makes you “human”, tinman.

Helmer knows a doomsday object when he sees one: the Zohar is dangerous.

“Lieutenant General Helmer concluded that if contact with the system led to the destruction of the human mind, then even the U.R.T.V.s, created as the system’s antithesis, might be affected. Therefore, if the U.R.T.V.s were to suffer a mental breakdown, then likely the Zohar, a source of infinite energy, would spiral out of control. That would be devastating.”

Stealth origin explanation for a certain albino…

But nobody else took Helmer seriously, so here’s these two guys picking up the pieces.

Ah-ha! Our first battle!

New Game, new way to load battles.

First of all, like I obliquely mentioned, “mechs” are no longer optional, so you best learn how to handle your ES. You do not “stock” stock segments while in the ES, so you only ever have one “attack” option per round. In the Asher’s case, as you can see with the lil’ icons, a square attack will give you a close-range physical attack, and the triangle attack is long range and piercing. Like in XS1, there are occasionally enemies that require a long range attack.

Also new, in a mech or out, you now have movement options, and you can wind up behind an enemy (or vise versa). A back attack is a guaranteed hit, and will usually be critical. You can use a turn moving around your target, but they usually move themselves, too, so it’s kind of a waste. More often than not, this only becomes important during the newly introduced possibility of pincer or “we’re surrounded” battles.

ES battles also always have ridiculous HP counts for both sides. Later, when facing the boss of this area on foot, he’ll be doing, like, 16 HP damage, and it can hurt. Our first hit, meanwhile, scores 1,636 damage.

Boost is back, and, while it doesn’t make a difference in this battle, the big change is that the party (and enemy party) has a shared boost gauge, so Ziggy can do the fighting, and then MOMO can boost using the boost he accumulated. You still only have a maximum of “three” boosts available (without using items), but the other new, good thing is that the boost gauge carries from battle to battle. So, hey, you can start boss battles with a full boost gauge. Yay!

Like I said, you don’t stock “moves” in the ES, but you do stock Stock Points every time you attack (25), and you can stock 100 at once by spending your turn on the stock command. “Stock” also doubles as “Defend”, and may potentially save you from a hard hitting super boss way the hell down the line. 200 SP is usually the stock limit. Unlike the boost gauge, your stock points are reset to zero after every battle.

Stock Points allow you to use Special Attacks, which are basically the Tech Attacks of XS1 in mech form.

And the rotating “event slot” returns with one slight change. It still goes Increased Critical Hits -> Increased Boost -> Increased Skill Point Rewards, but the final slot is now a random space.

The random slots can increase Ether effects by 50%, knock out a character’s turn if they’re directly attacked, or grant bonus boost for being attacked. Since these random slots are… random, they’re usually more of a pain in the ass than helpful, because you can’t “plan” to be able to get additional healing from an Ether event, or knock out a dangerous enemy’s turn. You’re a lot more likely to remember every time your opponent knocked out one of your turns…

Here’s Asher’s special beam attack, which costs 100 Stock Points. In general (and we’ll look at this more in later updates), the main reason you want to use a Special Attack is because it uses a particular element (in this case, beam) or property, and, hopefully, that’s your enemy’s weakness (and not something they absorb). While a Special Attack is generally more powerful than your usual attack, it’s not usually so powerful that you’re chomping at the bit to use it every round.

Also, just to be clear, unlike the Tech Attacks of XS1, there is no longer any mechanic for making Special Attacks, in or out of the mech, faster, stronger, etc. What you see is what you get.

Mechs receive Experience Points, but not Skill or Class Points, whatever they are. Also, as you can probably guess from Asher’s zero EP count, the Asher cannot use ether abilities.

That’s basically what you need to know about ES battles. As you may have noticed, with no Ether or Item command in battle for the ES, healing is currently very limited for the Asher, but you can restore HP outside of battle with, basically, mech potions.

Traps are back from XS1. They’re a tiny bit better placed in this game. Tiny bit.

These flying buggers will occasionally be hanging out just outside of bounds, so Asher’s long range gun attack is a must. Spoilers that you can probably guess: Junior will one day pilot this ES.

After a few more battles and hallways, something shiny happens.

Very shiny.

And, hm, I think a very familiar theme is playing.

Oh yeah, that one. Nephilim’s greatest hits.

“Them”, and the source of that light pillar, is U-TIC.

chaos is, like fourteen years later, rather concerned. First he decided to emote all day.

And now “friendly” AMWS (just now introduced) are targeting us.

Oh, poor, naïve, millennia-old chaos. When has talking ever solved anything?

No response, gonna die.

The Asher loses an arm. Things look grim.

Even worse, Canaan starts succumbing to the siren song of the… song.

But the Asher is saved by… something? Something fast, at least.

Something with a damn big sword.

It’s… I have no idea who this is. Green Mecher Dude?

Canaan and chaos have no idea who it is, either.

But what’s important is that he’s kicking ass for the good guys. Hooray!

Yeah, let’s team up with the guy that is the only reason we’re alive.

Asher and Greenie work together to fend off the hordes of angry AMWS.

The threat is defeated, but neither Asher nor Greenie is doing well, so everyone decides to hoof it from here.

For maximum effect, Greenie’s pilot is completely covered… oh… oh… is this Samus Aran? That would be so cool!

And apparently Pilot kicks ass inside and out of Greenie.

I know, right?

The suspense is killing me… I hope it lasts.

Pretty much every word in this sentence is a revelation. Hey, everybody, it’s Shion’s brother! And he’s competent as hell!

Jin reports that, yeah, it’s getting crazy around here.

Jin tells these two that he just single-handedly rescued that they should just book it and head home, but, sorry, not an option.

Canaan, not quite understanding the concept of a “secret mission”, claims they can’t leave until the URTVs are safe.

No it’s not. chaos is right there. There is no such thing as a coincidence with that guy.

And it looks like a thunderstorm has started. Remember any other events that happened on Old Miltia opposite a thunderstorm?

Whatever, Jin knows where to find the URTVs, so let’s follow that guy.

Jin Uzuki is defined by being Shion’s brother. Jin is no retcon, he was seen at the start of Xenosaga Episode 1, and Shion mentions him here and there throughout the adventure. The only issue is that every time she mentions him, it’s usually with a qualifier that goes something like “my idiot brother…” I kept a careful eye on any mention of Jin in the previous LP, and I can say that if you assembled your image of Jin based exclusively on Shion’s references to the guy, you’d picture a slovenly nerd that carries around a sword all the time because he thinks it looks cool.

And that would be about half right.

As we’ve just witnessed, Jin is actually pretty damn adept with a sword, and, in this environment, he’s practically a force of nature. Downside? Take the soldier out of the war, and give him the job of raising his younger sister because their parents just got julienned? He’s not so great at that.

Jin is another one of Xenosaga’s stabs at deconstructing the typical JRPG archetype. Jin is just the kind of experienced “wandering samurai” type that joins your party at level 99, saves the day, and then leaves to later sacrifice himself at the most emotionally devastating moment so the new generation of heroes can survive. Here, we see Jin be the big damn hero (and that will only escalate as the update continues), and then, in the intervening years… he becomes a giant disappointment to the rest of his family, and can’t stick to any one job for longer than six months. He’s no legendary hero, he’s a capricious layabout.

Anyway, the main reason I’m bringing this all up is so you can enjoy the dichotomy between how everyone sees Jin (wow, this guy is a really great party member!) versus how Shion sees the dork (would you please get a job!).

Or, put another way, consider that the reason your heroes are your heroes is because you don’t have to live with them.

Also, just to be clear, Jin is the party’s seventh active member, and the last character to permanently join the team. Yes, we have a whole new playable character for Xenosaga Episode 2. We needed a new “complete human” after Shion went all chosen one.

And now we’re officially on foot. Sorry, Asher, won’t be seeing you again for a while.

Canaan is a noncombatant, but Jin is ready to go with chaos. As previously mentioned, I pumped up chaos and Jin’s HP/EP, but, at least in the HP department, it’s not that much of a boost, just an extra couple hundred, so I’m like five or six levels ahead of normal.

Though one big difference is that I’ve hacked in 999 Strength for Jin. Spoilers, but Jin won’t always be a part of the party, and he’s the only character I’ve granted this boon. Basically, Jin is there so, when a battle is going too long, I can switch him in and call it a day. Erde Kaiser spoiled me. I’ll still have to do without him for a lot of the game, but when he is on the front lines, the battles will end very quickly.

Insignificant but cute change: now all characters use their own attacks to destroy objects on the world map, as opposed to before when they just kinda pointed and things exploded. This doesn’t really affect gameplay (sometimes you have to “attack” something more than once), but it’s more visually dynamic.

The on-foot battle system is similar to XS1, but generally pretty different. Before, it was basically square = physical, triangle = ether, and circle = special attack (when available). Build up your stock, use a Tech Attack, and eventually modify your Tech Attacks outside of battle so you can use them every turn. Now…

Break Zones, eh?

Basically, the trick here is that every attack hits a certain area. Square is “middle”, Triangle is “low”, and Circle is either “high” or “low” depending on the character. chaos, for instance, hits low with Circle, while Jin hits high.

The idea is to find the right combination that will “break” the enemy. Usually the break zone makes some kind of sense, like “middle middle” usually works for humans (you’re effectively repeatedly hitting them in their squishy middle) while some walker-looking robots you’ll see later are “low middle” because you’re sweeping their vulnerable legs before hitting the “face”. It’s not exactly fire beats ice, but, in general, you can look at a monster and have a good starting guess.

What you want to do is “break” an enemy, and then either use your accumulated stock to continue the attack, or boost in an ally who then hammers the “broken” opponent. The difference in damage to a broken enemy is significant, like, we’re talking 6 HP damage vs. 600.

Also, you can knock a “broken” enemy into the air or down to the ground. Either one incapacitates the enemy and causes you to do additional damage, but there are advantages/disadvantages to both. If you knock an enemy down, they’re down and vulnerable, but will be back up after the attack. If you knock an enemy into the air, they will then fall into the down state, thus taking two “turns” to get back on their feet; however not every character can attack an enemy up in the air. If KOS-MOS tosses a soldier into the stratosphere and boosts Ziggy in for the spike, he’s going to stand there on the ground, unable to get the ups, and basically waste a turn. Either way, though, an enemy in Air or Down status means you have an advantage.

Anyway, that’s the basics of XS2 battle. Aim to break your opponent, and then pile on the damage during the break. We’ll get into how that influences random battles at our first big dungeon.

Did you notice what was missing from the results and status screens? Here’s a hint: Jean Luc Picard would approve. That’s right, Xenosaga is now a cashless society. There are no shops in Xenosaga Episode 2, and all healing items are obtained only through the spoils of battle (or stealing). As far as I’m concerned, this is great, because money basically only meant pain in Xenosaga Episode 1, which had an economy based almost entirely on grinding that stupid card game or answering that one email correctly. Side effects of this include later Med Kits (potions) being more valuable than ether skills (magic), and a complete lack of purchasing/upgrading equipment like weapons and armor.

Using XS1 as a comparison point, the lack of money streamlines the game, and I support it whole-heartedly. And for those of you that enjoy selling vendor trash (which you still receive), there is a sidequest for that.

There are a few items in this “dungeon” that indicate you’ll be back, even if it’s just using the Encephalon Simulator like in XS1.

IT BEGINS AGAIN!

After a few regular battles, we get another tutorial on the more intricate bits of the XS2 battle system. Stock is basically like before: more stock, more attacks in one round. Also expend stock for special stuff like…

Double Attacks! Note: I will be calling these “double techs” repeatedly. Double Attacks require a lot of setup: you need to have the proper number of stock (usually two out of your maximum three) and it needs to be the initiator’s turn, and the partner needs to boost in (expending one stock of Boost). And, of course, you have to have the double tech in the first place. Double techs are not earned naturally, but are generally won from various sidequests or stealing from the right foes (or both).

But if the stars align for a double tech, then you’re treated to some ridiculous battle animation. Here’s chaos and Jin using that ice sword tech that actually appeared in The Animation.

By and large, honestly, Double Techs are cool but useless. They require too much setup for the damage involved, and unless you get really lucky and have an opportunity to use one while an enemy is already broken and weak to the element involved, they just aren’t that effective. There’s one double tech that grants “automatic revive” to the party, and that’s awesome, but the rest are a lot of effort for a little reward.

Oh, and also? Tech Attacks are gone. Battles are a lot more mundane as a result, but they’re also generally quicker (we’re no longer waiting for MOMO to call down a meteor or whatever), and we don’t have to worry about earning new techs or pumping experience (skill) points into their maintenance. The world is a little less exciting, but it does make everything go faster.

But just because Tech Attacks dropped out doesn’t mean all the characters are exactly the same. As you can see here, chaos is using a Jesus Christ elemental attack as a matter of course with his normal attack. In general, each character has an element or attribute to their attacks, so if you know a particular foe is weak to fire, bring out Ziggy, and let him impart the burn.

We’ll get into how Ether Abilities have changed in a later update, but Jin already has Medica (like his sister!) to start for this area. Yay easy healing!

The Bio Sphere is the “tent” of Xenosaga… but you may recall that savepoints now automatically refill HP/EP. So, yes, you can use a Bio Sphere anywhere as a result. You can’t use them in battle, but if you find you’re low on HP/EP and in the middle of a dungeon, you can expend a Bio Sphere wherever. The downside is, of course, you can no longer buy the things, so they’re a little more limited.

On the way through Old Miltia, we see a giant toy store… but the door is locked. Guess we’ll be back later. You don’t make a giant star like that for no reason…

After the majority of the dungeon, another cutscene. Seems Jin is a conspiracy theorist.

“It’s all part of an attempt to make the U-TIC Organization, or should I say, all of Miltia, into a scapegoat.”

Can you really be a scapegoat if you’re already totally evil?

Jin even claims the Realians going nuts are just a piece of the puzzle.

Oh, okay, yeah, I can buy that they’re more of a patsy than a scapegoat.

Somebody wants something. Great intel, Jin.

Joachim Mizrahi’s Y-Data, in the present in the possession of one MOMO. Dammit, I thought we were past this when Albedo got his hands on it.

What’s this?

“And though I was only able to decode it partially, I discovered that all manner of data from all existing phenomena is gathered together within an area of space. And beyond that lies a special place only described in the Y-Data.”

So I guess Jin nabbed himself Y-Data Lite. The y-Data.

Good question!

Oh, it’s nice to have someone spew cryptic nonsense at chaos.

I’m glad U-TIC decided to give their home base friggen horns, because it allows us to recognize it from the previous game at a glance. Mizrahi is probably dancing around up there as we speak.

Xenosaga Episode 2 is much better than its predecessor at putting savepoints right before a boss. In fact, the average XS2 dungeon has three to four savepoints, which is great when you remember they recover your party, too. Thanks, XS2!

This is where we part ways, evidently, as the URTVs are chilling in the basement here.

chaos is so polite. Incidentally, Canaan knows his place on the support staff, and has been pretty quiet since Jin joined up.

Jin would love to help out…

But he’s got to swing by U-TIC HQ and decode that chunk of data he’s carrying around. Hope you get in there before this whole planet is sucked into Hell!

Speaking of U-TIC…

Margulis makes the scene, and, apparently, he knows Jin.

Look at that sexy, unblemished face. Also I guess we know where Jin got that data, now.

Jin’s like, “Haha screw you, you’re dumb.”

So, did you two used to date, or…?

I know I do! BOSS FIGHT!

See? 16 HP, I wasn’t kidding earlier. Anyway, in stark contrast to his battle with Ziggy in XS1, Young Margulis is basically baby’s first boss in this game, which is appropriate, as this whole area has been a thinly veiled tutorial dungeon. As long as you don’t accidently shove the controller up your nose or something, you should have no trouble knocking Margulis down. For anyone worried about this bad guy’s honor, don’t worry, he’ll be back for another battle later in the game, and he’ll be back in fighting shape by then.

You may have noticed it in previous shots that all the enemies in this game provide HP tallies throughout the battle, bosses included. This will be consistent through the rest of the game, with only one giant robot exception. We’ll get into the whys of that later, but for now, just know that it’s pretty damn convenient.

Margulis ends this battle with an attack that hits everyone for massive damage, so that way when the movie picks up post battle, there’s a reason your dudes are panting after such a fiercely easy battle.

Canaan and chaos are left on the ground floor while Margulis and Jin leap up to the rooftops.

Remember what I was saying earlier about XS2 being more… active with its cutscenes? Exhibit B.

After a solid couple of minutes of dueling, both parties hang back to catch their breath. The peanut gallery makes it up the stairs in the meanwhile. Also note that Jin’s greens are getting a little more red.

“Don’t you know Medica? Use that!”

Oh, Jin, you’re so cool.

Bad guys never look down.

Then again, Jin is standing on what appears to be a window…

Jin is just a can-do kind of hero.

Margulis decides to just launch a fireball (!) at Jin.

And Jin returns an ice attack.

And I guess colliding ethers don’t just turn into steam.

That’s gonna leave a scar.

Guess Margulis has this one in the bag.

Just because there are way too many people this could be referring to at this point in the plot, I’m going to spoil this one, because it barely matters. Turns out Grandpa Uzuki was a master swordsman and the guy who pioneered the ability to shot fire and ice from your hands like it ain’t no thang. Grandpa trained Jin and Margulis, and, well, you can see how that turned out. So the “old fool” here isn’t any of the other geriatric characters wandering around this plot. I was hoping for Professor, myself…

And then the ground collapses under Margulis, because Jin is more clever than he is strong. We won’t be seeing that U-TIC jerk again for at least a solid five minutes.

Jin identifies himself as way too injured to continue the mission, so here you go, Canaan.

Ah, the convenience of being pretty much a robot.

Yeah, why keep data in your pocket when you can stick it in the brain of a dude you just met that you already had to rescue at least twice?

This is mysterious only if you don’t remember the sequence of events from Xenosaga Episode 1. Jin’s parents are being murdered riiiiiiiight aboooooout…. Now.

“We fought like forty guys just to get here and you’ve lost more blood than a vampire with Alzheimer’s.”

“If I don’t rescue my sister right now, she’s going to have repressed issues for the rest of her life. Wait, crap, I just missed the deadline. Dammit!”

Jin runs off, and then chaos sees something interesting.

It’s an encroaching, unknowable darkness! Neat!

Aaaaand scene.

Prologue complete. Way to go, Xenosaga Episode 2, you actually produced an interesting tutorial dungeon and opening area. Beats the hell out of Shion acting like a kindergarten teacher for her combat robot. Let’s see if we can’t keep up this level of excitement.

The present of the future, Second Miltia.

So, turns out that whole thing was just an Encephalon Dive of Canaan’s memories. We’re now two for two with Xenosaga for “if you’re on Old Miltia in the past, it’s just a simulation”. SOMEBODY REMEMBER THAT! Er-hem. Anyway, turns out Canaan has performed this dive 127 times… and failed 127 times.

And Unnamed Assistant Dude comments that they’ve been doing this stupid Old Miltia run for the last fourteen years or so. Canaan should really understand those battle tutorials by now.

Turns out they’re trying to access that data Jin downloaded onto Canaan, but every time the inky blackness shows up, the process gums up, and they get nowhere.

Anyway, Helmer asked Canaan to swing by, so let’s never chat again, Unnamed Assistant Dude.

Later, Helmer confirms that Canaan is a 127 times failure.

I guess this is the first it’s come up in fourteen years, but Jin was apparently working for Helmer, too. How many operatives did you have down there, man?

Canaan asks whatever happened to Jin, and Helmer taunts the poor bot for so much as asking a question.

Canaan’s opinion of the data wedged in his brain is… low.

“He lives across town. You can walk there really easily. I can’t believe I’ve never told you that.”

“Even though you’ve been continuously failing the last one for the last fourteen years. Do you know how much an ES Asher costs?”

Hey, that’s a MOMO!

“They saved the entire universe from a renegade immortal about twenty minutes ago, so they probably need your assistance getting across town.”

Buddy, you got no idea!

Next time on Xenosaga: Rush hour is murder in this town.