Never before have I anticipated a game more so than the prequel to my favorite RPG ever, Xenogears. This, I find, is rarely a good thing as my notions of how great a game should be grow wildly out of proportion as my expectations for said game rise. It goes then without saying that Xenosaga was going to have to be the finest RPG ever made to come even remotely close to my expectations of it. Did it succeed in impressing me, as any good Xeno prequel should? Well, in some aspects...
Micro-managing your time
Xenosaga has been dubbed the 80-hour anime with a little game sprinkled on top. I don't completely agree with that statement. Yes, there are times when you will set the controller down for 20 - 30 minutes, but don't be discouraged by this, when the game resumes it is actually quite deep and very involved. There is so much micro-management involved in Xenosaga that it might come across as too daunting for any but the most hardcore of gamers.
Pretty much all aspects of your characters can be managed to some degree. You will spend a lot of time customizing your techniques, ethers (magic), skills, and equipment. All of these aspects are done fairly intuitively, using respective points systems to upgrade and add new abilities to your characters. Overall, I found the customization system to be very nice and deep, allowing for a huge amount of strategy when it came time to take on the challenging bosses.
Did I say challenging? I meant quite nearly impossible in some cases. Yes, every boss can be defeated with the right strategy, but sometimes finding the right strategy can be painfully difficult. It goes without saying that you will probably see the game over scene a few times before you finally manage to overcome a few of the tougher bosses. Quite frankly I find this a nice refreshing change to a lot of RPGs these days that hold your hand as your progress. You will truly feel as if you have earned every victory you pull out in Xenosaga.
Other than the near limitless amount of customization available within Xenosaga, you will find that the rest of the gameplay is pretty standard RPG fare, but with a few twists. The battle system is turn based but allows for 'boosting' which basically gives you a free turn directly after any other character/monster's turn. This allows for some nice strategy as you save up boost for a last minute boss kill, or a healing spell save. As in Xenogears, you have the option to fight in A.G.W.S, which are basically Xenosaga's version of Gears (big butt-kicking robots). The one complaint here is that A.G.W.S are not really all that necessary within the game, and they don't come into play barely at all story wise. I found this a little disappointing.
Enemies are visible on the dungeon maps and you can avoid them if you so choose. There are also traps you can shoot out to put a damper on the enemy's effects and can be used to good advantage. In fact, a lot of objects turn out to be destructible. There are not all that many treasure chests littered throughout the levels. Instead, you find objects that can be destroyed, and loot through them for the next bit of treasure or the next weapon/armor set.
Xenosaga also sports a near limitless amount of mini-games. So much so that you could easily spend a good 10-20 hours simply playing poker and battling in A.G.W.S. As you can imagine, this aspect alone could greatly skew people's finishing times based on how long they spent playing all of these great extras. Personally, I never touched the A.G.W.S battle mini-game or Xenocard (an incredibly in-depth and well thought out card game), but found the casino to be a fair bit of fun and a great place to earn money. The drilling game is interesting, but I found it to be a tad mundane and repetitive, thereby leading to boredom.