Got all this so far? There's more to the system, but just like the story, it will come to you as you play. Early on, battles can be tough as you learn to juggle via the break system and have limited access to healing spells and other skills. I died a few times by being too hasty—all enemies are visible on the screen and you can leave areas and come back to fight enemies over and over for leveling up, I definitely recommend doing this a bit in the beginning (or like me, throughout the entire game!)
Character enhancement involves not only gaining levels via experience gained in battles, but also learning new skills by opening classes of different levels. Battle experience as well as some items will give each character points they can use to unlock stat bonuses (such as strength +2) and healing, stat changing, and attack and defense ether spells (I strongly suggest learning a Medica All spell as soon as possible for a couple of your characters, you’ll need it).
The nicest part of the battle experience in Xenosaga II is that you don’t have to wait to fight the main boss for a tough battle. In normal combat, enemies will surround you, helicopters and giant robots will go toe to toe with your characters, a good reason to always have a range character in your battle party, such as MOMO, or one who wields strong magic. You take 3 characters in to battle, so all other ones slowly heal as they idle on the side, another strategy to make use of.
All the fighting would be pointless without a solid delivery of the storyline, and Xenosaga II does not disappoint. Containing more cinema scenes than any other RPG I have played to date, the game takes its influences from the kinetic, quick-cutting action sequences of Asian cinema (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Hand to hand combat is enthralling, chase sequences leave you in anticipation, and some dialogue scenes are funny and lighten the mood while others add drama to the story when needed.
Notice I said, "some dialogue scenes." While I have no problem with storytelling via cinema (as opposed to reading straight text as in so many 2-D RPGs), I am thankful that a "skip" feature was included. Case in point, out of the 3 hours I may spend playing this game on an average night, at least an hour might be spent sitting through story segments, and quite frankly sometimes I just want to get to the battles. Vocals are somewhat stilted and cheesy at times, but they serve their purpose.
A vast, engrossing word awaits you in Xenosaga II. There are side-quests, hidden items, and other goodies to take you well over the 40-hour mark. Does this set the standard for 3D turn-based RPGs? I wouldn’t go that far, but what it does offer is a large cast of playable characters, a storyline that is interesting and accessible to newcomers, and a battle system that is fun and unique in many ways—learning to maximize damage using breaks and boosting is challenging and rewarding.
The clean 3D graphics definitely could have used the Star Ocean treatment. While Namco added Dolby Digital to the audio choices, they surprisingly left out progressive scan and widescreen support.
Xenosaga II is moderately difficult and enemies are smart enough that mashing buttons will not get you through the game. Time spent leveling, learning break combinations, and proper character combinations (such as using a ranged character when needed) are necessary to progress through the game.
While I have read and heard that the original exceeds part 2 in many ways, Xenosaga II has impressed me enough that I am going back and playing through the original and can’t wait to see what the third installment has to offer.