Monolith Soft's Xenosaga series is known for its ambitious (and perhaps slightly pretentious) scope, spinning an epic science-fiction work across many PlayStation 2 installments, many German subtitles, and many, many cutscenes. Xenosaga Episode I & II for the Nintendo DS brings the first two games in the series together happily on one cartridge for dramatic role-playing on the go, mixing up the graphical style while retaining some of the console version's gameplay elements. We cracked open an import copy of the game today to check out what's under the hood, and while the looks have changed a bit, the Xenosaga experience seems to have translated well to the smaller venue.
The game opens up much like its console cousin, with lady scientist Shion Uzuki guiding the android KOS-MOS through a virtual training exercise. The first thing that will become evident about this handheld port is that by necessity all the environments and such are scaled down quite a bit. In the console version of the training exercise, you're able to run around multiple screens' worth of ruined cityscape before finally isolating your ultimate target in an old building. The DS version strips this area down to a single room, where you'll roam between a few different points until you confront the creature that ends the exercise. The ship, which is the space-going vessel transporting the mysterious Zohar artifact, is also shrunk down a great deal to comfortably accommodate adventuring on the DS.
The images and the occasional character portraits that show up are done in an attractive anime style, and while a number of the main cast were slightly redesigned to fit this new look, they mesh with the world and the style just fine. One thing we definitely noticed, though, was that with the conversion to this new system, the bulk of Xenosaga's storytelling switches to copious text windows. Better hope you're not prone to repetitive motion injury, because you'll be pressing the A button like a madperson trying to keep up with all the events as they unfold, particularly in the early going. The action primarily unfolds on the top screen, leaving the lower touch screen for menus, battle menus, checking your e-mail, and so forth--the stylus isn't used (that we've seen at this point).
We also got to play around with the battle system, which has been modified somewhat but retains its original core. You can no longer see and avoid monsters on the area screens--like most other role-playing games, your foes are now invisible and lying in wait for random encounters. Upon getting into battle, you're placed on a field opposite a variety of opponents for a turn-based fight, with some new differences.
Xenosaga Episode I & II seems to be settling into its new handheld home well overall. Fans of Xenosaga who are eager to travel with Shion and friends on the go (and RPG fiends in general) will find the game easy to pick up and play, and the battle system looks like it has a nice amount of flexibility to it. So long as you're willing to process a lot of story sequences and dialogue--and if you're a Xenosaga fan, you're all about long exposition and religious references anyway--Xenosaga Episode I & II looks to have a lot to offer the mobile-RPG connoisseur...if can read the copious amount of Japanese text, that is. Check out our new media and screenshots of the import, and keep your eye on this gamespace for further updates and any word on a domestic release.