I have a lot of conversations with people who don't like JRPGs. When I ask them what they don't find appealing about the genre, the answer is usually something along the lines of "monotony."
This is a fair point. JRPGs can indeed be monotonous, and it can be tough to connect to a story's characters and situations while following the town/dungeon/rinse/repeat formula. Some people have fallen in love with that routine over the years, but it's not for everybody.
The second half of Xenogears twists that trope. After a long, sprawling journey that takes you and your party through towns, dungeons, turn-based combat and all that other stuff you've seen before, the game suddenly shifts Gears and turns into story-story-story.
Some found this disjointing; I found it refreshing. After 50-something hours of the JRPG formula, it was nice to change things up a bit. Don't get me wrong: Even when it's at its most formulaic, Xenogears is an excellent game. Its towns are chock full of personality and its combat system is a blast to play around with.
But I can only take so much adventuring before I start to get worn out. By the time I swapped discs in my PlayStation, I was just as exhausted as protagonist Fei and his ragtag party. I was invested in the story and I really wanted to see how the twists and turns would play out, but I'd been raiding dungeons for a very long time. I almost called it quits.
Then I inserted the second disc, watched Fei and his compatriots start jabbering, and proceeded to experience something different entirely -- a series of scenes that skipped all the gameplay in favor of talking heads and pictures. It was energizing, a much-needed triple espresso shot just when I was about to doze off and stop playing.
I get why people have ripped these segments apart. It's a tease to show us dungeons and events without letting us explore and play through them. But for me, the change of pace was more than welcome.
Maybe Xenogears was rushed. Maybe budget restrictions and time constraints led to some cuts and omissions. (In fact, intrepid fans have dug deep into the game's code and found all sorts of cool stuff that was left out of the final product.)
But the game is still stellar, an experiment in divergent game design that still managed to convey one hell of a story. In a genre with a reputation for stagnancy and monotony, I think the sudden shift and rapid-fire pacing of Xenogears' final act is more than welcome.
Jason Schreier is a freelance writer/editor based out of NYC. He's a contributing writer for Wired.com and occasionally writes for a number of other sites and publications, including Edge Magazine, the Onion News Network and G4TV. You can follow him on Twitter at @jasonschreier.