RahXephon (PlayStation 2) review
"Something funny is happening to the world of anime licensed gaming. Whereby once the phrase ''based on the hit anime series'' spelt certain doom for a game, these days things are not so clear cut. While it may be true that there is still a fair amount of licensed crap polluting store shelves, the chances of happening upon something that's reasonably playable have been slowly increasing. This is partly in thanks to the efforts of Bandai Entertainment who, for the past 12 months, have taken some m..."
Something funny is happening to the world of anime licensed gaming. Whereby once the phrase ''based on the hit anime series'' spelt certain doom for a game, these days things are not so clear cut. While it may be true that there is still a fair amount of licensed crap polluting store shelves, the chances of happening upon something that's reasonably playable have been slowly increasing. This is partly in thanks to the efforts of Bandai Entertainment who, for the past 12 months, have taken some monster strides in improving the quality of their releases. And as they say, this can only be a good thing. For far too long the genre's most respected stories and characters have been used and abused like cheap 200yen hookers. Pimped out en mass to hungry gamers looking to extend their time with their favorite series, these games often lacked the excitement and energy associated with the original property. Ultraman tricycle racing anybody? Still that was then and this is now, and the world is a different place. Bandai are not what they used to be, and neither are text driven graphic adventures...
RahXephon originally began life on Japan's Fuji TV network where it was aired from January to September 2002. Though it's often compared to the seminal Neon Genesis Evangelion in both style and theme, Rahxephon manages to stand on its own as an intelligent example of fine story telling. In the year 2012, a mysterious alien invader known only as the Mu appeared in the skies above Tokyo. With every attempt at communication being greeted by an icy cold silence, mankind eventually lashed out in fear at this unknown threat with a pre-emptive attack. This of course was not the wisest of actions. Responding in kind, the Mu unleashed wave upon wave of sonically charged Dolem super weapons upon the Earth. With the armies of the world reeling from the scale of the counter attack, the Mu then wrapped Tokyo in temporal barrier sealing it and themselves off from the outside world. 15 years later and the stalemate continues. The para military organization, Terra, now watches over Tokyo Jupiter in the hope of finally understanding what exactly the Mu are after. Where did they come from? Why are they here? And what has really happened to the inhabitants of Tokyo now living trapped behind the barrier?
Like the many other anime inspired games before it, RahXephon is a text driven graphic adventure. By assuming the role of 17 year old Kamina Ayato, players influence the outcome of the story via their interaction with other characters. While this type of game is definitely an acquired taste, the advantages of the genre are clearly evident when licenses such RahXephon are concerned. Thanks to the inherent emphasis on dialogue, RahXephon's deep and often enigmatic background story is dragged kicking and screaming into the lime light for all to see. Certainly the overly complex character relationships have benefited from the extra exposition offered. Thankfully though, Bandai have demonstrated some restraint and have as such kept a few of the key story points vague and mysterious. Just the way such things are meant to be. Rather than being seen as a detriment, players would do well to embrace this philosophy. When done right, it's a style of story telling that can significantly add to the experience by giving the audience something to think about afterwards. We're all adults here, who wants to be spoon fed?
In keeping with recent form, Bandai have once more gone out on a limb and have brought genre development to a game where perhaps minimal effort was all that was required. As entertaining as text driven graphic adventures can be, there are no doubt many players out there that are turned off by such a concept. Bearing that in mind, Bandai have tweaked and updated the gameplay making it prettier, more accessible and believe it or not, more exciting. Who would have thought the word exciting could have been used to describe a text adventure?! Though the focus of the gameplay is as always on communication, it is now possible to assume direct control over Kamina Ayato and guide him through a series of suitably rendered 3d environments. Cel shaded goodness drips from every surface as players wander the many assorted locales of Terra HQ and the island, Nirai Kanai. Each and every location is highly authentic and beautifully representative of their original 2d animated cousins. From Michiru's bird cage in Kunugi's office to the expansive main bridge set, every little detail of RahXephon's world is present and accounted for. This is indeed a rare treat for fans!
It's while exploring these environments that players begin to notice RahXephon's 2nd interesting point of genre development. By drawing a character's attention to a background object or third party, it is now possible to get their opinion and thoughts on a wide range of subjects. This can be achieved simply enough by highlighting the character and then moving the perspective so that the cursor falls upon the desired topic of conversation. In doing so, players are exposed to added story elements that were either skipped over or discussed in passing during the course of the TV series thus fleshing out the overall experience. It may not seem overly impressive to those new to the genre, but believe me when I say that this system makes for a welcome break from the until now, traditional menu selections. Players that take the time to thoroughly explore each location and interact with every character are rewarded for their efforts with Katan points. These points are useful throughout the game, but are most relevant when used to open up the important the cinema sequences that forward the story, entertain in full, and arouse the spirit... well two out of three ain't bad.
Now all this is well and good, but for a story that's full of giant robots we've been quite light on with the action up until now. Heck, there hasn't even been a single picture of said robots, glossy or otherwise! In perhaps the biggest break from the genre's standard operating procedure, RahXephon actually drops players right smack bang into the Xephon itself. Similar in style and presentation to Konami's 3d action masterpiece, Zone of the Enders, these stages come as a refreshing change of pace. By assuming control of the mammoth Xephon, players guide Ayato through a series of fast paced encounters with the Mulian super weapons, the Dolems. Though the action may not be up to Z.O.E.'s lofty standards, there is still a surprising amount of technique to be learnt. The special Katan charged attacks look great and add a welcome dash of resource management to the game. For the most part the Xephon is a breeze to control and while the evasive maneuvers and combo attacks look and feel great, there is a certain polish that is sadly lacking. Special mention must be made of the cel shaded models that look fabulously authentic. Certainly the grotesque nature of the quasi-Greek Dolem designs have never looked better!
The question remains though, is a text driven graphical adventure still a text driven graphical adventure when you can pilot robots? In RahXephon's case there can only be one answer, a resounding yes. Their presence in the game is simply a mild diversion from the more pressing concerns of forwarding the story and exploring each of the relationships involved. Certainly as these actions constitute at least 85% of the actual play time, the battle sequences can be seen simply as a series of better than usual mini-games. As the story progresses and these battles are won, a large number of bonus extras begin to make themselves available from the main menu. Chief among them are the Xephon battles that, upon completion, can be replayed at anytime. The rest of the extras range in variety from the interesting character profiles and 3d models to the mildly entertaining, though seen them all before, movies and artwork. While the phrase ''quantity over quality'' does come to mind, Bandai should be commended for their generosity none the less. There is simply that much to be unlocked!
If you had told me 5 years ago that Bandai would begin to take their anime licenses seriously I would have laughed you out of the room. Their track record up until recently had been woeful at best. But then something strange and inexplicable happened and suddenly they had jumped tracks and were on the way to becoming something of an authority in the field. Having proved themselves capable in the past with the likes of Chou-jikuu Yousai Macross (PS2) and Naruto: Narutimate Hero (PS2), Bandai have surprised genre fans once more with this release. Text driven graphical adventures such as this may not be to everyone's taste, but there is no denying the fact that RahXephon is a step in the right direction if they intend to open the genre up to outsiders. The graphics, the action, the perfectly presented TV-like atmosphere complete with opening credit rolls. All this adds up to an unbelievable package for fans and one that players mildly interested in the genre may not want to miss. Welcome to the end of the old and the beginning of the new...
* RahXephon has a deep and engrossing story that takes some intelligence to understand
* Long time fans will be pleased to find some questions from the TV series answered
* Large 3d environments bring innovation and excitement to the genre
* The Xephon combat stages make for a nice change of pace
* Every piece of dialogue has been voiced by the original actors
* Much of the BGM music from the TV series has made the transition
* There's a huge amount of bonus material to unlock
* A fluency of Japanese is required to enjoy RahXephon to the full
* The robot on robot action could have used a little more spice
* Games such as this are often limited in their replayability, RahXephon is no different
Community review by midwinter (August 27, 2004)
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