Another JRPG for people who really like JRPGs

Every once in awhile I get an itch to play an old school JRPG.  Most recently I picked up Final Fantasy X — not exactly the most old school game out there, but it had the grind and sweeping story I was looking for.  Still though, there was something missing.  I never felt that sense of danger that you feel when first wandering outside of town in Phantasy Star, where every random encounter on the world map can be as threatening as a boss battle.  I never felt like I was discovering a world — I felt more like an actor in a film.  While Final Fantasy X is very much a JRPG — and a very good one at that — it’s not the kind of JRPG that stokes the flames of my nostalgia.  It’s not the kind that throws you into in a hostile world that is yours for the taking.  Victim of Xen is.


Which is a good thing and a bad thing.  For fans of the genre — and fans of nostalgia — Victim of Xen is perfectly competent game.  You know what you’re getting: an old school JRPG that doesn’t pull any punches.  For those of you out there who didn’t cut your teeth on the likes of Dragon Quest, perhaps you should think twice before plopping down the price of entry.

Like most RPGs, you begin your quest as a nobody.  The particular nobody that stars in Victim of Xen is named Will, and shortly after directing Will through an introductory dungeon, things get hairy.  Hairy as in dangerous, but also hairy as in luxurious, flowing hair.  You see, an evil sorceress by the name of Xen visits your village to conscript all young men of fighting age.  Will and his friend resist and are subsequently transformed by Xen.  Will wakes up to find he’s become a woman.  Hilarious hijinks ensue.

Actually… they don’t.  The full potential of Victim of Xen’s gender bending premise is untapped.  Beside the few occasions when males hit on Will, there really is no exploration of what it might be like to change sexes.  Will’s motivation in Victim of Xen is to find the witch who transformed him and get her to change him back.  Eventually she does, but instead of turning him back to his original self, she turns him into a pretty boy.  Xen and Will are split up, and then Will is after her again.  You discover that the only way to return Will to his original form is by collecting shards of an ancient, powerful crystal.  Unforeseen consequences ensue.

Victim of Xen

This is when Victim of Xen opens up and hits its stride.  The world map is revealed and you are given the means to explore it — an airship and a sailboat.  Will and party are then able to travel the four corners searching out the shards.  This is not groundbreaking stuff, but that’s why it’s fun.  At its best, Victim of Xen is familiar, comfortable and stimulating — sort of like Thanksgiving dinner at home.  At its worst, it’s frustrating, boring and obtuse — sort of like Thanksgiving dinner at home.

One segment in particular took far too long to beat and was not much fun in the doing.  Will and party end up on a desert continent as slaves, and you must guide them to freedom.  This involves tracking down a Djinn and killing it, as well as recruiting a lost prince to your ends.  Neither the location of the Djinn nor the existence of the prince are particularly obvious.  The Djinn is hidden in a secret tunnel that can only be discovered by walking over a completely unmarked tile of desert on the world map.  I probably spent half an hour wandering around the map without stumbling across it.  As this continent isn’t exceptionally large, discovering the hidden passage right under my nose was even more frustrating.

Victim of Xen

But again, some people like that sort of thing.  Victim of Xen doesn’t pull any punches.  This is an old school, hard-nosed JRPG.  One caveat to JRPG fans though — I found Victim of Xen‘s combat system to be hugely limited.  Characters differ little from each other, even sharing movesets.  Victim of Xen is more about exploration than it is combat.

But as that wide open feeling doesn’t come until later in the game, I don’t know how many people will last that long.  Victim of Xen is merely a competent JRPG.  Veterans of the genre desperate for a new one should buy it.  But if you’re looking to break into the genre for the first time, maybe start somewhere else.