In order to cover this particular game, one must examine it in several different instances.
1. In comparison to the sister title, Xenogears.
2. In comparison to its genre.
3. Content of its dialogue. (Answered Throughout)
5. Overall satisfaction.
6. Mechanics (Sound/Graphics/Music)
To begin with the first, it is hard to compare with Xenogears as Xenogears was a self contained game. However, Xenosaga is a continuous storyline told over numerous games.
What there is of Xenosaga presents a loose introductio to characters and situations in the Xeno universe. We become familiar with a number of characters, all of which distinctly have their own motives and goals.
Aginor has felt for the longest time, since playing Xenogears, that Xenogears could be classified as a HEAVY RPG. Heavy in the sense of dialogue, content, and quality. Those who are familiar with the title will recall that, even aside the fact that Xenogears was a very unfinished game, it still came out ahead of many of its peers (Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, Dragon Warrior, etc.).
Xenosaga, Aginor would have to say, is a LIGHT RPG. Not so much due to content as much due to length and overall comprehensiveness. Xenosaga doesn't have the duration or content to make any competition with the six year old Xenogears, which approached various cultural topics that almost got it banned from American shores.
In this particular field, Xenogears stands high above Xenosaga. However, Xenosaga is a continuing story, and judging it merely based off of the first episode is unfair in the long run. It is quite possible, especially with the unanswered questions from the first installment, that Xenosaga might equal or surpass Xenogears, entirely dependant on if they decide to delve as deep as Gears did. If they don't, it will likely end a mediocre addition to the roleplaying world.
Suffice it to say, the series has great possibility and potential. This isn't to say that Xenosaga isn't entertaining or worth the cost of the game, anything but. It's cinematic feel and variety of characters pair with deep monologues with great import. Xenosaga itself doesn't lack depth, as anyone who is familiar with Nietzche's work will recognize many archetypes and models taken from his books. Concepts are mulled over that most gamers might find out of place in other RPG's. Neither Xenogears nor Saga is for the meek of mind or spirit.
Having settled that, Xenosaga does in fact stand out from its genre. Of course it comes at a time when there are several other technology oriented RPG's such as Dothack. Other than these few games who bare a likeness to the techno-RPG style games, Xenosaga has little in common with FF7 or other Cyberpunk/Future Fantasy style games. There is a sense of definite reality, and Xenosaga is set in a time where it isn't hard to believe that many of the technological wonders they use in the game are a reality.
Like in many RPG's, however, it does provide an element of mystery for the heroes of the story. All of which are fairly professional in the fields they are qualified for, rather than the ragtag band of misfit adventurers in many an RPG of the past. These people are pro's at what they do, yet caught up in something they don't fully understand. It speaks to a certain audience of people who are competent yet seeking answers to unanswerable questions. There are many religious references, as Nietszche himself waxed philosophic over religion a number of times. They are far subtler than their predecessor, perhaps out of fear of offending the American sensibilities, yet they are ever present and the feel of the game is permeated by an almost mystical aura of the supernatural.
The sense of the real extends further, characters deriving their actions for rational reasons, no real bad side out of it all... merely people with different beliefs which clash. Some over political power, others over individual empowerment. Rating against its peers, Xenosaga comes in pretty high... whether it can keep that level of quality or not remains to be seen.
Moving onto the Characterizations, this is where there is a bit of a stumble at times. Some characters suffer from atrociously Anime-esque formulaicness. Namely the main character, Shion Uzuki. Roughly half the time during playing, Aginor could predict what was going to come out of her mouth. The severity of it did not, however, carry over to other characters... though there were many moments that seemed based off of formula personalities (Junior and Albedo).
This is an element its predecessor lacked, as each character was far and beyond formula. The most formulaic of characters in Gears had to have been Bart Fatima, who's love of gung-ho charge-in strategy was the closest the game came to formula.
It seems as if everything about Shion Uzuki is designed for the player to like her, when she isn't a particularly likeable person overall. For being a scientist she is dense, naive, self centered, and clueless more often than can be counted. She is the focus of the story, although the story does not suffer too badly for it (Lending mostly to good writing elsewhere).
Not to insinuate that every other character didn't have their own bit of formula, merely stating that it was never so obvious or glaring.
Aginor can't abide programmers making a character that screams "Please like me, I want to be loved" as the main character, even though she never particularly uses those sentiments.
The music suffers as well, with the Galactica issue rife throughout. The music is excellent, what there is of it. Aginor doesn't particularly like "Pain" near the end of the game however, the cords being sung don't particularly mesh well, though it might be Hogg was straining herself (Much Like Shion, it is almost a song that desperately wants to be liked, and placed at an odd point in the game).
There is little variation on Battle Music, mainly only two themes; The end of the game boss, and everyone else.
However the music in and of itself isn't too irritating, and once again the rest of the game more than makes up for its glaring flaws. Hopefully more variety and less annoyingness will be included in future installments, as the storyline has some great potential.
Overall, Xenosaga is a satisfying read (Yes, most of the game is dialogue and movies), and the battle system is intuitive and interesting. It is a game Aginor would suggest, merely because there is next to no games that are a continuing series telling a comprehensive story. While it has its drawbacks, they are not enough to derail the plot or the depth, which Aginor feels are the two most integral parts to any RPG... as that is what we play them for, immersive stories.
The One Power.
"What did I smell like? Ah yes, a College Education. Need one?"