The player pilots a combat aircraft called a 'Solvalou' which is armed with a forward-firing gun for aerial targets, and bombs for destroying ground-based targets. A red targeting square is situated in front of the Solvalou, which allows the player to aim their bombs accurately. The enemy craft appear in a number of different guises; from the standard variety that arrive in large numbers but shoot slow-moving projectiles, to exploding black spheres that shoot projectiles at high speed. There are also rotating shields that cannot be destroyed and must be carefully avoided. Ground enemies are a combination of both stationary bases and moving vehicles, most of which fire slow-moving projectiles. A gigantic, floating fortress (called 'Andor Genesis') appears in certain areas; it is defeated by knocking out its core.
Xevious is actually divided into 16 different areas, which are separated by an area of forest. If a player dies before less than 70% of an area has been completed, play restarts at the beginning of the same area; should a life be lost AFTER 70% of an area has been completed, however, play restarts at the beginning of the next area. After area 16 has been completed, the game loops back to area 7.
Xevious was not the world's first vertically scrolling shoot-'em-up, but it had a huge and lasting influence on the genre. Xevious was the first game to use pre-rendered graphics and, among its countless innovations, was also the first vertically shoot-em-up that allowed accurate targeting of both air-born AND ground-based enemies. The graphics were revolutionary for their time; the sprites were rendered with remarkable clarity and detail due to the game's clever use of colors and shades as well as palette-shifting. Xevious was also the first game to feature 'hidden characters', which, being hidden, are not mentioned in the game's instructions but can be revealed by performing a secret maneuver. Among these was the 'special flag', which gave the player an extra life. This feature was carried over to a number of subsequent Namco games.
While Xevious enjoyed limited popularity in the U.S., the game was a huge cult hit in Japan, and to this day is considered one of the greatest video games of all time. Popular Japanese musicians, Haruomi Hosono (Yellow Magic Orchestra) and Kuwata Keisuke (Southern All Stars) were known to be fans of the game, and the former produced an album of music from Namco video-games; with Xevious as its centerpiece. A follow-up 12" single featured in its liner notes an entire science-fiction short story by Endoh, set in the world of Xevious, with even included a rudimentary fictional language.
At one point in the game, the Solvalou flies over the Nazca lines. The Nazca Lines are geoglyphs (drawings on the ground) located in the Nazca Desert; a high, arid plateau that stretches thirty-seven miles between the towns of Nazca and Palpa, situated in the Pampa region. They were created during the Nazca occupation of the area, between 200 BC and 600 AD. (arcade-history)