Xenosaga Episode III : Also sprach Zarathustra review


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The original Xenosaga raised the bar for RPGs in terms of graphics and game play. While episode I was fairly successful episode II didn’t live up to the expectations to a large majority of consumers. In a series like Xenosaga where every game directly relates to one another, a single title can break the entire series. Once episode II did poorly, the opportunity for success on episode III lowered greatly. In order to break the series back into the main stream episode III would need to be extremely successful, giving people a reason to play through the last 2 episodes. Does this series deserve a episode IV, or was its early deaths justified?

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Xenosaga I and II fans should know the basics of the story, The universe is under attack by Gnosis which are alien like creatures. Shion, KOS-MOS and their large group of friends go off to save the universe from this destruction. While many would argue Xenosaga is much more then that, episode III doesn’t offer much beyond that. Character stories  that would usually be fleshed out come to abrupt end, quickly being ended within a  few scenes. This is probably due to the fact that they had to cut the series two games short, and end everything in episode III. Instead episode III focuses on telling the story of Shion and KOS-MOS. While this is fine considering it is the main story, its not nearly as interesting as many of the stories in episode I and II of Xenosaga relating to other characters. Many times it feels way too generic. Shion, as a main character crumbles, with constant whining that can really get on your nerves. Episode III’s story isn’t entirely bad though, with twists and turns littered throughout to spice up the story a bit  and keeps you guessing till the end. Unfortunately that “End” has a massive hole in the plot. It seems that they were trying to leave space for episode IV if the game was successful. Instead of giving you closure along with opening opportunity for the future, it makes the series feel incomplete.

A common complaint in Episode II was the steep learning curve for the battle system. Episode III does its best to lessen the learning curve,but possibly too much so. Episode III almost completely removes any traces from past episode’s battle systems. Other then spell names and item names, the only other thing that remains intact is the boost meter, which has also undergone some major changes. What we get is a typical turn based RPG. With attack, techniques, Ether (magic), and Special attacks. The boost meter which used to be essential for combat in episode I and II has become an after thought. Timing boosts rarely feels like it has much of an impact outside of emergency healing or doing a little extra damage. Instead the boost meter also fuels your special attack gauge, which are powerful Single target and area of effect moves. While some strategy is used in using these moves, it has little to no depth, other then choosing what attack is most effective against what enemy.

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A break meter was added to add some depth but it amounts to little more then maxing out your opponents endurance and using your most powerful attacks. On the flip side, your team also have break meters, so enemies can cause major damage on you, but aside from boss battles, this is rarely a issue. Overall Episode III plays out like any other RPG, killing any identity the series had with its combat system aside from the mech portions of the title. Which amounts to just a altered version of the normal combat., but with more limited options. The combat is just over simplified and needs some sort of depth. Although combat keeps similar pace to Episode II, which improved on the sluggish combat from Episode I. On the bright side Episode II’s skill system was removed and replace, getting a rid of a lot of the downtime that was in episode II sitting in the menu and selecting skills. This time theres only a single pool of points for skills and spells, making it much more manageable.

By 2006 the Playstation 2 was starting to show its age and new consoles were making their way into the market. Episode 3 pulls off a surprising amount for a 6 year old system at the time. Character models look great and environments are detailed. Special attacks look great and feel strong. At times the camera will zoom out to show whole environments, which some look really impressive. There are some larger blurry textures but considering the platform, its acceptable. Theres some frequent slow down during the more detailed cut scenes and rarely any slow down during game play. The art direction is vastly superior then then episode I and II, although due to the constant change in art direction, some characters still retain their look from previous titles, making some stand out and look awkward. It would have been nice to see more enemy types, most of the enemies you encounter you saw in previous episodes, some even looked ripped directly from the last entry. During combat theres a great use of camera angles to give it a  more cinematic feel, especially during the mech portions of the title. During exploration the camera can be a little troublesome making it difficult to see whats ahead of you when moving toward the screen.

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Unfortunately while the game looks great, the presentation at times can be messy. Unlike previous episodes, most of the cut scenes take place using simple animations. This really is disappointing due to the level of detail episode I and II had in their cut scenes. This wouldn’t be too bad if they didn’t decide to swap between detailed and simple cut scenes one after the other. This makes it annoying because during the middle of a cut scene all of a sudden theres a black screen for loading the next scene just to show off something they couldn’t have done using the basic palettes of animations. At which point the cut scene lasts for a  very short time and returns back to the simple cut scenes. This really breaks up the experience, making awkward transitions where there shouldn’t be any. Some times the basic animations won’t match the scene exactly making for some strange moments.

The entire Xenosaga series has seen censored content in the North American release, and episode III is no different. The main difference is that in episode I and II it was covered up well, no one would guess that the games were censored. In episode III the censoring is incredibly obvious. All blood was removed from the title, which makes for some weird and some times laughable moments. Such as a little girl’s mother dying and the girl is trying to put the blood back into the mom, but since all the blood is censored shes just putting air back in. Another example is some one screams at the sight of a person stabbed to death in their bed but because all the blood was censored, it looks like shes screaming over some one just sleeping in their bed. It’s really strange and is quite disappointing considering how well episode I and II were censored.

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The sound track in this game is really well done with some really epic themes and music that really fits the scenario. Although the dramatic slow sad music during at least one boss fight is getting a little overplayed in Japanese RPGs. While theres a few off sounding voices, most of the voice acting range from decent to great, you never feel like you wish you could turn the voices off. Sound effects sound great although the foot steps may be a little too loud, as the clacking of your characters shoes on the ground tends to stand out a little too much, oddly enough the same loud clacking sound is used when your character is bare footed as well.

Episode III will take you around 30-35 hours to complete, a bit longer if you decide to put some time into leveling up. Segment addresses make a return, which have collectible items inside them and data files containing additional information on characters and events are also available to collect. Theres also a lemmings style  puzzle game available from time to time that really tests your wits and reflexes, and is very entertaining and challenging. After you beat the title you also gain the ability to re watch all the cut scenes and as a bonus, characters can be in their swimsuit character models, but there is little purpose to re watching them after you have beaten the game. There’s also a model viewer which also holds little entertainment value.

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While not necessarily a bad game, Xenosaga Episode III just does not live up to episode I and II. The combat system lost most of what gave the series an identity in the first place. Unfortunately  Episode II’s failure to deliver basically sealed episode III’s fate and it shows. The low production values and hastily ended story hurt the experience. It make episode III feel entirely made just to finish the story to attempt to give fans closure. In the end it feels like a very average RPG compared to past entries. Episode III was printed in a very limited quantity. Making it a fairly rare title to find. It ranges from 25$ to 40$ Use and 50$ to 60$ new on amazon. Which isn’t too horrible but considering its a 3 year old Playstation 2 title, its a bit on the expensive side.  I can only recommend this title to fans who  enjoyed episode I and II. Anyone who hasn’t played episode I and II before really should play those titles before even considering purchasing episode III since the stories are so directly related, one would be lost if they played episode III first.

Score: 7.8

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