Review by Uptown877

""I Love You Sincerely" Xenosaga!"

"Maybe Tomorrow" reviewers, critics, and overall more gamers will come to love the series that as of this episode now, has come to a close. Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra, is the final installment in what was originally proposed to be a six-part series. The series showed promise at the beginning but lack of sales, a small fanbase, and production issues have led the developers to cut the project short, and leave a bitter taste in many of our Xenosaga lover's mouths.

Does that mean this series fails as a game? Not at all. This game provided what some people (including myself) to be one of the best stories of all time. That is incredibly hard to do in any form of entertainment today. The game used key religious references and mythological symbols to grab the player and drag them into a world where trust, betrayal, love, and friendship all play a key part in the unravelling of the stories mysteries.

The series also did something for me (and many others as well) that almost no other game has ever done for me. It taught me new things. Up until these games came out, I had never heard of Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Gnosticism just to spew out a few of the new words I learned. Xenosaga actually required players to be somewhat familiar with these key terms in order to truly understand the deep story that it contained within. And to me, the story in the game is what can make it or break it.

With that being said, let us continue on with the review of the final installment of one of my favorite RPGs of all time. Please note, this is based on the Japanese version of the game and reflects all elements that may not be found in the North American release.

How does this game look anyway?
If Xenosaga has always been able to do something well, it was in the graphics department. Able to model characters that were truly pleasing to look at, the final installment of this series cuts no slack in this section and truly wanted to give the player some eye-candy as a farewell present.

This works as an advantage because all the environments in this game look incredible. From Rennes-le-Chateau all the way to Miktam, the player will actually feel like they are there exploring the area with the characters. The E.S. units have all been upgraded and look fantastic, especially Jin's E.S. The characters this time around look much better then they did in their previous installment as the same models are used in-game this time as well as in the pre-rendered cutscenes. This is definitely a lot more easier on the eyes and gives something decent for us players to watch while enjoying the scenes.

The look of the in-game battles are nice as well. The characters move fluidly despite the fact that they do the magical bunny-hop backwards into their position after they attack. The spells look the same from the previous games so no loss there, and while the deathblows could have been a little more enhanced, they still get the job done. The pre-rendered scenes though are where Xenosaga has always shined along with its storytelling. The characters interact with each other well and the ES scenes are particularly amazing, and one cannot forget the awe-inspiring final cutscene of the game.

A new addition to the final installment was the use of in-game cutscenes with the stock model characters. While most people will find this enjoyable, it is a little disturbing to not be able to see all these scenes acted out between the characters, as the same hand animations are used over and over as well as the facial expressions. While it is nice to hear the characters talking, as well as having the option to turn on an autoscroll feature, I wish we would have been able to see all these events in pre-rendered style.

Pros: Characters, E.S. and environments look great. Cutscenes look gorgeous
Cons: Some special effects (explosions, deathblows) are all things we have seen before.

So can I kill stuff in style?
Of course. In this installment of Xenosaga, the battle system has gone through a complete re-haul, with some old factors of the first two games added back in.

In character battles, you once again form a party of three, no more, no less. The game proceeds turn-based just like the last two installments of the series. The battle menu is pretty simplistic. You have your standard attack in which your character will rush to the enemy and smack them with a basic move. Next to that you have your "Arts." These moves are new to the system and you can basically think of them as advanced attacks that cost EP to use. They can do many things such as greater damage then a normal attack, a multiple hit attack, increase your opponents break gauge, or even alter your characters abilities and status. I particularly enjoyed this nice little add in as each of your characters have their own move variations with overall the same effects.

As Im sure you just read all your characters have a break gauge system now. In battle as you accumulate damage over time your break bar fills up. Both you and your enemies have them. Once this bar is filled, your characters gets knocked unconciouss from anywhere between 1-3 rounds. It is during this time that if a move hits you or your enemy, the damage is increased, and you most likely will achieve a critical hit. Wonderful to have on your enemies, bad for you.

Ethers make a return in this game as the primary means of magic and still cost EP to use. Shion, chaos, MOMO, and Jr. will be your primary casters as the other characters primarily have ethers to help boost their stats or decrease the enemies.

Deathblows once again make a return, but in this game depend entirely on the boost gauge. In order to use them your characters must raise the boost gauge to a certain level as each deathblow has its own corresponding amount of stock needed. Any deathblow that is used against an enemy and kills it, is called a finishing strike and you will receive 1.5x the experience and money that you would normally get if you were to finish that monster off with just a basic attack, either, or arts.

The E.S. battles have also been rewired and redone. Now instead of being basic turn based like in Episode II, your E.S. run on a certain amount of energy which is supplied by the engine you currently have equipped in it from the stores. Your attacks your ES can do are dependent on how much energy you have. Depending on the weapons you have equipped, your E.S. will usually have 2-3 attacks at its disposal each requiring its own amount of energy. The total number of attacks your E.S. can make cannot exceed the maximum amount of energy of your engine that your E.S. has equipped. Sounds confusing but is actually quite easy to understand.

Another new element to the E.S. battles is the use of your Anima relic which is basically the equivalent of your deathblows found in character battles. As you fight in battle your Anima gauge fills up. The more damage you do to your enemy equals more of your Anima gauge being filled up. Once it has been maxed out, you can activate it and your E.S. goes into hyper-mode. Once in it, the damage it deals increased, it can perform its attacks and a reduced energy cost thus equalling more attacks, and it can use its powerful deathblow strikes against the enemy. Definitely the eye-candy of the ES battles.

That being said, the battle system has its goods and bads. The character battles are primarily fun and actually require some strategy this time knowing what works well against your opponent. Knowing when to save your boost gauge for an extra turn or to use it as a deathblow will come into play more then once for sure. The E.S. battles on the other hand are somewhat of a let down. The attacks you use against your enemies will almost always destroy them in one hit, and when you fight E.S. bosses, their machines are superior to yours in every way. Thus we enter what is called the boring battle. Two of your E.S. will guard to recover their energy and recieve no damage while your one lone E.S. will attack relentlessly every turn in order to build up its anima guage and release its deatblow against the boss.

Pros: New battle system design is well done and character battles are fun
Cons: Just guarding and deathblows in ES battles doesnt seem so fun after the 5th time.

So how does it sound exactly?
Alright, time for the readers to start hating me. Please remember, that this review is entirely based on my opinion, but is also designed to give you readers an idea of what to expect in the game. Yes, Yuki Kajiura is an awesome composer and I love her music. The soundtrack for this final installment though was not what I consider to be mind-boggling though. Out of the 30 or so songs used throughout the game, I must say 10 of them or so in my opinion are worth listening too. And of course those 10, are placed in the most crucial scenes/battles throughout the game. Does it get the job done? Yes, but not in the way I had hoped for. This is a hard section to rate as everyone has their own opinion of what a musical score should sound like, but to me, this game just didnt deliver it this time.

Moving on to the issue of sounds. I really wish the people at Monolith would realize that shoes running on the ground do not sound that loud. If you plan on using Shion, KOS-MOS, or Momo as your on-screen leader throughout the game, be prepared for the high-heel extravaganza. While I salute them for trying to make shoes sound realistic on whatever surface you ran on, the sound was just cranked up a little too loud, and in some instances, it even was louder then the music playing in the background. The sounds used in battles were decent enough, your standard punches, kicks, robots exploding, and Gnosis vaporizing that you have heard already a thousand times from the past two games.

Pros: "Maybe Tommorow", "Godsibb", and "Hepatica (KOS-MOS)." Listen to them.
Cons: The shoe extravaganza and reused/rehashed sounds from the previous 2 installments.

"Godsibb" indeed?
If one does not play this game for the story....I really don't think you should have continued past the first episode, but hey it is your money. The story in this game has a hard goal set on it's shoulders. It must somehow find a way to take 3 extra games that were planned to be made, cut their stories down significantly (if not entirely) and cram it into this episode, as well as give it a strong finish so that the fans are not left with a big-gaping jaw in the end.

The story starts off good in the beginning. As we know Shion no longer works for Vector and decides to try to expose them with a new group that she joins called Scientia. Unfortunately, the game never decides to explain too much on that group but those basic facts get the job done. We are then introduced to a new android designed to be KOS-MOS's superior in every way, named T-elos. Sounds great and the 1st cutscene you see with her is amazing as well as the 2nd. However, then she just disappears for the remainder of the game until the very end. As far as the rest of the characters go, with the exception of Shion, KOS-MOS, and chaos you wont find much more to them. You already know everything you need to about MOMO and Jr. and yes Ziggy's story does get wrapped up, however the whole thing just feels thrown at you. Then again, that is why he had his own game made for him. Most gamers however, will never get a chance to play it and so must come to their own conclusion of what might have happened. The final nay-say of the story is that near the end of the 1st disc, something gets thrown at you which in my opinion really dropped the bomb for it at the time. They throw one of the biggest cliches at you seen in anime, video games, television, and books. I wont spoil it for you but you will know what it is when the time comes in the game.

On to the good points. Xenosaga's final installment does a very well job tying in the events from the first two games and gives us the best thing ever invented of all time that should be included in every RPG videogame known to gamers. A database. This little contraption you are going to be browsing through forever just so you can read all the info this game's universe has to offer. Almost all entries come with a picture as well as detailed info that gets updated over time as new events progress throughout the game. The very end of the game like I stated above feels thrown at you, but so much goes on within those final 45 minutes that you will watch it again and again and again through the scene viewer just so you can be sure you got it all. Some friends become enemies and vice-versa and as we all should know by now that it is chaos and KOS-MOS turns to truly shine.

Pros: Ties in events from previous installments, great database, wonderful ending.
Cons: It is all forced down your throat. It makes it seem like there was never a climax.

Ye Shall Be As Gods...
I love this series. I love the characters, I love the mysticism/religion in it, I love the story, and I love the setting of it. It is a shame to see such a wonderfully thought out game created by an incredible group of people be cut off so short. One of the biggest questions of the game is the length factor. I finished it myself the first time through in 44 hours without doing everything. The 2nd time through I clocked in at 33 hours with 100% database and all sidequests completed. Those extra 11 hours primarily came through database reading and trying to find everything on my own. I hope in the future I can see you all in the Xenosaga Universe.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/08/06

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