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   Xenosaga: Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra - Staff Review  

Also Improved Zarathustra
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Easy to Moderate
COMPLETION TIME
25-35 Hours
OVERALL

4.0/5

Rating definitions 

   Xenosaga: Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra is the third and final offering in Monolith Soft's epic Xenosaga series for the Playstation 2. The ride has been a long and bumpy one, but somehow this installation overcomes most of the flaws of the prior two games and ends the saga on a high note. This episode will leave gamers asking why the other two episodes weren't like this and why it has to end here. While the only points of originally that Episode III earns are for changes in mechanics, those changes are enough to make for a pleasant experience.

   Visually, Xenosaga: Episode III does not disappoint. Episode III follows the same pattern as the first two games, with loads of cut scenes and detailed character designs. Though there is no real change from those prior games, it does seem as if the graphics are crisper and smoother. From the action packed cut scenes to the beautiful landscapes, Xenosaga III is truly a work of art. A questionable decision to remove all blood from the game is one issue that needs to be addressed, as it truly takes away from some of the more emotional moments of the game. There are parts of the game when characters should be seeing blood, but are staring at nothing. This removal helped Episode III stay at a Teen rating, but the sacrifice of a realistic feel does not seem to have been worth the cost.

Glasses? Sellers, you're inside, the glasses can come off.

   Many fans of Episode I's composer, Yasunori Mitsuda, were not impressed with Episode II's less memorable musical offering. Yuki Kajiura does a great deal to silence those critics by supplying Episode III with an emotionally charged soundtrack. From the intense boss music to the pensive flashback music, the soundtrack sets the mood perfectly. Even the most mundane areas have music fitting to the environment. Whether gamers are fighting for their life or just wandering around town, Kajiura's soundtrack helps to bring them into the game with stunning success. The game's sound effects are also quite impressive and help to achieve immersive environmental effects by adding in bird calls and realistic background noise without being overbearing. One sour note about the game's sound effects would be the deafening sound of footsteps when characters are walking. It is quite loud and can become irritating quickly, but is the only complaint to be found.

   The most impressive change in Episode III is the battle system. Both normal and E.S. fights are quicker and friendlier than in the prior games of the series. Normal battles now focus around gaining boost by attacking while trying to prevent breaking, which will hinder a character's action for a round. Different enemy types still have certain strengths and weaknesses, but it is nothing that will cause frustration. These normal battles are without a doubt the more challenging of the two, as most E.S. fights are more a battle of attrition than anything strategic. E.S. boss fights do require more thought and planning than the basic fights, but most are winnable without much effort. After a few of the harder normal battles, gamers might start longing for a few E.S. fights. Both characters and E.S. craft have special attacks as well. These attacks increase in power the more they are used and are an essential part of effective combat. Though combat is friendlier than in prior titles, it can be a little too easy at times. If players complete side-quests for certain spells and items, it can make the game more of a challenge to lose than to win.

Big guns. Ziggy breaks out the big guns.

   Interaction is simple and allows for the gamer to customize their characters however they wish. Through the use of skill points, it is up to the player to decide how they want to specialize. Should chaos be a stat booster or an ether damage machine? The choice is up to the player. Equipment goes beyond simple weapon and armor selection. Both the characters and the E.S. craft have accessory options that help with things such as preventing counter attacks or taking revenge upon receiving damage. All of these options allow for making a favorite character a heavy damage dealer or giving another character a well-rounded balance.

   The heart of Xenosaga: Episode III is the story, and this is a truly epic end to the series. Characters develop in ways gamers would never expect, while other characters are not what they seemed to be. Episode III shows a new light to almost every major character in the series. This is a tale of sacrifice, sadness, trust, betrayal, and honor. Though some parts may seem predictable, the game always seems to take an unexpected path to the expected conclusion and does so in a way to leave gamers wanting to know what's next. Those expecting heavy Xenogears ties should leave those expectations at the door. While Episode III does toss in some vague references to its distant cousin, and gamers could go out of their way to take these references as tie-ins, the Xenosaga series does stand alone. Also, some of the game's religious themes were seemingly meaningless. It was as if the writers were just tying in some religious references just to make the game seem to have some historic religious foundation, but in the end the references were just superfluous.

   Gamers should expect to spend about thirty hours of gameplay during a normal playthrough with about five or more extra hours required to complete all mini games and side-quests. Xenosaga: Episode III is not a very difficult game, but it does provide enough of a challenge to not be a complete pushover. This balance along with an improved battle system, deep character customization options, a compelling story, beautiful cut scenes, and a fitting soundtrack make for a very entertaining experience. If given one word to describe Episode III, that word would be improved. If this had been the first game in the series, Xenosaga might have had a bigger following. For gamers that were turned off by either of the first two games, please give Episode III a chance. It has its flaws, but overall is a very enjoyable game.

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