Xenosaga III: Also Sprach Zarathustra
PlayStation 2
Reviewed: 09/07/2006

The Xenosaga series is one that has gone through some turbulent times. Many thought that the shortening of the series from six games to three would make it impossible to tie up the plot properly. They were wrong.

Due to the episodic nature of the series, gamers who haven’t played the first two episodes may want to skip to the next paragraph because this one contains a few slight spoilers for the first two games. Xenosaga Episode III starts a year after the events of the second game took place. Shion has left Vector in order to try to discover the true nature of its possible involvement in the Gnosis crisis, among other things. All the main characters make a return, and it’s great to see how they interact with each other throughout. Thankfully almost every question left over from the earlier games in the series is answered here, along with several new developments that are still tied up before the game ends. Xenosaga Episode III is a fitting conclusion to the series, and fans that played through for the storyline will not be upset at all with how it all ties together.

Screen Shot
“Welcome to the new E3.”

The story is laid out in a chapter-by-chapter format that makes it fairly easy to keep up with. For players that haven’t played the first two episodes, or those who have forgotten much of the storyline, there is a vast database to catch up on many plot points. The database features summaries of the previous games, though they certainly aren’t a replacement for playing them. It also has summaries of nearly every plot event and descriptions of every character, weapon, place, etc. It’s a highly useful tool that fortunately is every well laid out. It doesn’t seem a chore to go through the massive amount of information in it; rather it is a great way to help flesh out the story and recall events of the previous games. The game also helps players keep track of what their current objectives are by showing a brief summary of recent events and the current objective every time a player loads the game. This is a highly useful tool that makes the game that much more streamlined and easy to play.

Major complaints of the first two episodes came in battle. In the first game the battle system worked well, but many of the attacks seemed far too drawn out. The second game introduced a “break” system that required vast amounts of “stocking” to build up enough power to unleash a larger attack on an enemy. Fortunately, MonolithSoft heard the complaints about the battle systems and basically overhauled the whole thing for part three. Turn order is plainly visible, so it allows for a good amount of planning ahead. The “break” system was renovated, and instead of having to stock up on moves to unleash a large combinations, enemies and characters can get “broken” when their break gauge is filled. It fills slightly every time a character takes damage. Another way to “break” is to use attacks that specifically target the break gauge. Once a character is in the “break” status, almost every attack s/he takes will do extra damage, many being critical.

Boosting is back, along with a revamped skill system in the game that allows players to customize each and every character specifically towards a certain discipline. This is a massive improvement over the second episode’s system, and it is very practical.

Screen Shot
I could write a thousand rap songs about this screen.

“E.S.” battles take place when characters are using their combat mechs to go through the environments instead of going through on foot. When and where E.S.’s are used is predetermined, but it’s always a nice break to use a giant robot in battle. E.S. battles are similar to the character battles, except much more simplified. The E.S.’s are also overly powerful and fighting with them hardly ever even approaches a challenge. Speaking of difficulty, Xenosaga Episode III is by far the easiest game in the series. While some bosses can be a challenge and take upwards of a half hour to beat, it is extremely rare that players will truly be in danger of dying or actually get a game over. It does happen, just very rarely.

The game also features a rather large minigame called HaKox. It plays similarly to Lemmings but it is rather hard to categorize it with that game. It is a great diversion from the main game when players feel like going through some challenging puzzles of leading characters through various courses.

There is a lot to do in in the game, from HaKox to filling up the Segment File (by finding various Segment Addresses throughout the game), to going back through old areas to look for items missed or find out what the locals are saying about current events, players have a lot to do. This isn’t to say the gameplay is flawless, but many errors and disappointments from the previous entries have been corrected here.

Xenosaga Episode III‘s graphics are great. Environments on land truly look lush and full of life, cities are bustling with people, and there is a great amount of activity on screen at all times. The cut scenes look as good as ever, though due to budget constraints, many story scenes take place via spoken text. Fortunately none of this interferes with the overall storytelling experience, and overall the game looks superb.

The music in the game is awesome as well. A couple tunes are recycled or slightly modified, but overall the score is very suitable for the game. Voice acting is wonderfully done as well. Each of the main characters are voiced very well. Surprisingly, despite the vast amount of spoken dialogue, even most of the NPC characters have voices that suit their characters. Only a few voices are overacted or overdramatic, and none suffer from sounding as if the voice actor doesn’t care about the role they are playing.

Overall, Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra is a fitting conclusion to an epic series. The game takes the faults of the previous entries and turns them into strengths. The storyline is enthralling and epic throughout, the battle system is a great spin on the standard turn-based fare, and its sound and graphics are great. It is as wonderful to see everything in the series come together so well as it is sad to know that the series has finally ended. While players who went through the first two episodes will garner more enjoyment from the game, those that haven’t will still be able to keep up as long as they explore the database. That said, Xenosaga Episode III is a fantastic game that is worth owning for almost any fan of RPGs. Xenosaga Episode III is easily the best in the series–a deserving must-have title to end it all.

-Joseph Wartick

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Great
Story Legendary
Graphics Very Good
Sound/Music Excellent
Replay Value Good
The Verdict: 9