[XS3 LOGO]


[SHION AND KOS-MOS LOOKING MAJESTIC AS USUAL ;)]
Console: PS2  

Company: Bandai/Namco 
(Developer: Monolith Soft) 

Release Date: August 2006 

Genre: RPG

Number of Players: One 

Save Feature? It wouldn't 
be a saga without one! ;)  


Now this is how you want to cap off a trilogy! Hot on the heels of the enjoyable yet somewhat disappointing Episode Two, the third addition to the epic Xenosaga series is nothing short of a masterpiece in this reviewer's mind. From the simplistic yet brilliant gameplay to one of the finest soundtracks to ever grace a video game to the heartfelt, inspiring story, Xenosaga: Episode Three does everything that you could possibly ask out of any video game and then some! Without a doubt, Xenosaga: Episode Three deserves serious consideration as the greatest video game ever created.

Overview: As you can see, I was absolutely enthralled with Xenosaga: Episode Three! After playing through Episodes One and Two to death and beyond, I eagerly anticipated what the third installment to the series would bring. Would it bring closure to one of the more epic stories of our time and do justice to the series or would it result in even more mind-boggling questions? And what about the aesthetics? What kind of style would the game's graphics have, who would have the daunting responsibility of composing a soundtrack worthy of the Xenosaga name, and what about the whole atmosphere/feel of the game?

Since Episode One was such an impressive game across the board with Episode Two being enjoyable despite containing several flaws, I wasn't quite sure what Monolith Soft would do. Would Episode Three try to get back to its roots a little more and bring back the incredible atmosphere/feel of the first game or be similar in style and fashion to the fun albeit lesser Episode Two? That was the all-important question.

Well, after playing through Xenosaga: Episode Three on a couple of occasions now, I can say that without a doubt, Monolith Soft was able to catch lightning in a bottle a second time! They didn't simply wave a magic wand and completely alter all of the gameplay elements mind you. Instead, they seemed to take some of the best elements from the first two games, tinker with a few things here and there, and gave us one heck of a completed product.

The first thing that any newbie to Episode Three will probably notice right away is the game's simplicity in general. This is particularly the case with the game's enjoyable yet simplistic battle engine. Not only are the X, Triangle, and Circle button combinations found in the first two episodes gone but the zone break system from Episode Two has been completely eradicated. In its place are simple commands such as Attack, Tech Attacks (these attacks cost EP to execute), Ether Attacks (i.e. magical attacks), and Special Attacks.


[CHAOS UNLEASHING HIS PHOENIX STRIKE SPECIAL ATTACK]

Although the battle engine has changed, that's not to say that everything is fresh and new in Episode Three. For one thing, the boost gauge has returned for one last hurrah. In addition to allowing any character to boost ahead when the boost gauge is above level 1, the boost gauge also allows your characters to use their unique Special Attacks. For example, Shion's Break Bash Special Attack requires that the boost gauge be at least to level 2. As long as your boost gauge is at or above the required level (level 2 in this case), you will be able to execute these uber-attacks anytime! Think of these attacks as being a more simplistic form of the Double Attacks found in Episode Two.

Equally important to boosting is the ability to break your opponents. While the zone-break system from Episode Two has indeed been abolished, the concept of putting your enemies into break status while avoiding the same fate yourself is still as important as ever. Since any enemy/friend who goes into break status is unable to act for two turns and is extremely vulnerable to virtually all attacks, you have to be careful...especially when facing enemies that possess some of the more lethal break attacks. By learning new skills (This is done by using your skills points (SP) you earn in battle to acquire new skills in the Main Menu. You can also learn additional skills by leveling up your characters.) you will discover a multitude of ways to inflict break status upon your enemies. Some attacks only work well (or work at all) against certain classes of enemies so strategy is certainly a factor here. For example, Shion's Fallen Eagle techs along with Ziggy's Choke tech are devastating break attacks but they can only be used against enemies with the "B" (Biological) classification. For this reason, you'll have to make adjustments and use different attacks and even different characters when fighting the "G" (Gnosis) and "M" (Machine) enemies. Thankfully, you still have the ability to shift characters in and out of battle at will (like in Episode Two) so you'll be able to make these adjustments on the fly.

Not to be forgotten in this discussion are the many Break Heal ethers that allow you to recover break points in the midst of battle. Since each character's break gauge appears in battle, you will have no problem keeping tabs on whether or not you need to use these life-saving ethers.


[WHAT WOULD A XENOSAGA GAME BE WITHOUT KOS-MOS' G-SHOT ATTACK?]

While there is a definite element of strategy here, it's the simplicity of Episode Three's battle engine that I found so appealing. I felt that Monolith Soft might have tried too hard to make Episode Two's battle system more complicated and strategic than Episode One in some respects...probably to a fault actually. They obviously learned their lesson though because Episode Three is a lot like Episode One in terms of its simplicity. Not only is everything very user-friendly and crystal clear in terms of execution but the whole battle pace/flow is lightning fast! Especially when compared to the somewhat slower pace of Episode One's battles, you'll probably be like me and find yourself having to hang on to your hat at first!


[ONE OF JIN'S AWESOME SPECIAL ATTACKS]

In addition to the character battles, the E.S. battles are also much-improved in Episode Three! While I thought that Episode Two improved on Episode One in terms of having E.S. specific battles, I felt that this element truly came to fruition in Episode Three.

Simply put, the E.S. battles are like a more streamlined version of the character battles. Break status along with boosting are non-factors here. You will simply need to focus on attacking your enemies, guarding to replenish HP, and using items as needed (Yes, you can actually use items in Episode Three!) Also, you will be able to equip your E.S.'s with various weapons, armor, and special disks that give you access to a whole host of abilities. This ability to customize adds so much to this element of the game and keeps the E.S. battles from growing old or stale.


[YOUR TYPICAL E.S. BATTLE]

As far as attacks go, the energy gauge on each E.S. dictates how many attacks you can unleash. For example, if your energy gauge reads 700, you can use any combination of attacks that equal 700. Since you will have two or possibly three different options available (e.g. a left-hand weapon, a right-hand weapon, and your basic missile/laser attack) and each option requires a different amount of energy points to use, having some basic math skills will certainly help!

Not to be forgotten in this discussion is the all-important Anima Gauge. Like the boost gauge, the Anima Gauge slowly rises as your attacks connect with your enemies. Once it reaches a certain point (Level 1 in the beginning), you will have the ability to use your super-powerful Special Attacks like in character mode! In addition, while you are in Anima mode, your regular attacks will cost much less energy to use so if you desire, you will be able to unleash a barrage of attacks on your enemies. By using your high accuracy attacks first (like Lasers and Missiles) to set up your low-medium accuracy attacks, you will increase your chances of effectively blasting your enemies to pieces! In addition, by putting together combinations of attacks, you can even pull off Team Attacks! Team Attacks are just like they sound. If an E.S. manages to hurl an onslaught of successful attacks on an enemy, the possibility of having one or two of the other E.S.'s chip in on the attack increase greatly! Higher Anima gauges also increase the probability of Team Attacks occurring. The cool thing is that Team Attacks actually increase the Anima Gauge of the initial attacker so this can be a great way to increase the Anima Gauge very quickly! By using these elements of battle to your advantage and putting together combinations of attacks that feature a high team rate, you'll become an E.S. pro in no time!

The combination of two similiar yet separate battle engines worked wonders in this game. For one thing, I thought that both battle engines were extremely enjoyable and the idea of having your characters battle for a while then journeying through a mysterious area and fighting stronger enemies on E.S.'s really kept the game fresh and varied. Monolith Soft completely nailed it in terms of Episode Three's battle engine.


[E.S. DINAH BLASTING AWAY FOES WITH ITS X-CANNON SPECIAL ATTACK!]

Other than the enjoyable battle system found in Xenosaga: Episode Three, there are a few additional features worth noting. The ability to use traps was a nice addition in Episode Three. Instead of coming across those yellow/red/purple canisters found in Episodes One and Two and blowing them up when an enemy draws near, you now have the ability to lay down traps anywhere you desire and unleashing them once an enemy is close enough! By doing this, you can gain a significant advantage in battle. In addition to being able to attack first, you will also gain anywhere from 1-3 boost levels on your boost gauge! Of course, the game limits this function somewhat by only allowing you to carry up to ten traps at any given time. But those traps will certainly become your best friends before too long!

Another cool feature in Episode Three was the Database which is actually dubbed the "Xeno Bible" on the game's back cover. This library of information was a welcome sight to anyone who wanted to know anything and everything about the series. The Database is enormous and covers virtually everything from Episode One through Episode Three! The cool thing is that, in order to complete the Database, you will need to progress through the game and locate Update Files throughout. At certain intervals, the Database will automatically update but to truly complete the Database, you will need to be pretty darn good at searching every nook and cranny for some of the more elusive update files! This feature is cool because it can be accessed anytime during the game by viewing the main menu and selecting "Database." After playing the main game for a while and doing a lot of intense fighting, sometimes a break from the action isn't a bad idea at all.

Last but certainly not least is the Data section. When you first load the game, you will notice that below the "New Game" option, there is one that simply says "Data." If the Database section somehow didn't satisfy you, the Data section should come through especially for some of the more visual-artsy types out there. In addition to allowing you to view virtually every character/enemy individually, you will be able to replay any of the countless movies that play throughout the game! Yes, you heard me correctly. Once you view movies in the actual game, you will be able to revisit your favorites anytime with this feature! I absolutely adore this option because the movies in this game are incredible! I really wish that every RPG out there was required to have a replay feature like this. Too bad Episode One didn't have a feature like this because that game was chock-full of incredible cinematics as well.

In addition to all that I have mentioned so far, there are even more features of Xenosaga: Episode Three that I will briefly touch on. For one thing, the Segment File makes one final appearance! If you have enjoyed searching for those hidden red doors over the course of the first two episodes, you'll be doing more of the same in Episode Three. In addition to the red doors, however, are the rarest of the rare, the cream of the crop, the gold doors housing a whole plethora of Erde Kaiser abilities! For those of you who enjoy treasure hunting, you'll have a blast trying to complete the Segment File.

Not to be forgotton in all of this hubbub is the connection gear making yet another appearance in Episode Three. After all, what would a Xenosaga game be like without having the ability to blow up countless objects/projectiles standing in your way? If you're like me and you enjoy blowing things up mindlessly, you'll enjoy this feature as well. ;)

The last thing that I'd like to mention before we move on to some of the more meaty stuff like the graphics and music is the optional mini-game "Hakox." Located at various terminals throughout the game (although the main console is on the Elsa), Hakox is a mini-game that you can play to your heart's content at anytime! It is a very basic puzzle game that has the feel of one of those old-school 3-D games. It is actually very enjoyable and can be hilarious at times! As your progress through the game, additional characters will be unlocked and some of them sound so funny when they fall off the edge. If you need a break from all the seriousness, want some juicy puzzles to chew on, or simply need a good laugh, Hakox should be able to help you out there. In addition to this mini-game being enjoyable and giving all of you puzzle types something to chew on, some of the best items in the game can only be acquired by beating Hakox! Although it's completely optional, there is an incentive to play this mini-game.


[FIFTH JERUSALEM]

Graphics: If you've been searching for a game with beautiful aesthetics, look no further than Xenosaga: Episode Three! Since the first two games in the series featured outstanding graphics for the most part, I naturally had high expectations for Episode Three as well. However, even I couldn't have expected Episode Three to be this impressive in this area.

As far as style goes, Xenosaga: Episode Three actually seemed to borrow more from Episode Two than Episode One. The emphasis on color and vibrancy (...vibrancy?!) is clearly apparent right from the get-go and the various backgrounds and surrounding images throughout the game truly fall under the "jaw-dropping" category. Everything about this game's graphics just have an extremely "clean" appearance. Nothing ever seems out of place yet the visuals come across as being genuine/believable. Beautiful cities like Fifth Jerusalem look like beautiful cities, ruins look like ruins, spaceships look like spaceships, etc...

And while it doesn't feel exactly like Episode One in this regard, Xenosaga: Episode Three has a great atmosphere/feel in large part due to the game's graphics. As you will see, the music plays a huge role as well but I felt that the game's graphics, especially in some of more remote areas of the game like the Floating Landmass and Abel's Ark, did a fabulous job of creating a truly unforgettable atmosphere. The sheer variety and diversity of the game's many areas only added to the effect.

Another positive aspect of Episode Three's graphics are the character models. After having to deal with some of the disappointing models found in Episode Two (Shion and KOS-MOS in particular), I was absolutely ecstatic when I fired up this game and saw Shion and the others for the first time! In my mind, Monolith Soft completely vindicated themselves by leaning more towards the style found in Episode One. While the models in Episode Three definitely come across as being more realistic than in Episode One (although I still love the Episode One style), the overall appearance of each character, especially in the face, in much closer to Episode One than Episode Two. While Shion and KOS-MOS look fantastic once more, I also thought that Chaos was much-improved in Episode Three as well as Jin and Jr.

In addition to the exceptional character models, the battle graphics and plethora of movies found throughout the game won't disappoint either. Both the character battles and E.S. battles look fantastic in terms of appearance and camera angle. I liked how the E.S. battles took place from a first-person perspective with the angle changing depending on the target. Little things like this show how meticulous Monolith Soft was in the creation of this game. Some effects that took place during battle were very memorable as well. One epic battle takes place in a church during a fierce thunderstorm with another one taking place in outer space over the floating landmass! Some of the background graphics/sounds added so much to the game's atmosphere. It should also be noted that the animation not only in battle but in the game overall was sensational! I have no complaints whatsoever.

And regarding the movies...holy cow, they were done brilliantly once more! While many of these story sequences were done in a style similiar to Chrono Cross (featuring text boxes and a picture of the character talking), I still felt that there were enough of the regular, unabridged movies to keep diehard Xenosaga fans such as myself satisfied. Let me just say that the sheer variety of Episode Three's graphics should be enough to please even the most cynical critics and leave it at that.


[JOURNEYING THROUGH THE FLOATING LANDMASS]

Music: After listening to the mixed bag of musical compositions found in Xenosaga: Episode Two, I'm sure that I was not the only one clamoring for the return of Yasunori Mitsuda to the helm. That's not to say that Episode Two had a horrible soundtrack because my review of the game certainly points out some of its positive aspects. However, as a complete whole, there's no way around the fact that this element of the Xenosaga series took a serious nosedive once Mitsuda was replaced.

So what would Monolith Soft do to correct this area and bring it back to the level sustained throughout Episode One? Well, I can tell you that their decision would prove to be a gigantic one. I know that there are many different schools of thought regarding the most important elements to any video game but personally, I continue to feel that, next to gameplay/fun, the musical score is any game's most important driving force. The reason for this is quite simple. You can have a game with the best visuals, most user-friendly controls, a hefty challenge, and the most engaging story in the world. However, without an epic musical score to create the right atmosphere/energy/feel to do the game justice, all of the other elements will take a major hit. You simply must have a great soundtrack to complement all of the other major elements. That's why no matter how good or impressive Xenosaga: Episode Three was in all of the other areas, it desperately needed to come through in this category.

So with all that being said, what was Monolith Soft's final decision? Quite simply, they decided to roll the dice on Yuki Kajiura. While I was initially disappointed about Mitsuda once again being on the outside looking in, I was still optimistic that Yuki Kajiura could at least improve on Episode Two's score. After all, despite the Episode Two soundtrack being a disappointment overall, I felt that Yuki Kajiura's compositions were actually its saving grace (If you read my Episode Two review, you'll see that my main gripe lies with Shinji Hosoe's compositions.) Overall, I suppose that you could say that I was "cautiously optimistic" about Episode Three's soundtrack.

Well, right from the first time that I fired up Xenosaga: Episode Three, I began to believe. The opening movie featured a beautiful yet tragic melody entitled "A Prelude to the Tragedy" as it flashed back to the destruction of the planet Michtam. You can only imagine my surprise when the music shifted gears into one of the more original tracks in "Rolling Down the U.M.N." This upbeat diddy is so unique that I don't even know what genre is fits into! With its sporatic piano melody to an almost out-of-control percussion sound, it almost sounds like a jazzy song on steroids or something. ;) In any case, this original track seemed to actually fit the first area perfectly!

Of course, I was in eager anticipation of the main battle theme. This track is usually a pretty good indicator of how impressive any soundtrack is going to be. Well, with its medium tempo and nice piano solo about halfway through, I actually enjoyed "Fallout" (the main battle theme). It wasn't out of control or forgettable like the Episode Two battle theme (composed by Shinji Hosoe no doubt). It was actually quite good despite the fact that it's not your typical, upbeat battle theme.

Once I managed to enter the final room of the U.M.N. facility, I finally got a taste of the boss battle theme. Now this was a good sign! If you'll remember, Xenosaga: Episode One, for all of its glory, actually lacked a boss battle theme. The fact that I was hearing a second battle theme in the game's initial area was a very positive sign. And it was a good theme too! Like "Fallout," the boss theme was actually slower than your typical battle theme but the melody was very engaging and got the adrenaline going just enough. It was actually quite deep for a battle theme as well...like there was real meaning in it.

As I continued to progress through the game, I began to realize that I had stumbled onto something very special. Not only was Yuki Kajuira able to put together a soundtrack worthy of the name "Xenosaga," but this soundtrack as a whole rivals and might actually surpass the outstanding score of Episode One! I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be saying this but what a thrill it was to hear such a glorious soundtrack! Trust me; Xenosaga: Episode Three would not have been the otherworldly game it is without Yuki Kajuira. Monolith Soft's greatest gamble in regards to Episode Three paid off...in spades!

While there is plenty of variety to be found in Episode Three's score, there is a definite Celtic/symphonic presence in Kajuira's compositions. Like Mitsuda, Yuki Kajuira loves to incorporate voices in her music. I'm not sure if the voices speak in Latin but whatever the case may be, this voice element added so much to the game's atmosphere. The word "grandeur" comes up whenever I think of this game's soundtrack. Everything about it suggests meaning, passion, and emotion. There are several instances in Episode Three when you'll probably feel tears well up in your eyes and the music is definitely a big reason for this.

There are so many tracks/themes that are worth mentioning but I will try to keep this review within reason. One of my absolute favorites is "In a Limestone Cave." This relaxing, serene tune with its violin solo is without a doubt a perfect fit for a couple of the more isolated areas in the game. "Abel's Ark" is equally outstanding with its subtle voices accompanied by a very reflective, almost nostalgic melody. Even "Fifth Jerusalem" features a nice, thought-provoking melody. "A Memory of a Tragedy" and "Forgotten Sanctuary" feature ominous and reflective undertones respectively and give the final area of the game an incredible atmosphere. No one has to go out of their way to announce that you're in the game's final area. The music itself gives it away. :)


[THE UNKNOWN FOREST]

In addition to a whole host of beautiful, relaxing melodies, Yuki Kajuira proved that she can handle the more upbeat, adrenaline-pumping themes with ease as well. "Creeping Into" creates the feel/anticipation of quietly infiltrating a facility perfectly while "The Miltia Incidents" gives you the feeling that an enormous battle is on the horizon. One of my absolute favorites, however, is the track that plays when you have to rescue a certain character in Old Miltia. It's one of those classic upbeat, heroic melodies that really gets you excited and pumped up! Of course, only Kajuira could create a track like this with the piano being the main instrument in the song. She is simply amazing!

Speaking of upbeat songs that successfully give you an adrenaline rush, nothing can top some of the battle/boss themes that play throughout the game. I know that I have already touched on two of these themes but that's just the tip of the iceberg my friend. As far as I can tell, there are at least 13 battle themes found in this game and there could be more! And of these tracks, all of them are fantastic! I can't recall ever coming across a game with not only this quantity of battle music but such a high level of quality to match that! It's almost as if Monolith Soft had heard enough about Episode One featuring only two battle themes throughout the game and decided to overcompensate in Episode Three.

Despite the fact that I mentioned the initial boss theme already, "The Battle of Your Soul" probably qualifies as the game's main boss theme. This exciting track is very upbeat and suits the many boss battles very well. "Survive" and "Battleland" are the main and boss battles respectively that play during E.S. battles and while they are probably two of the "weaker" battle themes in the game, they are still very impressive. "Battleland" with its almost out-of-control melody and menacing undertones worked very well for several key battles late in the game.

However, the holy grail of battle themes has to include "Hepatica - KOS-MOS," "Testament," "Godsibb," and "Promised Pain." All four of these boss battle themes are simply otherworldly in every sense of the word. "Testament" starts out slowly but gradually grows into a very majestic, almost holy theme. It fits the battles against the virtually immortal Testaments perfectly in my book. "Godsibb" only plays during one particular boss battle about 3/4 through the game but dang is it ever awesome! Like "Testament," "Godsibb" places a heavy emphasis on voices and is the closest thing to heavy rock that you will experience in Xenosaga: Episode Three. It is so impressive in fact that it makes the battle against an uber-powerful enemy that will remain nameless (I'm trying to refrain from mentioning spoilers!) almost have the feel of the game's final battle! I actually know people that keep a permanent save file right before this battle because of the music alone! That's how incredible it is!

By the other token, I personally guarantee that "Hepatica - KOS-MOS" will be the most relaxing, serene boss theme that you will ever hear. With its innocent voices and beautiful melody playing, you wouldn't think that it would work as a boss theme at all. Amazingly though, it seems to fit that particular battle (this track also plays during one battle only) perfectly! You would never guess it by hearing the stand-alone track but just trust me on this one.

Lastly, the game's final battle theme, "Promised Pain," did the game justice with once again a heavy emphasis on voices and a heroic, "destiny-laced" melody throughout. Yuki Kajuira left no stone unturned in terms of Episode Three's battle music. She left everything on the table and what we've got is one legendary masterpiece of a soundtrack!

If you're not excited by now, you might want to check your pulse. ;) Seriously, I don't mean to be gushing about this game's soundtrack like this but when it becomes this special and memorable and epic, what else can you say? And I haven't even touched on the plethora of emotional tracks that play throughout the game's countless cinema scenes/movies nor have I discussed the unbelievable array of ending themes. In terms of emotion and feel, I don't think that I have ever come across a game/series that has touched me as much as Xenosaga. And that is especially the case with Episode Three. The ending sequence in particular is simply incredible. We're talking a "Lord of the Rings" level here!

The last aspect of Episode Three's music that I want to briefly touch on is the voice acting. Overall, the voice acting is outstanding from start to finish! Once again, Monolith Soft was able to make a few minor adjustments and they paid off big time! For one thing, someone obviously gave them heck about some of the voice acting in Episode Two because Shion and KOS-MOS' voice actors from Episode One have returned!! How about that for your pleasant surprises? In addition to Shion and KOS-MOS sounding fantastic once again, I thought that Chaos actually sounded better in Episode Three despite having the same voice actor. It shouldn't go left unsaid that almost all of the voice actors from the previous two episodes have returned for Episode Three. Jin, Jr., Ziggy, Margulis, Virgil, Albedo, Wilhelm, and a whole host of others have the same voice actors as before which is fine by me!

Also, while it's not directly related to the voice acting, the sound effects throughout Episode Three are literally flawless. The sheer variety of beeps/bloops/blams and realistic sounds like thunder roaring and glass structures being blown away should satisfy all of you pyromaniacs out there. Overall, I couldn't have possibly asked for anything more in this regard. Let me just say that this is probably the easiest 5.0 that I have ever given a video game for music and move on to the next category.


[E.S. REUBEN AND ITS DEADLY IRON BLADE SPECIAL ABILITY]

Play Control: One thing I like about the "Play Control" category is that I don't usually have to give a discertation on it. ;) This is especially the case with this game. Everything from the battle controls to character movement to navigating the various sectors of the main menu couldn't possibly be any easier or more user-friendly. It's almost as if Monolith Soft hired a bunch of perfectionists to put all of this together because it looks and feels great! Like in Episodes One and Two, the Circle button accepts options/continues conversations while the X button cancels everything.

One new feature that I thought was kind of cool was the way you talk/converse with people in Xenosaga: Episode Three. Instead of having to go up to someone and press the Circle button to initiate a conversation, you will notice that a conversation will already be started by simply moving next to a person. However, if a red word appears during a conversation, you can press the Square button to continue the conversation. This is kind of cool because you can get out of conversations you don't want/have already had and it's just one of those intuitive things to keep the gameplay fresh.

The controls in Hakox are quite intuitive as well! By using the Circle, X, Triangle, and Square buttons, you can interact with your environment by moving various blocks (with the corresponding button overhead). Also, the L/R buttons allow you to move more quickly affecting how far you can jump/run. Even the left and right analog sticks are used for moving the camera around and zooming in/out to get that perfect angle for some of the more difficult puzzles. For an optional mini-game, I was quite impressed actually.


[THE EPIC BATTLE WITH THE BLUE TESTAMENT]

Challenge: Despite the simplistic nature of the game, Xenosaga: Episode Three still packs enough meat to keep some of the more strategic-happy gamers satisfied. Questions like "Should I boost ahead or save up for a Special Attack instead?", "Should I try to put an enemy in break status or use a Break Heal ether on KOS-MOS first?", and "Should I use Heat to attract enemies to Jin since MOMO and Shion can't withstand physical attacks very well?" are just a few potential situations that might come up. Your strategy will often change when an enemy boosts ahead as well. You will probably find yourself having to change your battle strategy from an offensive one to a defensive one on the fly quite often.

Like with Episodes One and Two, you will also have to take enemy classifications into account. For example, Chaos in particular is very proficient at fighting Gnosis enemies while Shion and Ziggy can really floor the Biological enemies found throughout the game with their B-specific break attacks. Just little things like this add to the game in terms of strategy.

In terms of the overall challenge level itself, however, I actually felt that Xenosaga: Episode Three was by far the easiest game of the trilogy. While you still have to properly equip your characters and make quick adjustments during some of the more difficult boss battles, I wish that Monolith Soft could have made this game just a bit more challenging. That's not to say that Episode Three is a walk in the park because some of the boss battles, especially the Testament battles and some of the E.S. battles near the end of the game can prove to be tough-as-nails! There are a few instances when you might be one bad move from defeat which gets the adrenaline flowing nicely. It's just that the game as a whole needed to be more challenging.

Why Episode Three was not as challenging as the first two games in the series remains a mystery to me. Perhaps the ability to switch characters in and out of battle is the reason for this although I certainly prefer that feature over having characters locked in like with Episode One. It could also be the newfound ability to use items during E.S. battles. Once again though, this new feature is a positive one in my mind.

In any case, there are at least the two optional bosses that should be able to push you to the brink. One battle is a character battle with the other one being an E.S. battle. The cool thing is that if you are defeated, it's not Game Over which gives perfectionists like myself that strive to beat these games undefeated no real reason to avoid these battles.

Speaking of optional stuff, the E.V.S. simulator allows you to revisit previous areas of the game. The cool thing about this is that, in addition to being able to discover items/treasures that you might have missed the first time around, you might find an entirely new area full of puzzles or a host of secret items that you couldn't access before. It always pays to visit each area of the game more than once.

Although Xenosaga: Episode Three probably doesn't have as much replay value as Episode Two due to the lack of a New Game+ or the GS Path, it probably features more extras than Episode One. Still, this game is so enjoyable that I wish that it could have contained even more secret areas and whatnot!

[ABEL'S ARK]

Storyline: For those of you who have followed this series from the beginning, just trust me on this one. You will not be disappointed whatsoever with Episode Three in this regard. As a matter of fact, you will probably be like me and grow a bit sad as you approach the game and series' final battle. If it was up to me, a series like this would never end. But I suppose that all sagas have to reach their own journey's end eventually, right?

As with Episodes One and Two before it, the third and final episode of the Xenosaga trilogy continues the story of Shion and KOS-MOS. The game begins approximately one year after the Space-Time Anomaly and the subsequent appearance (and disappearance) of Abel's Ark. Although the game starts out somewhat slowly as these types of games often do, it isn't long before certain forces begin to move.

Although the game starts out with a journey by Shion, Miyuki, and Canaan to the U.M.N. lab to search for the truth regarding Vector Enterprises (Shion now works for Scientia which is actually an anti-U.M.N. organization.), the action really begins to heat up at Fifth Jerusalem. It is here that the Durandal is reunited with Shion & Co. and we are first introduced to the uber-powerful T-elos android which has a strong resemblance to KOS-MOS. As you can probably tell from the game/manual covers, T-elos proves to be a key character in Episode Three. The presence of the mysterious boy Abel (remember his brief appearance during Episode One's ending?) and his possible connection to Nephilim only adds to the mystery.

[T-ELOS: THE ONE WHO SHARES A MYSTERIOUS RESEMBLANCE TO KOS-MOS]

Another important factor to consider is the sudden appearance of a mysterious landmass in normal space. Called Rennes le Chateau by members of Ormus such as Margulis and Pellegri, it is believed that this holy area is a small remnant of Lost Jerusalem itself. It is also believed that this is the holy land where "the Saint" sleeps. The identity of this individual is not known until the very end of the game and believe me, I'm not going to give that information away. ;) Anyway, the story really begins to heat up once the Elsa becomes trapped in Rennes le Chateau with the others attempting a daring rescue mission.

Without giving too much away, let me just say that you won't believe where this path leads. I'll just mention that you end up somewhere in the past and leave it at that. And that's just the beginning mind you!

[SHION, KOS-MOS, AND JIN DURING A CRITICAL SCENE]

Unfortunately, I can't really mention much else about the story without giving away critical spoilers. I will say that the remainder of Xenosaga: Episode Three is incredibly exciting/intriguing and that many, many surprises and revelations await you. :) Most if not all of your questions that have been building throughout the first two games should be answered and then some! I truly envy those of you who have yet to play this game because, while I have had such a blast playing through the game a second time, nothing can touch that first magical journey.

[THE BLACK TESTAMENT: VOYAGER]

And without spoiling anything, let me just say that the ending is probably the most incredible one that I have ever witnessed on any platform. I didn't think that Monolith Soft could ever give us an ending that would truly do the series justice but, once again, they have managed to do the impossible. The story to Episode Three does precisely what the last game in any trilogy is supposed to do. It sucks you in and never lets you go. And while it resolves things nicely, there is still very much an open door for a potential Xenosaga: Episode IV.

[EVERYONE PREPARING TO FIGHT THE BLACK TESTAMENT...]

Funfactor: Xenosaga: Episode Three represents everything that a video game should be. While it came through brilliantly in terms of its aesthetics, its outstanding musical score, and one of the more unforgettable stories of our time, I am pleased to announce that it is also a very, very enjoyable game! When any game scores a perfect 5.0 in three of the above five categories, you have to figure that the game will score pretty well in this area as well. ;)

While everything about Xenosaga: Episode Three screams words like "Quality," and "Perfection," not to be lost in the razzle-dazzle of outstanding graphics and musical genius is one of the most enjoyable games ever created. I enjoy virtually everything about this game from top to bottom. Every single time I pop this game into my PS2, I know that I'm going to have a great time. And isn't that the essence of what video games are all about? At times, it seems like the industry loses sight of this fact and instead focuses heavily on advertising and allowing the name of a franchise to carry a game instead of its funfactor.

What's so refreshing about not only Episode Three of the Xenosaga series but the series as a whole is that it proves for the umpteenth time that it's not the amount of $$$ or a name that makes a video game an instant classic. Final Fantasy XII should hammer this point home (a good, enjoyable game that is rendered simply average when placed next to the Xenosaga series). Greatness can only be found by surrounding yourself with the right people and putting your heart into your work. And there is no doubt that the good people at Monolith Soft poured their heart and soul into this project. They went through so much adversity throughout the Xenosaga project due to budget/time constraints. And yet they still produced two of the greatest games that I have ever played in Episodes One and Three. That's not to say that Monolith Soft was perfect by any stretch because they did make mistakes...costly mistakes that might have kept the Xenosaga series from continuing beyond a third game. However, they seemed to learn from those mistakes and made the necessary adjustments in Episode Three to leave their mark on history.

Just trust me on this one. During an era when great video games are suddenly becoming very hard to find, the Xenosaga series truly is an oasis in the desert. If you're just itching for something to spring new life into your PS2, you couldn't choose a better game (or series) than this. Perhaps someday in the future, someone intelligent will decide to continue this series because Episode Three's ending sequence has left the door wide open for future installments. All I can say is that we desperately need a series like Xenosaga to continue. The RPG genre as a whole might very well depend on it...

Negatives: The only real issue I have with Xenosaga: Episode Three is that the challenge level leans slightly on the easy side. However, I can't think of any adjustments that Monolith Soft could have made to balance this out more other than to simply make the enemies stronger. I love the current setup and the adjustments that they made for Episode Three definitely improved upon Episode Two. Granted, there are definitely several battles that will give even seasoned pros a real challenge. The problem lies with the game as a whole leaning on the easy side.

Something else worth mentioning might be the fact that some characters' footsteps can actually drown out the music at times. This is especially the case when KOS-MOS leads your party. This didn't particularly bother me a whole lot but it's still worth mentioning.

And lastly, while the length of the game seems satisfactory (I've clocked in 80-85 hours on both playthroughs), I still wish that there had been additional secrets/areas to explore. Some kind of a New Game+ option would have certainly been welcome. Of course, even if Episode Three was 150 hours in length, it probably still wouldn't be enough in my eyes. ;)

[KOS-MOS]

Ratings: Graphics: 5.0* Music: 5.0* Play Control: 4.7 Challenge: 3.9 Storyline: 5.0* Funfactor: 5.0* Overall Score: 28.6 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: *Crown Jewel!!*

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Last Updated: January 12, 2008
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