Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra Update

Namco stops by to give us an updated look at the final chapter in its epic PlayStation 2 RPG.


We got our first look at Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra late last year, when a trailer for the game debuted at the Tokyo Game Show. Since then, we've had the chance to get a look at the localized game at this year's E3, and we've been stoked at what this new sequel has to offer. With an epic story that promises to tie up the mass of loose ends from the previous games, refined graphics, and a gameplay system that aims to mix the best aspects of its predecessors, Xenosaga Episode III is poised to close the series with a bang. Namco stopped by recently to tease us with an updated look at more of this promising game.

The demo we got included a look at some of the game's cinematics and the combat system. The first cinematic we saw centered around familiar heroine Shion (with posse in tow) as they were confronted by T-elos, rival to Shion's robo gal pal, KOS-MOS. While KOS-MOS has been a mighty butt kicker in the previous games, times have changed. It seems T-elos is the new hotness, and she's looking to take out her predecessor. The pair of robots duke it out in a stylish, destructive fight that messes up the cave Shion and company are in but good. Unfortunately, the end result is irrefutable proof that KOS-MOS is outclassed in a big way, as she gets smacked down hard.

The other major cinematic we got a peek at focused on an E.S. fight that revolved around tying up Ziggy's storyline as he faced off against Black Testament Voyager. Unfortunately, much like the KOS-MOS fight, the Zigster doesn't have the best fight in the whole world. After a really bad thrashing in an E.S. battle, old Zig is about to get his ticket punched, but the appearance of Canaan gives the battle an unexpected twist we won't spoil. We will say Namco's claims of wrapping up everyone's business in Xeno III seem to be on point, as there's a lot of closure going on in what we've seen.

Things are getting hot in Xenosaga's final chapter. How will the story conclude?
Things are getting hot in Xenosaga's final chapter. How will the story conclude?

The gameplay we saw showed off the on-foot and E.S. battles, which have undergone some changes from Xeno II. The basic combat is still turn-based, but there have been a number of changes and refinements to the system that essentially blend some new features with mechanics cherry-picked from Xeno I and II. You'll select commands from a menu a la Xeno I (attack, tech, ether, special attack, and item), and manage a boost gauge that should be familiar to anyone who played the original game. You'll use up this boost meter to swap characters or perform special attacks. A new element to the combat system is the break gauge, which fills as characters are attacked. Once it's full, the character is essentially immobilized for two turns, and open to attack. The addition is balanced well; while there are special and tech attacks that you can use to fill up your foe's break gauge, there are also items and abilities you can use to lower it.

The E.S. battles--more turn-based fun that has you battling in stylish mechs--take the same tweaked approach. You'll have two basic sets of attacks: attack and anima. Attacks will break down into standard attacks and special attacks that are tied to what you've equipped to your mech (and these use energy). The anima attacks are tied to a different gauge that builds during combat. This gauge can be charged up to three levels, allowing you to perform anima attacks of corresponding power. If you perform a certain combination of attacks, you can get secondary "ambush" attack by one of your party members, which helps dole out additional damage.

Besides the tweaked combat, Xeno III will feature some fun diversions, such as the return of collectible swimsuits and assorted minigames. You'll also find a new database that is constantly updated with information on every single aspect of the game. Better still, the game can read your clear save from Xeno II, if you have one, and rewards you with some handy gear when you start playing.

The visuals in the game are in line with Xeno II's art style and strike a balance between a more realistic look and the big-eyed anime influence seen in the original game. The characters feature a detailed look that's all clean and sleek. The environments we saw follow suit with a similar approach that's enhanced by funky designs that stick to the game's unique art style. In-battle graphics are nicely done and, as always, make use of a flashy assortment of special effects to highlight the various attacks. The E.S. battles have an added amount of kick thanks to the effects used for the various anima attacks.

A newly revised battle system mixes elements from the last two games.
A newly revised battle system mixes elements from the last two games.

There's still some work that needs to be done to tighten the package together, as there was some frame rate inconsistency during some of the insane moments during battle; but, beyond that, the game graphics are looking like they will offer up a tasty bit of eye candy. As far as the cinematics go, Xeno III is bringing a polished, cinematic approach to its in-game cinemas that builds on what's been seen in the previous titles. What we saw in the demo had influences from a number of different feature films that added some kick to the proceedings.

The audio in the demo stuck closely to the work that's been done in the previous games. The English voice is workable, although it still has that borderline quality when it comes to the more emotional moments. KOS-MOS, being a robot, sounds the best. T-elos has a Seven of Nine thing going for her, and winds up sounding pretty emotive for a robot. The effects are in line with what's been heard before. The score seems a bit understated this time out and doesn't stand out to us at the moment.

Based on what we saw, Xenosaga III should be a classy swan song for the Xeno story arc that started three years ago. The visuals and story feel more mature and polished when compared to the first game. The gameplay seems as though it's going to be a welcome mix of the strongest elements of the mechanics seen in the two previous titles. We're anxious to get our hands on the final game in the next few months to really delve into what it has to offer. Xenosaga III is currently slated to ship this fall for the PlayStation 2. Look for more on the game soon.

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