Xenosaga 3 review (PS2)
..I really should have thought about trying to review this game, because I am not fit to review this series. Before anyone says anything, I do not hate Xenosaga. However, there is no denying it is a mess of a series, both in terms of plot and development. The first game was decent by today’s standards, dangerously dipping into bad territory by making spells worthless, the same combat music repeating even during boss battles, and mobile suit usage that didn’t quite resonate well enough, but overall was a decent start for what was meant to be a five game series. The second sought out to fix this problem…and failed miserably by bringing an onslaught of flaws, such as a change in voice actors, a change in gameplay that made it far more tedious than ever, no shopping system, boring as all hell side-quests (one even has you washing windows, and you won’t get paid until you beat his record), absurdly long cut-scenes, and a complete absence of fun, becoming one of my top five worst games of all time. The only redeeming quality was the story, and that too suffered quite a lot due to a lot of events going on, and overall being very hard to track at times. Basic storytelling, I could get, but when it came to character motivations at some points, I was lost more than a child in a mega mall. Then there was the anime…which I will not talk about, because I like having the remaining brain cells in my head alive.
Developed by Monolith Soft, and published by Namco Bandai, Xenosaga was actually meant to be five games, though the wiki says it was meant for six; I get information from friends and wiki. So with the third entry into the game being the last, it was impossible to try and make everything connect and make complete sense. Combine that with the fact that the game was actually censored, making a few tension-gripping cut-scenes flat-out weird and nonsensical, this game is not looking to a great start, especially when the last three games were cancelled, and other two games Xenosaga Frontier and Xenosaga Exceed were scrapped, and no doubt used in the development for SRW: Endless Frontier and Exceed, the latter of which never arriving in the states.
However, despite all the pain inflicted onto the series by tripping over itself, and the negativity I constantly expressed in this review, Xenosaga 3 is not a bad game. On the contrary, it’s the best of the series, and one of my favorite RPGs as well. That said, there are problems, but for now, let’s dive into what made Xenosaga 3 entertaining.
The story is a mixed bag, as it continues to follow Shion Uzuki and her friends as they try to stop the U-Tic organization, as well as other threats like the Gnosis. Of course, the plot is also littered about with things relating to the characters, like the Testaments, and a new enemy known as T-ELOS, a cyborg that exceeds KOS-MOS’s strength in every way, while also dressed like a dominatrix/stripper; I remind you, they were trying to avoid an M-rating to make sure sales could go higher. And of course the game takes place right after the second game…which I have no knowledge of since I couldn’t beat the second game as it drove me to such a great length of insanity, I did the one evil thing I could do: sell it Gamestop. Now I kinda described how the story appeared to be a mess with character motivations, and it still holds up. Some basic ones I can get, but others, particularly towards the end of the game, I lost track when it dealt with subject matter relating to KOS-MOS and T-ELOS, and regarding the obvious main villain of the series too. And the game’s strength in my opinion are those characters, as they each remain enjoyable, both in combat and out, and at least have some relation to the main picture that can make me say they aren’t a waste of space.
The other problem was, well…Shion. I never considered her to be the main character, and by the time I played this game which kind of tried to cement this with the story having more of a focus on her, the less it worked. This was especially true when the game tried to make me hate her with whining about “nobody understands the pain I am going through!” By that point, I cared about everyone but her. I won’t spoil it for you, but trust me, this is the game that will make sure you hate Shion. Still, one character like that didn’t ruin my overall enjoyment of the game, despite some questionable cut-scenes. Example: KOS-MOS is fighting against T-ELOS, and NO ONE WILL HELP HER! Oh, they do it by the endgame sure, but I would think you stand a better chance against the mocha robot if you fought as a team, like you did before the cut-scene! Plus, cut-scenes/story segments still do take quite some time to go through; having snacks handy is a good idea if you don’t want to skip those parts. And I really hate to leave it at just this, but as I said before, Xenosaga is not a game series I was ever prepared for.
Visually, the game fairs far better than its predecessors, maintaining an anime feel from the first game, but at the same time trying to go for the more realistic models the second game went for, creating a much more pleasing to look at game. This especially goes for the gameplay and the character’s styles of combat, and in how everything moves fast. There are some slowdowns, but usually during the bigger attacks, mainly in mech combat. Really, the only character I was disappointed with was Shion, since hers are less about flash and flare like the others, who also combine power too. And thanks to the game’s pacing, it does manage to make sure you aren’t looking at the same thing constantly. Admittedly, I do question some of the design from a story-perspective, but it never bothered me too much. That said, it can sometimes feel linear, but going back to areas to unlock doors to secret items and bosses does help the game out. The music has also gotten a much better upgrade, as I can now notice the difference in normal and boss themes unlike in the first game. In fact, this game actually has pretty damn epic boss themes. Here’s one for you:
Combined with gameplay, everything is made surprisingly well. There are two sets of battles: normal and giant robot. Unlike 2, now you can use 3 machines in a fight at once, while your fourth remains on standby in the event one of you robots bites the dust. Normal fights consist of your standard main characters, and allows to you switch them out in case things are going bad, or in case you need a particular set of skills a certain character has, like healing or extreme magic. The boost system is back, which allows you to cut in front of enemies to instantly gain a turn, and in addition, you can also use the boost points to pull of special character moves that earn you more EXP and ability points to learn more skills from two branching paths. There’s also a stagger meter, similar to the one used in Final Fantasy XIII. However, this one is probably the most effective, as it gradually builds for everyone hit in combat as they get hit, and can offer enough breathing room as the enemy remains paralyzed. Some character even specialize in doing this as well. That said, the enemy can use these as well. On paper, this almost sounds like a mess, but it’s surprisingly simple and easy to get into once you fight a bit. And since all characters tend to specialize in one form of combat or another, switching party members is encouraged. Plus the game has brought back Erde Kasier, the “ultimate fighting robot” according to the game, as hidden summons and even a boss fight. Enemies are also separated into different types, meaning different characters are more suited for them. For example, some stagger moves are only useful on human-type enemies.
Mecha combat, which has you riding giant robots known as E.S.’s from the second game, has you fighting three at a time. There is no stagger meter this time, as fights consist of being able to pull off a number of moves within a meter, so you could have a powerful sword slash, or a barrage of weak missiles that gradually grow in strength. E.S.’s can also be upgraded through parts collected throughout the game and in shops. They can also pull off special moves of their own through the power of anima, which increases as you continue to fight, and much like in normal combat, this does increase EXP and everything. The problem here is that enemy bosses can pretty much one-hit KO you sometimes through overkill, with no way of predicting when they will use it so you can block. And since you can’t revive the E.S., it ends up really feeling cheap. Other than that, the combat also feels a bit disadvantaged for the machine Shion pilots (this girl cannot catch a break with me in this review, can she?), in that since most of her skills are close-range, and later in the game close-range weapons tend to be a bit riskier due to faster enemies, she became more of a liability.
Overall, Xenosaga 3 has some flaws, particularly in the story. Summaries are a decent help, and data files might be able to aid you as well, especially if you never played the first two games, but I stand that if a story forces you to read things both in and out of the game to understand outside of the two games, you’re doing something wrong with the plot. Still, it didn’t generate nearly as much boredom as Final Fantasy XIII did. And the gameplay holds up very nicely, with a combat system simplified, but given enough to create some strategies on taking your foes down while lessening the grinding experience too. It all boils down to a 30-40 game, with a few extras, and even an optional mini-game as well. More importantly, it’s actually fun. That said, I can really recommend this to people who love the story of Xenosaga and are interested in the series. Otherwise, this is one game you can miss.
Xenosaga 3 earns a 4 out of 5.
Join me next time, as we finally dive into another prequel for Project X Zone. It’s time to explore the Endless Frontier!