Xenosaga Episode III: Also sprach Zarathustra
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Monolith Soft
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US Fall 2006
Japan 07/06/06

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Lots of virtual skin.
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Introducing the tough T-elos
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Jin takes on U-TIC.
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The game's massive database.
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Chris Winkler
First Look Preview
Chris Winkler

Editor's Note: Xenosaga Episode III: Also sprach Zarathustra is a direct sequel to Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht and Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Boese. There are story spoilers for these games in this preview.

It has been almost two years since Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Boese (Beyond Good and Evil) has hit retail store shelves across Japan. After developer Monolith Soft had promised to address the various grievances many fans had with the first installment, the anticipation for the second chapter of Tetsuya Takahashi's epic saga was high, maybe too high. One way to describe Episode II's performance would be "beyond good and evil." Selling just above 50% of the official sales target set by Monolith Soft's parent company Namco, the game was singled out as one of the biggest commercial disappointments in the company's financial report for the fiscal year 2004/2005. This might have been one of the reasons behind a surprising announcement: Xenosaga Episode III: Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus spoke Zarathustra) will already mark the series' conclusion. What Takahashi had originally planned as a series spanning six episodes will, for better or worse, apparently end as a trilogy that already comes to an end this summer.

Judging from screenshots and trailers, Xenosaga Episode III looks as stellar as its two predecessors, when they were released in 2002 and 2004, respectively. Therefore one can expect a visual experience au-par with those offered by the ones like Rogue Galaxy, Kingdom Hearts II and Final Fantasy XII. As with the transition from Episode I to Episode II, character designs as well as the characters' outfits have once again undergone several changes. One of the designer's aims was to make the female characters look as cute as possible. The direct result of this change is more visible virtual skin, a measure sure to please the male audience. As players progress through Episode III, several characters will also change their outfits.

In addition to Shion, Episode III will see the return of all playable characters from the previous two installments, namely Jin, Chaos, KOS-MOS, Jr., MOMO and Ziggy. Other well-known faces, good and not so good, are also poised to make returning appearances: Vector Industries' president Wilhelm and his mysterious group of four known as Testament, Federation scientist Juli Mizrahi, the mysterious young girl by the name of Nephilim, U-TIC scientist Sellers, Jin's old rival and U-TIC commander Margulis, his aide-de-camp Pelligri, U.R.T.V. creator Dimitri Yuriev, Shion's clumsy ex-colleague Allen, captain Matthews and his crew, the Godwin sisters Shelly and Mary, and Gaignun Kukai. A new face will be a reticent boy by the name of Abel who is living in a research facility under the supervision of Juli Mizrahi. Another newcomer already made a brief appearance in one of Episode II's flashbacks: The female URTV Citrin.

Xenosaga Episode III's story begins one year after the events of Episode II. In the meantime, protagonist Shion Uzuki has learned that the Gnosis phenomenon is linked to Vector Industries. Hence, she leaves her long-time employer to join hands with an underground movement aiming to put an end to Vector's evil ways. The powerful industry conglomerate meanwhile has decided to end the KOS-MOS project which has been led by Shion's supposedly deceased fiance Kevin and later herself. At the same time, T-elos, a powerful android with striking similarities to KOS-MOS, appears in front of Shion and challenges KOS-MOS. Monolith Soft has revealed that a key question posed in Episode III will be whether KOS-MOS actually possesses a soul. Furthermore, the game will answer the question why KOS-MOS has always protected Shion under any circumstances. A trailer movie has also confirmed that the identities of all Testament members will be revealed in Episode III. This might finally shed some light on to the mysterious plans of Vector president Wilhelm. As one would expect, Episode III will also mark the final showdown in the battle for the Zohar and its emulators. Screenshots have confirmed Dimitri Yuriev's attempt to release the Zohar emulators stored onboard the Durandel, Jr.'s massive spaceship. On his quest, Dimitri is conspiring with Sellers, who has left U-TIC to work on the Omega project.

Xenosaga Episode III will feature locations new and old. While locations like the spaceships Elsa and Durandel, the U-TIC facility and Second Miltia will be familiar to series veterans, new locations, such as a mysterious floating continent, the Project Zohar Advanced Research facility and the tropical island of Pedia, where Shion is hiding at the game's beginning, have been added by the development team.

Following the massive criticism leveled against Episode II by many fans and reviewers, the development team at Monolith Soft decided to go back to the roots in a number of aspects. Specifically, this will translate to a longer main scenario and the return of shops. There players will be able to purchase weapons, accessories and items of their choice. Just like in Episode I, shops cannot only be found in cities and towns, but are also accessible via plates located next to the trademark yellow save spots.

The turn-based battle system has also undergone several changes. The first game's tech attacks will return, while the development team is promising generally more seamless character battles without the complicated entering of commands. Robot battles will now be fought in outer space and huge caves, among other locations. E.V.S. will also return to allow players to re-visit dungeons as often as they wish.

As always, enemies are visible on the field map. However this time, the load time that occurs between dashing into an enemy and the beginning of the resulting battle has been drastically reduced, according to Monolith Soft. Shion's plug-in will still allow players to destroy objects on the field map. Traps, however, can now be set and triggered more freely. When Shion approaches an NPC, a conversation window will automatically open. Only after pushing the square button will players get to read what the respective NPC has to say.

The series' sometimes difficult technical terms will be explained in a new database. Said database is divided into various subcategories, such as "characters", "culture and systems", "incidents" and "locations." Collecting all relevant data for one category will be rewarded with goodies. The database will also offer summaries of the events of the previous two installments.

Those who are still in the possession of the second game's save data will again be treated to an alternative costume in Episode III. This alternative outfit will be Shion's Vector uniform from Episode I.

When Xenosaga Episode III: Also sprach Zarathustra hits retail shelves in Japan on July 6th, the anticipation will be high. Will Monolith Soft finally manage to deliver a second commercially successful title? Will the game manage to answer all the questions that have been raised in Episodes I and II? Will the ending be open or offer a real conclusion to the story of Shion, KOS-MOS and Co? Monolith Soft has a lot to prove with Episode III, not only to its fans, but also to its publisher and parent company. Whether the development studio will be able to deliver should be an intriguing story for itself, even without Nietzsche-inspired subtitles.


© 2001-2006 Bandai Namco Games, Monolith Soft.
All Rights Reserved.

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