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Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra - hands on

This may be the first time that an epic RPG series has been intentionally ended with a "yeah, this is the climax - hope you enjoy it!" Sure, series have died in their prime, or gradually ground to a halt; brilliant games have come on strong but never gotten the sequel they've deserved. But Xenosaga's different - as it always has been. The series that gunned hard for Final Fantasy's crown, with graphics, story, characters and music that arguably bested it, is currently... on its way out.

It makes for a mood that is anything but comforting. Xenosaga has always thrived because, unlike most RPGs, it doesn't start slow. Though it spends more time on story than any other series, things in Xenosaga are always troubling - there's always a new enemy around the bend. Things don't change in Xenosaga III - in fact, if anything, it's more confusing. Even though we've barely gotten a chance to, well, really play it yet - we're already hooked in once again.

A year has passed since the events of the previous game, but during that year a ton of stuff has been happening. The alien Gnosis have perpetrated attacks across the galaxy, completely wiping cities off of hundreds of worlds. Shion, the series' lead character, has become convinced of the culpability of the Vector Corporation and the government in the calamity and drops out of society to find the truth. Her strength and resolve makes her appealing. Her vulnerability makes her sympathetic. Her quest for the truth, piloting a giant robot... that makes her a kick-ass RPG heroine.

And of course, she's joined by a cast of characters as unique and varied as RPGs have seen. In the first several hours of the game, though, you'll only catch glimpses of most of them. And you'll only get to partake in battle but a few times. Yes, this is Xenosaga, and the game is most concerned with catching you up to the current events of the story. For the first several hours, you'll spend most of your time listening to talking heads. As the conspiracy that drives the core of the story comes to light, you'll be scratching your head again and again in confusion - thankfully, there's an info-laden database you can access at almost anytime, to help patch things together.

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