A little over three years ago, a game that seemed like it might just have what it took to stand up to Final Fantasy appeared. Xenosaga Episode I had amazing graphics, an engrossing and epic story in a far-flung future, and the challenging gameplay to back it up. It had more ambition and polish than any other contender.
Things... didn't work out.
Xenosaga Episode II followed two years later, scaled way back, its story mostly told in flashbacks and its gameplay oversimplified. Predictably, many of the gamers responsible for the original game's well-deserved success ignored it. Now, the series screeches to a halt. At some point, Namco decided that going for Final Fantasy's jugular was a mistake.
The good news? Episode III recovers a lot of ground that the second game gave up. Although it's better in every way, it's still nowhere near the no-expense-spared epic that the original was. That said, it's a serious and engrossing RPG, and a dignified send-off for a troubled series.
The strength of the Xenosaga games remains the story. By the time Episode III's first disc is through, it has boiled its universe-wide space opera all the way down to the level of the series' heroine, Shion Uzuki, and then ramped it all back up again. It's a harrowing tale that encompasses both the deeply personal and the infinitely important in a way that no other RPG narrative quite has.