As with most RPGs, the core of Xenosaga's gameplay is a turn-based battle system. Episode III 's battles are speedy and have a nice flexibility, but it takes time to tease the pleasures out of the gameplay. Once you start unlocking the good skills and nailing the strategy - two-thirds of the way through the game, thanks to the cutscenes - is when it gets interesting. If you pull everything off right, the battles are smooth like butter; screw up and it's easy to die. Sometimes you're on the knife-edge, but the game is fair.
But at this late date, you won't find anything here that's much above average for the PS2, a system blessed with a huge variety of solid, similar games. The character growth system and mech battles are similarly just-above-the-curve, but below inspirational. The gameplay is just as good as it has to be - to keep you going in between the massive bombs the story keeps dropping.
Yes, the place where Xenosaga always makes it mark is the story. If you thought the story-to-gameplay ratio of prior entries was low, though, this one is probably the worst offender. The good news is that the tale is very satisfying: being the last game, it's intense from its first moments, and only gets sharper as it goes. You will see big, climactic things happening. Routinely. Not many RPGs can promise that.
That's not to say it never stumbles, though. Some scenes obviously didn't make much sense to begin with; though the voices are mostly quite good, others are badly dubbed. Worst, the game is heavily censored. Namco Bandai, in its efforts to get a T rating, has sucked all of the blood out of the game. Normally it wouldn't much matter, but major plot points of this game center around brutal violence - including the climactic scene in which the biggest twist in the plot of the entire series is revealed. It's an insult to the fans that have tread the rocky path this series has taken.