Xenosaga III was a weak swansong.
I liked how fast paced the battle system was for this game, but they sacrificed the combo attacks and other fun elements from the previous games to do that. I felt the graphics were dumbed down, and the cutscenes were shorter, which was also a unique thing about the other two games. There's barely any sidequests in this game. There was just alot of things that didn't fell right, I enjoyed it for the most part, but overall it felt rushed and totally gimped.
Xenosaga III is a turn-based RPG. The turns are determained by the character or enemy with the best speed, you imput your moves as your turn comes up. All enemies are visible before attacking them, but the AI of these enemies (pre-battle) feel really dumb compared to the previous titles. They got rid of the explosives from the previous games that stun enemies, but they added a "Trap" feature whichs allows you to throw these traps to stun enemies, you can buy these at shops.
You gain experience, money and skill points after each win. That's right they brought back shops and moeny. You can buy things at any blue crystal, they're usally near the save points, some shops appear in towns too but they can go away after time. The skill tree this time around is alot similar to the first Xenosaga game. There's only 2 branches you can go through with a skill tree though, each skill costs between 50-300 skill points, if you master 4 skills in the same branch, then you can advance further into the branch. You can eventually find EX skills, which give 2 more branches within the skill tree. My biggest grief with this system, much like Xenosaga II, although the skills are randomized up a bit, each character can pretty much learn the same exact skills over time.
The battle system is much faster paced compared to the previous games. While I love how fast it is, I hate how they got rid of the combo system. You can either attack, use tech skills or ether skills. Each attack will move your Special meter up for your entire team, once you've moved that meter up a couple levels then you can use a special attack. I only gained three for each character, so that's kinda lame. If you've killed an enemy using that attack, then you'll get 1.5 experience/money/skill points back.
The game pretty much gives you all 7 main characters from the start of the game. I like how you can choose who you want to play as without worrying about under leveling your characters. I also enjoy how you can switch the characters in and out of battle during fights, which is similar to Final Fantasy X, LOTR's The Third Age or Megaman X Command Missions.
The mech system is like Xenosaga II, where you go through special dungeons with your mechs. You can't customize who will ride in the mechs though. The Mechs have their own special attack meters, and can unleash their own special attack only using up the power they created. Overall, I think the Mech system is much more fun than playing as the humanoid characters.
----------Characters / Story----------
You are once again in Shions shoes, this is 1 year after the last game. Shion quit her services with Vector and wanted to live a relaxing life. This was until Allen contacted her and invited her to a test screening of a new anti-gnosis machine called Telos, who would be competeing against Kos-Mos. Shion quickly gets thrown into the thick of it once again.
The Xenosaga series was planned to be six titles long, but this one ended up being the last. It kind of shows with the final product. While I didn't hate the storyline or anything, it just seems after the first disc they're throwing everything at you to tie up any loose ends, it just got a little ridioulus at times and seemed to rush the storyline along to fast. If you've played the previous Xenosaga games (and you SHOULD before playing this one) then you'll know how slowly paced those games are. It kinda reminds me of the final couple episodes of Arrested Development, the first half of the last season they're pacing the series along just fine, fleshing out jokes and characters, but by the final episodes, after they're told they're weren't being renewed, they tossed out every storyline idea and joke to tie up everything. Xenosaga III felt like that.
Not only that, but this was also the shortest Xenosaga game, with less dungeons, worlds, and overall things to do. Cutscenes weren't nearly as long as the previous games, and alot of things felt cut up.
The graphics are a touchy subject. Overall the game seems downgraded from the Episode 2. While they're still amazing and still better than most games from this time and system, it just seems they cut a few corners. For one, most dialog scenes use actual dialog boxes now, with still-animations for avatars. The only real cutscenes in the game are the mega important ones now that require action rather than speech. The cutscenes are weird, alot of them use a weird shakey cam effect, which is nice in a couple of the darker scenes, but it's weird in others where I thought the game was screwing up or having framerate problems.
The monsters aren't nearly as creative as the previous insalments, you mostly fight mechs or human soliders, the creative Gnosis don't even show up until later and even then they're kinda dull.
The music is nice, spacey, elctronic but ultimately forgetable. The voice work is still top notch stuff. I can't think of any game that can top the quality of the Xenosaga staff in terms of voice acting within a video game.
The world map is nearly untouched from the previous titles, except that it's overall smaller than Episode 2. The map is an linear overhead view map, with markable destinations. There's only two different sections within the game, and both are very small and have about 4-5 different markers, some leading into the same town. Besides this, the main base of the game is the good ol' Elsa from the last two games. The Elsa seems smaller than both previous games, there's actually little you can do on the Elsa, even though it's your main base in the game. You can however buy items, save your game and the most important of all use the U.M.S. to travel to previously visited worlds, even though that's primaryly for sidequests such as the Red Doors.
----------Time to Complete Game----------
Shortest Xenosaga game so far, I even spent a few hours skill grinding.