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    dkirschner's Xenosaga Episode III: Also sprach Zarathustra (PS2)

    [April 30, 2012 12:54:37 PM]
    Finished Xenosaga 3...that's the entire series done. Started the first one exactly four months ago. What a great series! I was hoping the third one wouldn't end on some stupid cliffhanger for a 4th that never gets made, but it did a good job of not leaving 8000 threads hanging or promising anything specific in the future. The end did get a bit weird. There was a lot of Nietzsche in the end, started talking about will the way he did and not the way it's popularly talked about or the way X1 was talking about the will to power. So it turns out the master 'villain' plan was to use Zarathustra to begin eternal recurrence. I like this because the two bad guys in the end aren't necessarily bad. The world is going to end. Fact. They just want to go on and destroy it so it can start over. The 'good guys' simply don't want to destroy it now and start it over. They want to let it run its course and die for good in several tens of thousands of years because it's 'wrong' to cause everyone to suffer now. The weird thing is the way the..I can't say bad guys..I'll just say Wilhelm because that's the final one's name..the weird thing is the way Wilhelm talks about his desire for eternal recurrence. He doesn't mind sacrificing all life on the planet to begin the process of eternal recurrence. He thinks it's for the greatest good. It's utilitarian. It keeps things moving along. Shion and the party don't think that idea is for the greatest good. They reject the idea that the greatest good in the future means the suffering of everyone now. Its architects would have Zarathustra 'speak' on the basis of lies and suffering of others. Here is Nietzsche's anti-utilitarianism in Shion. Shion and the party, they're the ones who would like to live this life again, yet they're the ones who don't want it to recur. Wilhelm is the one who wants it to recur, but he doesn't want it to recur in the same way. That would mean that...Shion and the party's wills are powerful, whereas Wilhelm's isn't since he (and Kevin and the other Testaments) are looking to the other-world and escaping the present one. Yet both alternatives are ultimately selfish. Wilhelm's eternal recurrence because he wants to be God and oversee that, and Shion's because she is basically guaranteeing humanity's extinction in a few tens of thousands of years. On the other hand, she is saving everyone alive until then (though if eternal recurrence were set in motion, they'd come back again to live their lives anyway), and Wilhelm is guaranteeing everyone alive infinite life cycles. Hopefully they are happy with them. Ah but his plan didn't work, so it doesn't matter. Also, there's the whole bizarre story at the end with the re-awakening of Mary Magdalene...that shit was out of left field. And there was some cut scene with Jesus preaching to some folks, including Mary and Jeshua in the crowd. I have no idea what's the point of all that. The story then goes on presumably after the game with stuff to do about returning to Lost Jerusalem (Earth/Holy Land), so I figure this is some story about the search for the origin of [insert topic] in the Garden of Eden. Anyway. Ridiculously fleshed out and complicated sci-fi tale over 3 games. I'd happily read/watch/play more in this world.

    Gameplay wise, there was a bit of a difficulty spike about 3/4 of the way through. Enemies get smarter and start breaking you and boosting, resulting in genuine ass-kickings of all my asses a handful of times. This is what I learned at this point: Breaks are deadly. Avoid getting attacked from the rear, avoid letting 4 enemies attack in a row, and for the love of god, avoid getting broken especially when there are several enemies. They will (depending on their targeting protocol) often just pick one character and absolutely murder him/her. When it's 4 enemies vs 1 broken character (or 3), you have no chance.

    Worst moment of the game/storytime: Replaying the Durandal mission 3 times. I died the first two times on the LAST enemy before the save point. I got break/boost murdered each time. Break/boost murder is cheap as hell. If enemies get the jump on you in this game, you are screwed. They'll break all your characters in one round, then when you can't act for two more rounds, they will just boost and completely obliterate you. I mean they'll get like 12-15 turns before you get one, no exaggeration. Sucks. After the first death, I equipped break limit + items because I realized the 3 characters I was using had the 3 lowest break limits of everyone. So I fixed that thinking it would help with getting broken. It did, except I still got jumped right at the end and nothing I could do. So I pulled out my computer to find a walkthrough so I could just go straight to the items the third time through (because the Durandal residential area is a maze of doors), but there wasn't anything clear enough, so I did it yet again, the third time with music pumping in my headphones instead of battle noises from the game, which, after two hours of dying, get really irritating. The third time I went SO prepared into the end of the level (which is the beginning revisited) before the save point. I had traps, was completely healed, had boost stocked. Fingers crossed. I didn't even see the bastards who killed me first two times.

    Bosses also got a bit cheap at this point in the game. Some of them had straight up kill moves that would one-shot me. I forget what boss it was, but she had an attack that knocks everyone down to 666 HP, and another that hits for 666. She did them back to back at one point (knocked all my characters to 666 HP then immediately hit them all for 666 HP, wiping me clean). How the hell do I stop that? Then I fought Margulis the other day and he has an Anima Awakening move that hits for like 130,000 HP. My max HP on the most maxed out ES was about 75,000. How to defend against that? So, I think that first one (the 666 one) was just a crazy fluke. The Margulis fight, I died (obviously) and looked up what type of attack he does. It's a fire ether, so I bought 1/2 fire rings for everyone and 1/2 guard rings. So when he was going to do that move, I just guarded and it essentially made his damage go down by 1/4 so it really didn't hurt too bad if everyone was mostly topped off. But the stupid thing about that type of battle is you're forced to wade through it once and have a mandatory death, THEN assuming you are able to figure out what type of attacks they do and defend against them, you can win. If you don't know that it's an ether, you lose again. If you don't think to put on 1/2 guard, you lose again. It's just dumb to make you lose to 'learn' how to beat it. It's not like a quick little oops, game over. It's like a 'dammit, I spend 30 minutes on this battle and he cheap-shot killed me, now i have to do it over until I figure out that it's a fire ether attack.'

    I actually completed most of this one. I got most of the segment addresses, did a lot of the side quests...didn't kill either of the mega optional bosses...did get most everyone's ultimate weapons. I like that these were accessible to a 'casual' player in this game, as opposed to other games that make getting ultimate weapons super involved. I also did most of the Hakox puzzle game on my own...

    Hakox puzzle game -- First of all, this was like a free game alongside Xenosaga 3. With little indie puzzlers being all the rage these days, whoever came up with Hakox could sell it or something similar on Steam or something. People would eat it up for real. It is VERY good and entertaining and challenging and unique. It basically works like this: You need to guide your characters to the goal. Each level is a 3-D grid-based map with a lot of moving parts. Your characters come in several different colors, and you generally need to get each color character to their respective goals (yellow goes to yellow, blue to blue, etc.) Easy enough. So there are four types of button (gimmicks, the game calls them) on the map corresponding to the Playstation controller -- triangle, circle, square, and x. Depending on the map, the pushing the button will move the gimmick to an end point along a path you can see on the map. Releasing the button moves the gimmick back to its starting point. So for example, Shion is walking in a straight line to her goal, but there is a gap in the road. There's an X out to the side. Push X and the X gimmick moves to fill the gap. She walks over it and continues to the goal. So imagine that, but like times 10 on the harder levels. You have to time multiple characters of multiple colors to reach their goals simultaneously to get combo points, you have to use all four buttons at once (people online suggest using two controllers to manage the complexity or begging a friend to help). Also, you have to keep in mind where all the gimmicks are all the time. Moving one in the path of a character may cause the death of another character. Anyway, this idea could really be expanded on and made into something even better, though it works really well with a controller the way it is now! Here's the best example of a level on Youtube, although the user has got it down to a science so it's not too too exciting to watch: I stopped right before this one, but this is apparently the #1 trouble level!

    And finally, X3 features a Coconut Monkey. I took pictures and need to email the folks at PC Gamer to let them know their mascot is here.

    Great series. Glad to finally (re)play it to completion.
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    [April 25, 2012 10:30:32 PM]
    I haven't written anything for X3 yet, so here goes my hours 1-19 recap. This is the best of the three games because they totally nailed the combat, finally, and the skills, menus, presentation and all that is just really tight. In X1 and X2 there were things that just didn't work (AGWS combat, team combos, AGWS equipping/no equipment whatsoever, etc.). X3 pretty much refines everything.

    (1) Combat

    (a) character combat - My first impression: "Wow, it's so fast! [then] Hey, they took away the combat slot machine thing! How am I supposed to exploit it and get extra experience and skill points now?"

    No problem. The speed of battles in X3 is lovely, and actually they are sped up BECAUSE there's no combat slots to worry about. Now, I'm glad that system is gone. I like both the strategy it added and the randomness (in X2) of it, but it did make for tedious battles. And the awesome thing? They kept the bonus experience/skill points AND fixed special moves AND fixed team combos and wrapped them all up in one fun system.

    So how it works is this: Your team shares a boost gauge like in X2. Each character has a special move that they can activate once the boost gauge reaches whatever amount of boost the move requires (all require 2 boost so far). The boost gauge increases now a fixed 20% each attack (40% for critical hits). So once the boost gauge hits 2, you can use your characters' special moves. Special moves level up the more you use them, making them more powerful. Most are physical attacks, some are break attacks, and MOMO has an ice elemental one. The trick is if you kill an enemy using a special attack, then it's a 'finishing strike' and you get +50% XP and SP (skill points) from that enemy. So accumulating boost and unleashing finishing strikes replaces the old, more tedious method of trying to get the finishing blow when the slot changed to SP. Actually this new way is better too because you can't manipulate it and kill every enemy with a finishing strike like you could kill every enemy on the SP slot because since each attack builds boost, and you have to have 2 boost for a special move, there's no way to increase boost to 2 without attacking. So if you kill the enemy before the boost reaches 2, that's just how it goes. But the boost bar carries over to the next battle, so you never lose any. The only time you lose boost for finishing strikes is if you actually use it to boost (which I haven't even done yet) and if you max out the boost gauge and keep attacking without using a special strike (which I've done to kill bosses with a finishing strike because if I would have used a special move earlier, I wouldn't have time to build the boost back up before killing the boss, costing me my +50% XP/SP for the boss, which is a significant amount).

    The other new-ish thing is the break system. In X2 they introduced 'break zones' where each enemy had a high, mid, and low spot and if you figured out the correct order to attack them, they would 'break' and you did extra damage. It was pretty cool, quite thoughtful on boss fights when you had to figure out how the hell to break this boss whose pattern was something crazy like ACBA. You would time all your ethers and boosts and all around breaking the enemy. So in X3 this is different. There are no break zones. Instead, everyone has a break gauge, and it's a stat like HP or EP that you can increase with accessories and things (Break Level +100, etc.). There are now additional 'break attacks,' which usually coincide with physical attacks. It will say like "medium physical attack + medium break attack," meaning that the attack will inflict damage to the break level. Once the break level hits max, the enemy/character is in break mode and they are stunned for two rounds (can't act) and take extra damage. It's dangerous when you get broken! And there's nothing (that I've figured out) that you can do about it besides start healing because the broken character will get targeted and hit hard. I haven't broken many enemies yet, mostly because the regular ones die real fast anyway, and because bosses seem to have gigantic break levels.

    But I suppose I could try because X3 introduces the rough equivalent of character classes, one of which is a 'breaker,' who specializes in breaking enemies and preventing allies from becoming broken. It's interesting, these classes. It has to do with the once-again overhauled skill system, which this time reminds me a bit of an MMO since it pushes you to specialize your characters not just for skills and spells, but for actual tactical roles. So the game tells you, Shion is a support character, MOMO is a healer, Ziggy is a defender, Jin is an attacker, etc. The cool thing with X3 is that, for example, MOMO isn't just a healer. You get two skill branches to choose from that will augment her main role. Hers happen to be attack magic else. Obviously I chose attack magic since I don't remember the other one. Each branch has like 6 sets of 4 skills to dump skill points into. You can't get the next set until you learn all the skills of the previous set. Since the skills become increasingly expensive and get increasingly better (Fire 1, Fire 2, Fire 3...), you eventually aren't going to want to go back and start from the beginning of the other skill branch because you've invested a lot of points into the other branch. However, I did learn that you CAN invest in both branches if you want. So if you like the first or second set of that other branch you didn't go down, it doesn't seem too big a deal to pop points in those and not feel like you're wasting them. Also, there are other skill sets that pop up outside the two main branches. I found an item that gave me 4 isolated sets that seem to just be various stat increases and abilities. I think these are just to further supplement whatever you chose already or to make up for weak points in your characters (like I will buy MOMO +HP skills whenever I see them because her HP is so low). It's a really neat system and I wonder what else I'll unlock though discovering items.

    In battle, the system plays out well too. I suppose that ideally you'd have characters who can heal, attack, and defend (healer, tank, DPS, right?). Defender type characters even have an ether called Heat, which forces the enemies to attack them. Enemies actually have attack priorities which you can find out with Analyze. They will, for example, attack randomly, attack healers, attack characters with low HP, etc. So if like they are attacking characters with low HP, you can use Heat to draw them to the tougher character and just keep him/her healed up. It's not so strict though. I've played with healer/support/support, healer/support/attack, healer/healer/defender, attack/attack/support, all kinds of stuff works in most situations. It's also important to take into account enemy strengths and weaknesses, which are visible to you if you have a certain item equipped, or if you Analyze the enemy. So strategy can then be to put your characters who have fire attacks in to combat the weak-to-fire enemies. Pretty standard there, but fun.

    (b) ES combat - My first impression: "Oh my god, it works! [then] And it's actually fun!"

    ES combat is greatly improved over the first two games, though in 19 hours I've only had one ES dungeon (and it was only half the dungeon, and in that dungeon, your ESes get disabled and a solution is currently pending in the story). ES battles don't have a boost gauge. They have something else, Anima gauge or something, that right now just goes to 1. ESes also have energy bars and various weapons with 1 attack each. Each attack uses a certain amount of energy, and may be from low to high accuracy, have a lower or higher change of initiating a random team attack, and attack a certain number of times in a row. So if your energy is 200, you can use a 100-energy attack twice. The energy bar refills after every turn. So like boost and special moves, once this Anima bar reaches 1 (or more later I think), your ESes can use their Anima, which is a special move that does a lot of damage and then gives them more attack, crit, and lower energy costs for a round or two. The finishing strike thing still applies with Anima abilities for bonus XP and such. And this time, your ESes don't level up, which is great. That was a really stupid thing in X2. This time, the pilots, your actual characters, level up. There is also some sort of combo thing which I haven't figured out. Successive hits give more damage, but somehow you can chain attacks together between allies. I need to figure out how this works.

    (2) story, characters, dialogue, blah blah

    X3 has a massive, massive, massive in-game database with every single character, location, weapon, organization, tutorial, and on and on. I've spent at least a few hours reading the entries in this and I still have one more section to read. It is the "unknown" section, which I suppose could be full of ???? or silly things like which flavor curry Shion likes best. Who knows. But the database has been so awesome for filling me in on details. I understand way more about what is going on in this universe than I did before, and the database really shows how much effort was spent constructing the Xenosaga universe.

    Regarding story, (oh yeah, I had meant to look this up), there was a large time gap between X2 and X3 that didn't happen between X1 and X2. I wonder if there was some other game or some anime or something that happened in between...I just looked and there wasn't, though there are a couple other games and retellings of Episodes 1 and 2..Anyway, this was making me think about what all these characters were up to in the 6 months/1 year between games. Shion quit Vector, and besides her, I don't really know. It's not a big deal, BUT, and this is one thing I always wondered, they lost all their fighting abilities! They must have been slacking on their training if nothing else because I have to start at level 5 all over again. 6 months ago they practically saved the universe. Now, they're having the match of their lives against a couple grunt soldiers. I've also been thinking about this in terms of MMO expansions. So like the new WoW expansion has you up to level 90, which means you are fighting tons of regular little enemies between 85 and 90. Does that mean that all those level 90 enemies could go back and defeat the Lich King or Deathwing? Level 90 enemies are technically stronger than the trash in ICC. So a level 90 Oompaloomp could go and smack down a level 80 Abomination in ICC. Funny.

    Anyway, back on topic. The plot is riveting by this point. There is twist after twist. The recent bunch of them is finding out who all the Testaments are. Each one is like "Whaaaat!!" I love it. But you start to know something's fishy with them when you realize that once Albedo merges with U-DO at the end of X2, he comes back as a Testament (if you picked up on his voice, which you probably should have). That leaves you questioning who the other 3 (3 only?) are in between X2 and X3. But one by one, they've all been revealed! And KOS-MOS's 'death' was like whoa, and then her revival is like whoa again because you realize that she's who the Testaments had been referring to through all these shady cut-scenes for the whole game, and that she's tied more and more to the ever-thickening plot. It's awesome.

    Characters are better than ever. The dialogue is better written and the voice actors are all doing excellent jobs. They even got some of the (better) original ones back from X1 that they had replaced in X2, like Shion. Actually, a couple are worse. Jr is different I think, and Helmer is magically a southern black man now...but they don't talk much. And there are some different (better) costumes too. chaos's hot pants have finally been replaced with normal pants. Although he now has sexy -10, I feel this is a positive fashion statement that will reverberate throughout the galaxy.

    So here's a huge improvement that I didn't even know needed improving: the talking with NPCs on the map. The other Xenosaga games have the typical 'push O to talk to NPCs' thing that 95% of RPGs have. This one changes it. When you walk near an NPC, they automatically talk with you or with whoever they're standing with. You can push circle to listen more, and if you do, they'll eventually say a word in their dialogue that's highlighted red. You push square when you see this word and it will direct the dialogue around that topic. It's neat. It's like optional conversation that tells you more important things than if you just click normally. And they tell you one extra thing so you don't have to compulsively talk to all NPCs three times each or anything. Also, when you're in conversation with teammates, there are now dialogue boxes with characters' portraits and facial expressions, as well as voiceovers for all of this. It's a really nice touch.

    Last point -- the pacing. As with the other Xenosaga games (especially X1), there's a hell of a lot of story, cut scenes, movies, etc. Those, PLUS reading the database, PLUS playing the (awesome) puzzle minigame = lots of time not actually 'playing' the main game. A couple examples: I went on my first real mission (i.e., not a tutorial) at the SEVEN HOUR mark, at which point they also just dump all 6 other characters on you, which means you spend x amount of time looking through menus to get a feel for them. Then normal, normal, normal...and last night I came home from work and played about 4 hours (like 15-19 or something), during which time I had ONE boss fight right at the end of it all, and no other action whatsoever. It was all talking, exploring, minigaming, reading, and menus. Kind of crazy. I mean, I like it but it feels really weird at times. Like I came home from work last night after grading exams for an entire day only an in-game encyclopedia and play brain-teasing puzzle minigames. Mind-boggling. Anyway, I'll explain the minigame in another entry. It unlocks level by level as you progress through the story, and I did level 3 (of 6) last night, which also means I must be nearly halfway done.
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    dkirschner's Xenosaga Episode III: Also sprach Zarathustra (PS2)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Friday 20 April, 2012

    GameLog closed on: Monday 30 April, 2012

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Exciiiited! ----- Great game, great series.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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