Xenosaga Episode III Part 05: Storm Castle, Save Princess

Previously on Xenosaga: Shion and Allen went on a date! Also, KOS-MOS is going to be destroyed if we don’t rescue her, but that isn’t nearly as interesting.

But I suppose it is more pending, so let’s hop on the Gilbert Godfrey Memorial Monorail and infiltrate a heavily guarded government weapons testing facility.

We’ve nearly got The Brews back together, but with the fun addition of Allen and Miyuki. Or has Allen always technically been a team member? He’s kind of a party member in the same way that minigolf is a sport…

Miyuki is apparently on the team because she’s a l33t haxor, and Allen has the best knowledge of the layout. Shion sees this whole adventure as something like “take your infantile children to work day”.

Somewhere, Doctus sneezes, and doesn’t know why.

Oh, hey, they actually address that! … Kinda. Poorly.

She literally just said that!

Basically, we’re taking the backdoor into exactly where we were before.

And Miyuki is subbing for the absent KOS-MOS so we have a perfect seven person party. For any Miyuki lovers out there, this is her last turn as a guest character in the game, so use ‘er if you got ‘er.

We’re officially in a dungeon zone now, so we’ve got a little display for our Traps count. Danger time!

See? There’s the almost complete party. Everyone basically fulfills the same purpose as the previous episodes: Shion and MOMO are mages (though MOMO is a little more offensive this time around), chaos is more red mage, Junior is quick, Ziggy can take a hit, and Jin is fairly balanced. When KOS-MOS finally joins us, she’s the living (kinda) weapon, as usual. Miyuki is basically a limited version of Shion, for the curious…

Because she, unfortunately, cannot learn any skills. Lame.

But everybody else can! It’s not like you have enough SP to “buy” anything at this point, but at least you can scope out the possible skills if you want a little preview of specialties. Jin learns Armor Pierce right off? Man, somebody on the XS team liked Auron…

Remember all those warnings about “you better be prepared for a dungeon” last update? Well, they’re useless, because there’s a blue Shop Plate right here. Since you can’t return to town, there is a shop available at the start of this dungeon, and you can stock up on consumables at will.

Sadly, the shop doesn’t update this chapter, so it only stocks weapons and armor for Shion (and, technically, MOMO, since she can wear most of the same armor as Shion [but not weapons]). This isn’t completely a bad thing, as, having only completed one dungeon, you likely wouldn’t have enough cash to outfit the rest of the party anyway.

And, for posterity, we’re starting this dungeon at the 3:15 mark.

Incidentally, there’s nothing to this little starting area except the save/shop plates. Otherwise, you just walk onto yet another monorail. I only bring this up because when you may reenter this area later, you still start at the same “nothing” opening area and have to wait for this stupid monorail. Not that I’m bitter or anything…

Alright, now we’re in a real dungeon. The first area is basically a series of catwalks and soldiers milling about.

Kudos to the designers of this area, I appreciate how this “early” dungeon offers a lot of vantage points that allow you to see the soldiers walking around and plan for battles accordingly. You can play with traps at will, and practice sneaking up on monsters for back attacks. It’s tutorial-y without being overt about it, and that’s rare in this or any other JRPG.

This area also seems pretty much built for the fact that the game just dumped five new characters into your party (Shion and Miyuki are the only returning fighters from the last dungeon). Most of the enemies are the same (or very similar), so you can switch around your party configurations to see how Junior usually acts first, or Ziggy hits hardest.

And since your boost gauge is going to be filling often, feel free to play with those Special Attacks, too. Remember, you get bonus EXP for “finishing” an enemy with a special attack.

Side note: I’m pretty sure these guards are deaf and blind.

Another way the game encourages you to swap party configurations is through characters repeating the same stupid win quotes over and over again with every victory. Considering your more powerful fighters are more likely to land the finishing blow more often, get ready to hear Jin or Ziggy’s victory quotes constantly.

There is a little bit of a “puzzle” to this area that simply involves pushing blocks into place. Nothing too complicated if you’re smarter than a toddler.

MOMO is still using her bow from XS2. This makes MOMO’s star wand one of the few “things” that didn’t escape the orbit of XS1.

Like any dungeon worth its salt, we’re back to finding Red Segment Doors in seemingly off the beaten path locations. I like that this guy is guarding a door that literally can’t be opened by anyone but us.

Just a reminder that Jesus Christ element is out for this game, so chaos is attacking with generic, I dunno, fuzzy energy. Three games, and still no one asks what that kid’s deal is.

Remember that everyone has “weapons” now, so Ziggy has very visible “knuckle” upgrades for battles. This is his standard model, but some of the later upgrades are more interesting.

After the catwalk area, everyone comes out on the platform that we saw upon entering the CAT Testing Grounds the first time. I guess this whole little area was just to avoid those hulking AMWS.

Now that NPCs aren’t milling about, we can loot all the treasure chests in this place at will. Yay! Money!

Probably a more interesting dungeon would have deactivated the monorails and made the party explore the tunnels between areas. But, nope! Monorails ahoy!

Here’s this spot right outside the viewing arena. Soldiers that were once friendly NPCs are now enemies we must beat to death (or at least unconscious). No one feels bad about this for some reason.

Hey, Ziggy’s first special attack is that rocket launcher summon from the end of XS2. Neat!

And now we can nab that treasure that one NPC was noticeably blocking before.

This is one of those things I was complaining about during the equipment discussion. “Acquired Van Brace” tells the player nothing, so, pretty much any time you find a new treasure, you have to bop into the menu and check out what kind of accessory you acquired, what it does, and whether it is better than anything your party is currently wearing. And even then, descriptions like “1/2 Attack Down” sound more like something that stunts your attack or something, but, no, it’s referring to the fact that you’re more resistant to “attack down” status. The whole experience seems to make the game slower, which is never good.

I’m not saying that having a host of accessories is necessarily a bad thing, simply that the whole setup required just a tweak more transparency. Even just “Acquired –Necklace- Van Brace” would help…

Back to random battles. I tried to properly capture Jin’s special attack, but it moves so fast, you can barely tell what’s going on. So here’s Jin standing near a particle splatter that used to be a monster. Incidentally, recall that I maxed out Jin’s strength, so any damage values are insane (and same for KOS-MOS later)(and MOMO’s EATK earlier).

Past the viewing area are three numbered monorails and a save point. I want to say we used… number four last time?

Welp, guess we’re not going that way.

Let’s try #6 for no particular reason.

Not going this way either. Fun fact: one day we’ll earn the key for this door, and behind it is probably the best secret boss in the Xenosaga franchise.

Now for monorail 5.

Yay! Plot is happening!

I know Shion is being a jackass, but I can’t get mad at her for saying something I’m sure I’ve said before. Wait… am I a jackass?

Ruh-roh.

Allen is quietly snickering.

So we have to go the long way around. Who would have expected that to happen in a JRPG?

I complimented XS2 on acknowledging XS1’s sucky, mute dungeons as a bad thing, and adding background music and puzzles to break up the monotony of boring hallways filled with monsters. Unfortunately, XS3 reverted to the old ways, and occasionally tosses you a dungeon (like this one) that is completely silent. Wait, my bad, it’s not completely silent, there’s a constantly repeating PA system announcing nonsense like there’s been a break-in or Abel is missing or whatever. This gives the area less a feeling of late-night espionage and more that you’re in a super market near closing and, “would the owner of a red Celica please report to the parking lot. You parked over four handicapped spots…”

It gets annoying.

Anyway, the next area is a shiny series of platforms. I think this is supposed to be the sort of “above” staging area of the demonstration zone. This is where the gaffers corral gnosis or something.

And backstage is crawling with robots and soldiers.

We’re making vertical progress!

There are two switches that must be pushed to create platforms that will allow The Brews to progress.

But every time you hit on those switches, something… ominous happens.

Speaking of switches, there’s a little puzzle here where you have to blast platforms to rotate into a completed bridge. It’s pretty straightforward: there are four blocks, and each block will rotate with the adjacent blocks when blasted. Play the corners, and you’ll have a bridge in no time.

Second platform/monster switch.

And, a little higher up, here’s our completed catwalk for pressing the switches. If you missed either switch, get ready to backtrack.

In the next room, we get a glimpse of what was released by those switches.

Whoops! Oh well, we’ll probably never see that thing again!

The next room takes us under the pathway we used on our initial tour of the building.

Oh no! We have to fight our beloved AGWS from XS1! At least I’m assuming these guys are the AGWS from XS1, as I never used the damn things, and thus can’t even recognize them.

The AGWS are kind of like sub bosses in that they’re unique enemies… but this guy went down after one Ziggy attack (and he’s not even a hacked Ziggy). So the AGWS suck? Sounds about right.

There are two separate AGWS battles. I wonder if the XS staff didn’t just have the AGWS models lying around and decided to toss ‘em into a fight or two.

Afterwards, the party takes a quick second to give the AGWS a tiny benediction. Done? Okay, now let’s never speak of them again.

Hey, another door, and we actually have a key for this one. We got it in Juli’s room at the start of the last update, incidentally.

Oh boy, a weapon for KOS-MOS! Not that you’d know that from anything the game tells you. Feel free to hop through your equip menu to find no one right now can equip it, though.

We’ve somehow looped all the way around to the other side of that door Miyuki couldn’t open. See? It all worked out… aside from accidently releasing a massive monster.

If you test Miyuki’s route, you’ll obtain some kind of Final Fantasy bird monster bangle. It prevents poison, because that makes perfect sense.

Oh yeah, I said I’d talk about exploiting the break gauge in our next combat-y update. I maintain that the introduction to the Break system is terrible, because it makes it seem like “this is how you beat bosses”, when it’s more like a random status ailment in most boss battles. In random battles, though, it can be amazing. Your average battle in XS3 doesn’t last very long, but you might be up against five (or more) monsters at once. What to do? Well, Ziggy is the damn champion of the break gauge, so feel free to have him “knock out” a combatant. Then you’ve got one less enemy to worry about for a round, and, by the time the creature has recovered, it might find that the rest of its cronies are long dead. This can be very useful in situations when you know one particular monster is a pain (like, say, due to using powerful attacks or annoying status ailments), so knock ‘em out of the game for a round, focus on the lesser mooks, and then come back for the killing blow later (maybe once your boost gauge is maxed out).

It’s situational, but if you manage your break abilities well, you can save a lot of time from battle to battle. Or at least save a lot of HP.

And we can find upgrades for ES craft that we’ve barely used. At least this treasure is marked as ES-related.

Almost there. We’re now on top of the Vector area. Last time, we just walked in through the front door…

?

We’d go to the Vector wing, but I guess the elevator has different ideas.

Okay, I know it’s just one of like six portraits, but I swear this is Jin finally getting pissed at his sister for yelling at Miyuki all the time. She’s doing the best she can!

Are we going to steal a space plane again?

Oh, cinema mode!

Hey, everybody that fought and destroyed Proto Omega? Here’s new Omega!

I enjoy the reminder that Junior is vaguely aware of Yuriev’s plans, and also regards his clone daddy as an idiot. Close family.

Aaaaand Shion headache.

Ziggy, as ever, is the stalwart knight that catches the fainting maiden.

That would make a fine epitaph.

Hey, I’ve seen that kid before.

Fei’s Abel.

Guess Abel’s English teacher has been taking a backseat to mech training.

It’s always nice to get confirmation that Shion isn’t just imagining these cryptic children running around.

Abel just, ya know, wanders the corridors, occasionally drawing on the floor. He’s not creepy at all.

Junior suggests this is a trap, and Shion retorts that that’s kinda crazy. Junior, you are your brother’s twin.

Miyuki… I tried to defend you a second ago…

From about this point on, the dungeon is still “a dungeon”, but it’s missing any enemies until a certain blue-haired robot rejoins the team.

Following Abel, la la la.

But if you take a little detour, you’ll find a mysterious all white room and some blocks. Where have I seen that before?

Xenosaga: Episode 1, 2002

There’s a computer just outside that you’d think would provide some interesting information on the super secret projects that are going on in this basement…

But most of the reports just confirm that nobody knows jack about what’s going on. Boo.

Back to following Abel, I suppose.

That can’t be safe! And no way back, either.

Welcome to the trash heap for the facility. I would imagine this area to be… pungent.

And we enter cinema mode again with Allen falling over into a pile of trash.


Yay! Pratfalls have saved the day!

Shion, as you might expect, is not happy with this.

Alright, I could complain every update about how the “talking dialogue boxes” really suck compared to the “real” acting of the previous episodes, but I do admit you get used to it pretty fast, and not every scene needs to be acted out. That said, stuff like this, Shion’s silent resignation at the fact that Junior somehow still doesn’t get it (remember the conversation at the beginning of XS2 where Junior has to have it explained to him how KOS-MOS is more than a “weapon” to Shion), really enhances the humanity on display by these characters. Considering that “humanity” is a gigantic theme of the whole XS franchise, well… I try not to get mad at budget cuts.

Hooray!

Other thing I enjoy: Team Vector just whips into action here, with their holo displays and everything. Despite the fact that Shion, Allen, and Miyuki are very different characters, they sort of form a nerd gestalt and get to work. It’s an amusing parallel to the usual three person battle party with the three person SCIENCE! party. See? Allen is useful!

Anyway, there’s a weird program running in KOS-MOS, and nobody knows what it is.

But now is not the time to worry about it, we’ve got to get R-66Y out of this dome.

“We need a Level 5 scientist for this.”

Please don’t let this be a Chobits situation…

D’aww.

We’re good, KOS-MOS is back in action!

And she probably needs to be cleaned.

Shion immediately hugs her favorite robot and apologizes for… well, she’s not being specific, but there are a lot of options.

KOS-MOS is indifferent.

Not “fine”?

Good leadership, Junior. Here I thought MOMO would want to play in the trash more.

KOS-MOS confirms that she’s good to go, so Miyuki is demoted to Allen-level guest status.

Honestly, I have no idea why the designers didn’t just go ahead and make Miyuki a permanent party member. She doesn’t really do much from this point on in the story, she could have easily tagged along and been another party mage. Maybe the writing staff just got tired of figuring out new ways for Shion to insult her.

There it is. The Brews are back in action. Somebody get KOS-MOS some exp!

Monsters pick back up right here in the dumpster, so feel free to get KOS-MOS back into combat rotation.

I think I missed you most of all, gatling gun.

Oh, Shion naturally learned Rare Steal after that battle. That will come in handy.

Like twelve feet from the dump, we’re back into talky time.

And it’s time for…

Oh, never mind, she’s fine.

Wait, no. Well, at least the floor is clean here.

Hey, Shion in U-DO land.

Aw, U-DO wants to be where the people are.

“So… William, then?”

And the scene ends with Shion finally getting the memo on who she’s talking to, while U-DO is just a pile of questions.

Everyone was concerned, but nobody got the poor girl a pillow? KOS-MOS should be able to teleport couches at will.

She’s so okay, she’s stuttering! That’s super okay!

Alright, elevator right back up, time to hit a save point.

The final challenge of the area involves evading a marching band of AGWS. If you keep up a good pace, you’ll only have to fight one AGWS, but I think you can fight all of them if you’re bored. I fought two, because I couldn’t stop laughing at F-Troop here.

Almost free of this place!

Ah, right, giant gnosis we released.

Boss battle! Here’s Aludra Calf. It’s weak to beam attacks, so stick MOMO in there and let her use beam-element “magic”. If you remembered to equip KOS-MOS with that weapon from behind the segment door earlier, she’ll also kick some ass. Also note the 100% drop for this beast is a Decoder key, and there’s a White Fragment for you if you decide to steal.

So do that. Thanks for learning that skill, Shion!

Despite appearing to be a bruiser, Aludra Calf seems to use a lot of ether attacks, so I guess whatever passes for the “shell” spell in this series would be a good idea.

This is technically the first “real” boss in the game (that is to say, a boss that isn’t totally tied to a tutorial of some kind), but it’s still a pushover. For being foreshadowed for most of the dungeon, there really isn’t much of a fight here.

Gee, I don’t know, maybe they’re testing the walking weapon that just killed it?

I guess there are no more guards left alive in this area. Time to go!

And, despite the fact that everyone just raided a Federation Military installation, maimed (at least) a hundred guards, and stole a weapon capable of destroying a planet, The Brews just hop on the space elevator and grab a ride on their ship.

They didn’t even wear masks… Two party members were wearing Vector uniforms…

And as the Durandal departs, “Roth” and Blue Virgil are found hanging out in the vacuum of space. If you’re still trying to guess Roth’s identity at this point…

Yeah, more cryptic nonsense. Shion and KOS-MOS are related by some mystical nonsense? You don’t say.

Also I guess someone in there is “the thirteenth key”. Whatever. However, I would be very happy to see a version of Xenosaga that is just Blue Virgil mocking all this enigmatic boloney all the time.

Aaaand end of the chapter.

Chapter 2 ends at the 4:22 mark. That means that passable dungeon was a little over an hour of adventuring, and Chapter 2 accounts for about three hours of the game. Chapter 1 was twenty minutes.

Anyway, a chapter break sounds like a good spot for an update break, so let’s all chill until the Durandal ferries KOS-MOS to that space/time sphere.

Next time on Xenosaga: When was the last time this JRPG had a good cave dungeon?

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