Xenoblade Chronicles 3 feels like the climax to the entire Xenoblade franchise. Everything from the prior games has been seemingly building up to this. Anyone who has never played Xenoblade Chronicles, its sequel, X, and even Torna ~ The Golden Country, will still find that this latest entry is very accessible. Yet, long-time fans who stood by every game will get the most out of Xenoblade Chronicles 3.
At first, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 seems like it is barely connected to the prior games. The further down the rabbit hole you go, the more connections become apparent. Faithful Xenoblade fans will take note of the various races represented in the cast of characters. Entia, Gotmotti, and even races from X form the cast in this epic journey.
The story begins fairly standard with two factions at war: Keves and Agnus, and both rely on armies of child soldiers. When anyone from either side serves 10 years, they are effectively executed and their “soul” gets “sent”, like how summoners send the departed in Final Fantasy X. Things are not all as they seem between the warring factions and during a skirmish, small platoons from Keves and Agnus find themselves cut-off from their command.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Developer: Monolith Soft
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: July 29, 2022
Price: $59.99 USD
Within the first chapter, there is a lot of exposition that gets explained to the player at a very quick and efficient pace. Extremely alien concepts like what the “Flame Clock” is and how it works is shown in a way that makes it understandable. There are a lot of characters and each one gets painstakingly detailed scenes that show their motivations and hints of a larger backstory.
Strange transformations like the Ouroborus being a more powerful combat mode- it is something that also drives the story and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is constantly drip-feeding intrigue that sucks the player into the world. Just when you think the story is settling in one direction, new revelations compound on each other that vastly expands the scope of the story.
Everyone in this story is a tortured soul, wrecked from an agonizing existence and by the end of it, the emotions are palpable. Miraculously, the story never gets bogged down by pretension like how many RPGs are liable to do. Events fold out very clearly and symbolism is downplayed to not distract players who are not sensitive to abstract imagery. By the time it ends, players will feel like their soul has been dragged from behind a metaphysical truck.
The six protagonists are divided up between three Agnians and three Kevesians. Without being bound by a Flame Clock, their service in the military becomes void and they find themselves having to rely on each other. This means that every one of them will be an active party member and will participate in battle at all times.
Anyone who is familiar with prior Xenoblade games will understand that combat uses a MMORPG-style auto attack battle system, complete with cooldowns and hotkeys. This has often been a divisive aspect for all the games in the franchise, but let it be known that Monolith Soft has done an amazing job at making it work despite how unappealing it sounds on paper.
With such a big party for battle, there is nobody who is going to be benched and everyone serves a purpose. Even temporary party members serve a higher purpose of granting the player a bonus job class to utilize one they leave which further expands the player’s options and customization. Late-game combat can be overwhelming for the uninitiated, as there are a metric ton of systems and mechanics to take in.
This is where Xenoblade Chronicles 3 can falter a bit. With such an immensely intricate combat system and character-building module, the designers knew it all had to be staggered at a deliberate pace. Monolith Soft may have underestimated players and the desire to fully explore the gameplay’s potential, because even after 40 hours, there are tutorials and new gameplay elements introduced.
There needed to be a middle ground. Early on, gamers will be suffocated with restrictions and arbitrary invisible walls. It is understandable that an RPG as enormous and as dense as Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has to space out some of these mechanics for the sake of pacing, but in this case it is absurdly excessive with how long it is drawn out.
This is especially egregious with the massive environments that have invisible walls because the game already has in place a soft barrier that prevents players from reaching areas they shouldn’t. Like all prior Xenoblade games, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has no qualms with having extremely high level and dangerous enemies roam the vast fields or sprawling caves. This already guarantees players won’t stray too far as intended.
Visually, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is easily one of the best looking games on the Nintendo Switch. Monolith Soft has finally perfected an anime style aesthetic for the characters where they all look cohesive and expressive. Tiny anime-isms like hair appearing behind eyelashes helps make the 2D cel-shaded effect more convincing and less uncanny.
There is even various shader and lighting effects that add lot of volume and manga-style hatching where light meets shadow. Hair moves and is a never static piece of geometric; often with flowing strands and the appropriate bounce to make the characters feel more alive. Even the large creatures and towering mechs have a believable weightiness to their animation and have stark designs that make them stand out and leave an impression.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is not only an artistic achievement, but a technical one as well. As mentioned earlier; the environments in this game are big in the way you think of Gods as huge. The sheer range of variety in the environments while also having jaw-dropping vistas make you stop in your tracks to appreciate never ceases. Even after the 100 hour mark, the imagery is still arresting and you’ll take a moment to absorb it once in a while.
As expected from an entry in this series, Yasunori Mitsuda is on music duties. While the sweeping orchestral score, frantic flutes and romantic strings are as moving as ever, after three Xenoblade games and Torna; the music ends up sounding like generic “Xenoblade music”. It doesn’t have the inspired fresh quality that established the first game’s identity.
Maybe Mitsuda has run out of ideas or used up his best compositions by now, but even when trying to think back to the music of Xenoblade Chronicles 3, I automatically think of music from the first two games. The music isn’t even bad, in fact it is downright masterful in many instances; it just lacks innovation or a distinct signature to make it stand out from prior games.
If Xenoblade Chronicles 3‘s music was switched with the first game, maybe these feelings would be the same towards music in the original. Despite the music seeming like it is going through the motions, it does its job well during the cutscenes where Mitsuda fires on all cylinders. The man knows how to punctuate and charge the emotions in scenes with his music.
The voice acting is consistent with the prior entries; relying a lot on British talent with a couple of Americans tossed in. This has become the signature style of the franchise and it does suggest the idea that the regions have their own unique dialect and culture. The cast is very good during cutscenes, but during battle or exploration, the cast can be a bit grating.
Battles especially become a chaotic mess of noise vomit as everyone begins shouting their attacks and the shrilling flute sound of the combat music swells. There are not that many lines of dialogue for these parts and they get recycled constantly. You’re guaranteed to get sick of hearing Sena calling herself “the girl with the gall”, or Eunie saying how “Lanz wants something a bit meatier”.
For its price, players will be getting more than they pay for considering the disgusting amount of content packed into Xenoblade Chronicles 3. New game plus further expands the game with new job classes and the ability to level down at rest stops. Sadly, tutorials still pop up and all map data and their fast travel points also get reset.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 may not have the same spirit of invention that the first game had which made it such a huge success, but it is still an RPG masterpiece. Anyone who loved the first Xenoblade but had misgivings over some of questionable aspects of the second game (like the gacha mechanics), will find that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is perfectly balanced and delivers on almost every aspect imaginable.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is now available for Nintendo Switch.