Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is Monolith Soft's best work to date. While the studio has produced eclectic JRPG experiences in the past like 2003's underappreciated Baten Kaitos, the Xenoblade Chronicles series has stood out among its peers thanks to exceptionally strong character writing, story pacing, and cinematic presentation. The result is one of the best JRPGs released this year, a must-have for diehard fans, and a great entry point for new players.
War In Aionios
The main story of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 revolves around Noah and his friends; a group of young child soldiers locked in a war with a different nation. As the battles escalate, the team begins to question the orders of their superiors as well as their very role in the conflict, leading to a story of unfolding revelations regarding the hierarchy, the reason for the war, and even the dark secrets behind their world's very origin.
It is with this straightforward hook that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 brings you into its story quickly. Despite the fantastical elements of robotic war machines and laser weapons, everything is grounded in relatable terms. It is why when the story starts introducing its major themes of time, life, and death, it is packed with emotional rawness.
The best example I can give of these themes playing outcomes from the game's opening hours. Two of the major characters are called Off-Seers, people who play music to ensure the spirits of those who died on the battlefield move on to the other side. Enemies that are slain in battle have their very life force pulled into a device called a Flame Clock, which ensures that a nearby colony will live comfortably. Of course, that time will be short since all soldiers, including the main cast, only live for ten years before they die as well. That is a lot to unpack, and the story doesn't miss a beat with depicting these elements with weight and nuance. What do you do with what little time you have left? What does it mean to live a good life? How do you cope with knowing how your story will end?
These questions reverberate throughout the entire experience, leading to some powerful heart-wrenching moments in the game's second half. No spoilers here but I was honestly moved to tears once a certain major villain's backstory was revealed thanks to some brilliant voice-acting and the game's haunting orchestral score.
What bolsters all of this theming is Xenoblade Chronicles 3's cutscenes. Bombastic action setpieces sizzle with tension and energy. Flashbacks are used to fill in the main character's backstories. Quiet, introspective scenes or used not just to space out intense battles but to fill the world with atmosphere and wonder. Entertaining asides about cooking mishaps or bad jokes help keep things upbeat. Finally, character dialogue is succinct and packed with personality. While some characters do fall into familiar stereotypes – Noah and Taion fit into the “taciturn hero” and “socially awkward brainiac” cliches respectively – other characters really shine in these sequences. A personal standout has to be Eunie, the medical aid of the group, who is just packed with sass and wit in every scene she's in.
Want Something A Bit Meatier?
Combat in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 builds on the franchise's strengths. Each battle still has that distinct, mid-2000s MMO feel with auto-attacks, strategic positioning, and ability cooldown management being the key to victory. Healing items are non-existent (everyone just heals to max after every fight) and equipment management is kept to a limited number of stat-boosting accessories and gems that can help certain party members' playstyles.
This is where the third entry introduces some new mechanics and systems. The first is a new class system. As you play through the game and complete certain quests, you'll unlock new classes that your characters can switch between. As you progress these classes, you can start mixing and matching different attacks, buffs, and skills between them. For example, Noah's Back Slash doesn't just do large damage from behind, it can also drop an attack boosting AOE field. Furthermore, there is Interlinking, a sort of super mode where two characters transform, leading to far more effective attacks and combos. This can lead to some visually busy fights, especially in the mid and late game, but if you really enjoy optimizing certain builds and watching numbers go up, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 will delight.
All of this complexity does come with a catch. After Xenoblade Chronicles 2 threw players into the deep end with its overwhelming Blade system, this third entry slowly introduces all of the game's elements across the first ten hours of the story. It's not as intrusive or flow breaking as other notorious JRPG entries, but it does mean you'll be seeing a lot of disruptive menu pop-ups and mandatory tutorial prompts throughout the beginning.
However, once all of this onboarding is finished, Xenoblade Chronicles 3's combat is deeply rewarding. The way various playstyles and combinations pop up naturally as you play keeps every single battle fresh. The sense of experimentation as you switch Classes between your characters is electric. If you are someone that enjoys optimizing numbers and coordinating the best party composition, this battle system is guaranteed to delight.
Size, Scale, Sidequests
Much like other entries in the series, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 does sport large open environments packed with fantastical environments and unique creatures. You'll be exploring these areas as you move across the land of Aionios, fighting creatures, collecting resources, setting up camps, and completing side quests. Thankfully, a lot of the game's busywork quests, ones where you just collect different body parts or plants, have been relegated to something called a Collectopedia. You can turn in these quests at any time and they're great if you just want to grind out certain levels. Alternatively, there are more involved side quests that flesh out various side characters, unlock new playable classes, and elaborate on various character subplots. There is a lot to do in this game, and a lot of it is worth the hassle.
It must also be noted that from a technical level, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is impressive. Developing with the hardware restrictions of the Nintendo Switch, it is quite amazing to see just how visual polish Monolith Soft managed to get out of this small device. Landscapes are gorgeous with a vibrant color palette. Transitioning from cutscene to gameplay feels seamless. Finally, the entire game runs at a consistent 30 FPS.
This does come with some compromises. Various regions of the game are broken up by loading screens, each one about thirty seconds long. Despite there being a day/night cycle, environmental shadows are static. Finally, while character models are all expressive in cutscenes, there are a few instances where their movements are stiff, which can be distracting.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 | Final Thoughts
Despite my minor critiques, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is still a deeply moving narrative with likable characters propelled forward by action-packed gameplay. The story's themes are presented and interwoven perfectly into a story that ebbs and flows with both triumph and tragedy. The characters grow and change naturally throughout the game's 80+ hour runtime, which escalates from a solid foundation into the esoteric expertly. If you love JRPGs, this is the one to make time for, hands down.
TechRaptor's review of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 was conducted on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher.
- Well Written Story and Characters
- Deeply Rewarding Combat System
- Gorgeous Landscapes and Appealing Character Designs
- Disruptive Early Gameplay Tutorials