Role playing game fans have had a lot of great games pop up in 2022, and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 was among the most heavily anticipated titles for the year. The Xenoblade games have become synonymous with insane worldbuilding, gigantic environments to explore, and combat systems that reward preparation and utilization of varying battle mechanics. Does Xenoblade Chronicles 3 stick the landing as a perfect encapsulation of its trilogy, or is this the Spiderman 3 of the Xenoblade franchise? Let’s find out.
Each Xenoblade Chronicles game has a wildly interesting starting premise. In the first game, you adventure across the bodies of two giant, dead gods in order to fulfill the revenge of the protagonist. With machine invaders, war, and coping with loss, the first Xenoblade Chronicles covers a lot of different topics and has, quite possibly, one of the best endings in JRPGs. In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the world exists in a giant sea of clouds, and the only places humanity can live are in and on top of large creatures called Titans. Humanity is co-dependent on the Titans, but, of course, the latter doesn’t live forever, so there’s a lingering sense of existential crisis should the last remaining Titans take their final breaths. In spite of this problem, Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s story follows an optimistic boy in a world-spanning adventure attempting to fulfill the wish of a girl he just met, and their two lives become literally bound to one another.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has, quite possibly, the most interesting starting premise of the entire series. In the world of Aionios, two rival kingdoms, Keves and Agnus, are locked in endless war with one another. You play as Noah, a Kevesi offseer, a type of soldier who plays a flute to send off the spirits of the fallen. The soldiers of Aionios only know training and fighting, and their short lives of only ten years don’t give them a lot of time to accrue experience. Noah and his two supporters, Lanz and Eunie, are deadlocked in combat with an Agnus offseer and her supporters. However, everything changes for Noah and his crew when they’re gifted the powers of Ouroboros from a man with a wrinkled brow, something they’ve never seen before since they all die in ten years’ time. With his dying breath, the man tells them to stop fighting each other and look for their true enemy.
The Ouroboros power changes everything for these six young people. They can now Interlink to combine into a single, large form, but this incredible power came with a price: The six are now vilified and hunted by the forces of both Keves and Agnus. The narrative of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 starts off incredibly strong, as the ensemble cast these six create has a lot of endearing traits.
Noah is a stoic individual whose pacifistic nature is more than a little at odds with the central conflict of Aionios. Mio, on the other hand, only has a few more months left so she wants to live her life to the fullest. Eunie is quite possibly one of the best characters in any Xeno game, as she’s impulsive and exudes pure sarcastic energy in almost every scene. Taion, contrasting the former, is strategic, reserved, and has a tendency to overthink situations. Lanz and Sena break the contrasting character dynamics a bit, because both of them are simple-minded and training-obsessed, making them more on the same page earlier than other characters in this story.
The central conceit of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is time: Ten years isn’t a lot to do much of anything combined with Mio’s short time left to live is supposed to instill in players a sense of urgency to get to their destinations before Mio’s time runs out. However, the game does kind of backseat this every time a detour pops up, so it never truly feels that important as a call to action because you’re constantly being dragged off to help someone do something despite the urgency of your main quest. The only real fault that could be found with the narrative is that the villains are quite weak, probably the weakest in the main numbered Xenoblade series.
The various Moebius Consuls who run each colony of the Keves and Agnus armies are fairly forgettable, much to my chagrin. Each Moebius wears an extremely similar red outfit with a different, ostentatious headpiece, with similar naming conventions in that all of them are named after a letter of the alphabet. While this is a way to establish a predictable naming scheme with your villains, it’s also a way to make the villains difficult to remember especially when you have 25 of them for your players to stumble across. For a great number of the Moebius, you’d have an easier time picking your favorite Officer Jenny or Nurse Joy out of a lineup than remembering which consul controlled which colony. It very much seems like the developers were trying to make expies of the Testaments from Xenosaga Episode III, but I just personally found most of the Consuls completely interchangeable.
Narrative nitpicks aside, another major thing the Xenoblade Chronicles games are known for is a huge amount of exploration and loads of depth in its combat, and 3 does not disappoint in these regards. The first few chapters of the game kind of guide you to your next location or tutorial, not letting you stray too far off the beaten path, but once you’ve hit chapters 3 and 4, you’ll discover that you just spent 10 hours checking out scenery and seeing how far you could go. The zones of Aionios are huge lands of plenty- as in there are plenty of items to collect, containers to open, and quests to complete. Exploration is a siren’s song in Xenoblade Chronicles 3, as over every hill and under every rock it seems, there’s something to collect, some affinity to raise, or some side quest to complete. It doesn’t take much to get off track and spend a dozen hours in between story beats just questing or exploring.
As far as combat goes, Xenoblade 3 is an RPG that utilizes all six members of your party at once in battle, plus an additional hero character can join you in slaying monsters to save the world. This game actually utilizes systems that should be familiar to those who played both previous Xenoblade games, as Keves classes recharge their arts via a timer like the first Xenoblade, and Agnus classes recharge their arts by hitting foes and canceling attacks into other moves as in the second game. New arts and skills unlock slowly as you progress through the game, and there’s a big class change system that let you carry over and combine abilities from both Keves and Agnus to make the strongest team possible.
Each of the six main characters can change their class, with classes being sorted into attackers, defenders, and healers, though a lot of these classes can blur the lines between the designations. Attackers are going to be your primary damage dealers- usually not capable of taking hits, but they’ll deal the majority of the party’s damage. Defenders are your tanks, and their purpose is to take and hold aggro so the attacks don’t get wiped out. Healers, on the other hand, can heal, revive, buff your team, and debuff enemies to give the other two roles the greatest chance of success.
Each class your characters acquire can level up, and by hitting rank milestones you’ll unlock features like arts and passive abilities to use in other classes you may have already unlocked. You can actually use Keves and Agnus arts simultaneously in battle as fusion arts and using those increases your Interlink levels which give a big damage bonus when you activate your Ouroboros powers and rip through enemy health. Everything in combat feeds into another system, resulting in a big payoff in powerful Chain Attacks that can deal millions of damage (on normal mode at least- in hard mode, Chain Attack deals less damage but is still valuable to stack heals, apply buffs, and more). Eventually, players will be able to launch enemies in the air and smash them into the ground for huge damage, or daze foes and make them explode so it rains items. Pulling the smash or burst combo lines off reliably against powerful enemies feels extremely satisfying.
Exploration in Xenoblade 3 also ties into the combat system, too. Most heroes are recruited through side quests, all of which are fully voiced, which is an extremely nice touch. Whenever you recruit a hero, their class gets inherited by one character in the party, and their using that class will eventually teach it to other members of your group, which means there’s a ton of reasons to seek out every gold question mark on your map because having new heroes gives you more options for new gameplay mechanics, and recruiting all of the heroes will give you 25 different classes to mix and match abilities and form your perfect fighting team.
On top of all the customization allowed in having a wide variety of arts and skills to learn, you can craft gems that confer special bonuses to your characters, too. There are also a large number of accessories that give a great number of different bonuses to help your characters excel at particular strategies, and you can even level up your Interlink powers in a skill tree that can give great bonuses like allowing you to cancel Ouroboros attacks into one another. There’s just so much to grind, find, and customize that it can, at times, be a little overwhelming. Despite all of this, the urge to find new heroes, and by extension, classes, arts, and skills, should be a great hook to make you explore the beautiful environments of Xenoblade Chronicles 3.
One thing that may be disappointing for longtime fans of the Xeno series (from Xenogears up to now) is that even when you clear the game, there will be a few important things that go unexplained; possibly withheld for the upcoming story DLC. However, the title still has a very competent tale to spin in view of the player, lots of areas to explore, monsters to fight, and classes to rank up. Xenoblade 3 doesn’t disappoint in terms of exploration, customization, and character development, especially if you’re even remotely appreciative of imaginative worldbuilding through an anime aesthetic.
Players who don’t enjoy anime-inspired stories may find the events of Xenoblade 3 to bloviate at length about things they don’t care about, so this is still a game that would be recommended to gamers who are at least interested in JRPGs. On top of that, the sheer volume of customization can give more indecisive players decision paralysis, as there will be points in the game where you’ll unlock 4-6 different classes within just a couple of hours of each other. On the other hand, those who want a game with excellent worldbuilding, narrative, and JRPG combat can do no better this summer than Xenoblade Chronicles 3.
Developers: Monolith Soft
Platforms: Nintendo Switch