Review – Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Tetsuya Takahashi, creator and director of Xenogears, Xenosaga, and Xenoblade, is a creative genius. His story of success despite constant failure is an intriguing one I’ll do my best not to bore you with now. What matters is that ever since 1998’s release of the ambitious unfinished masterpiece that is Xenogears, Takahashi’s spent his career trying to complete that vision. He left Square Enix and founded Monolith Soft in order to pursue it. His time at Namco was spent trying to recreate it via Xenosaga. He ultimately left Namco for Nintendo due to creative differences over his pursuit of Perfect Works. Perfect Works is what the Xeno community calls this concept of a completed game/series that lives up to Xenogears‘ incomplete ambition. Now, I call that Xenoblade Chronicles 3. The culmination of Takahashi’s career, and a damn fine near perfect JRPG experience.
Xenoblade Chronicles was an ambitious game for the Wii that we almost never played. In the only recorded incident of an online petition working, Nintendo ported the game to the west where it received universal praise. The mature story, sprawling open world, and action-filled combat were all revolutionary for the JRPG genre. Even though it was on the Wii. More importantly, it was the first commercial success of Takahashi’s career. So he made sequels, each veering closer and closer to Perfect Works. Xenoblade Chronicles X went full sci-fi on the Wii U (the greatest Transformers game ever made), and we then got a proper sequel with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for the Switch. Then Xenoblade Chronicles 3 was announced, and it was clear that this was IT, the moment over twenty years in the making. Perfect Works, the Half-Life 3 of JRPGs, was finally real and coming.
And oh gods, was it ever worth it. Because even beyond the weight of legacy, anticipation, and fan expectations this is simply a phenomenal game. It’s incredibly polished, combat systems are intricate but well thought out, and the world sets a new bar for open world exploration and design. Multiple traversal methods, two separate yet linked combat systems (more on that later), a fascinating take on the classic Job System, and the best damn story told in a Xeno game. Also the party is fantastic. I genuinely can’t think of the last time I loved a party as much as I did here. They’re all great well-written characters, dripping in charm and character. You get them all relatively early on too. None of that Persona 5 wait a hundred hours to get the party together nonsense.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 takes place in a brand new world called Aionios. This world is split between two warring factions, Keves and Agnus. Keves is made up of peoples similar to those that populated the Bionis in the original Xenoblade Chronicles, with their machinery reminiscent of the Mechon. Likewise Agnus is made up of peoples similar to those of Alrest, the setting of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. They’re bitter enemies, with both factions utterly consumed by war for the other. A citizen is born to wage war in their faction’s name, and to die for them. If not in battle, then in ten years when their life expires “naturally”. It’s a horribly brutal, pessimistic, and hopeless world. One of the game’s greatest strengths is the mature and serious way it approaches and deals with these themes. This is frequently not a happy game.
Nowhere is that clearer than with the game’s protagonists. Noah is a soldier of Keves, and Mio, a soldier of Agnus. They’re off-seers for their respective faction, and their job is to see off the dead. When a solider dies, their soul is trapped in their body and needs to be released. Using their special flutes, off-seers send their souls on, returning their energy to the Queens. Each faction is led by a Queen, and function both as God and Mother to each and every citizen of the faction. Noah and Mio differ from other off-seers in that they also send off the enemy as well. An early scene in the game shows a solider of Keves calling out Noah for this, which really helps show the hatred the two factions have for each other.
Events in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 send Noah and Mio on a collision course, where the real game begins. Each is accompanied by two guards, who make up the remainder of the party. Eunie and Lanz are Noah’s companions, with Sena and Taion being Mio’s. Lanz is the tank of tanks in both gameplay and personality. Sena is Mio’s best friend, and the party’s main source of cheer. Taion is the skeptical one, and there’s early friction between him and Lanz over the party’s alliance. Finally there’s Eunie, who’s just the best girl. Individually, they’re all intriguing characters. But collectively, they come together in the way gaming’s best parties do. The banter’s on point, the way the characters develop is great, and I love the new campfire mechanic which is just the party talking about stuff around a campfire.
Each faction fights differently, and this is linked to the game that inspired their nation. Keves soldiers fight on a cooldown based system, similar to the first game. Likewise, soldiers of Agnus use auto-attacks to build up energy to use their abilities much like the second game’s. Each party member comes with a class, and you unlock more as you progress through the game. Combat style is linked to class, not party member. And you can mix and match unlocked classes to your heart’s content. So you can put a Agnus class on Noah for example, and he’ll fight using the build up system not cooldowns. It’s a lot to deal with, but the game makes sure to properly teach you each mechanic as it’s introduced. And once you have it down everything flows from there.
The class system is linked to the follower and Chain Attack systems, another example of everything flowing together. Followers are an AI-controlled seventh party member. As you explore the world, you’ll meet and recruit more allies. When you do, you unlock their respective class and their use as a follower. They each also have a unique questline which does a great job fleshing out that character as well as the larger world. The best part is how much of this is optional content. You really have to get out there and explore if you want to find all the classes. Tangible core gameplay rewards for world exploration, the best kind of optional content. Another way Xenoblade Chronicles 3 absolutely shines.
Chain Attacks return from previous games, but the system has been massively expanded. See, each class has a role. Attacker, Defender, and Healer each doing exactly as expected. Beyond telling you the classes’ general role in the party, each role gains a unique bonus during a Chain Attack. Each party member and follower also has a unique Chain Order, which when activated give a unique bonus to the attack. These range from party healing to a boost to damage after the Chain ends. So in addition to their original purpose of dealing a lot of damage to the enemy, Chain Attacks are essentially their own minigame now. Try to build up the meter as much as you can using party roles, while activating as many Chain Orders as you can for the bonuses. Each order also comes with a unique attack, which is always cool to see too.
The final main combat mechanic that brings everything together is called Ouroboros. As the story progresses, you unlock the ability for your party members to fuse together. Think Voltron, if instead of a lion you form a weird humanoid purple thing. Each Ouroboros pair has unique abilities, unique Chain Orders, and a unique progression system. At first I found Ouroboros to feel off, but once the system clicked it just became another part of combat. As you fight, you build up a meter to transform. Then you transform into your purple Voltron and utterly wreck house, until the new form expires and you return to regular form to keep the combat loop going. As the story advances you unlock more forms, more moves, and more customization. This game wants you to play how you wish, and this system is tailored to be used just that way.
Aionios is the most diverse, complex, and explorable world Monolith Soft have made thus far. The verticality is amazing, it’s a truly open world unlike previous Chronicles games, and there’s plenty of new mechanics as well. For one, there’s unlockable traversal methods that expand the vast maps once you unlock them. For example early on in the game you’ll see wires that stretch to new areas that you can’t reach yet. Play a bit more and you’ll unlock the ability to skate on them, opening those areas up for exploring. There’s also air drops, which are random events that happen on the map. Head to one when it appears, and you’ll get a bunch of materials provided you can defeat the monsters in the area. Finally, there’s fights that happen between NPCs where you can jump in to aid a side for a variety of rewards.
Performance and visual wise, the game is a strong step up from Xenoblade Chronicles 2. It’s one of the strongest examples of what a Switch game can look like, with effort. It sticks to its 30fps cap like a magnet, and the dynamic resolution is much less aggressive than Xenoblade Chronicles 2′s was. The game doesn’t turn into a soft blurry screen anytime something slightly intensive happens. Aionios is absolutely gorgeous, with the draw distance being genuinely impressive for a Switch game of this scale. It’s a great example of using art style and striking design to offset weaker hardware. Shin Megami Tensei V looked better in my opinion, but Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has way more going on and is the more impressive game.
Following the release of the game, Takahashi gave an interview where he described Xenoblade Chronicles 3 as a culmination. Which it is in more ways than one. On one hand, it’s the culmination of the Xenoblade Chronicles series, with plenty of nods and story beats for fans of the first two games. On the other it’s the culmination of almost twenty-five years of Xeno games. It takes the franchise’s story themes, concepts, and ideas and brings them to a close. And what a fantastically crafted, well-written, and genuinely mature JRPG it is. It’s a game that I genuinely believe to be one of the greatest JRPGs I’ve had the pleasure to play. If there was never another Xenoblade game (although let’s face it, there will be though), I would be perfectly satisfied with this momentous well-crafted conclusion.
It’s not the best looking game on the Nintendo Switch, but it’s the most technically impressive and varied and the Switch is capable of giving it its due.
World exploration is top of the line, combat is smooth and polished, and character customization is meaningful, varied, and most importantly fun.
The soundtrack is as phenomenal as expected from a Xenoblade game, and the voice acting in both English and Japanese is fantastic with dual lip syncing even.
Fun Factor: 10
There’s always something more to do in Aionios, the combat and character customization are phenomenal, and the story is the kind that sticks with you forever.
Final Verdict: 10
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is available now on Nintendo Switch.