Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Review
Nintendo’s 2007 acquisition of Monolith Soft has proved a very fruitful one for RPGamers. Under the stewardship of Tetsuya Takahashi, the studio’s Xenoblade Chronicles series has already resulted in three highly acclaimed titles, plus the Torna standalone expansion. However, Monolith Soft is not one to rest on its laurels and in Xenoblade Chronicles 3, it has once again shown both great ambition and execution. Taking lessons from previous titles, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a prime example of being enhanced by its maturity, resulting in an incredible experience packed to the brim.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is set on the world of Aionios, which is locked in a perpetual war between the nations of Keves and Agnus. Both sides make use of colonies for their bases, which are each centred around a giant mech called a Ferronis. The people of Keves and Agnus live only for fighting, and are beholden to their colony’s Flame Clock, which is filled by absorbing the life-force of defeated enemies. The soldiers are artificially raised in pods with a shortened lifespan of just ten years, and those who manage to make it through their full ten terms in the fires of war are honoured at a ceremony called the Homecoming.
The game begins with Kevesi soldiers Noah, Lanz, and Eunie locked in a battle against Agnian forces. After emerging victorious, the trio heads back to their colony while Noah performs his duties as an off-seer, one who sends on the souls of those who fell in battle. Soon after, they are sent on a mission to investigate an incident involving an apparent third party, where they engage with Agnian soldiers Mio, Sena, and Taion. However, their fight is broken up by a man named Guernica Vandham, who encourages all of them to cease fighting in order to take on the true enemy behind the scenes. One of these enemies, a group of powerful beings called Moebius, swiftly appears and puts the would-be heroes in dire straights. However, Guernica manages to activate the device that his group was transporting, which unites the combined powers of Keves and Agnus and enables Noah and Mio to link into a single form called Ouroboros. After finding themselves now vilified by their own sides, the six unite and follow Guernica’s request to seek out the city of Swordmarch and free the people of Aionios from the clutches of Moebius and the endless war.
The narrative of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is triumphant and readily puts in a case for being the best in the series. The lead sextet is fantastic, and the supporting cast is packed full of memorable characters too. Although the story takes many twists and turns, the game isn’t so much about surprising players and will readily hint towards things to come; rather it takes a nuanced approach to unveiling the causes, impact, and emotions behind them and the unique setup of the world. It makes full use of outstanding direction in its cutscenes to let characters physical behaviour form part of the storytelling, such as a character less skilled at verbal support instead effectively utilising physical support through a hot drink, and the depth in interactions between the main cast is special.
Nintendo of Europe’s English localisation is masterful, with interesting touches like its distinct exclamations helping to define the world, and aided by fantastic performances across the primarily British cast. Harry McEntire and Aimee-Ffion Edwards are excellent in the lead roles of Noah and Mio, while Kitty Archer and Olivier Huband really help Eunie and Taion stand out in their roles as contrasting but ultimately just as supportive characters. The one knock against the voice acting is that there is a limited number of victory cries and players will be well aware of Lanz’s culinary preferences before long, but the cries themselves still lend charm. In addition, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 provides another stellar joint-effort soundtrack from the team of Yasunori Mitsuda, Manami Kiyota, ACE, Kenji Hiramatsu, and Mariam Abounnasr. Full of emotional and catchy tracks, it makes fantastic use of flutes for its somber moments, rocks out during combat, and its field tracks make exploration an audible delight.
The outstanding writing and direction doesn’t just apply to the main story. As players travel around Aionios, they are given the opportunity to free other colonies from Moebius and obtain new allies. Each of these colonies come with its own set of side quests and stories that build upon the world, connecting and overlapping with others, and quite often packing their own hefty emotional punches on par with those of the main story. It’s a level of world- and character-building that very few titles can claim to come close to, Nihon Falcom’s Trails series being the only one that comes to mind. It’s also impressive how Monolith Soft has fit so many touches and elements that series fans will recognise and love, fully establishing its connection to prior titles, while still making Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and its story fully appreciable for brand new players.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a massive game, but it’s staggering how little of it feels like filler. There don’t appear to be any sections that become locked off, so players shouldn’t need to worry about things becoming unavailable if they do choose to advance the main story while there is side content in the queue. The amount of content fills up what is a huge world to explore, and despite there being so much land to wander, it never becomes tiresome. The series has become a gold standard for fantastic locations packed full of amazing sights, and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 delivers with more stunning views, as well as excellent character, building, and object designs that give returning fans particular kicks. The game makes fantastic use of the resources available on the Nintendo Switch, managing to push it to its technical limits but keeping fantastic performance throughout.
The latest title retains many of the exploration systems of the previous games, which have either been polished up or reduced in complexity where necessary. As players wander the large zones, they pick up various items and encounter a wide variety of creatures, many of which are involved in quests and other character enhancement systems. There’s too much content to list everything to do in the game, but it works hand in hand to make the gameplay, narrative, and world come together as a brilliant cohesive whole.
Combat is another area where Monolith Soft has taken notes from the previous games. All six party members are always active, with players controlling any one of them at a time. Each party member takes on one of the three usual defender, attacker, or healer roles based on their class. While within range of the targeted enemy, each combatant will auto attack and build up their special abilities. Each class grants its own special arts, of which three can be equipped, with a further three arts available to equip from previously mastered classes. These abilities can have a variety of effects, such as buffing allies, debuffing opponents, doing more damage from certain positions, or initiating a status effect chain than can knock enemies down for a short period of time. There’s a timing mechanic, which lets players cancel attack animations to unleash them in quick succession and combining them into linked arts, and build up the meter for an additional special move.
The class system is Xenoblade Chronicles 3′s primary distinction from previous titles and perhaps the key element that keeps the combat fresh throughout its length, which can readily run past a hundred hours for those who do all the side quests available. Shortly into the game, the party unlocks the ability to take on the classes of other characters, including special hero characters that they encounter throughout their travels. These hero characters, in addition to getting their own storylines, can also join the party in the seventh slot as an AI-controlled member. The AI itself is plenty smart and is able to react to what’s going on; defenders will always look to pick up enemies and healers will attempt to ensure that anyone who drops gets picked up as quickly as possible. However, players are very much part of proceedings and their interventions can be vital at times. Players can assign some simple orders if needed, including pulling the party away to a specific spot or focusing on a singular enemy, as well as the swap their controlled character at any point.
While the basics of auto-attacks and special abilities already make for an enjoyably-paced cycle, the tougher fights require some more powerful options. The first of these come in the Ouroboros forms that make up a major part of the plot. This sees the relevant pairs of party members combine into a single powerful form for a short time. During this time there is no health bar to worry about and players have access to a different selection of powerful abilities that swiftly recharge, giving players a potential important respite from attacks and opportunity to deal significant damage. Much more powerful, however, are the Chain Attacks that can be activated after building up the gauge by using arts. These pause the action while players unleash a chained wave of attacks and arts, potentially ending with a powerful Ouroboros-led combo at the end. It both gives players ample opportunity to bring their party up to full health, while dealing massive amounts of damage; the good combos readily go above the million damage mark and are immensely satisfying to pull off.
Character growth is where Xenoblade Chronicles 3 keeps things the most straightforward. Though there are multiple additional systems that add a decent amount of extra depth, including a version of the first game’s gem system, equipable accessories, and class-based passive abilities. They all are fairly straightforward and most players can get by with interacting with them as they remember rather than having to pay full attention to everything, however, those who like creating deep character builds or party synergies may be hoping for more. In addition, if players do all of the side content as it becomes available, it’s very easy to become overlevelled and remove much of the challenge. The game mitigates the issue by having a good chunk reserved as optional bonus experience that can be applied at rest spots, as well as having three difficulty modes that can be readily switched between. Still, the vast majority of players will find Xenoblade Chronicles 3′s combat throughoughly enjoyable and deep enough to stay engaging at least in part thanks to the class system encouraging players to keep swapping the party’s classes around.
Already one of the prime RPG properties out there, Nintendo and Monolith Soft have somehow contrived to take Xenoblade Chronicles even higher. It’s clear that the studio has taken on board what has worked and what hasn’t from the previous titles, while still looking to inject fresh ideas. The great ambition of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is backed up with superb execution across the board as all of the elements work together to put players at the centre of another stunning experience.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Superb cast and character development
Excellent blending of side content with main story
Magnificent audiovisual experience
Builds on the best bits of previous games
Easy to over-level
Certain systems are lighter than some may hope