Xenoblade Chronicles 3 [Game Review]

“The most ambitious entry in the series so far!”

Game Info:

  • System: Nintendo Switch
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Monolith Soft
  • Release Date: July 29, 2022
Xenoblade Chronicles has always been a daunting franchise for newcomers to approach, even if you’ve played JRPGs before. Nintendo’s sprawling open-world series features complex battle mechanics and dense plots that easily span 50 hours each, making for an intimidating series.

Fear not, though! In the third numbered entry to the series, Nintendo and developer Monolith Soft once again prove themselves worthy of praise with the incredibly polished and surprisingly accessible Xenoblade Chronicles 3. With a new cast of characters and mechanics that leverage the best of both previous numbered installments, this is truly a game anyone can jump into.

Players of the last games will undoubtedly be keen to uncover the small pieces of lore connecting the franchise together, but Xenoblade Chronicles 3, unfortunately, falls short in that regard, by making an easier entry for new players, but a disappointing conclusion for the series fans.

With all that in mind, join us today on Honey’s Anime as we review Xenoblade Chronicles 3—completely spoiler-free!

Much was promised in the lead-up to Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s release. From the various gameplay and reveal trailers, we were treated to expansive shots of Aionios, the new world ripe for adventure and exploration. This is truly one of the biggest games Nintendo has produced, with a world mass five times larger than that of Xenoblade Chronicles 2—long after the credits have rolled, you’ll still have huge areas of the game to explore, and powerful monsters to defeat.

Once again, Xenoblade Chronicles pulls us in with an engaging story about an incredibly bleak world locked in a state of endless war. The two nations of Keves and Agnus have been engaged in a fruitless war for centuries, spilling blood and collecting “life” itself to further fuel another cycle of bloodshed. Every soldier in Aionios is born with a ten-year, pre-determined life span—assuming they don’t die in combat—and at the end of that decade, they’ll receive an honorary death at the hands of their nation’s Queen.

Make no mistake, this is Xenoblade’s darkest story yet. Over the course of the main story’s 60-odd hours, there is a deep discussion about war, death, legacy, and the meaning of life. It might sound melodramatic, but Monolith Soft pulls the story off with aplomb, crafting a plot that is genuinely heartbreaking at times. This is the most “real” any of Xenoblade’s characters have felt, helped by the superb voice acting that brings back beloved regional UK accents and snappy dialogue.

Throughout most of the game, you’ll be controlling a party of six, with three characters from Keves and Agnus each. Much of the early story is devoted to the clashing viewpoints between these opposing nations, but our six unlikely comrades are soon united against a common enemy threatening the peace of all Aionios. When they’re gifted the ability to “interlink” and turn into hybrid mechs called Ouroborus, our characters begin to learn uncomfortable truths about the endless war and the cycle of life and death.

With main character Mio having only 3 months left before the end of her ten years, the story has a grim urgency to it that’s only exacerbated by further revelations. Campsite chats—a returning feature from Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s expansion, Torna: The Golden Country—deepen our understanding of the characters and their individual personalities. Heart-to-hearts are unfortunately absent this time around, but the characters interact with each other so often that it hardly feels missed.

Gone is the over-the-top anime extravagance of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, replaced instead with a grittier tone that matches the first game. Depending on how much you loved (or hated) the anime-inspired vibes of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, this will either be a huge positive or a disappointing negative. Personally, we rather enjoyed the saturated color palette and dramatic characters in Rex’s journey, but for a gritty story about war and freedom, this more serious tone is arguably a better fit.

Speaking of color, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a magnificent-looking game, complete with some much-needed improvements to Monolith Soft’s engine. In particular, the characters’ eyes are more vibrant than ever, hair moves with a natural bounce, and grime visibly builds up on your characters’ clothes throughout their journey. In docked mode, the game renders at 1080p, and 720p while undocked—a huge improvement over Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and delivering a much crisper image no matter where you play. At times, textures can appear pretty blurry, which appears to be a tradeoff for the number of characters and monsters on the screens. Improvements to cutscene rendering also make for some truly cinematic moments—and plenty of screenshots on our Switch!

With that better engine comes a sweeping array of gorgeous landscapes, from expansive deserts to huge oceans, along with some familiar locales from the previous games. Compared to the Bionis of Xenoblade Chronicles 1, or the myriad Titans of its sequel, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 does tend to feel a little “gray” at times. There are fewer exaggerated set pieces, with everything feeling a little homogenous at times. That aside, the world is still fabulous to explore, although it’s sometimes too big, with early areas in the game quite overwhelming to explore.

The combat system in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a hybrid of the previous numbered installments, though it closely follows the rhythm of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. As usual, your characters will auto-attack the enemy when engaged in combat, and major damage is dished out by activating “Arts” mapped to the Switch’s face buttons. Timing your Art for the end of an auto-attack does additional damage, while gradually building up your special “Talent Art” assigned to the A button.

Each of your characters is assigned an overall class type—Defender, Attacker, Healer—which governs their base stats and the role they’ll take in combat. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 adds a brand-new layer of depth with the ability to choose specific classes within that overall type. For example, you can choose a traditional tank Defender, or opt for a hybrid defender that can also dish out some damage. Each of these classes comes with its own unique arts, and these arts can be used in combination with each other in the new “Fusion Arts” system.

This Fusion Arts system allows you to use the directional buttons to pull off arts from a class you’ve already “mastered”—essentially, reached Level 10 by earning class points from battle or exploration. By pressing matching face buttons and directional buttons together, you’ll be able to use your own class’s ability along with another class’s, before chaining back into your original arts.

Although this sounds complex, in practice it’s incredibly streamlined. Monolith Soft clearly wanted to make the combat more accessible than in previous games and starts the player out with only a fraction of the available systems. Gradually new systems are added alongside tutorials, all of which can be repeated in a VR-like setting via the system’s help menu. If you’re ever stuck, you can freely practice a variety of battles that reiterate how the game’s mechanics works, including the newly-added Interlink system.

By combining with another character, you’ll be transformed into an Ouroborus for a short period of time. These massive mech-like forms can deal serious damage, while also protecting your transformed characters’ HP at the same time. The Ouroborus isn’t an “instant win” ability, but rather another tool in your kit, one that you’ll need to use tactically throughout battles. Since the Interlink mode has a cooldown, you’ll need to plan when you want to use the mode, and whether you want to cancel out early to preserve cooldown time.

Each of the six different Ouroborus has its own skill tree to level up and unlock, allowing you to build them out in different ways and give your AI companions a fighting edge when they transform. Since battles are so chaotic, it can be hard to figure out what your allies are doing at any time, but for the most part, the AI fights more logically than in the previous games. We do wish there were more strategy options available to the player though, such as commanding allies to preserve their health, or to go all-out.

Despite the immense amount of effort that Monolith Soft has put into crafting one of the largest JRPGs ever, no game is without its flaws. The class-switching system is an improvement on Xenoblade Chronicle 2’s weapon modes but ultimately feels like an unnecessary layer. For at least 50 hours of gameplay, you can’t level up a class past Level 10, and since each class has a “performance rating” for each character, not all classes will work well with your character. While it might be a fun idea to make all six characters attackers, without a balanced team of Defenders and Healers, you’ll be K.O.’d pretty quickly. We found classes we liked early on, and focused on getting the rhythm of combat down pat rather than switching classes around.

Side quests are somewhat disappointing, too. As you go around Aionios, liberating both Kevesi and Agnians from the yoke of never-ending war, you’ll unlock various side quests and item hunts to complete. Xenoblade Chronicles 1’s collectopedia makes a return, but in the form of a (quite literally) endlessly completable log, where you can “complete” the same item hunts over and over to receive a small amount of XP. Most of the other side quests boil down to monster hunts or fetch quests, and although sometimes they’ll offer more insight into the world of Aionios, oftentimes they feel like pure filler.

As we mentioned in our intro, the biggest letdown comes in the form of the series conclusion. As an individual game, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is fantastically satisfying, with a heartbreaking end that had us in tears. But given the abundance of references to previous games—including the Nia and Melia look-alikes in the trailers—you might expect a proper “answer” to the three games. Monolith Soft has clearly stated this is the “conclusion” of the trilogy, but as the final credits roll, there is sadly no payoff for fans wanting to know more about the Conduit and Trinity Processor so prevalent throughout the previous numbered titles.

Author: Brett Michael Orr

I’m a writer, gamer, and reviewer of manga & light novels, from Melbourne, Australia. When I’m not creating a new world, I’ll be absorbed in a good JRPG, watching some anime, or reading up a storm!

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