Perhaps the greatest modern RPG franchise has returned with the epic Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and it's one unforgettable experience.
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A world of struggle
As a long-time fan of all things Xeno going back to 1998 when I first played Xenogears, I have certain expectations. Each game usually begins in a humble setting then gradually, things start to open up when it comes to both the plot and the world itself. However, the very premise of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 defies this formula by showing you a war-torn world right off the bat with the main characters being portrayed in a far less than heroic light as they slaughter soldiers on the opposing side. v1d30chumz 3-215-190-193
This first impression made me not know what to think but thankfully, as the story unfolds and you begin to understand the reasons why the world is divided into 2 warring factions, it's a lot easier to come to terms with. It's also easier to like the characters because even though they're born to fight, they gradually show their true personalities and share more about themselves as individuals which can be genuinely heartwarming. Even the little things like how they open up about their hobbies can make you tear up a bit.
Do I need to play the first 2?
With the premise out of the way, I'm sure a lot of folks are wondering if they need to play the previous games to enjoy Xenoblade Chronicles 3. To put it simply, you should definitely play the first 2 if you want to get the most out of this experience. I'm writing this review in the most generic way possible to avoid any spoilers because every single minute of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 will be much more fulfilling if you can experience it for yourself for the first time. With that in mind, I'll just say that there are many tie-ins with the first 2 games that will fall flat if you haven't played them but if you have played them, the payoff will be astounding.
Let's get straight to Xenoblade Chronicles 3's combat. If I had to summarize it in one word, it would be visceral. Chaining together Arts as you cancel them with expert timing while positioning yourself just right for optimal damage only to break and topple tough foes is as satisfying as ever. What makes Xenoblade Chronicles 3 special is that you can swap classes among your 6 party members as you wish and on top of that, you'll recruit plenty of Heroes that offer even more classes. Mastering these classes unlocks more Arts and passive Skills so you have a ton of control over which direction each character will take. Oh, and did I mention that a Hero can tag along in battle as a 7th party member? Things can get chaotic but keeping an eye on the situation as you make split-second decisions is a blast.
Another new element is that characters in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 can combine to create mech-like combatants (known as Ouroboros) that have their own unique and powerful Arts. Transforming like this causes a gauge to heat up, though, so you have to be careful not to overheat or else you'll have to wait for a lengthy cooldown phase. While juggling between the 2 forms, your Chain Attack meter will fill and once it's full, you can initiate a succession of Arts to culminate in a Chain Art and if you manage to execute 2 Chain Arts from each member of an Ouroboros pair, you can perform an ultra-powerful Ouroboros Order which will likely singe your eyebrows off. 🤯
Of course, there are oodles of ways to optimize your characters and level them up such as equipping Gems and Accessories and you can even customize the Ouroboros pairs via filling out Soul Trees with earned SP. Although I thoroughly enjoyed changing my classes up and tinkering with every character's Arts and Skills loadouts, I still miss that awesome system in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 where you chain elements together to make spheres orbit enemies then smash them in a devastating blow but what's here is still excellent.
The world of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 consists of extensively large and distinct environments that are a pleasure to explore. In fact, although I already finished the game and completed many of the Quests, I'm still looking forward to covering every inch of each map in order to see what lurks in all of the nooks and crannies. As you run around (in case you're wondering, there is an auto-run option), you can jump and perform nifty Party Skills such as climbing certain walls and sliding down ropes. Speaking of which, it's always rewarding to come across contraptions that create shortcuts such as by lowering ladders and extending ropes across chasms. Meanwhile, if you simply want to move ahead to your next objective and not faff about then you can choose to follow a glowing orange path.
There are loads of objectives within Xenoblade Chronicles 3 that make exploration a constant treat. My favourite are the Hero Quests where you complete an array of tasks in order to unlock a new Hero or level-up a current one. On top of having fruitful rewards, these Quests act like enjoyable side-stories and some will even flesh out the main cast in surprising ways. It's impressive that these Quests are merely optional content as they could easily be intertwined within the main campaign. Anyway, there are also less exciting Standard Quests and Collectopaedia Cards to fill out which can grant fun rewards. As you complete all of this content, super-complicated Affinity Charts will develop and you'll unlock Affinity Bonuses as they do; for example, increased run speed and wider item collection range.
I could literally go on all day about everything you can do in the world of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 from having the adorable Nopon Manana cook meals for your party which grants boosts to listening in on locals for information which triggers Quests and Named Graves which feature incredibly tough foes to Ether Channels and Fabricators but I'll just end it here and say that; yes, there is a lot to discover. 😅
I already described Xenoblade Chronicles 3's premise but I'd like to expand on the story a bit without spoiling much. Of course, if you want to experience everything fresh then please skip this section. For starters, you play as a soldier named Noah whose role is an offseer which basically has him play a flute to send fallen soldiers off. He initially fights for the nation of Keves alongside the foul-mouthed Eunie and the imposing Lanz but after a monumental event, they team up with a trio from the opposing nation of Agnus. Specifically, the kind-hearted Mio, the astute yet often arrogant Taion, and the plucky Sena who is oddly the only party member with an American accent. Although reluctant at first, these 6 characters along with their Nopon companions grow to appreciate each other in profound ways.
Obviously, the story is mostly about ending the perpetual war but it is a lot deeper than that. For instance, you will meet individuals who don't want things to change and on the other side of the equation, adversaries who are more relatable than you'd naturally assume. You can definitely draw many direct comparisons to the real world. As you progress, things escalate on a grand scale only to come together in an epic fashion yet everything remains easily digestible which I appreciate. In fact, the story is presented at such a perfect pace and in such a relatable way that it will stay with me for a very long time. It really is amazing how Xenoblade Chronicles 3 begins in a perplexing manner only to eventually win you over with its varied and endearing cast of characters as they grow alongside you.
I should mention that although I absolutely love the story and everything that it reflects about human nature, I am mildly disappointed with the length of the campaign. For some context, I completed Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in about 80 hours while mastering a fair amount of optional content. After partaking in a similar percentage of optional content, I finished this in just under 50 hours. Now, take that with a grain of salt because everyone will play differently but for me, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 felt like it ended a bit too soon.
Last but not least, let's take a look at the sights and sounds of Xenoblade Chronicles 3. First, the environments can be absolutely gorgeous with beautiful sceneries in the distance and lovely topography to run through whether you're getting your feet wet in a shallow stream or gathering collectibles in a field of flowers. Meanwhile, the character models are strikingly unique, especially the female characters as their eyelashes constantly remain in view even when their hair is in the way which is oddly arresting. Now that I mention it, each character is highly expressive and their eyes do all the heavy lifting when it comes to portraying that. I enjoyed everyone's voice acting as well and it's delightful listening to accents from across The British Isles, Australia, and America. A few lines are a bit flubbed, though.
To provide a superb backdrop for the lovely environments and character models, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 features one of the best soundtracks that I've ever heard in any media. I even had to look up who composed the music and was surprised to see that it was the same folks who worked on the previous game. Now, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 had an excellent soundtrack as well but it's clear that Yasunori Mitsuda and team really went above and beyond to provide an unforgettable score here. 🎵
With all of that in mind, I do have a few minor complaints about the presentation. For starters, dimly lit areas can be a bit too difficult to decipher even after turning the brightness up. Thankfully, there aren't many of them. There are also some odd audio issues such as how when everyone is running together, it occasionally creates this sort of echo-filled cacophonic mess. Finally, if you play Xenoblade Chronicles 3 for an extended period of time, loading screens will start to become extra long and the frame rate will begin to dip, especially in the more populated areas. So, I suggest regularly quitting and rebooting the game to remedy this. Hopefully, there will be a patch.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 continues the series' grand-scale story-telling in a masterful way. With its endearing cast of characters, awe-inspiring sense of exploration, and a soundtrack that will blow you away, this is yet another top-notch offering from Monolith Soft.
- + Outstanding story and cast of characters that will stay with you for a long time
- + Incredible music and lovely visuals
- + Rewarding exploration and visceral combat
- - Not quite as long as I hoped it would be
- - Some minor presentational quibbles