Jumping into any JRPG game is daunting, especially when it’s the third game in a series and it seeks to unify the story between the entire trilogy. However, after putting dozens and dozens of hours into Xenoblade Chronicles 3, I can say that I have been completely captivated by its characters, themes, and narrative.
MonolithSoft’s latest Xenoblade adventure focuses on a group of six individuals from two opposing factions – Noah, Eunie, Lanz, Mio, Sena, and Taion – as they are brought together after fighting each other for years. After an event occurs that turns both the Keves and Agnus factions against them, they decide to explore the world, abandoning their born-and-bred goal of fighting until they reach their homecoming at ten years of life and pass on.
But, despite taking place in a world at war, the way Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s characters grow with each other throughout their journey and look introspectively at their lives really stands out as something special.
As each of the main characters creeps closer to their tenth term (what they call years of life), they begin looking back on what they have done so far, introspectively and philosophically questioning themselves about what they really want from their newfound freedom after being unshackled from the larger forces at work in Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s world of Aionios.
And, that sense of truly discovering yourself and figuring out what you want from your life really struck a chord with me, keeping me hooked throughout my journey across Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s mammoth map. The game’s themes and that road trip feeling are the core of the experience right the way through to the end of the game.
The personalities of the characters and their individual goals kept me hooked and intrigued as I completed quests, explored vast and diverse landscapes, and took down ever more powerful enemies and threats. But, the side characters and secrets in the world are just as captivating as the core cast themselves.
Everyone carries the same level of warmth that the core cast does and there is a real cosy feeling to the entire experience that kept me glued for the many hours I spent with it and as I keep finding stuff to do.
The game does fall into some of the long and traditional trappings of JRPGs with exceptionally long cutscenes and cryptic clues that feel out of place throughout its lengthy runtime. But, for the most part, this drip feed of storytelling intrigued me and made me curious as to where the game was heading. It’s just a shame Xenoblade Chronicles 3 didn’t manage to escape the claws of this familiar formula of storytelling in the genre.
Some of the best experiences take the form of road trips across a vast landscape: The Last of Us, God of War, Halo Infinite, Red Dead Redemption 2. And, that is exactly what Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is and it is all the better for it. Sitting on top of all of this is a beautiful music score with one of the most gorgeous themes that I have ever heard in any game this year. It really captures the spirit of the game through its use of the flute and the motif of hope.
While the story of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 had me glued to my switch, the combat only adds added to the stickiness. The game has a deep, thoughtful, and complex tactical combat system that, for newcomers, feels wholly unique. Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s combat won’t be a huge surprise to anyone who has played a previous game in the series. But, as someone who has only played traditional action RPGs and tactical RPGs, the fascinating blend of the two genres here combines the best of both worlds and feels uniquely refreshing.
One particular combat feature I love is the chain attack, which pauses the whole fight and takes the battle to a structured system where you choose each character and perform attacks one by one to fill up a meter and pull off devastating abilities. This adds a real sense of reward as you have to think about what ability combinations will set you up for the most damage and which characters to use as they are swapped in and out.
One thing that did take away from the whole package though is the visual look of Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s world. While I enjoyed journeying around with the main cast of characters, that is largely down to the story. The landscape and most of the areas across Aionios, though, look rather bland and uninspired with simple rocky cliffs, dark underground tunnels, or standard tropical areas and arid deserts. Similarly, the creature design also doesn’t stand out in comparison to other RPGs, with various takes on frogs and toads, bugs, flies, wolves, skunks, and more thrown into this uninspiring world.
It feels like the identity of Aionios is being carried by the aspects that are anchored to the story, such as the warring factions of Agnus and Keves and the colonies they run scattered around. The actual landscape isn’t particularly memorable. The performance on Switch allows you to get by and you do become used to its quirks, but Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has some pretty low-resolution textures and gradual pop-in is basically everywhere as the Switch can’t handle the vast open landscapes here. There are workarounds to these issues the developers have implemented, so it never fully drags down the game, but I would have loved to have seen Aionios in a much better light.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a special game from a narrative perspective, drawing upon a number of thoughtful, deep, personal themes that really allow you to get to know its cast of characters and fall in love with each and every one of them as they open up to one another. This is why the series has captivated such a big audience over the years. The world-building, character-building, and the way the game follows through on its themes is mighty impressive.
But, while the world might not look too great visually or inspired artistically, the combat helps alleviate the issues and kept me stuck to my Switch, hopping back in for more session after session.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 tells an exceptional story with characters you grow to love as you traverse a mammoth game with engaging and enjoyable combat. It’s just a shame its ambition often exceeds what the Switch is capable of outputting visually.