Xenoblade Chronicles 3 review in progress – character and charm abound

Our Xenoblade Chronicles 3 touches on why the story and characters really make this JRPG something special in a crowded genre, especially on Switch

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Review: Noah, Mio, Taion, Eunie, Lanz, and Sena can be seen overlooking the landscape

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 sinking 25 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 the initial stages of their journey and look introspectively at their lives so far 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.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Review: Noah and Mio can be seen in front of a giant hulking machine

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 is the core of the experience.

Now that I am midway through the long journey that is Xenoblade Chronicles 3, the personalities of the characters and their individual goals have got their claws in me, keeping me intrigued as I push my way ever further across the vast world.

Similarly, along the way, the side characters, companions, and heroes you meet also carry the same level of warmth that captured my attention just as much, and their backstories with our main cast encouraged me to go out of my way to complete side quests and hero quests.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Review: Eunie, Noah, and Lanz can be seen with their Kevesi army

There are also larger forces that play god over Aionios that have been teased with small doses of cutscenes and cryptic clues. This drip feed of storytelling has me fascinated and makes me curious as to where the game is heading, especially as I am now close to reaching a significant moment in the main story.

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 has been for me so far and I have loved every second. 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. It really captures the spirit of the game through its use of the flute and the motif of hope.

Xenobalde Chronicles 3 Review: Noah can be seen running across a large field with a sword monument towering in the background.

While the story of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has kept me glued to my seat, the combat only adds to that. It 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, and 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.

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.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Review: Mio, Noah, Taion, Sena, Lanz, and Eunie can be seen fighting a creature

One thing that hasn’t jived with me so far is the visual look of Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s world. While I may enjoy 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 in the first half a dozen areas or so, which is my only gripe.

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From what I have played so far, it is clear that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has a pretty special narrative, which 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 so far and I am completely captivated by where the game is going.

We’ll have a score for our Xenoblade Chronicles 3 review soon, but with each revelation I find myself glued to my Nintendo Switch even more. My only hope is that with a few more hours, the world becomes a more inviting place, winning me over to put this firmly on my list of the best Switch JRPGs.