On July 29, Monolith Soft released Xenoblade Chronicles 3 for the Nintendo Switch, the latest in their Xenoblade video game series. The game received rave critical reviews for its gripping story, engaging world and characters, and superb gameplay. Not only is it even bigger and better than its predecessors, but Xenoblade Chronicles 3 serves as an example for any company looking to make RPGs. It masterfully blends world-building, story, graphics and gameplay with a skill that few can hope to match.
In the world of Aionios, the nations of Keves and Agnus are locked in eternal war. Soldiers are birthed from pods by their Queens with no greater purpose than to fight, die and then have their corpses serve as fuel for the enemy’s war machines. After three Kevesian soldiers — Noah, Lanz and Eunie – are sent on a crash course with three Agnesian soldiers – Mio, Sena and Taion — the six realize the pointlessness of their fighting. Enhanced by a mysterious power called Ouroboros, they set out to free their world from the war and uncover the true reason for the endless battles they fight.
Right from the start, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 grips players with its dark, dystopian setting. Aionios is a grim place to live, and the game makes it no secret that most people are struggling to survive. Even if they don’t die in war, the characters are only given 10 short years to live before they return to their Queens in a process called Homecoming. The dystopia in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 doesn’t pull its punches and may be one of the darkest settings in Nintendo’s catalog, but that’s exactly what makes the world so compelling, drawing the player to discover its mysteries like the characters themselves.
Speaking of characters, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 may have the best in the series yet. The main six are distinct and well-written, wonderfully brought to life by a cast of British voice actors. While Noah and Mio take on relatively standard protagonist roles, they shine thanks to heart-rending moments that emphasize just how much the war has torn them up. Eunie’s British slang and sharp tongue contrast wonderfully against the more stoic and logical Taion. Lanz and Sena immediately take to each other as muscle-headed jocks, with Lanz being meaner and more boisterous while Sena is more upbeat and outgoing.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 also takes a note from the criticism Xenoblade Chronicles 2 faced for its oversexualized character design and lack of design consistency. Character design is much more tasteful, with the fanservice limited to light cleavage or midriff. They also fit in together much better, with every character looking like they come from the same world. This extends to the cast of optional Hero party members, who all manage to have unique, evocative designs and personalities despite there being more than 20 of them.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 also excels with its world design and music, much like its predecessors. The world of Aionios is absolutely beautiful, pushing the Nintendo Switch to its limits and showcasing that it’s a world well worth defending. While the game’s resolution suffers at times, it doesn’t detract from how impressive Xenoblade Chronicles 3 looks while still managing a decent framerate. Xenoblade Chronicles has always been renowned for its music, and the third installment continues this trend with a variety of tracks that range from tear-jerking to blood-pumping, perfectly fitting the mood of any given scene.
It’s a good thing Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is gorgeous, because that makes its exploration even more rewarding. While previous games have had vast, open worlds, they often had little reason to do in-depth exploration. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 thankfully bucks this trend by having a variety of optional tasks and collectibles that will make you want to see every vista. There are containers full of loot, fallen mecha that can be exploited for resources, and the corpses of fallen soldiers that Noah and Mio can perform funeral rites for.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s most impressive aspect, though, might just be its combat. The game unashamedly takes elements from both of its predecessors to form something that’s more than the sum of its parts. Combat takes the form of a real-time action sequence where all six characters, as well as a Hero, work together to defeat their foes. Unlike previous installments, players can swap between the six main characters at any time, allowing them to take on whatever role is needed in the heat of battle.
Each character is given a Class, and it defines their role, whether that be attacking, healing, or defending, their passive skills and abilities, and their active combat techniques called Arts. Arts have a variety of effects that can turn the tide of battle, whether that be massive damage, absorbing damage, or healing the party’s wounds. On top of that, characters can swap between Classes freely, and as they level up, they gain the ability to swap skills and Arts between their Classes. This opens up a wide variety of options and customization where the player is encouraged to experiment.
That isn’t even getting into additional systems like Ouroboros and Chain Attacks. Two characters can fuse into a form called Ouroboros in the middle of combat, giving them access to much more powerful Arts for a limited duration. Additionally, after charging it up, the player can initiate a Chain Attack. The game switches to a turn-based format as the player has their characters execute Arts one by one to fill up a gauge. Once full, characters will execute Orders, which deal massive damage and give a passive benefit to the entire party.
Summarizing Xenoblade Chronicles 3 in one article is borderline impossible. The game is packed to the brim with an incredible story, a huge cast of characters, a massive world full of discoveries, and a complex but rewarding series of gameplay systems. While this breadth of content can feel overwhelming, players willing to sink their teeth into it will find one of the best RPGs in years. More than just a standard sequel, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 combines the best of both worlds and adds its own flair for good measure. For fans of RPGs, it’s definitely one that can’t be missed.