Experience JRPG perfection in our Xenoblade Chronicles 3 review.
Rewind just over 10 years to the year 2011 – an era of gaming that somehow feels both recent yet strangely distant. For Nintendo fans, it was a transition period, with the Wii on its last legs and support for the home console slowly diminishing in favour of the recently-released 3DS. Aside from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, the quality titles for the Wii seemed to be drawing to a close. That was until a developer by the name of Monolithsoft would, in the Wii’s darkest hour, release the console’s crowning glory. What would be considered by many as the most impressive JRPG of the decade: Xenoblade Chronicles.
My original Wii copy of Xenoblade Chronicles, purchased on release day, 1st September 2011.
Set upon the Bionis and Mechonis, two dormant titans locked in combat, this game achieved an impressive sense of scale unlike anything ever seen on a Nintendo console, truly pushing the Wii to its technical limit. Combining a memorable cast of characters like Shulk, Reyn, Melia and Dunban, with an engrossing story in an expansive open world, Xenoblade Chronicles released to universal acclaim. Eventually spawning a spin-off and a handheld port on the 3DS in 2015, a sequel in 2017, and a faithful remake on the Nintendo Switch in 2020, this once cult JRPG grew to enormous popularity, amassing fans across the world over the last decade.
With the growing popularity of the series, Monolithsoft immediately commenced development of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 following the release of XC2 and its Torna: The Golden Country DLC. Claiming to be the biggest entry in the series to date, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 would draw upon elements of its predecessors, interlinking worlds, characters, and gameplay concepts with flawless polish. Now available exclusively on Nintendo Switch, does this newest Xenoblade entry manage to surpass the titans that have come before it? Find out in our definitive review for Xenoblade Chronicles 3.
WARNING: some minor Chapter 1 plot spoilers.
Fighting to live…
…and living to fight.
Locked in an eternal war spanning countless centuries, the opposing factions of Keves and Agnus have known nought but bloodshed. Inhabitants of each nation are born from the Queen with but one purpose: to fight. Each individual’s life is tied to a mysterious device known as a Flame Clock – a structure fuelled by the life force of their enemies – attached to a Ferronis, a hulking mechanised being powered by the souls within the Flame Clock. By defeating their foes in armed combat, the Flame Clock’s light burns stronger, and in turn empowers those under its command.
One of many Flame Clocks adorning a Ferronis, to which all life in a Colony is tied.
Knowing only war, the people of Keves and Agnus fight for the greatest honour of all: to attend their Homecoming. Living a shortened life of only 10 “terms” (years), with their remaining time represented by a mark upon their bodies, to have one’s soul Sent Off in a Homecoming and return to the Queen is truly a privilege among only the greatest warriors. This tradition, carried on for centuries, has been overseen by the Consuls, figureheads presiding over each Colony to ensure the Flame Clock is never depleted.
The Consuls, lettered A – Z, each preside over a separate Flame Clock.
Amidst a fierce war ravaging the land of Aionios, the inhabitants of Kevesi Colony 9, are handed a vital task: a secret reconnaissance mission. This duty has been entrusted to the colony’s Off-Seer, Noah, who is responsible for the “sending” the souls of those who have fallen in battle by playing a haunting flute melody over their deceased husks. This is all while accompanied by his two protectors and dear childhood friends, Lanz and Eunie.
Tough as a well-done steak.
Whilst facing opposing forces from Agnus, a similar Off-Seer team named Mio, Sena, and Taion, the trio encounter a hulking figure, identifying themselves only as Moebius. Through a chance encounter with a familiar face, Noah unlocks a hidden ability to interlink with an ally and transform into a being possessing more power than ever thought possible: Ouroboros. It is through this newfound power that Noah and his companions unravel the secrets behind Aionios, forge the path forward to defy fate, and change the world.
The team’s initial encounter with Moebius, having just transformed into
EVA Unit 01 Ouroboros.
There’s not much else that can be discussed about the game’s plot without spoiling the game entirely, but it’s no exaggeration that this is JRPG storytelling at its finest. With a captivating cast of characters, Monolith have weaved the most engrossing, emotive, and meaningful story in a Xenoblade game to date. Every chapter is more impressive than the last, and the finale is a climax that is a triumph beyond any of the prior games.
Much like the previous games in the series, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 can be divided into three distinct aspects of gameplay: exploration, combat, and colony affinity.
By combining these three mechanics across a sprawling continent and told through an engaging over-arching story, Xenoblade includes an enormous amount of gameplay that can at times be overwhelming, but is an impressive offering for even the most seasoned JRPG enthusiasts.
Exploration is the foundation of Xenoblade – crafting a world in which to become immersed in has always been the series’ greatest strength. Set in the new continent of Aionios, players are given the opportunity to explore the largest map in a Xenoblade game to date. While it’s certainly simple enough to follow the main questline to the next destination, the real reward of exploration is only discovered off the beaten track. By traversing unexplored areas, players will encounter gorgeous hidden retreats, unlockable optional bosses, and a bounty of sidequests to enjoy for hours on end.
Just a small selection of the game’s varied environments.
Combat is also a large chunk of any Xenoblade game, both throughout the main story and while exploring the vast world. Where the original game relied upon “Arts” and traditional RPG character roles (e.g., DPS, Tank, Healer) and the sequel took a different approach through its equippable gacha “Blades“, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 takes the finest components of each and melds them together to create a seriously satisfying and intuitive combat system.
Though it may seem overwhelming at first, players control all 6 characters at once, with the ability to swap between each at the press of a button. Each character is assigned a specific Class (most of which are unlocked throughout story progression), unlocking a unique set of Talent Arts and Master Arts that can be used during battle. Arts have varying effects based on the character’s position in relation to the opponent, cast area-of-effect rings displayed on the battlefield, or inflict buffs/debuffs and status effects to cripple the enemy (Break > Topple > Launch > Smash). While all of this does make the screen incredibly busy, the game thankfully does well in teaching the player each of the individual mechanics.
Combat can get incredibly busy when it’s in full swing.
Additionally, by performing “Fusion Arts” which allow the player to use two arts at once, players can build up an Interlink level and transform into the powerful Ouroboros form. Clever use and timing of the Ouroboros form is key to succeeding in combat, as the player becomes briefly invulnerable and unlocks an arsenal of devastating attacks. These attacks can then be used in succession when performing a “Chain Attack“, which pauses combat and requires the player to choose from a variety of arts to power up the damage percentage. Pulling off a Chain Attack correctly and with proper tactics can demolish even a bosses’ health bar in one fell swoop.
Combat is as dynamic and engaging as it has ever been in a Xenoblade game, but admittedly it is incredibly easy to become over-levelled, removing almost any aspect of challenge. Completing side quests will easily give players an additional 10 – 20 levels above the main story, which does not scale with the current level. This glaring flaw means most players will breeze through the main story, even the final encounter, which is unfortunately quite disappointing.
Finally, Colony Affinity occupies the remainder of the game. Whilst progressing through the story, the player may liberate both Kevesi and Agnian colonies, forming relationships with their inhabitants. Every individual colony includes a wide variety of side quests, NPCs to interact with, and more involved “Hero Quests” that reward the player with unlockable characters and unique classes with skills and play-styles that can be used by each of the characters.
Each class brings unique skills to influence the tide of battle.
The majority of the colony content is entirely optional, but adds a considerable reward for players willing to put in the effort. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is essentially a completionist’s dream, demanding at least 100+ hours to maximise the affinity of each colony. Whether a player chooses to simply power through the main story, or stop to admire and assist each of the colonies is entirely up to them.
Crafting a colossal sense of scale from the Titans of previous games, Xenoblade is renowned for its expansive environments and immersive exploration. By drawing upon elements of its predecessors, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 offers a world specifically created for fans of the series, with each area a visual delight incorporating aspects of what made the earlier titles so beloved.
While traversing each unique region of Aionios, players will likely recognise familiar sights, like the iconic Sword of the Mechnonis lodged within the world, or distinct design of the Urayan Titan looming in the distance. Each region is vast, visually unique, and a pleasure to explore, featuring designs that are able to utilise the limited power of the Switch to its fullest. Despite a reduced resolution in handheld mode, the game performs well with only occasional frame drops, but is still best enjoyed docked on the big screen to fully appreciated the sheer scale of the world.
Surprisingly, it’s not the environments that are the most visually-impressive moments of Xenoblade Chronicles 3, but the cutscenes. Monolithsoft have truly outdone themselves in ensuring that the cutscenes of their latest creation are as dynamic, engaging, and entertaining as possible. This is understandable, as players will be forced to watch countless hours of cutscenes throughout the 100+ hour journey, often being frequently interrupted by scripted events or character interactions. The huge improvement in cutscene direction throughout the series is notable, as XC3 draws upon the anime style of XC2, while incorporating the gritty and militaristic aspects of the original. This is easily the finest cutscene presentation in the series to date.
Cutscenes are highly emotive and emphasise not only action, but the strong relationships formed between characters.
Those familiar with previous entries in the series will undoubtedly be eager to experience an impressive new original score, arguably one of the finest aspects of any Xenoblade game. The music is once again composed primarily by the legendary Yasunori Mitsuda (Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Chrono Trigger) alongside collaborating composers ACE, Manami Kiyota, and Kenji Hiramatsu. With a colossal soundtrack amassing over 11 hours in total, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is an aural smorgasbord spanning the genres of classical, heavy metal, rock, and even 80s power ballads thrown in for good measure. Throughout all of these, the flute takes centre stage, as if the Off-Seers are performing the very music that plays throughout the game.
Take a listen to a few hand-picked tracks that represent some of the incredible music to accompany the player’s journeys across Aionios:
Serene and emotive flute carries both the melody and the soul in the “Kevesi Off-Seeing Melody”, heard frequently throughout the game.
The calm and contemplative “New Life is Born” plays during many of the game’s most wholesome moments.
The newest “You Will Know Our Names” carries on the Xenoblade tradition of intensely heavy battle tracks.
“Chain Attack” interrupts any song that’s playing during battle, with its addictive beat and shredding guitar.
Huge sound accompanied by a huge choir – the many variations on the “Vs. Moebius” tracks are incredibly impressive.
While listeners may find themselves engrossed by the game’s soundtrack, it’s difficult to overlook the equally impressive vocal performances by the main cast and their companions, which elevate the game’s engaging cutscenes beyond what can be achieved through music. The main protagonists Noah (Harry McEntire) and Mio (Aimee Edwards) craft some of the most genuine and emotive voice acting ever heard in a JRPG – many of the game’s scenes will leave players on the verge of tears through their powerful delivery. In contrast, the remainder of the main cast predominantly offer amusing banter to keep the player entertained, especially interactions between Lanz (Jack Bardoe) and the fan-favourite Eunie (Kitty Archer) who jump at any opportunity to tear into each other.
Ya spoon! Hilarious banter between the characters makes almost every cutscene a treat.
Though the voice acting isn’t all stellar, particularly if you’re an Australian (like myself). With the majority of the voice cast hailing from Great Britain, the actors do an excellent job when voicing characters with accents from these locations. When those voices instead attempt to replicate characters with Australian accents, it comes across as painfully forced and inauthentic. Without naming any specific characters, there are two throughout the game that unfortunately made almost every one of their scenes a struggle to sit through. It’s no exaggeration to say these are some of the worst attempts at “Australian” voice acting in a game to date.
In case the base game’s colossal campaign didn’t already include enough content to keep players satisfied, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 includes a generous serving of added content for those hungry for more. As discussed earlier, each colony includes a multitude of side quests to complete, some of which even feature additional sub-quests within them. These range from simple tasks like item collection or “go kill X monster” through to full-on character stories complete with emotive narratives and cutscenes. An optional Ascension Quest is also included for each character and hero, which often pits the player against a new Moebius and subsequently unlocks the level cap on each class.
Certain side quests require feature more gameplay than some games have in their entirety.
Upon finishing the game, players are also given access to some added post-game content. The usual “super bosses” return, adding more challenge than the end-game, with foes to test even the most seasoned players. To reap additional rewards, players can also lower their level temporarily for extra XP, or play through the game anew in New Game+ while retaining their progress from the previous playthrough. There’s no denying that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is well and truly value for money.
The real antagonist of Xenoblade Chronicles 3,
Immovable Gonzales Jingoistic Giganticus.
Upon completing Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii for the very first time, it was obvious that Monolithsoft had stumbled across the perfect JRPG formula. A decade later, having constructed a monolithic series from a solid foundation, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 polishes its experience beyond any fan’s expectations. Drawing inspiration from the finest elements of its predecessors, the latest entry features endlessly expansive environments and honed combat, accompanied by vibrant visuals and stellar score. Yet the real highlight is the loveable cast of characters, all of whom breathe life into the game at every moment. Although it was with a heavy heart and teary eyes the curtain finally drew to a close on Noah and Mio’s adventure, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 will be a near flawless experience that I’ll never forget.
So, why should you play it?
- Played and enjoyed any prior Xenoblade game? This is a must.
- Unforgettable cast of characters in the best Xenoblade narrative to date.
- Massive, expansive world with environments that are a delight to explore.
- Exciting and engaging combat, drawing elements from previous games.
- Stellar original soundtrack with a huge 11+ hours of music.
- The series most dynamic and engaging cutscenes yet.
- Excellent value-for-money for JRPG fans.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
- Overwhelming amount of additional content may be off-putting for some players.
- Time poor? Clocking in at 100+ hours, this is not the game for you.
- Some painfully cringeworthy attempts at Australian voice acting.
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