Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Review – A JRPG That Teaches Us How To Live, Love, And Learn
Monolith Soft has reached the apex of its craft with Xenoblade Chronicles 3. It finds a middle ground that draws from the best parts of all past games while building upon a foundation of compelling characters and touching narrative to craft something rather special.
Even after more than 60 hours I’m left wanting more, eager to explore the world of Aionios in search of its myriad secrets and to be a part of countless smaller stories I’m yet to see unfold. This JRPG is gargantuan, unfettered in its ambition as it takes us on an emotional journey that never holds back, eager to challenge us with hard battles and even harder questions that establish it as one of the Switch’s finest exclusives in recent memory.
As a seasoned fan of the series there is so much I want to discuss that falls squarely into spoiler territory, but I will hold myself back. Fortunately, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 makes itself palatable to newcomers. The story frequently references past events and characters, but the yarn woven at the centre is a tale of love, loss, and adversity that anyone can find appeal in. It’s awash with twists and turns so monumentally melodramatic that I won’t bother to touch on them, but trust me when I say they all hit the mark.
Our heroes hail from Agnus and Keves, two rival factions of child soldiers born to fight an endless war in service of unknown masters. They are designed to live for ten years – or ‘terms’ as the game describes them – and on the dawn of their final day will return to the queens they worship and fulfil their ultimate destiny. Those born into this world don’t know anything better, their entire lives written out before any choices can be made that might alter the coming path. It’s a devastating premise, and one Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is keen to explore in a dark, introspective, and almost nihilistic way as all the characters we meet along the way view their dwindling existence from so many nuanced perspectives.
Noah and Mio are the duo of main protagonists – two disparate individuals from rival colonies who couldn’t be more different, but an unknown past and lingering threads of circumstance bring them closer and closer together to form a relationship that brought me to tears. Both of them are Off-Seers, musicians whose melodies are designed to usher fallen comrades into the afterlife as their bodies dissolve into small motes of light that vanish into the unknowing sky. It isn’t clear if this occupation even has a purpose, but soldiers drafted into this life need to find solace in the countless friends they lose each and every day, and thus Noah and Mio fulfil that purpose. One day our heroes and their companions are granted an ancient power and labelled as fugitives, setting the stage for an adventure that will see them ignore destiny and change the world.
The narrative frequently touches on the subversion of destiny and the value of overthrowing the toxic systems that oversee us in favour of personal agency. As people we deserve to learn, love, and make mistakes as flawed human beings, but when your entire life is designed to end after a single decade before repeating itself over and over again, you are never given a chance to question things. How sick and twisted this premise really is beneath the surface is a topic the game brings up time and time again, with the powers pulling strings behind the curtain coming to light as we do battle with them and to seek to change this world for good. I won’t delve much further into narrative specifics here, since doing so would be a disservice to the story Monolith Soft has managed to craft with such dramatic honesty.
I will give a nod to the supporting cast though, which is both excellent and doesn’t fall victim to the vices of anime fan service that past games have been held hostage by. Eunie is a headstrong girl eager to hide away her feelings and indulge in gossip, while Taion is a smart, considerate, and opaque man who puts facts ahead of feelings. Lanz is a stereotypical jock, but comes to reveal his softer side when accompanied by far more considerate characters like Sena who are unafraid to point out injustices and how the party should not only be striving to put a stop to evil in the world, but to also better themselves. Series’ fans will lose their minds when certain narrative revelations come to pass, linking together nuggets of lore in ways that are equally unexpected and welcome. But like I said, I ain’t touching on spoilers because I know my stupid ass will get carried away. Welsh cat girl fans rest easy though.
The battle system in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a culmination of everything Monolith Soft has achieved in previous games. There are three distinct classes – Attacker, Defender, and Healer – each with jobs that can be unlocked by recruiting heroes and completing their respective quests. The variety is staggering, with skills and abilities often being situational and turning the tide of battle depending on how you use them. I always opted for an even mixture of classes spread across the party, ensuring buffs were being applied alongside ample coverage of damage and defence. Tougher battles can down your team in seconds, so it’s essential to establish a base level of synergy unless you’re keen to spend hours grinding away levels to brute force victory. Don’t do that, it’s a bad idea.
There’s also Ouroboros, a mythical power our six lead characters adopt that allows them to abandon their morbid destiny in the first place. By interlinking with one another, which is basically drifting from Pacific Rim if it were even more anime, our heroes morph into towering, Neon Genesis Evangelion-esque creatures with magical powers that can turn the tide of battle in seconds. While they also serve a huge narrative purpose, you’ll come to use them in combat alongside chain attacks that result in combos that deal millions in damage. The battle system is rhythmic, and you’ll often be performing the same actions similarly time and time again in order to come out on top, while also taking into account positioning and class management. It can grow repetitive, but the larger encounters are so epic and so unexpected that these shortcomings become easy to forgive.
Certain mechanics, such as gems that can be crafted to provide stat increases, can be superficial though. I forgot they existed, and was always at a high enough level that taking time to gather resources and craft them felt pointless. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has a few features like this that those who are only interested in the main story will overlook. Colonies spread across the open world have their own five-star rankings that can be increased by completing quests and gathering items, but the payoff for doing so is negligible enough that it doesn’t really need to be there in the first place. But like the game’s other fleeting flaws, they fade into obscurity the moment you become lost in its majestic world. It’s huge, personal, and filled with deliberate purpose.
Xenoblade has always traded on scale, dwarfing other games with worlds we’re given to explore with little compromise. This third entry is no different. Aionios is filled with all manner of biomes scattered across the corpse of a decaying titan. You are constantly meeting new characters and making places that have long sat forgotten your own, telling stories through discovery alone. In past games exploration often felt driven by the need to gather resources for quests and experience, but XC3 gives side quests a much greater presence that actually feels necessary. Every mission has a purpose, and that matters more than you realise.
This is especially true with Hero Quests. Not only do these unlock new classes, but are entire arcs that bring this world alive with additional narrative context and situations that I frequently found myself empathising with. Mio stumbles upon her old colony as she’s forced to reconcile with a teacher who believes that selling her out to higher powers is the right thing to do, while older warriors who once considered our party mortal enemies join them in the battle for a better world long after arms have been laid down. This is a huge game, and one where every quest feeds into a singular identity that I was eager to grow until there was nothing left to see. Even now, so many stones remain unturned that I need to seek out.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 spends so much time making you care. The plight of its characters are established so succinctly as we come to recognise everything they’ve been through. Their fight becomes our fight, and the hours fall away as each narrative revelation draws us closer and closer to a conclusion that brings this trilogy to a climax so satisfying that I’m not sure anyone will be expecting it. JRPGs often struggle to do its characters' justice as they fall victim to cliche, but Monolith Soft actively subverts these irritating foibles while bringing the genre to new heights. Not since Nier Automata have I been asked to contemplate such heavy questions and how they might come to affect the characters I’m falling in love with, coming to see that each perspective has merit even if I personally end up against them.
Monolith Soft has crafted a JRPG that is so colossal yet also intricately focused. It delivers an experience that iterates upon everything its predecessors managed to achieve, resulting in a masterpiece that I am utterly enraptured by. Part of me feels like I’m still stewing in a cauldron of hyperbole, but in terms of characters, themes, and a world that I never want to leave behind – this is the series at its very best, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
A review code was provided by Nintendo for the purposes of this review.
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