Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Review – And Life Moves On

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a game I’ve been excited for like no other, except maybe Xenoblade Chronicles 2. My hype for this game was so high, that other things started to seem boring in comparison. Monolith Soft is a studio capable of making masterpieces, so I’m glad to say that this game didn’t disappoint.

This game was simply phenomenal, amazing, brilliant. There are so many adjectives I could use to describe this game. It’s probably not the wisest decision to begin a review with the verdict and retroactively justify it, but that’s what I’m going to do anyways.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 follows a group of soldiers on two sides of a war in the world of Aionios. The nations of Agnus and Keves have been fighting for an extremely long time. Colonies from each side have to kill others to fill up their flame clock, which allows them to continue fighting. All of the soldiers on both sides can only live for 10 years, before fading away in a homecoming ceremony. But most don’t ever make it that far.

The story picks up when a mission sends Keves soldiers Noah, Lanz, and Eunie; and Agnus soldiers Mio, Sena, and Taion; on a mission to discover an unknown hostility from neither side. This leads to meeting Guernica, who gets both sides to stop fighting.  These six soldiers end up gaining the power of Ouroboros, the ability to fuse together, after a confrontation with a mysterious monster from a group called Moebius. This situation pits the whole world against them. They then have to go on a mission to an unknown City, so that they can uncover the truth of their world and find out who the true enemy is; the one pulling the strings of the war. Along the way, they free colonies from their flame clocks, freeing the people from having to fight in the war.

The story is less twisty than past games, but that doesn’t make it any less fantastic. What sets this story apart not just from past Xenoblade games, but JRPGs in general, is just how much depth is given to its main cast. Having the cast come together extremely early in the game certainly helps, but the cast is given a level of focus almost unheard of in JRPGs. The game is surprisingly contemplative, giving the characters time to discuss their feelings and their perspectives on the events of the game. There is a level of nuance to the entire main cast that I never expect from JRPGs.

Characters may get a little character arc, or mostly be defined by their gimmicks. Their importance may solely exist in how they relate to the main plot, without being very well-defined themselves. Xenoblade 3 is different. Every single character grows tremendously throughout the game. There are no weak links in the main cast. While the protagonists Noah and Mio may get the most focus, the rest of the party gets as much focus as the protagonists of other games. You’ll learn about their quirks, personalities, worries, viewpoints, and insecurities. There are so many interesting character dynamics built up between the cast, making each relationship feel distinct, allowing the cast to play off each other tremendously well. I’m actually blown away.

The level of attention to detail is also something worth mentioning. The context of the plot influences the ways the characters think. As characters learn more, it’s only natural for them to think and question it, almost like a teenager growing up and learning the world is much more complex than they thought. But this is more extreme considering the conditions of Aionios. Xenoblade 3 somehow manages to create such natural dialogue out of characters discussing the main themes of the game. To some extent it is telling you the main themes of the game, but it tells those themes from a standpoint of discovery. These themes hit home because I’m discovering it with these characters as I watch them grow in real time.

What other game decides to spend time just letting its characters talk about stuff? It happens sparsely in other JRPGs, but it’s the lifeblood of Xenoblade 3. While I liked the cast of 1, and the cast of 2 even more, the cast of 3 is a clear standout, and easily my favorite main party in a game. There really is no contest. This is character writing at its finest.

The closest thing I can think of is skits in Tales of games, but a decent portion of those are comedic. And since those aren’t required, they are step removed from the plot. In other words, info derived from skits don’t impact how the characters interact or grow in the plot. But it does in Xenoblade 3. That doesn’t mean there isn’t great character moments in side content, because there absolutely is, which is something I will get to soon.

A game can’t just have likable characters. It also needs a good story to complement it. While this game is less twisty compared to past games, it’s just as thematically rich as the other games in the series. While the game often ponders about the meaning of life, it applies these themes in ways that aren’t abstract. It’s easily the most applicable game to the real world in the series. Not only do the characters have to reverse the brainwashing their society inflicted on them, the game also dives heavily into themes of freedom and autonomy, and generally has left leaning politically ideology spread throughout the game. I really want to be vague here for spoiler-related reasons, but when you consider the current political climate, with the right wing governments of the world leaning even more heavily into fascism and authoritarianism, the themes of this game are even more relevant than ever.

One common criticism of the game is it’s weak villains, but I don’t agree. Many of the villains in Mobius are cruel and disgusting, but this helps accentuate the game’s themes. Some people are simply cruel. And while it’s impossible to know if every cruel person has some sob story, that really isn’t all that important. Those in power may abuse their power in abhorrent ways, and this game doesn’t shy away from that reality. Not everyone needs redemption. Not everyone needs sympathy. Some people are just shitty. This game shows that in full force, laying a true face of reality bare for us to come to terms with.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some sympathetic villains in the game. There most certainly are, and they are very intriguing characters in their own right. Maybe not to the extent of Jin and Malos from the past games, but still fantastic in their own right.

Another thing about the story that surprised me was just how good the writing was in side content. Xenoblade 1 quests were all forgettable, and there were a few good quests in 2. But in Xenoblade 3, most of the quests are interesting. Lots of them have interesting ideas and themes. There’s even explicit socialist messaging in some of the sidequests. Unlike past games, it’s actually possible to get interested in the relationships between NPCs. And since characters don’t have random dialogue based on what party members you have (since you have all party members active in this game), the main party can meaningfully participate in the story of a side quest that feels natural and adds to its depth.

Hero quests are especially good. Heroes are recruitable characters you can find through the game to be a 7th party member. I will get into how they impact gameplay in a bit. Their side quests are extremely good. The quests for unlocking them, and the quests for upgrading them, are all completely voiced. The voice acting of course adds to their character. But overall, the quests are really interesting, dealing with a wide range of subjects and themes, and even adding to the game’s worldbuilding. Some heroes can be unlocked simply by progressing the story, but others are unlocked by doing Hero quests, which I highly recommend searching for. It’s worth it.

If I had to complain about one minor thing, it’s the main cast side stories. Two of them are required to get through the main plot, but the other 4 are optional. Considering how good they are, it’s a shame that these are missable. Especially Sena’s which resolves a major plot point that would simply never be addressed if you skipped it. And while this shouldn’t be a problem if you just do them, it also creates an issue of canon. While side quests have good writing, they obviously have no place in the canon. There is a sense of urgency to the plot, so going back and forth to do side quests obviously wouldn’t make sense in canon. This creates an issue for these character side stories, since they are well written, but don’t really have a place in the main plot. The only exception is Sena’s side story, which has a very reasonable place it could fit, but considering the points in which you unlock the other side stories, it makes no sense in canon, because they unlock at points of intense urgency.

As someone who doesn’t like issues that affect the canon, this does bug me a bit. One of the side stories even has a minor effect on story late game based on whether you did it or not. A side quest with a dubious place in the canon having an effect on the canon is really weird to me. There is also an issue with two of the side stories having a minor contradiction with each other. The best you can do it to try and find a reasonable place to fit these side stories. But this feels like something that could easily have been avoided by simply inserting them somewhere in the main plot.

The gameplay of this game is easily the best in the series. Many aspects have been streamlined, removing the more tedious aspects of previous games. Field skills have been changed from 2. Two of them you get from the main story, and the other two you get from hero quests. These field skills allow you to go back to previous areas, which open up exploration even more. No main story progress is gatekept behind the side content field skills. Simplifying this makes exploration much less of a hassle, which is great, because the world design is fantastic yet again. The world is even bigger than ever, and so much fun to explore.

Zones are much larger in this game compared to the previous. It almost feels like an open world game, considering how large and open these zones are. I often found myself going off into the distance to explore randomly, instead of moving on with the main plot. Many side quests also help you explore places you may not have visited before. The game encourages exploration so well, making it easily the most fun game to explore.

Side quests are made better in this game not solely by the story, but also the gameplay. Most side quests aren’t tedious to complete. The new guide feature shows you the exact path needed to find what you need or where to go in side quests. This makes it feel much more streamlined, and removes the tedium from past games. It isn’t perfect though, as some quests require specific items that can be hard to find, and aren’t marked, so you may need a guide for a few side quests. Thankfully it it’s only for a few quests.

Getting side quests in this game is a bit different from past games. After freeing colonies from their flame clock (which you do quite a lot in hero quests), you can start listening to conversations in those colonies. Doing so will allow you to unlock camp site conversations. Discussing the topic will start the side quest. There are some side quests that will start upon immediately going to a specific area or by talking to a certain character, but most side quests are initiated at the camp site.

By raising affinity in the colonies, you can gain special bonuses, like faster running speed or the ability to pull in items like a magnet if nearby. Doing side quests, raising affinity, and progressing the story will also allow you to unlock more side quests. The collectopedia from the first game also returns, except it works a bit different. NPCs you meet in Aionios will have their own cards, and giving them what they want will increase your affinity with the colony they are from, as well as give out accessories and bonus exp as rewards.

Bonus exp is abundant in Xenoblade 3. Finding new locations and completing side quests will give you a ton. You can also get lots of exp by beating elite and unique monsters, and even more by overkilling them in a chain attack. Because you can’t level down, it can become very easy to get overleveled. I would recommend not using any bonus exp you saved unless you are stuck on a boss. Otherwise, save it for post game, as you’ll have a ton by then.

Camp sites are a nice addition to the game. It’s similar to Torna the Golden Country. Like I stated before, you can initiate side quests here. But you can also cook for bonus effects (although it apparently is glitched and doesn’t work at all). You can also craft gems. Gem crafting is much improved from Xenoblade 1. All you need are the necessary items, and ether cylinders, which you can collect all around Aionios. Once crafted, it can be equipped multiple times on everyone, so you only need to craft one of each gem. Each gem has 10 levels, so you want to constantly try upgrading gems throughout the game. You can level up at camp sites (or down but only in post game). You can also clean your clothes, which will become dirty from battling a lot. Whether your clothes are clean or dirty will show up in side quests. You can also save, which while not necessary (since you can save at any time), it was a nice addition, since it reminded me to save during my long play sessions.

Classes are another important aspect of this game. Each character can learn classes from the other party members. And when you unlock a hero, one character will inherit that class. By using other classes, eventually your other party members will learn that class as well. Not only will learning classes allow your characters to play whatever role you want them to, it will also allow characters to learn master arts, which are important. Unlocking classes also allows you to change your outfit for that class.

Whether your class comes from Agnus or Keves will determine what master arts you can use. You can use 3 regular arts from your class, which correspond to the X, Y, and B buttons. You also have one talent art that fills up by fulfilling role actions (basically the expected actions of the class you are using, such as generating aggro as a defender). You can also equip 3 master arts on the left side of the screen, which are activated using the D pad. The master arts you equip must be from the opposite nation of your main class.

There is an absurd amount of variety with all the classes. Each class also has skills, which impact how you play the game. You can master skills by leveling up classes, and use those extra skills on a different class. Combine this with gems and accessories and there is an absurd level of customization available. It might seem overwhelming, but there is an auto equip function. While not optimal, it gets the job done for regular play.

One minor complaint I have is that since you can’t level down, and its easy to get overleveled, it can be hard to level up classes at times. You get class points based on how your level compares to the enemy. So if you fight a much weaker enemy, you barely get anything. This won’t become a problem in post game where you can level down, but it might suck if you want to upgrade your classes more in the main game. That being said, the level of customization even with only a few classes is still massive.

I still haven’t talked about the actual combat, which is fantastic. I didn’t know if it was possible for this battle system to beat the one in Xenoblade 2, as both combat systems are amazing. But by the end of it, I do think Xenoblade 3 has the edge. It also helps that you unlock more of the battle system much quicker than in 2. You can do some pretty cool stuff earlier on than in 2. And streamlining upgrades to only your level and class level makes it much less tedious to upgrade than filling out affinity charts in 2 (although that never really was necessary for just the main game).

The combat UI is more like Xenoblade 2 than 1. The right side of the screen has your class arts and talent art, and the left side has master arts. The UI matches up with the button layout of your controller, making it very intuitive. If you use a Keves class, the arts recharge over time. If you use an Agnus class, the arts charge with each auto attack. Agnus arts tend to recharge much faster on average, but it’s still important to make use of both types of arts.

Battles work by standing still to auto attack, and using an art if it’s available. Arts can have a wide variety of effects, such as increasing damage for meeting a certain condition. Each class is either an attacker (which does damage), defender (which draws enemy attention and either blocks or dodges attacks), and healer (which heals and revives the party, and sometimes gives out buffs or debuffs). Having an even distribution will allow you to optimize your battle efficiency.

Another important skill is arts cancelling. If you auto attack and use an art immediately after the end of the animation, you can use your art much faster. As you progress through the game, you will be able to cancel arts into other arts, or into fusion arts.

Fusion arts are an interesting mechanic that combines the effects of your class arts and master arts. Each class art corresponds to a master art on the other side of the screen. For example, if you use a fusion art with B, it will play out the attack animation of the B art, while also applying the effects of the down arrow art.

One unique mechanic that returns from previous games is combos. You can break an enemy, which will allow it to be toppled, which basically has the enemy fall onto the ground. From there there are two options. You can launch the enemy, which as you’d expect launches it into the air. Then follow up with a smash, which does a crazy amount of damage, while also making boss enemies get enraged (a status in which enemies are much stronger) faster. The other option after topple is to daze the enemy, which stuns it. While dazed, you can burst the enemy, which removes it’s enraged status, while also giving the player bonus item drops.

Unlike past games, all 6 (plus 1 hero) main party members fight at the same time, which adds a huge amount of options to the battle system. This also makes it easier to full off combos as you can give arts with combo ability to a wide range of your party members. The AI is good enough that you can consistently get combos to work a decent portion of the time. The battle system also lets you switch to other party members, which can be useful to make sure you get a combo off, or to use a specific art you really want another party member to use.

Another important new feature in battle is interlinking. Using fusion arts will raise your interlink level. If you press the left arrow on the d pad, you can fuse two characters into an Ouroboros, a mech-like creature. Higher interlink level will lead to a stronger fusion. Ouroboros forms are invincible, so it can be a nice way to escape danger if your characters are low on health and there is no healing art ready. It’s not completely broken though, as there is a cooldown after using it.

One of the coolest aspects of Xenoblade 3 is the chain attacks. It’s definitely my favorite chain attack in the series. You start out by choosing a chain order out of 3, which is basically a huge attack if you get at the end of a turn if you successfully fill out of the meter. This attack will also add a bonus effect to the chain attack, like reducing the enemy defense until the end of the chain attack. Each character has a certain amount of TP in a chain attack. You can choose any character to attack with any fusion art, which will add that amount of TP to the meter. Characters can also get bonus TP for meeting certain conditions. Depending on the class type, it will provide bonuses. Attackers get 25% more TP if they start the turn. Healers will always max out at 99% TP without going past it (assuming they reach 100%). Defenders will return an extra character for the next turn if they finish a turn.

Healers maxing out at 99% may seem bad, but its actually very important to the strategy of chain attacks. Between 100-149%, the turn will get a Cool rating. From 150-199%, it will get a Bravo. And from 200% and up it will get amazing. This affects how many characters return on the next turn, whether you get extra turns, and how much the damage ratio increases in the chain attack. When a character returns, they have more TP than the last turn. So you want to get their TP really high. If you max at 99% with a healer, you can then use a high TP character to get a Bravo or Amazing rating.

There is also a chance to get an Ouroboros chain order at the beginning of the turn. Using it will bring back every character for the turn, and the order itself will do a lot of damage, but it will also end the chain attack. If you use a chain attack while interlinked at level 3, you can start with an Ouroboros chain order. You will also get a second Ouroboros chain order, which will end the chain attack.

Properly mastering the chain attack can lead to absurd levels of damage, which can be really exciting. I Loved figuring out new chain attack strategies. Mastering this can also lead to getting bonus exp if the enemy is overkilled. Chain attacks are a major reason why it’s so easy to get overleveled. If this concerns you, then I would suggest playing the game on hard.

There are so many intricacies of the battle system, that it would take forever to explain. That’s why I suggest trying it for yourself as it is so much fun. I didn’t think it was possible to beat the battle system of 2, but I can safely say this is my favorite battle system in the series.

What really makes everything come together is just how good the quality of life is in this game. Side quests are streamlined. Menus and maps are easy to read and understand. The battle UI is very descriptive and easy to understand, making its complex battle system feel completely natural. Every tutorial can be read in the menus and they are very easy to read. The game even provides menu short cuts to make getting to a specific menu quick and easy. Past games can seem intimidating, and while this game may seem that way at a glance, it’s probably the easiest one to recommend just because of how intuitive everything is.

As this is a Monolith Soft game, you can expect the game to be visually gorgeous. While none of the game’s locations reach the awe-inspiring design of the previous two games, it’s still a beautiful world to explore.

Character designs are also easily at the series best. I love all of the main cast’s designs. Heroes also have really cool designs. The game is capable of making distinct, cool characters while also feeling like it fits the setting.

The animation of this game is Xenoblade at it’s finest. Not only are epic battle scenes just as good as they’ve always looked, there is even more attention to detail in smaller moments, such as character conversations. Body language and facial expressions are easily the most prevalent they’ve ever been in the series.

The animation quality of the game also extends to the gameplay, as there is a massive amount of attack animations, and many of them just look cool. This game isn’t afraid to get a bit over the top. Sena’s hammer can turn into a barbell during her talent art. Noah’s Ouroboros form can surf on his sword, while Mio’s form can move around like an ice skater. This game really knows how to be both wacky and cool.

I could get into the graphical fidelity of this game, but I don’t feel there is a need. I’m always an art direction over graphics kinda guy, and the graphics do more than enough to let the game’s visual style pop. I love the anime art style, but it’s amazing looking even among anime-styled games. It’s a fantastic looking game, and I would never trade it for some drab realistic-looking game.

The music is as fantastic as you’d expect from a Xenoblade game. I would put this game’s soundtrack a bit below Xenoblade 1 and 2, since there isn’t as many “holy shit” songs in the game. Area themes tended to be a bit more ambient compared to past games, which is fine for the setting, but there weren’t many area themes I cared for. But it still has its fair share of bangers. There are sick battle themes, and some of the cutscene music can either be epic as fuck, or extremely emotional.

Voice acting is easily the best in the series. The first game was consistent, but most of the cast didn’t really stand out. The second game had more personality, but also had inconsistent moments due to lip flap issues and misplacing emphasis to match with the animation. Xenoblade 3 doesn’t have this problem at all. It has all the personality of the second game along with the wide variety of accents. Xenoblade’s identity is in it’s British voice acting, with all the funny slang that goes along with it. This game even makes up some of it’s own slang, such as “spark” replacing “fuck”. This was probably to keep the age rating at T, but it also fits the setting of the game to have it’s own swear words associated with concepts in the game. The voice acting is also extremely consistent. It’s surprising just how good the voice acting is in this game. I didn’t spot anyone I’d consider weak links. I legit liked every voice, even for minor characters.

This is even more impressive when you consider how emotional this game is. There is so much nuance added to the smaller moments through the voice acting. Noah and Mio are especially amazing throughout the game. I can’t sing my praises for these voice performances enough. There is also a minor villain who I don’t want to spoil, who I also thought had an amazing voice performance.

The cast is also a triumph in diversity. Juniper, the game’s nonbinary hero character is voiced by a nonbinary voice actor. The game also had a diverse range of voice actors, and properly casts its black characters with black voice actors. Although its not just black characters, as Riku and Manana, the game’s Nopon sidekicks, also have black voice actors.

Voice acting isn’t the only area where this game is diverse. Like I said before, Juniper is nonbinary, but this game is also very racially diverse, with multiple characters of various skin tones (including ones that don’t exist in the real world, hooray for fantasy races). This applies to the main cast, the heroes, and even NPCs. This game has enough to make any Japanophile seethe with rage.

This game is one brimming with content. This isn’t anything you wouldn’t expect from a JRPG, especially Xenoblade. There are so many side quests on top of its already 50 hour or so story. But what impresses me most is just how fun every hour of this game is. Side quests are fun and rewarding, making this a game without lulls, something even the best of JRPGs have occasionally.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a game that’s strong is every area. There is very little criticize in this game outside of small nitpicks. Like it would be nice if there was more variety to post battle dialogue. And occasionally the background music will stutter, which is really weird. I also did get one crash (thankfully I saved right before, and the game does have auto save).

For a game to be a masterpiece, not only does it need to greatly excel in every area, it would also blow my mind in ways I feel very few other games are capable of. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 does this with ease. It almost feels unfair that the scale goes from 1 to 10, as it deserves more. Games like this are why video games deserve to be called art. It isn’t just a game. It’s a fulfilling experience. I have no qualms in calling this a masterpiece, and easily one of the greatest games of all time.

Score – 10

Pros

  • Brilliant Writing
  • Exciting Combat
  • Beautiful Visuals
  • Amazing Music and Voice Acting
  • Quality of Life/UI

Cons

  • What cons? You sons of bitches

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s