Xenoblade Chronicles 3 – Almost Perfect Works

    Title: Xenoblade Chronicles 3
    Developer: Monolithsoft
    Release Date: July 29th, 2022
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Genre: RPG

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 was marketed to the world as a unification between the worlds of Xenoblade 1 and 2. That’s a promise almost tailor-made to get any fan excited, whether they prefer the first game or its scrappy younger cousin. And, for longtime fans of Xeno in general, the tone set in the trailers and Twitter marketing seemed fragrant with Tetsuya Takahashi’s thematic style that connects them all. In short, there was a lot for fans to enjoy, which is a very high bar to set. And while I don’t think this game is pure perfection, I honestly think Xenoblade 3 hits the mark.

The story, or at least the premise, of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is much grimmer than the previous titles. Bloodshed and war have always been a part of this particular subseries’ identity, but it hasn’t before been so utterly pointless — soldiers fighting not for their own ideals, but for nothing else but survival. It’s a departure from the previous games that even developer interviews noted they struggled to make feel Xenoblade enough, but I do think they’ve succeeded. Rather than a slow build-up to ideas we’ve seen explored in the prior games, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 discusses revenge, war, and death directly out of the gate.

The frankness is appreciated, and it gives Xenoblade 3 probably the most immediately strong opening of the trilogy. Between the warring martial nations of Keves and Agnus, three soldiers (and a Nopon) from each side are forced together in a way that makes them question the nature of their world, and why they’re at war to begin with. It’s an excellent inciting incident that establishes the six main characters very well and succinctly, though I wish the Agnian trio got a better introduction.

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However, while this opening act is incredible, the mid-game suffers from a lack of focus. Monolithsoft are wizards at designing dazzling open worlds, but this time, the sheer openness causes some story problems. In interviews, the writers have said that they aimed to give each of the main six equal story focus (bar the fact that the lion’s share goes to our two leads, Mio and Noah). And though they technically achieve this through frequent conversations between party members — not just between certain pairs, but all sorts of interactions — it does clash strangely with the open world design.

Characters will bring up topics that, to them, weren’t discussed all that long ago, but to the player were hours of distracted exploration and sidequesting ago. It creates a somewhat disjointed feeling that’s only exacerbated by a decision that seems to have been made in response to Xenoblade 2 — the side stories.

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The previous game’s infamous Blade gacha meant that while your party would fill with colorful characters, they’d either have no story relevance or would lose it as soon as you finished their introductory questline. Xenoblade 3‘s Heroes are similar to the previous game’s Blades in that they unlock new combat options, but Monolithsoft tries to ensure they have more relevance by giving each two associated unique quests, usually resolving their character arc at minimum, or occasionally giving some better insights into the game’s world.

It sounds quite good on paper, with the second Hero quests — the party members’ sole Side Stories — having the bonus of uncapping their associated combat class’s level from 10 to 20, but the decision to include important information in many of them ends up contributing to the story’s disjointed feeling. Of the party’s Side Stories, in particular, only two are mandatory — for Mio and Noah — which leaves the resolutions of some of their plotlines entirely optional.

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This isn’t entirely a bad thing, as it means that rather than 1‘s use of filler quests, Xenoblade 3 has a lot of side content that feels important, and most fans of the series will be willing to do everything anyway. However, the fact that these important plot beats are entirely optional creates a very strange sense of the game having to write around it. Towards the endgame, characters discussing past events are noticeably vague, since there’s a very real chance you’ve done some side content that follows up on the events in question, or that you have not. Again, it feels a little disconnected, like the game doesn’t have a strong enough through line pushing you from area to area.

Aionios is massive. That alone is an impressive achievement. Monolithsoft have come a long way from a game that felt massive on the Wii — this game feels massive on the Switch. Aside from some occasional stutters when interacting with something, as the game loaded as fast as it could, the experience was incredibly seamless. And yet, it’s almost too big.

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Xenoblade 1 had a very good sense of direction and progression. Satorl Marsh, for instance, was both gorgeous, wide, and also essentially a curved path from entrance to exit. Xenoblade 3 also has distinct regions that essentially have you move from entrance point to exit point, but each of those regions actually contains several biomes. The Fornis region is at once a dustbowl desert, gorgeous white sand-dunes, and green rolling hills and cliffsides.

This is undoubtedly a marvel, and it’s such a gorgeous game. Monolithsoft are geniuses at world design, and it shines through here. The only problem comes from the premise. A restored, unified version of the worlds of 1 and 2, without any great titans. This means some of the spectacle of those previous worlds, especially the first game’s, is lost. You can’t turn the camera up to the sky to see later game areas far above you, higher on the titan’s bodies. It’s still a very gorgeous world, but it’s, unfortunately, a little more conventional than what I’d expect from this subseries.

Of course, there are some improvements over Xenoblade 1. Unlike the first game’s use of filler quests before more interesting options later in the questlines, every quest in Xenoblade 3 has some sort of story to it. No need to kill a dozen Skeeters because they looked at a nameless NPC funny. Quest givers will have names and relationships to other quest givers. Each Colony essentially has a story arc all its quests follow; it’s excellent.

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Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a game that almost suffers from its own perfection — every individual idea really is a perfect combo of the lessons learned from Xenoblade 1 and 2. But together, it can’t quite maintain a consistent quality. These are some of the highest highs the series has ever given me, but the occasional lows make for a game that’s only ever so slightly flawed to perfectly work.

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Madison Berge

A big fan of visual novels, and stories in general. Also a big fan of JRPGs of all kinds. Bring on the lengthy info-dump cutscenes!