Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is the latest JRPG project from developer Monolith Soft, best known for the previous two components of the Xenoblade Chronicles trilogy. Though connected loosely enough to make sure that newcomers will get a proper, full narrative full of twists and turns, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 still attempts to blend beats from the first two games into a bold new vision of the series’ consistent themes. The result is a dizzying achievement of scale and substance, successfully merging the tactical combat and planning of Xenoblade Chronicles with the variation and captivation of the sequel’s open world.
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Xenoblade Chronicles 3 follows Noah and Mio, two off-seers from different nations on the world of Aionios. Off-seers are soldiers who play melodies for the departed on the battlefield, a profession that is in constant demand as the two factions of Keves and Agnus do battle to harvest life energy from each other in endless war. A chance encounter between Noah, Mio, and several other members of both armies results in their rebirth as Ouroboros, humans capable of combining together to form other-worldly, mech-like beings. In typical JRPG fashion, this encounter and awakening begins a long tale of betrayal, subterfuge, and the discovery of the hidden truths of Aionios, all culminating in a battle against the “true evil” that dominates the world.
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For as standard as some of those plot beats sound, however, the story of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 does an excellent job centering in on its core six party members and their struggle to accept each other. While at times it threatens to become too tropey or rote, the story always manages to swerve back into the realm of compelling, and the authentic friendships and romances that color the world of Aionios instantly make it feel a little less far-fetched. There’s also a lot of story that’s left to the player to discover, whether it’s secret hilltops overlooking a hint at previous conflicts or side-quests that tug at the loose strings of a sub-plot. How much Xenoblade Chronicles 3 enthralls a player feels very much up to them, but even a streamlined, no detours approach will result in a great JRPG story with some fantastic emotional scenes.
Thankfully, in the long breaks between major story moments, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has two major draws to remain just as interesting: open-world exploration and combat. The world of Aionios is gorgeous, teeming with life and secrets to uncover just by wandering around. As has become the norm in Xenoblade Chronicles, even beginner areas feature tantalizing peeks at what’s to come, with direct connections to much higher-level areas or a roaming big bad that’s 70 levels too high the first time Noah encounters it. It takes dozens of hours and several different biomes before the game opens up even more with naval exploration and a gorgeous island archipelago, which is a demonstration of the depth that Monolith Soft has infused into Aionios.
Exploration is also full of battles, which are as fun as they’ve ever been in Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Perhaps one of the riskier decisions in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was to feature randomized elements of party building, sometimes locking players out of ideal compositions for lengthy portions of the game. That’s gone in Xenoblade Chronicles 3, which now introduces immense flexibility with its class system, allowing each party member to master whichever class they want. Further classes are unlocked as the story progresses or through side quests, and the addition of Heroes – an extra party member from relevant parts of the story – adds even greater tactical advantages for min-maxers.
The class system is intuitive and easy to follow, with three different roles – attacker, defender, and healer – broadly categorizing some more specific sub-classes. They’re also ranked on how difficult they are to play, so those looking for a challenge can look into mastering S-class play difficulty classes while those looking for an easier time of it can go to the simpler ones. The accessibility of this system really can’t be understated, nor can its enjoyment – healer roles are just as fun as DPS, and Ouroboros combinations open up even more entertaining combat scenarios.
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Difficulty in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 feels tweaked just right. In testing the easiest, normal, and harder settings, each felt balanced differently enough to provide unique experiences but never so much that the game became trivial or impossible. The tactical combat is challenging and, again continuing Xenoblade Chronicles’ tradition, the enemies are meaty damage-sponges, which results in even random open-world fights taking upwards of a minute. Luckily, boss enemies and unique monsters feel a bit less spongy this go-around when compared to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which veered just a little too far into being a time sink because of combat lethargy.
Another factor in Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s success is just how many sub-systems it has that all feel fun to engage in. Salvaging robot colonies to invite Nopon caravans and unlock goodies is a side bit that could easily be ignored, but offers a lot of advantages. Finding ether sources in the open world enables not just those robot unlocks, but Gem upgrades (basically abilities that are swappable and equippable on every character). Cooking offers time-sensitive bonuses that range from EXP bonuses to better drops, while campfire discussions offer bonus EXP on top of lore-building; that is, when they’re not also opening up an entirely new side quest or class unlock opportunity.
The truly breathtaking element of Aionios is how all of these systems combine together to make the world feel brimming with potential. Well over sixty hours into the game, it feels like there are still things to do, stories to pursue, and elements to unlock – but only if you want to. That being said, there’s rarely a time that isn’t desirable. It’s so easy to get lost simply wandering around a new area for hours on end, before being reminded of a previous colony by way of a side quest trigger or an NPC visit. Visiting those colonies then can unlock another new sidequest, or a new discussion. The cyclical nature of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 creates the kind of gameplay loop that some MMORPGs struggle to implement.
There are just so few things to complain about when it comes to Xenoblade Chronicles 3. The Nintendo Switch’s graphics certainly aren’t the best in the market today, and that results in some fade-ins for bigger enemies or some pixelated renderings in handheld mode while exploring the open world with the camera zoomed out. Loading times could definitely be better, with some sizeable gaps in play – sometimes as much as 20 seconds. These issues don’t make the game worse, though, and are easy to push through given the immense quality of everything else on offer.
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All in all, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a triumphant culmination of the lessons learned from both Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Shedding the excess of some of those prior games’ systems and refining what players loved has worked wonderfully, while the new additions to the series all pull their weight as innovative and exciting features. At its core, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a story of the pursuit of freedom and the endless possibilities of the future – and as a game, it’s the embodiment of that theme, with an unrestrictive world and a blueprint for how to build a masterpiece JRPG moving forward.
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Xenoblade Chronicles 3 releases on July 29, 2022 for Nintendo Switch. Screen Rant was provided with a digital download code for the purpose of this review.
5 out of 5 (Masterpiece)
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Cody is Screen Rant’s Game Reviews Editor. He joined the team in 2018 and has been reporting on games pretty well every day since – except on weekends, where he’s typically playing them instead. Despite complaining about a lack of sleep ad nauseam, he continues to play 100-hour JRPGs and fails to make the connection.
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