Is it just me, or is this series starting to feel like a full-blown religious experience whenever a new Xenoblade Chronicles rolls around? Because on two separate occasions now, I’ve felt like that stupendously excited Nintendo 64 kid at Christmas. You know the one I’m talking about. Maybe it’s the epic storytelling, the great casts of characters, the sprawling landscapes or the awesome action RPG combat and music that’s kept us craving more. Or perhaps it’s something more profound than that? It’s hard to nail down.
A Riveting Tale of Warring Nations
What I do know is that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 starts off with a bang and is ultra-consistent quality-wise, all the way through. While number 2 did have a mighty compelling narrative, it did take a lot – probably even more than Kingdom Hearts II – to reach 5th gear. And that’s saying something. Oh my gosh. Not in this case though, because as soon as the starting difficulty level is chosen, we’re almost immediately thrown into the action and major theme of this piece: fighting to live and living to fight. Nintendo’s tagline being an apt description of the game’s events and the core issues each character has to deal with, which pays off big-time throughout the adventure.
Now I’m not going to spoil anything, of course. However, it’s instantly apparent how sombre the tone of this game is. Not just in the darker story and textures (they do look very dated) but in the voice-acting and music. The Xenoblade soundtracks slap every time and this OST is no exception. Albeit, there is a bit more variety in terms of genres and timbre this time around, and the flute-based melodies definitely make it stand out. The English dub is of markedly better quality than part 2 as well… My ears are still bleeding from Rex’s battle screams – it’s been a long road to recovery.
But in all seriousness, Noah and his main group of friends are quite memorable and do play off of each other really, really well. Especially since this game can be over 100 hours long if you want to complete everything. It’s great to witness a cast of characters that are extensively fleshed out and grounded, bantering back and forth without seeming forced. I also love how the cutscene cameras often pause on certain shots, letting the audience soak in exactly what each character is going through. Something the mainline Xenoblades have been highly adept at portraying.
Xenoblade’s Most Addictive Gameplay Yet
What about the gameplay, you ask? Well, this is arguably the best iteration of the series we’ve seen yet. In terms of combat, you’ll find yourself right at home. The positional break, topple and daze system is in full swing and there are a stack of extra features across the board. Being able to fight in deep water and quick-step around the battlefield to deal more damage are much-welcomed additions. A dojo-type training mode, auto-battle switch and the option to give up on battles when the team’s about to get squashed like a pancake are quite helpful too. I also really like that party members shout out “Break!” or “Topple!” whenever they’re being used. A visual indicator is on display like in the other games. Although, it’s so much handier to hear these statuses being verbalised, as it cuts through the clutter of numbers and icons constantly being bombarded in your face.
That’s not to say they aren’t helpful. The directional icon above a character’s arts finally clears up whether you’re behind or beside an enemy, and the navigational guidelines make traversing the land a cinch. Since this game has 6 active party members on screen though, things can get a little tricky to manage at times. That being said, I find the combat even more engaging than the previous two games. Since players can swap between party members on the fly, as well as join together in a limit break form known as Ouroboros. Chain Attacks are back in full force too, with a distinctly tactical approach this time around which will take about 5 years to explain. But trust me on this, it’s amazing.
It’s also possible to switch between classes, which changes up each character’s movesets and roles on the battlefield, making the combat heaps more customisable and in-depth than the series has ever been. Players can even bring over arts from other classes. Couple that with the ability to master these skills over time and the option to add them to a character’s repertoire permanently… And yeah, you’re most likely going to have a great time.
Diving Into Aionios
The enemies themselves are of the very traditional Xenoblade variety. Lots of reptilian-looking things, avians and Level 80 gorillas that’ll one-shot anyone dumb enough to approach. Or those who just happen to wander nearby, like me. The world design is top-notch too, at a solid 30FPS throughout. And it’s always a sight for sore eyes to see these creatures walking around in their environments, as the fractured remains of Xenoblade 1 & 2 frequently remind the audience of a future that didn’t turn out the way Shulk and Rex envisioned.
On the other end of the spectrum, the side quests are pretty in-depth and do offer up some surprisingly intriguing story content from time to time. Trading, politics and espionage are the overarching themes found in these smaller narratives, which add more layers to the living, breathing world of Aionios. Of course, there are the standard fetch-me-some-food-because-reasons type of sidequests, but they don’t detract too much, since they’re so ingrained into the journey itself. Well, unless you’re going for the 100% completionist approach… Have fun with that.
While I don’t believe any game is ever perfect, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is undoubtedly one heck of a good time. With a multitude of quality-of-life improvements and heaps more in-depth, yet approachable gameplay in tow, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 truly revels in the action RPG genre. The story then quickly locks it’s teeth into you and does not let go and the characters feel so much more down-to-earth and well-rounded than they’ve ever been. As the epic music and vibrant world-building really add to the sombre setting and presentation of the game. Even though the graphics can look a little dated, the art design more than makes up for this issue overall. If you’ve never checked out this series before, now – more than ever – would be the best time to do so.
By Anthony Culinas – Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has carefully made several tweaks to the formula within its gameplay, story and presentation to stellar effect, all without losing any of the charm and originality that the series is known for. Monolith Soft absolutely crushed it here and they’re more than on track to become one of the all-time great action RPG franchises.
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