Lately, I’ve decided to only follow three types of RPG no matter what: Pokémon, indie titles, and Xenoblade Chronicles. While X was… something, the two main installments of the franchise have more-or-less cemented this as one of Nintendo’s best I.P.s ever. As such, it’s natural for Xenoblade Chronicles 3 to be priority one for me. It’s been five years since we had a new one! Without further ado, let’s play it and pray that it’s good.
The premise of this game will sound very confusing if this is your first Xenoblade, but fans might be even more confused! Xenoblade Chronicles 3 begins when some kids gather in what looks a lot like Colony 9 from Xenoblade Chronicles 1 to celebrate a party, when they crash into… Alrest from Xenoblade Chronicles 2?! Then all of a sudden, we are graced with Aionios, a world that is—in classic Xenoblade fashion—locked in a never-ending war: people from Keves vs people from Agnus.
The plot starts off simple enough, if you don’t read into things too hard. It stars a Homs named Noah, a High Entia named Eunie, and an Machina (I think?) named Lanz. They, along with everyone else in the world, are born soldiers. Basically, it’s your classic military-sci-fi anime setup. A mission to investigate an unusual source of ether starts your usual, epic JRPG story. TL;DR, they run into three other kids from Agnus, and an evil anime guy named Moebius. In a pinch, Noah and one of the Agnians—a Gormotti girl named Mio—fuse together and become Stevonnie—I mean—a being called an Ouroboros. Oh, and after the encounter, Moebius projects a red infinity symbol into the sky, which makes the entire world the six kids’ collective enemy. Their only hope is to band up and book it to the Monado-looking sword thrust into the world’s butthole.
Something immediately noticeable is how much darker the game starts. Even though they both have a big event at the beginning that sets the tone, the Xenoblade games have generally felt pretty damn whimsical. However, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 starts off quite depressing. The opening area is drab and overcast, compared to the Tolkienian grassy fields from the previous installments. It’s fitting, since we have the whole thing with kids being grown in test tubes to be killing machines. Of course, once the journey begins in earnest, it becomes happier and more Xenoblade-y.
I don’t know if this is a hot take, but this game might have my favorite narrative of the series. The fusion aspect is kind of the love letter to the series, and makes for amazing dramatic irony for those who have knowledge, while still having the right emotional hooks to get you invested early. You have the full roster of six by the end of the first chapter, which gives you more and more time to fall in love with them. The cutscenes are noticeably longer, but I found them more cinematic and engaging, plus there aren’t as many cutscenes that feel like filler.
However, as much as I’m praising the story, I kind of feel like that series knowledge kind of carries it. Many aspects of the game, from mechanics to setpieces, scream the notion that Aionios is a fusion of the original Bionis and Mechonis with Alrest. This is legitimately interesting… but you have to know this ahead of time to have said interest. Without that in mind, Xenoblade 3 starts out as a bit of a broken promise. When the cast becomes Ouroboros, they are hunted down by both Keves and Agnus, which screams: “Oh boy, morally ambiguous plot where we have to kill our friends!” However, there is a way to free the other Colonies that only Noah can do. If you don’t like storylines where you get to save literally everyone, then this game’s narrative will probably not be your speed. Sure, there are many moments to keep you on your toes, but there needs to be some amount of early hookage (professional term) on the player’s part for it to mean anything.
It doesn’t help that the worldbuilding is kind of… weird. The rules are simple: people are born in test tubes, and kill enemies to feed these machines called Flame Clocks. They all die if the Flame Clock of their respective Colony runs out, but they die anyway after ten years. This ten year thing is also bizarre because it is not clear AT ALL how characters age. Noah and Co., for example, are almost ten years old, yet clearly appear to be in their late teens; they aren’t born that way either, since flashbacks show them as much smaller when they were kids. Also, some characters look like they’re in their twenties. Additionally, it’s inconsistent how much control the Flame Clocks have over people. Noah and Mio, even before Ouroboros, had conscious thoughts and feelings (i.e. hating war). There’s also a straight-up brainwashing feature of the Flame Clocks, and the bad guys would have an edge if they simply… used it.
So, before discussing the cast, I need to bring up the age old debate: dub vs. sub. I’m pretty sure most people and their grandmas have played the dub, and a few weebs—normally myself—stick with the original Japanese voice actors. However, since I didn’t know when I would replay this game, I decided to do something different. I alternated between dub and sub each sitting. That way, I can really compare and contrast.
It goes without saying that the English dub is excellent. The cast is, as always, European, which I definitely prefer over American dialect. Well, there are some American voice actors, but they’re pretty sparse. I greatly preferred the Japanese audio in Xenoblade 2, since it’s significantly more anime than the rest (and they’re already pretty anime as it is). With that game going down the laundry list of anime tropes, especially with the Rare Blades, I stuck with the sub, especially since I heard that dubs tend to not understand the tropes on a cultural level. In Xenoblade 3, the Japanese cast is also really good; no one knows how to convey anime better than the professionally trained seiyus from the Land of the Rising Sun itself.
The cast is something they generally tend to get right, and the characters of Xenoblade 3 are no exception. From Keves, we have Noah, Lanz, and Eunie, while the representatives of Agnus are Mio, Sena, and Taion. Let’s go over them all.
Noah is your typical military sci-fi anime protagonist; a kid who’s born into war yet hates war at the same time. Yes, he’s one of those “I don’t want to kill anyone even if it’s the only way we don’t die” people. He seems like one of those goody-two-shoes types, but he has some interesting dialogues when it comes to his job as an Off-Seer; someone who plays a flute to honor the fallen. Lanz is Reyn, but less meme-y; he’s still a lovable oaf, though. He’s a meathead, but is loyal to the death. Best Girl Eunie is the sassiest High Entia you’ve ever laid eyes on. Her dub actress is admittedly really good, since the British insults are far superior to any others. Just be forewarned that there’s a moment early on where she has a big WTF moment, and—in classic JRPG fashion—she writes it off as nothing when asked why she’s suddenly clammed up, and no one else bothers to press her even though it’s something VERY PERTINENT TO THE OVERARCHING PLOT.
From Agnus is Mio, who is basically Noah but from Agnus. She hates war just like he does because some girl from her childhood always spat philosophical stuff about how their enemies are people too and whatnot. Best Girl Sena is, quite noticeably, a Blade, which is confusing since the weapons are also called Blades; obviously, I mean she’s a Blade from Xenoblade 2. Anyway, she’s also a big musclehead, and is a VERY different beast depending on her voice actor. I prefer her Japanese voice, since it suits the moe persona that she was clearly intended to have, whereas she’s very… wrong-sounding in the dub. Taion is very dense, but he’s smart and deductive.
These games tend to ham-fist ships (except in the case of Pyra vs. Mythra), and… well, if you couldn’t tell, Xenoblade 3 telegraphs them REALLY hard. In case you couldn’t tell who was destined for whom when describing the main cast, the other four have Orobouros forms as well. You can try to draw Mio with Sena, or Lanz with Taion, but it won’t change anything; the worst part is that there are troll interactions that imply ships that can never be.
A glaring flaw with the main six is that—for the first time since Xenoblade X—there is no playable Nopon. Tagging behind are Riku and Manana from Keves and Agnus respectively. They are great, as always, but it still sucks that you can’t play as either of them. The dubs tend to be universally better for Nopon because they localized their dialect to be an endlessly charming form of grammatically incorrect English. Riku, who has an uncharacteristically deep and masculine voice in the dub, sounds ridiculous and incredible. His dub actor is probably one of my favorites in the series.
Beyond the main crew, there are WAY more characters, including Heroes, whom we’ll discuss later. The game keeps up the tradition of characters named Vandham… but takes the Xenoblade 2 route and kills him immediately (this is not really a spoiler; he’s from the first chapter). Both Agnus and Keves have a load of people with their own thoughts and feelings.
There is also a large assortment of villains. Moebius, incidentally, is not a person, but rather the true form of the Consuls. The Consuls are Ultraman cosplayers who have their own distinct personalities, even if their names are just letters of the alphabet. The best Moebius actually has a full name: Triton. I won’t spoil why he’s so great… just be excited for when he shows up. Unfortunately, his dub actor has one of the worst performances I’ve ever heard. I don’t know what the casting team was going for, but the result doesn’t match Triton’s character at all.
Overall, the cast is solid, but the dub vs. sub verdict is kind of up in the air on this one. I liked some dub actors more than others, while the Japanese cast is more consistent. However… as great as Riku is, I think I’m going to have to give it to the sub. The biggest advantage to playing Xenoblade in general dubbed is because they always had a tradition of working in voice clips that would become memes in the community, and to be honest, I have no idea what lines in Xenoblade 3‘s dub were meant to be memed on. So, with memes unaccounted for, I will decree—for the time being—that the Japanese voice cast is better, albeit by a slight margin! Look… I really don’t like Triton’s dub. At all.
Anyway, onto gameplay! For starters, exploration is more-or-less unchanged. You run around, fight enemies, and collect loot. Collectibles have unique icons in the overworld, already giving you an idea of what they are before you pick them up. There are also containers that, well, contain useful items. You can even find dead soldiers whom Noah is able to send off, increasing your Affinity with the area.
I was really worried about how the overworld would shape up, since I thought that Alrest from Xenoblade 2 had some weak spots. Aionios in terms of design takes some getting used to, admittedly. What’s notable is that the world is divided into several regions, within which contain many areas of their own. Because of this, the landscape can change biomes very abruptly and with no rhyme or reason. This mish-mashy look feels intentional, because it just so happens to suit a world that would be a product of two worlds’ fusion.
Overall, Aionios is large and fun to explore as it opens up. Outside of quests, there’s a lot of ground to cover; it achieves the perfect bifecta of scope and density. Of course, it isn’t short of spectacular vistas. The only real disappointment is that you never get to explore the iconic Urayan Mountains that make up most of the game’s cover art; they talk about it a bunch, but it’s just flavor text (Agnus Castle is pretty lacking as well). Okay, I guess the fact that not every Colony on Aionios is actually accounted for is a flaw too; they are also flavor text.
In any case, fast travel is really easy because you can travel to discovered landmarks, as well as various rest stops, and even the graves of defeated Unique Monsters. You can also set the time of day for when you arrive, in case there’s something time sensitive that needs to be taken care of in that area (which is an ironic feature, since the in-game time is virtually unused in this installment).
Speaking of rest stops, many of these will be encountered in abandoned Ferronis hulks throughout the world. You can use some juice harvested from ether channels that you can find pretty much everywhere to reactivate them. They have exclusive loot, and a fabricator that randomly spits out items if you feed it money. There are many types of rest stops, with different and important abilities unique to them. At campsites, you can cook learned recipes for a temporary buff. Visit canteens and order their food to unlock new recipes. There is also Gem Crafting, which is WAY simpler than in Xenoblade 1. This time, you just feed it the materials and there you go. Also, Gems aren’t exactly items. Once crafted, a Gem sits in your Gem box(?), and can be equipped to anyone and everyone at once. Crafting better versions overwrites the previous versions as well. You’ll occasionally find random bits of information throughout the world. This can unlock topics to discuss at the canteen or campsite, and doing so can trigger new quests.
Another advantage of more biomes means more music! Each area has its own theme, and like I said, there’s a lot of them. As expected, Monolith delivers on all fronts. From atmospheric to epic, they do it all (although they lean on the former a lot in this one; some gamers might not approve). Although the Unique Monster theme might not be my new favorite (vs. the one from Xenoblade 2), the special theme for Chain Attack is adrenaline-pumping goodness.
For the first time since Xenoblade X you have a job system. For basics, the cast can change jobs, and naturally, characters can master that class’s Arts as their rank grows. However, there are some complexities to say the least. Only the OTPs have access to each other’s jobs at first, while the others unlock them over time by fighting alongside the job users. When changing a job, you can set specific Arts and Skills that were mastered by ranking up in the job. There is also job compatibility to worry about, which affects the growth rate of the job. Although, you probably want to max out everyone at all jobs regardless, don’t you?
It surely can’t get more complicated in a game where all six party members fight together, can it? WRONG! Inevitably, there are more jobs than the starting six, and this is where Heroes come in. Heroes each have a Hero Quest, which—yes—are basically Rare Blade quests from Xenoblade 2. Upon completion of the Hero Quest, you can recruit that person to fight as an autonomous seventh party member. Additionally, one character inherits that person’s job, with everyone else eventually following suit through the same method as unlocking jobs to other characters.
What makes this mechanic interesting is that a lot of Hero Quests are tied to freeing Colonies that are off the beaten path. This results in—yes—skipping entire towns—quests, Affinity Charts, and all—if you don’t do these. The game implies that there is a huge risk to freeing the Colonies, but all it really does is increase the amount of spawn points for mobs of the respective faction. The Colonies are small and numerous, but thought was put in to give each a memorable design that stands out from the rest. There aren’t as many quests per Colony, but this works to their advantage as well, because it feels like each Colony has its own self-contained story that gets full focus throughout the game.
Now that I’ve discussed Hero Quests, I can now discuss the Heroes as characters. At first, there isn’t a lot going for them when introduced. However, the real character development comes forth during their second Hero Quests, the reward of which increases the maximum rank of their respective job from ten to twenty, and at rank twenty, their Talent Art turns into a Master Art that can be freely set at your leisure. The main six also have special quests to give them closure that they otherwise wouldn’t have, and this, naturally, increases the maximum rank of their own starting job.
After playing every Xenoblade game at least once, my motto became this: your first time playing a Xenoblade game will always be your first Xenoblade game, meaning that they tend to change things up so much that even veterans will face a high learning curve in each game. However, I found that Xenoblade 3 rewards past experience moreso than previous installments, since most of the basics carry over. Obviously, you have your auto-attacks, which are self-explanatory, and a choice of three Arts, and a Talent Art that builds up from various actions. Furthermore, your starting formation already has the ability to do a complete Break>Topple>Daze combo before you’re taught the mechanic. Oh, and in case you’re new to the series, it’s a staple mechanic where you knock enemies over so that they’re helpless; the only change is that Topple can be followed up with Launch and Smash Arts OR Daze and brand-new Burst Arts. Both forms of Arts recharging come back as well; the gang from Keves has their Arts refill over time like in Xenoblade 1, and the gang from Agnus through auto-attacks like in Xenoblade 2. Also, the ability to use Arts right when an auto-attack hits comes back from Xenoblade 2. An important change to note is that YOU CAN FIGHT WHILE SWIMMING. THANK YOU, MONOLITH!!! Boy, going back to older installments after this will be tough to say the least.
There are some new standout features. As said before, you have all six characters fight at once. Furthermore, you can switch who you’re playing as mid-battle. ALSO, Healer-type characters are the only ones who can revive allies. ALSO ALSO, there are Fusion Arts, where you use a regular and mastered Art simultaneously. Due to the removal of the Party Gauge, the Chain Attack meter resets after every battle, meaning that you can’t store an almost full charge for a tough fight.
Speaking of Chain Attacks, the ones in Xenoblade 3 are perhaps simpler than Xenoblade 2, but still more complex than in the original. When initiated, you choose one of three orders. Each character can use an Art (or a Fusion Art if possible) to build up Tactical Points. When the Tactical Points are at least 100% full, a Chain Art is performed, granting the chosen order’s bonus effect for the duration of the Chain Attack. There are all kinds of bonuses from using specific Arts and with whom, so… get experimenting. Inflicting Break>Topple>etc. still works in battle, and fortunately, all positional bonuses are guaranteed regardless of where your party is standing. Also, Heroes have their own special abilities in Chain Attacks.
In case you forgot, certain pairs (i.e. OTPs) can fuse into Ouroboros. In battle, they have access to really powerful Arts for the duration of the Heat Gauge. You don’t want to fuse all the time, though, for using Fusion Arts increases the Interlink Level, and at Level 3, Ouroboros Arts gain their really awesome bonus effects. Each Ouroboros has its own Soul Tree, where it can learn new Arts and other helpful abilities with SP gained from battle. Eventually, Ouroboros can participate in Chain Attacks by completing an Order from both members of the pair, or by having a Level 3 fusion active when you trigger the Chain Attack. You will also unlock alternate forms of the Ouroboros, each with their own ENTIRE Soul Trees, with the ability to share a skill with the other form. This essentially means you have a grand total of TWELVE CHARACTERS to manage.
You’d think that having full party participation would make this game a cakewalk, right? Well, once you enter the second region, Xenoblade 3 takes the kids gloves off, making enemies spongier and nastier than ever to balance out your extra manpower. For the most part, it’s standard fare; regular mobs aren’t so bad as long as you’re on their level, while Unique Monsters and bosses offer the bulk of the challenge. However, with so much more going on than ever, I daresay this is the toughest installment yet. Even with a balanced team, aggro management can be all over the place; I’ve had non-tanking members be ganged up on by the entire opposition for what feels like no good reason at all. Also, of all the mechanics, I’ve felt that raising the Interlink Level is a bit touchy. It doesn’t always increase when you use a Fusion Art; in my experience, it seems to go up every two or three uses, despite what the tutorial tells you.
However, as difficult as the game is, it’s easy to overlevel if you do certain quests at the earliest opportunity before advancing the main story (leveling down via Rest Spots isn’t available until after beating the game). The A.I. is also—still—not the best. While they’re pretty good in normal situations, they tend to fuse willy-nilly, which makes it more difficult to get off those Level 3 Ouroboros fusions. You eventually unlock a setting to control ALL fusions yourself, but that only increases the amount of control memorization and omni-awareness of the battlefield on your part; a panic fusion can get you out of a tight spot, so trying to reach that Level 3 might be greedy.
Of course, being a 1st party Nintendo game, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has several DLC installments that are immensely helpful and punish anyone who plays through the game at launch. For starters, they unlock two new Heroes, Ino and Masha. Ino is one of the best characters in the game, and more importantly, she has a Break Art that can be mastered at Rank 10. This solves an issue where you only have one Break Art for a long portion of the game, which makes it impossible to have a full Smash combo without creating an imbalanced party due to limited Arts options. Masha… is kind of bad. She’s a great character and Hero, but she also introduces a crafting mechanic. It’s a gacha system, where you get Accessories with randomized buffs, and randomized stat improvements each time you upgrade them.
The problem is that all the hundreds of materials you’d be collecting naturally are useless here; the only way to get them is through Challenge Mode, the other part of the DLC. The standard Time Attack is as it’s always been. However, the interesting new mechanic is the Archsage’s Gauntlet. This is a roguelite, but fortunately, it isn’t as demanding as most games in the genre, at least not in Normal Mode. Here, you have to fight waves of enemies with one party member, while buying Heroes who are distributed at random in a shop you access between rounds. There are also Emblems, sold at random, which give bonuses that can be upgraded by buying the same Emblems multiple times. Your performance in your run rewards you Blue Noponstones, which can be used to get permanent Emblem Upgrades, as well as the necessary materials for Masha.
I honestly don’t like this, because it makes Xenoblade Chronicles 3 almost as bad as Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for completionist grinding. The Accessories from Masha aren’t really necessary, unless you plan to fight the superbosses, which completionists need to do anyway. However, the base game is grindy for completionists as well. The worst task by far is to get every Rank X Gem, which requires tons of very rare enemy drops, and there’s no shop to trade large amounts of common drops for rarer ones. It’s still more reasonable than in Xenoblade 2, though. You can actually craft Gems out of order, meaning that you can just focus on the Rank X ones alone. After that, it’s simply a matter of finding the highest level Unique Monster of the appropriate enemy types, and use Burst Combos over and over again to force them to drop materials in addition to what they drop on defeat. Uniques also have the highest chances to drop very rare items.
Final Verdict: 10/10
I am honestly astonished by how amazing Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is. I wish I could get 100% completion, but alas, the march of time isn’t allowing it. Maybe it’ll be something I come back to on occasion, while waiting five more years for a Xenoblade 4 (or Xenogears HD remaster). For now, though, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has become my favorite game of all time. There, I said it.
PS: I’ll cover the upcoming DLC campaign in its own post, since I presume it’s a separate game like Torna.