Play time: 70 hours
Platform: Nintendo Switch
It was when the Welsh catgirl punched a mutant in the face, cutting off her villainous monologue and kicking off a spectacular mid-game boss battle, that I realized Xenoblade Chronicles 3 was my new favorite RPG.
I had my suspicions before that moment, however – when the story explored Taion’s backstory and presented him as a complex and interesting character rather than the stereotype usually applied to black people in video games, for example.
I wrote earlier this month that developer Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a leap forward in the series’ narrative, and spending more time with it has only increased my belief that this is one of the best RPGs of recent generations.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 price and release date
- What is it? A massive JRPG with real-time combat and open but interconnected regions
- Release date of: July 29, 2022
- Price: $59.99 / £49.99 / AU$79.95
- What can I play on? Nintendo Switch
The other side
Shortly after the prologue’s opening war scene, a significant incident forces a squad of Kevesi soldiers and an Agnian special operations team to cooperate, after their respective nations classify them as traitors. Having your old friends want to kill you is bad, but on the bright side, the party gains the ability to merge into mecha monsters, which has an unexpected side effect. Uniting body and mind gives the intertwined characters broken glimpses into their partners’ lives, their fears, sorrows and desires, and makes them wonder if perhaps the truths that were told about the “other side” weren’t so true after all.
At this point, I figured Xenoblade 3 would make empathy its main theme, and I kind of hoped it wouldn’t go any deeper. The first two games are happier defining themselves by a concept – freedom of choice or the power of friendship – and exploring it in a limited, sometimes awkward way, leaving the plot to take the slack.
I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 was intended to be much more than its predecessors. It’s thematically ambitious in a way that the first two games and most other RPGs aren’t – and it manages to fulfill and even surpass those ambitions.
After the two squads join forces, the main objective for a long time is to reach a distant place called Swordmarch, where a city supposedly thrives under a giant sword that seems to have fallen from the sky from the first Xenoblade, tip first. The problem is, this path takes the group past Keves Castle, ruled by a familiar-looking masked queen who is bent on eliminating the band of rebels and anyone who helps them.
Rebellion plays a pivotal role in the larger narrative, as their group, and eventually the colonies they liberate, push back against the cycle of war and death their rulers force them to endure. At its core, though, Xenoblade 3 is about grief, loss, and suffering.
At best, Xenoblade soldiers only live for a decade – called a ‘term’. And so the survivors struggle to understand their loss both in the wars and when the 10 years of their friends’ lives are over. They grapple with the guilt and responsibility of ensuring they create a lasting legacy for those who came before, while realizing that they may never realize their own baser dreams. There just isn’t enough time – and then they die.
Some of the most emotional moments come when playable character Mio tries, often unsuccessfully, to come to terms with the fact that she only has three months to live. Apparently, there’s no changing her fate, no elysium to make it all better – only decline, absence, and the inevitable question of what it’s all been for.
Before protagonists Noah and Mio broke free from this loop, the only way to channel their feelings was through fighting. And once Kevesi and Agnian gain their freedom, they are all faced with the same question – what is the meaning of their existence?
Xenoblade 3 isn’t sad just because of that. The aim is to give meaning to life through suffering and hardship, to create meaning and hope even when it seems there is none. During a conversation about halfway through the story, Mio even asks Aristotle’s classic question: what It is the good life?
This could easily seem pretentious in another context, but coming as it does after reflections on the practical function of spiritual beliefs and speculations about past life experiences, it seems completely natural. That’s exactly what Xenoblade 3 is.
The answer it suggests to your heaviest questions is that there is no answer. The only thing Noah and the rest can do is try to understand each other, offering help during their friends’ darkest struggles and working to build a better world for themselves and everyone, despite having little idea of how that world should be. to be.
It is rare to find such a boldly ambiguous central theme in the media. It’s even less common in video games, which are often built to let players feel good about solving problems.
arts and crafts
Xenoblade 3 also outperforms its predecessors in combat. MMO-style fighting was already one of the series’ distinguishing features, with its skill cooldowns and skill hotbar, but Xenoblade 3 actually does something of that trait. While in Xenoblade 2 your Blade combinations determined the most suitable role for your character, the third entry simplifies that system. Each class has an assigned role – attacker, healer, defender – with some unique roles not seen in the previous two games that change the way you think about character placement and synergy.
A class’s strongest skill is called Talent Art, and the way they work is fascinating. You start a battle with zero charge on the talent meter. It only fills in as you complete the role’s actions, but they’re not as straightforward as you might think. The action of a healer’s role is to place stat bonus zones on the field. Healing doesn’t actually contribute to the meter, so if you want to use their Talent Art – and it usually does – you need to give some thought to what abilities you equip, so you don’t end up dead.
You will probably… end up dead. At least sometimes. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 can’t stand the challenge and will test your JRPG mettle. While you have some control over the difficulty, inviting an NPC Hero into your party and using bonus experience points to raise the party’s level well beyond the standard for a given area means you gain an advantage.
class in session
The class system is where Xenoblade 3’s combat really shines, though it takes a few chapters before its worth becomes apparent. Each party member can equip any class and learn some of its core skills as you level up. The tutorial suggests that fusion arts are the biggest benefit here, allowing you to use two charged skills at the same time and set up some powerful combos in the process.
The main draw for me, though, is how flexible this system makes character customization. If you want to stack your defender with evasion and high aggression abilities, this is completely doable. Thanks to equippable stat-boosting gems and accessories, you can also give them healing abilities to explode in a snap or debuffs to speed up the fight. There is so much to experience. Even though the skill load times and auto-attacks are a little slower than I might have preferred, this is easily one of the most enjoyable and satisfying combat systems in recent years.
Monolith has filled Xenoblade 3 with ideas and mechanics, and while most of them work very well, some feel a bit superfluous and underdeveloped. Manana, one of your adorable Nopon companions, can cook several types of meals when you rest at the camp, though none of them seem necessary, except perhaps on Hard mode. The random encounter system also seems a bit pointless as it has no effect on anything.
There’s also a rather clunky listening system where you can listen in on conversations in colonies, then go back to a camp and discuss what you’ve heard to unlock a new quest or a little more world building. It’s a smart concept, but having to navigate back to a campground just to process the information is a little tedious.
These issues stand out mainly because everything else blends in so well and it’s not worth dwelling on. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a beautiful story, expertly told, with a combat system that finally delivers on the promise of innovation that the original game made over a decade ago – more than a lifetime.
RPGs often profess to be about finding light in the darkness, but few really manage to explore the darkest and most vulnerable parts of the human experience in a relatable and worthwhile way. To its great credit, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 does.