Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is one of the Nintendo Switch’s best RPGs, on a console swimming in them.
It’d be fair to say that when Nintendo announced a recent Nintendo Direct would be focused entirely on Xenoblade Chronicles 3, there was some amount of malaise from the gaming community. With Breath of the Wild’s sequel expected in 2023 and Advance Wars without a release date, social media may have given the impression that the Xenoblade Chronicles series simply wasn’t the biggest draw in a year where PS5 owners will have God of War to play, while Xbox fans will console themselves with whatever Game Pass offers.
The good news is that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is, by far, the Nintendo Switch’s biggest game of 2022, and offers more than enough JRPG goodness for fans of the prior games and for newcomers. While the game’s quality was never really in doubt, what is surprising is just how much of Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s issues have been fixed or removed wholesale. What’s left is an excellent RPG that, while not without its faults, sits proudly alongside the Nintendo Switch’s best.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 key details
- Developer: Monolith Soft
- Price: $59.99 / £49.99
- Release date: July 29, 2022
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 trailer
Monolithic & melancholy
Perhaps fitting given the franchise is developed by a studio called Monolith Soft, but Xenoblade Chronicles 3 wastes no time in slapping you across the face with its sheer sense of scale.
From the first minute, players are fighting Agnian soldiers as Keves forces while war machines the size of buildings do battle in the background. The series has always been about having a huge world and big monsters, but this threequel takes everything up a few notches, even just in the opening act.
The world of Aionios soon opens up, and while there are many characters to meet and factions to speak to, the conflict between Keves and Agnus remains very much at the heart Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Spiritualist Noah, the main protagonist, hails from the Keres, and is able to send the souls of vanquished soldiers to the afterlife.
In true JRPG fashion, though, it’s not long before Noah and his two friends, Lanz and Eunie’s paths intertwine with a trio of Agnian soldiers, too. Perhaps most impressively, Mia, Taion, and Sena’s storyline is a little more nuanced than initial genre tropes may have you believe. Most pressingly, though, all six party members only have ten years to live.
This raises all kinds of questions and themes about how best to spend time in a world at war, and what’s truly important, in a way that Xenoblade Chronicles 1 and 2 never quite achieved. Parts of the third game feel genuinely emotive, in ways that the ridiculous dialogue and costumes of the prior games could never quite achieve.
It helps that there’s a huge amount of natural beauty to be found in Aionios; from rolling plains to tall mountains, the region feels full of color which soon falls away in areas that have seen heavy conflict. With huge skyboxes, the world just feels huge – to the point where it feels like technical wizardry that it runs this well on the modest Nintendo Switch. It’s not the most heavily populated open world, but it’s a huge step forward from the likes of Pokemon Legends Arceus.
Also, it’s now possible to highlight the path to your next objective. In more vertical areas that’s a godsend, as anyone that found themselves constantly getting lost in the last game will know all too well. It’s perhaps not the most exciting addition, but it’s another example of taking away some of the prior friction points.
Combat feels even flashier because there are now six characters to a party, with the option to add a seventh. That’s a lot, but Xenoblade Chronicles 3 wisely doesn’t change too much of the almost MMO-like combat we’ve seen before.
Combat is still formed of automatic attacks that are used in conjunction with arts, meaning players spend much of each fight looking at the complex HUD to work out the best way of queuing up moves. That may sound like it’ll become tedious, but there are enough layers here to promote experimentation.
For one, certain moves can land an opponent on their backside for additional damage, while others are more powerful if timed at the moment an auto attack lands. The dual nations of Keres and Agnus are woven into combat, too, with combat arts from Keres requiring charging over time while their Agnus counterparts recharge through landing attacks. It adds a level of narrative urgency to combat that’s a small but very welcome touch amidst the chaos of endless battle cries.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 looks and plays great on the Switch OLED, feeling like a gorgeous RPG to curl up on the sofa with on a rainy day, and a big part of that charm is the way your party is impressively customizable. A new class system means characters can be attackers, defenders, or supports, and it follows how you’d expect from a game with this kind of combat system with Swordfighters, Zephyrs, Gunners, and more making up each group.
Supports are known as “Healers” but aside from, well, healing, they’re also able to buff allies, while defenders will help mitigate incoming damage to allow you to push through tougher encounters. Attackers are more likely to be able to topple huge monsters, and mixing each is a fun consideration. Even better, it can be done between fights and the ease with which players can swap roles is a huge relief after the bizarre “Gacha” focused Blade acquisition of Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
If you thought that the teens representing humanity’s last hope idea had shades of Evangelion, then the Ouroboros forms will no doubt cement that suspicion. Fusing two characters together allows for a flurry of special moves, but they feel like a neat idea that never feels crucial to combat outside of a handful of “last ditch” moments. When you start teaming up characters to unleash screen-filling special attacks, you’ll see just how powerful they can be – we just wish they’d last a tiny bit longer.
The “interlinking” process is worked into the story, too, with the Ouroboros being led by one of the two characters. Switching the leader can add more ability options.
I can’t remember the last time I played an RPG with such depth to the combat (perhaps Persona 5), and while things kick off slowly, it doesn’t take long for the pieces to fall into place.
There’s a lot to love about Xenoblade Chronicles 3, but if the series’ penchant for localized British accents has pushed you away before then I’m sorry to say it’s the same here. Voices will often grate, particularly when you’ve heard the same battle cries a few dozen times, but it’s much better than it has been in prior games.
Nopons also return, and while I appreciate their fanbase, they still make a good argument for turning the volume down. That’s a shame, as the orchestral soundtrack is beautiful at times, particularly in more personal, character-driven moments.
Speaking of beauty, the cluttered HUD has become a big part of Xenoblade’s DNA and perhaps makes sense given just how many cooldowns and health bars there are to keep an eye on. Still, it does feel tough to appreciate the world when there are half a dozen status bars on the left, an enemy health bar at the top, and a huge number of arts mapped to button presses.
Verdict – 8.5/10
Small foibles aside, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 might just be the Switch’s prettiest and grandest game of 2022. With a deep combat system and surprisingly effective story, along with quality of life improvements over the prior game, it’s a true spectacle whether you’re playing in handheld mode or docked. It really is a must-buy for JRPG fans.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch