Xenoblade Chronicles 3 review: The best Xenoblade yet

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Title: Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Developer: Monolith Soft
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: July 29th, 2022

My first introduction to Xenoblade was Xenoblade Chronicles 2. A coworker of mine had recommended the title shortly after I got my Nintendo Switch and had told me about how much he loved both Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X. “But it’s a JRPG title, though, so I’m not sure if you’d like it,” he told me. He knew me well. Japanese titles weren’t my strong suit, they seemed extremely foreign to me as RPG titles went, and I was used to the Skyrims and Mass Effects of the world that I nary had ventured outside the realm of Western RPGs.

But then it dawned on me that I had been playing JRPGs my entire life. I was a huge Pokemon fan and was fresh off the high that I had gotten from playing Octopath Traveler. I was open-minded, so I gave it a go.

Instant love. But amazed at the time commitment it had received from me. Titles rarely manage to hold my attention for the entire narrative, let alone almost a hundred hours. With the experience I had playing the second title in what has been an incredibly well-received series, I was eagerly waiting for Xenoblade Chronicles 3 to come out.

Games that hit on a formula of success tend to stick to that formula to sustain that success, but Monolith Soft has a history of experimentation and taking their titles to new heights. The studio is known for its incredible workplace culture as well as for hiring young untested game designers to test their mettle. For them, the formula in the workplace has been their key to success, not just their formula in game design.

The title improves upon nearly every aspect as its predecessors, yet can still fall prone to the same mistakes. The incredible story often stumbles upon weakly built bosses, and occasionally poor writing. But with that being said, this is the best Xenoblade Chronicles entry yet.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 review: The best Xenoblade yet
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Xenoblade Chronicles 3 starts off with a bang

Immediately at the beginning of the game, you can tell it took a more serious tone than it has in previous installments of the Chronicles series. In the opening cutscene, people are seen going about their lives in the city, only for everything to stop and freeze. You are then taken to an ongoing bloodbath of a battle, which introduces you to the gravity of violence that the characters face.

You are thrust into a conflict in the world of Aionios, where the technologically advanced nation of Keves and the ether-based nation Agnia are at constant war.

The game focuses on Noah, an Off-Seer for the nation of Keves. His job is to put to rest the fallen soldiers and harness their life force by playing a ritual on a flute. Both Keves and Agnia sit in a perpetual state of war, where biologically engineered soldiers are created with a lifespan of just 10 years, called “terms”. Their main purpose? To fight. You fight to survive, and you survive only to continue to fight. Those who survive their ten-year sentence get what is called a “homecoming” and they get sent off as legends of the nation. It is the goal of every soldier, though very few get to reach this milestone.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 review: The best Xenoblade yet
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The story like most Xenoblade titles takes a bit of time to get moving, but by the time you finish the first chapter, you’re sucked into the point where you aren’t going to want to put the game down. Without giving out too many details, if you’ve played both the first and second Xenoblade Chronicles, you’ll be very satisfied to see that this narrative ties in both the games which seemed to serve as one-offs of each other. But that’s not to say if this is your first foray into the series you will struggle, it works perfectly as a standalone title, and if you like it, you’ll definitely enjoy the first two as well as the amazing Xenoblade Chronicles X.

Yet the story itself can drag, and the pacing can only be described as sloppy. One moment, things are moving along, such as when you begin to investigate a mysterious object and come into contact with Agnians and face a godlike creature, to moments where you’re just running around and collecting items. Part of it felt like filler in a game that boasts over a hundred hours of story, where I felt that it could have taken less time if only those filler quests had been done away with. But even where the story falls short, the well-written characters lift it up.

The characters you’re introduced to may seem grating at first, but as I continued playing, I found myself enjoying all of them. Lanz and Taion will likely bother you the most at first, but once you step into their shoes and understand more about their personalities, you’ll find them more charming than annoying. Part of that experience is what made me enjoy Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Many games leave their characters less fleshed out, and with an incomplete understanding of them you leave feeling more annoyed with them than attached but provided the lens through which we can see where those characters are coming from, it allows our empathy to take hold. This is where Monolith Soft has always shined.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 review: The best Xenoblade yet
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These characters have fully realized side quests, and you’ll meet more companions along the way, each with a unique backstory and fully voiced cutscenes. I should also note that the voice acting in this title is far superior to what we experienced in the last entry.

The game also builds upon the crazy environments we’ve come to know and love and makes them even crazier. As you travel through Aionios, you’ll find a world teeming with life. Difficult monsters lurk throughout the game world, as well as robots, humans, and this giraffe-like thing that isn’t too difficult to take down. Of course, these monsters have varying difficulty levels, and as the game will quickly point out, the most straightforward way to your destination may not always be the safest.

But you have multiple different modes of fighting these monsters. In fact, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has so much for you to learn that you’ll be doing tutorials throughout the entire game. At one point, I was bombarded with so many tutorial cards I felt that I was reading flash cards as if the game was preparing me for some big exam at the end. While that wasn’t the case, I shouldn’t have felt that way to begin with.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 review: The best Xenoblade yet
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Xenoblade has always been a game full of convoluted mechanics and more that you would usually want to deal with in a game, and it can get confusing fast. A major gripe I had with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was that if I missed a tutorial, it was gone…forever. Monolith Soft fixed this problem by allowing you to go back and look through all the tutorials that you have done throughout the game by going to the main menu. That put me slightly at ease and made me feel more comfortable just tapping through the tutorial cards until I felt like I was missing something.

Where these tutorials came in handy was when I found myself struggling with a specific fight, and needed to change my strategy. You now have six playable characters that you can cycle through, and their classes are interchangeable. Being able to mix and match your classes as well as strategize made me almost feel like I was playing a JRPG version of Dragon Age. This was a welcome change. Almost as welcome as the removal of the gachapon system (I’d say rest-in-peace, but honestly, good riddance).

There’s one more thing to gripe about here, and it has nothing to do with Monolith Soft or Xenoblade Chronicles 3 as a game. At many points, it felt that the title was being held back by the Nintendo Switch’s hardware, which at this point is more than five years old. There were points where the grass was being generated no more than 10 feet in front of me as the Switch appeared to be struggling to keep up with the detailed world of Aionios. Unfortunately, it appears that what was holding Xenoblade Chronicles 3 back from being an absolute blockbuster and game changer wasn’t the game itself, but the hardware it was published on.

As Nintendo continues to work on its first-party release titles, which have always been the selling point of Nintendo hardware, the Switch may be what they want to update first as Xenoblade Chronicles 3 may mean the Switch has finally reached its peak.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 score: 9/10

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has taken the best of JRPGs and Western RPGs and has created a title worth any gamer’s attention. Monolith Soft continues to innovate with gameplay while retaining the heart and soul of one of Nintendo’s flagship franchises. With a crazy world, and an even crazier story to boot, if you have a Switch and aren’t playing this, you’re missing out on one of the most polished RPGs of this generation.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.