I’ve had a rocky experience with Xenoblade so far. Chronicles 2’s characters really did their best to push me away, but going back to Chronicles 1 with it’s remake I fell in love with it’s pleasant cast of characters, gorgeous vistas and engaging combat systems. I was keen to try Xenoblade Chronicles 3 (XC3) just to find out where it would land on the scale for me, and based on my first hours with the game things are looking good.
Chronicles 3 begins with a much darker tone than I had expected. XC3’s world is one of endless, meaningless war. Of fighting enemies without much reason beyond them being from different colonies and to fill up your colony’s Flame Clock – each kill extracts the life force of the dead to boost the score of your colony. It’s quickly apparent that there’s something sinister at play here. The story caught my interest pretty quickly, and has me excited to see where things go. I do hope things get a little brighter for our heroes though, as it’s a bit glum in mood so far.
That glumness is present in the environments as well. The opening sections of the game are full of sterile greys and drab browns. Even the characters spend the opening hours in mostly black outfits. After the lush environments and bright costumes of past games in the series it’s all a bit dreary. Thankfully, characters do get some interesting colourful clothes after a while, which links directly into an interesting new mechanic in the combat system.
Characters outfits are directly related to their class, which in XC3 can be changed anytime outside combat. And you’ll want to change them regularly – as your characters fight with a particular class equipped they will increase their rank within that class which unlocks new skills, some of which they can keep equipped even when they’ve changed to a different class later on. You can customise your team to your heart’s content with classes, gear, combat abilities and other equippables. A new mechanic called Interlink is introduced a little while into the game and gives you even more to think about on top of the already dynamic and somewhat complex battle system. Characters can kind of… fuse together on command into a form called Ouroboros where for a limited time they can use special abilities without a cooldown timer. It adds another layer to an already engaging combat system that feels fantastic to master. As complex as the system might sound, it’s well tutorialised. I felt I could understand how to work within it fairly quickly – a distinct improvement from XC2 where I felt the game barely explained its own mechanics and never really gave an opportunity to confirm your understanding.
The characters themselves are super important to whether I enjoy an RPG, after all I’m going to be spending tens of hours with this bunch and if they get on my nerves immediately it can get in the way of enjoying anything else the game might have to offer. I’m glad to report that while I haven’t found any of the cast endearing themselves to me anywhere near as much as Shulk and the gang, each of the characters in XC3 are interesting to begin with and it seems like they might have room to grow into beloved characters as time goes on.
All in all, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has left me with a positive impression so far. As someone who absolutely loved the first game but felt a bit let down by the second, I’m really glad that the team have learned lessons from 2 and seem to have made 3 a much more appealing game. With an interesting cast, flexible but well explained combat and character customisation systems and a story that starts with a strong premise and promises to go in some interesting directions – my play time so far of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has me wanting to find extra time in the day to play as much as I can to see where it goes.