Xenoblade Chronicles has been on a bit of a roll on Switch. The Wii and Wii U somewhat limited the audience for the series in the past, but Switch being the sales behemoth it is has helped propel Xenoblade to a much wider audience. I enjoyed Chronicles 2, but truly fell in love with the series with Xenoblade Chronicles Remastered. It’s expansive worlds, light-hearted characters and engaging combat mechanics hooked me for the long haul. While I don’t think it quite hits the highs of XC Remastered for me, Monolith Soft’s third game on Switch, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 (XC3) is another fantastic action RPG romp.
First things first – the story in XC3 is way darker in tone than I expected. While the series has never shied from conflict, XC3 shows us a world locked in a never-ending war. People are born to fight as young adults, and either die in battle or reach ten years of life and expire. The two sides of the conflict are each split up into various colonies, each fighting to kill as many of the other side as possible to fill their Flame Clock. This in turn determines their rank among other colonies and the kinds of support, resources and food they’ll recieve from higher-ups. Something seems off about this situation immediately, and the story really begins with our characters questioning this status quo. It’s a compelling premise, and one that kept me wanting to play to find out where the story will go next.
For me at least, the characters in a Xenoblade Chronicles game are a huge factor in whether I enjoy the game overall. Given the more serious tone of the story then, it maybe makes sense that the characters you’ll accompany on your journey are themselves a little less easy-going than you might be used to from other entries. I found myself missing the happy-go-lucky mindset of Shulk and pals, but Noah, Mio and the rest of your crew in XC3 do develop interesting relationships over time. It’s just a bit more of a slow burn.
Much like the story and characters, the visuals of XC3 are probably a bit gloomier than you might expect from the series. There are patches of light and colour to be found but a huge amount of your time will be spent in grey battlefields and brown deserts. It’s missing a certain liveliness that I missed from previous entries. Technically though, XC3 still looks fantastic. Character models are sharp and detailed, well animated (including lip sync for the English voice track which is nice!) and battles are as flashy as ever. Resolution takes a noticeable hit in handheld mode with everything becoming visibly blurry, especially as things move further from the camera. It’s not a huge hassle and in fact I played most of the game handheld – but it’s an issue the series has had all along on Switch and still a bit of a shame the system can’t keep up with the scale of world XC3 wants to present without lowered detail.
You’ll mostly be spending your time in XC3’s world doing two main things – exploring and fighting. The world to explore is suitably massive, and exploration is rewarded with items, special enemy encounters and side quests. The game gives you a line to follow if you want to go straight to the next story objective, but I always found myself exploring to find cool new items and enemies to fight – a sign of an engaging world in my opinion. The combat system will be familiar to anyone who has played a Xenoblade Chronicles game before, but has it’s own flavour to differentiate itself from the rest of the series.
You have six core party members to assign classes and equip with accessories, skills and special moves. On top of those you will often have a seventh party member that can be dictated by the story situation or sometimes freely changeable. Classes are split into Attackers, Defenders and Healers which broadly decides their role in battle – however there are so many different classes within each of these roles that you’ll find countless ways to customise your team to fit your preference, playstyle or situation. During battle you directly control one party member, while the rest are competently controlled by the game’s AI. Depending on the role you control you might need to focus on positioning for maximum damage, drawing attention away from your attackers or healing your team when they need it. The scope for building your team is immense, and being able to play any of these roles means you get heaps of variety if you want it in battles. Big damage comes from using certain attack types in order (for example Break, Topple then Daze) and the AI companions are smart enough to participate in these combos when the time is right.
Combat gets even more interesting the further you progress in the game. Giving away as little story as I’m able, characters are able to fuse together temporarily into strange, Evangelion-looking forms to use more powerful moves without a cooldown timer. This form has it’s own skill tree which can be customised as you progress. There are also Chain Attacks which are crucial to doing massive damage to bosses. In this attack your characters take turns to perform actions which build up a tactics meter, do this smartly and you can keep attacking over and over to rack up huge damage and even further special attacks. It’s a combat system with a lot of complex moving parts, but the game is good at explaining it’s systems and giving you opportunities to confirm your understanding through training drills. It’s a great combat system that looks super slick and is great fun to play with.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is another great entry in the long-running series. Combat is complex, but well enough explained to readily understand and feels fantastic to play with. It has interesting characters, an intriguing world and an engrossing storyline that had me always wondering what was going to happen next. Whether you're new to the series or a veteran, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is stylish, intriguing, super fun, and well worth checking out for RPG fans.