Xenoblade Chronicles 3 review – a monolithic success

Monolith Soft’s newest role-player is one of the most technically impressive Nintendo Switch games ever and the best Xenoblade game to date.

Nintendo’s release schedule for the rest of the year is looking pretty strong in terms of console exclusives. Both Splatoon and Pokémon are receiving new instalments, with Bayonetta 3 recently confirmed for an October launch. Kicking off this line-up, however, is Xenoblade Chronicles 3, Nintendo’s biggest summer blockbuster and the latest project from open world specialist Monolith Soft.

In the 15 years since it became a Nintendo subsidiary, Monolith Soft has proven to be a more than worthy acquisition for the company. Not just thanks to the Xenoblade series (with even its weakest entries being among the best Japanese role-playing games out there), but by providing support on some of Nintendo’s biggest releases, including The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and its 2023 sequel.

Given how heavily it’s promoted Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and its decision to release it a couple of months early (it was originally a September game), Nintendo clearly has a lot of faith in both the game and developer. It was already looking good when we previewed the first few hours and, having now played the full game, we can safely say that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is everything fans hoped it would be. In fact, it may well be the best entry in the series.

For the uninitiated, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is an open world Japanese role-playing game where basic combat is handled automatically. While your party attacks enemies on their own, you only control the movement of a single selected character, while issuing orders to the rest of the party. The character you’re controlling has to be within a certain range for some attacks to hit, as you wait for an opportune moment to trigger special attacks called Arts.

Compared to the previous games, you now have a lot more freedom in how you approach combat, thanks to the revised class/job system. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 flirted with the idea, but Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s attempt is more traditional. Akin to something like Octopath Traveler or Bravely Default, every party member comes with a default class but can freely swap to another one after you’ve unlocked it. As you level up each class, you can retain certain attacks and skills even after switching, allowing you to mix and match to your liking.

Your options are slim to begin with, but you can acquire more classes by recruiting optional party members, called heroes, either through the story or side quests. You can’t directly play as them, which is a bit of a shame, but their unique classes allow for even more variety. Every class can be split between attacker, defender, and healer roles but they all have something distinct about them, encouraging experimentation and allowing you to come up with your own party formation.

This level of freedom also means you never need to play a role you don’t enjoy (barring the opening tutorials). Say, for example, you really like Welsh cat girl Mio but don’t enjoy playing as her default defender class. You can happily swap her to an attacker class and never look back. There’s nothing stopping you from making everyone attackers, for example, although we wouldn’t recommend it.

If anything, you should always have at least two healers in your party, since they’re the only ones that can revive fallen characters. If you’re unlucky enough to lose both, you may as well quit the fight and start over, especially if this happens during certain boss fights.

A lot of the bosses seem to have either ludicrous amounts of health or take very little damage. Maybe this was done to keep things balanced (you do have a full party of six, if not seven, characters attacking at once), but it means these fights can far outstay their welcome, even when taking advantage of chain attacks – the go-to method for knocking out chunks of an enemy’s health bar.

To help out, there’s the new Ouroboros forms where two characters temporarily fuse into a larger form, which are powerful but not so much as to guarantee victory. The transformation doesn’t last long, and using Ouroboros Arts expedites the process, but they can deal devastating damage and are technically invincible since they don’t have health bars.

Plus, they can be further upgraded with passive support skills, new attacks, and the like. The forms can be activated at any time, although it’s recommended you charge up the interlink level with Fusion Arts (where you perform two attacks at the same time) since the form becomes stronger at higher levels.

Combat in Xenoblade has a reputation for sensory overload, with how much can happen at once, and that remains the case for this game. There’s also a lot of information you’ll need to remember and it’s easy to forget some of the minor but still very important details even after several hours of playtime.

The different status effects, what each character’s Arts do, how chain attacks work, how to charge up the special talent Arts which differ depending on your role, equipping accessories and gems to improve the party’s stats; even a long-time fan will struggle to remember everything. Thankfully, every tutorial can be reviewed in a tips menu should you need reminding and we maintain that this is still the most approachable combat in the series.

Compare this to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which not only had poorly explained tutorials but didn’t even let you re-read them afterwards. In fact, many of that game’s more contentious qualities have been outright ditched. There’re no gacha elements whatsoever (the last game had a system for randomly unlocking party members) and the character designs are less inappropriately horny, with everyone dressed relatively sensibly this time round. Plus, while the quality of the graphics is roughly the same, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a noticeable step up.

Massive open spaces to explore is nothing new for the series but in previous games some locations were much, much smaller than others. Here, every area you visit is equally large, with so many opportunities to stray from the beaten path. No single location is limited to just being the grassy plains or cave area because they’re all comprised of multiple environments that would’ve been separate maps in previous games.

Having such wide spaces can be a double-edged sword but we never found walking through a new area for the first time to be a chore. There was never a moment where it felt like there were huge stretches of nothing; there’s always something to see and entice you to check out. Plus, thanks to an optional quest marker, that creates an orange trail for you to follow, you never need to worry about getting lost.

There is the occasional longer-than-usual loading screen but considering how much can be shown on screen at once (especially during the more hectic battles) without the frame rate dropping, even in handheld mode, Monolith Soft’s efforts should be applauded. The studio has practically perfected open world design and its work here only makes us more excited for Breath Of The Wild 2.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 also serves as a great entry point from a story perspective. There are plenty of throwbacks (some subtle, some not so subtle) to the previous games for long-time fans to lap up, but the story is mostly self-contained. You could theoretically work your way backwards through the series and still understand each game’s plot. That said, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 does contain a handful of admittedly minimal spoilers for its predecessors.

If you’re hoping Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is secretly a big crossover drenched in continuity and cameos, you’ll want to dial back those expectations. This is not the Avengers Endgame of Xenoblade, but that doesn’t mean its story and characters are lacking. The core cast are perfectly likeable (although group tactician Taion can get a bit grating sometimes with his analytical personality) and all have individual arcs throughout; the villains are enjoyably detestable, and the overall premise of two armies comprised of test tube grown soldiers forced to fight in a never-ending war lends itself well to a lot of drama and pathos.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3, though not without levity, is a far more sombre experience than the previous games. The main cast are all fighting for a future that lets them take control of their lives, free from the war, but their short lifespans mean they may not live long enough to enjoy it. As they free more soldiers from their Flame Clocks (devices that siphon life from the enemies they kill and effectively keep them alive), some are thankful to be free while others become lost and aimless.

Some story beats aren’t as well explained as they could have been, but most players will resonate with it emotionally. It’s not completely devoid of the typical anime clichés and awkward dialogue but it does far better in that regard than Xenoblade Chronicles 2. As usual for the series, the British voice-acting will likely be the most controversial element, although there is an option to switch to the Japanese voices if you prefer. For those who do unironically enjoy Xenoblade’s overwrought regional accents, you’ll be more than happy with the performances in Xenoblade Chronicles 3.

Without giving anything way, we’re extremely curious to see where Nintendo and Monolith Soft intend on taking the series next, if they have any further plans with it at all. These questions will probably be answered once the story DLC arrives in December 2023 as part of the expansion pass.

At this point, the series is probably too popular and profitable to end but if this is our final foray into the universe of Xenoblade, then Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a more than fitting conclusion. The world is vast and full of things to find and do, the combat is welcoming yet complex, and the story is compelling and thoughtful. It’s Nintendo’s best game for a long while and a sign that Monolith Soft are only getting better with each new release.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 video game review summary

In Short: Another major success for Monolith Soft; Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a contender for the Nintendo Switch’s best role-playing game and one of its most impressive technical achievements.

Pros: Huge world that’s always fun to explore. Very newbie friendly with its tutorials. Class system allows for a near endless amount of customisation. Consistent frame rate throughout, both docked and handheld.

Cons: Voice-acting and dialogue won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. A lot of the boss fights last longer than they should. Combat and on-screen interface can still seem cluttered and overwhelming.

Score: 9/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch
Price: £49.99
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Monolith Soft
Release Date: 29th July 2022
Age Rating: 12

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