Xenoblade Chronicles 3 wallows in the soft, the ponderous, the unspoken. in earlier ones Xenoblade games there was always a moment that grabbed me and propelled me through another 40 or 60 hours. Each looked like a spectacular character performance or a fight at the pinnacle of a dead god’s body. Big drama and big romance. But in Xenoblade Chronicles 3, I felt myself biting the bait in the Maktha Wildforest, amid the overgrown ruins of a civilization so old its memory was lost a world ago. I remember what was said on that quiet night under the stars, near an extinguished campfire, a castle silhouetted on the horizon.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 it’s about hope. It is, more explicitly than the previous titles, a revolutionary story. And with a world collapsing before them, the denizens of the eternal land of Aionios find meaning in stillness and moments of stillness – in campgrounds and canteens across the continent, on ancient battlefields and repurposed war machines. To deflect that tone, developer Monolith Soft appropriately re-evaluated how its characters are portrayed, with dialogue that feels more human than in the previous games, Kenspeckel character designs throughout the cast, lively cutscene animations, and voice guidance that’s worlds apart best moment of past xeno games.
Aionios is a continent made up of titanic remains, the same bodies of once-living gods that players roamed within Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. In this world, two factions battle each other endlessly in a conflict so old it has lost all meaning. Fragments of the land – a towering finger, a mountainous carcass – betray a disturbing story. The future characters fought so hard for Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 didn’t turn out as planned. This is about getting it right.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is built in the tradition of the “road trip” game. Protagonists Noah and Mio, along with their friends Eunie, Taion, Lanz, and Sena, defect and attempt to unite their factions against an altogether greater threat than they could have imagined. I spent the overwhelming majority of my 130 hours in Aionios with them in some form of combat or exploration, be it side quests, colony liberation, trading, gathering or hunting.
While Aionios’ static horizon is a departure from the dynamic vistas that drew me into the series, walking across the continent is like walking around any other Xenoblade Game. Charming, albeit repetitive, callouts and a stirring orchestral soundtrack accompany otherworldly environments filled with increasingly bizarre monsters and hidden secrets. I’ve still found those important moments of wonder that will stay with me: climbing the finger of the titan Mechonis at sunrise, wandering through a bioluminescent savannah at night, or gazing at the stars at sea.
And with Xenoblade Chronicles 3By focusing more on the journey than the destination, I feel like I’ve gotten to know each party member better than any character Monolith Soft has created before. Unlike previous games, characterization is not reserved for optional dialogue events, but is given prominence in fully voiced side stories and key hero quests. While the increased focus on optional side stories structures the game somewhat horizontally, the breadth of interactions here emphasizes that there are things that matter more than protagonist exploits. Your relationships, desires, and past stories are as important forces as any approaching apocalypse or impending disaster.
Of course, each character’s personality really shines in battle. Although there are (shockingly) no quick-time events, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 feels like an evolution of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Systems that manage to be both larger and more accessible than before, a combination I found necessary to engage with their complexity. At level 90, I’m still finding new combinations of arts, talent arts, master arts, abilities, and accessories to optimize my party for endgame challenges.
This extensive customizability extends beyond the menus and into the real-time gameplay as well. In addition to switching between characters in battle Xenoblade Chronicles 3 uses a job or “class” system. Leveling up a class unlocks its arts and abilities to share with other classes, introducing a host of new ways to improve builds. While I tried to stick to specific roles for each character in my party, the game itself forced me to play each as an attacker, healer, or defender at least once, and that had surprising implications: Eunie’s numerous healing abilities were amazingly effective at buffing the offensive of a late-game attacker class that deals high critical damage at the expense of its own health. However, I wish that characters would feel more unique when they used the same class in the early game – everyone feels essentially identical on every character.
Classes also determine the pace of combat. Lanz, the group’s protective and burly guardian, begins with a large sword that triples as a turret and shield. It’s by far the slowest moveset – each art feels like rolling a heavy burden Dark Souls to build. On the other hand, Mio’s starter tank class with its twin rings can string arts almost endlessly when fully upgraded. A late-game attacker class styled as a boxer became one of my favorites, and it cranked up the action in a way that reminded me of the responsiveness of Lora’s Battle Braids Torna – The Golden Land (although Xenoblade Chronicles 3 never quite feels as refined as this DLC’s streamlined experience).
As you travel Aionios and recruit heroes for your party, you’ll unlock new classes, and this is where narrative and systems are thoughtfully combined. Heroes are leaders of colonies scattered across Aionios, and their classes say something about their character: some forego defense, others deal damage themselves, and some even lack offensive abilities. Each hero is unlocked at the end of a quest that frees their colony from conscription in the eternal war and reveals many more quest lines that will progress throughout the main story. These quests hide some of the best stories Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has to offer, with politics, espionage and trade negotiations as recurring themes.
While most of these are optional, they are an integral part of what Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is as complete story. By interweaving lengthy, voice-driven and thought-provoking hero quests with smaller catch quests and gauntlets, a more complete picture of each colony emerges – small settlements teeming with different perspectives on life, death and war in this land. There are well over 100 side quests, and while their objectives might be routine, each told me something about living in this world. It got me interested in Aionios as an amalgamation of the land and its peoples.
To this end, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 rewards you for investing in people and places, spending time with a community, and getting to the heart of their struggles. In what is perhaps the longest-running questline, I helped a liberated colony farm for a living as both a diplomat and warrior. And I did that with the help of neighboring colonies that once would have fought each other. This quest fitted into many late-game stories where heroes came together in surprising ways to take the world beyond a protagonist’s limited sphere of influence. They developed trade networks, exchanged knowledge and established mutual aid.
I should also note here that part of what makes Aionios seem so complicated is the how Xenoblade Chronicles 3 showcases its female characters, who are both diverse and all very strong. When writing characters and dialogue, and especially character design, it can be hard to believe Xenoblade Chronicles 3 shares so much creative talent Xenoblade Chronicles 2and even Xenoblade Chronicles. In creating compelling women that I didn’t have to look past several limitations to appreciate, Aionios not only feels like a more holistic setting than any world Monolith Soft has constructed before, but the obligatory romantic subplot is able to sustain itself and even survive the landing – mostly.
That’s perhaps my predominant opinion about it Xenoblade Chronicles 3. My enjoyment of the game was uncomplicated in a way that had never been possible in previous games from Monolith Soft. The studio’s success doesn’t lie in overcoming hardware limitations, awkward character designs, or frantic stage directions — it lies in not having to analyze these defining idiosyncrasies of the time. Instead, it delivers a story that its creators have been working towards for years: a story about a boy who meets a girl who then finds his own way and with it the strength to walk it – in an endless sea, under the endless sky . And that’s no small matter.
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