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Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Closes its Trilogy with a Triumphant Finale

Monolith Soft has come a long way.



Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Review

Developer: Monolith Soft | Publisher: Nintendo | Genre: JRPG | Platform: Nintendo Switch
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

As I watched a melancholy hero play a beautiful melody to clean a war-torn battlefield of its fallen soldiers, I found it evident what Xenoblade Chronicles 3 would be. This is Monolith Soft’s final symphony for their acclaimed trilogy of loosely connected stories and a curtain call for the developer’s history up until this very point in time. After 15 years of creating entries in this franchise and 22 years of forging some of the industry’s finest RPGs, Monolith Soft brings their first grand era of gods and titans to a close by culminating all of their lessons thus far. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is yet another work of art from Nintendo’s all-star developer, deserving of its high praise.

In the face of high standards from a studio on a jaw-dropping hot streak of projects, perhaps the best question for Monolith Soft is simply: how does the latest Xenoblade Chronicles game compare to its predecessors? Does Xenoblade Chronicles 3 truly build upon the successes and flaws of its prior entries? Is the story articulate enough to put players through the same emotional turmoil as the first game while tying almost all of its beloved narratives together? Has the gameplay been streamlined to its maximum potential? Unsurprisingly, after years of refining system mechanics and blending what worked best between each game, the answer to all those questions is yes–at least for the most part.

Monolith Soft has come a long way since it first began its third franchise under the Xeno name. Even amidst some structural hiccups adopted from its predecessor that sometimes hamper an immensely gripping tale, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is Monolith Soft’s best-directed and most mechanically immersive title yet. It’s an emotional journey that seamlessly manages to keep players on the edge of their seats as the game pulls heartstrings through its characters trapped inside a hypnotic world that keeps adventurers satisfied thanks to the best combat the series has had to offer and a landscape blooming with callbacks and new locations.

A Song of Sorrow and Surprise

Image: Nintendo

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 takes place in the world of Aionios where two martial nations, Keves and Agnus, are locked in an ongoing battle for their queens. Under the control of Flame Clocks and Consul war generals, soldiers from each side of the battlefield yearn for the same end goal: to live out their lives and reach the permanent end of their cycle. In Aionios, every soldier attempts to live through ten years of battle only to return to their ruler’s embrace and be freed from the horrors of warfare at a homecoming ceremony. Meanwhile, those who die in battle are forced into a cycle of reincarnation, destined to die another day against their own kind again and again until their ultimatum is satisfied.

Deep into the war, two pairs of three soldiers, accompanied by one nopon each from Keves and Agnus, are interrupted during an evenly matched confrontation by a man named Guernica Vandam–a figure who will significantly stand out to those who played the prior Xenoblade Chronicles games. Desperate for answers as to who Moebius is and what Vandham meant before his last breath, Noah, Lanz, Eunie, Riku, Mio, Sena, Taion, and Manana all set off on a globe-trotting adventure to discover the future’s last hope from constant suffering as they learn the truth behind their grim reality and the purpose of Ouroboros.

While that description may seem vague and open the door to dozens of questions, the beauty of Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s story leans exactly on that sentiment. At its heart, the narrative welcomes players to question its world and dig deep into its evolving lore. The opening battle between Colony 9 and the opposing Agnus forces is a mesmerizing setpiece that perfectly sets the stage for a captivating adventure overflowing with mystery and excitement. Like the first Xenoblade game for the Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 carefully establishes the world of Aionios and the narrative’s overarching theme early during its conflict. From the opening cutscene, a powerful sense of disarray, devastation, and hope is swung at players like the final killing slice of a sword. Despite how long it may take for players to fall in love with the cast, the emotional investment can be felt merely minutes in.

There is nothing quite like the sound of a distant piano and the promise of adventure that Monolith Soft is always able to echo on its title screens, but oftentimes where the developer finds its true hooks are in its bold storytelling moments–and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is thankfully stuffed with them both during the main story and side quests. While the game’s narrative can get a tad overpacked during its first few hours, it quickly creates a compelling cast of characters with legitimate problems and relationships players will care about. Almost every character in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is given notable moments to reflect on due to the game’s careful usage of its leading and minor cast members.

Image: Nintendo

When Monolith Soft focuses all its effort into the game’s cinematic direction and emotional weight, the developer creates that magical spectacle players have felt with the franchise’s other entries. Every action continues to build upon every character’s story, and main quests and side quests are never wasted. However, as mentioned before, there can be quite a few slow moments between the remarkable highs towards the beginning. The introduction to the world of Aionios and the male protagonist Noah may be the strongest opening Monolith Soft has ever created for one of their games, but the moments that follow can initially feel weighed down. Thankfully, as the plot slowly moves and players just begin to fully understand their companions, Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s story quickly makes smart moves to keep the player’s engagement intact.

The first few hours of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 contain quite a bit of back and forth between flashbacks, the present, and the perspective of its villains. While the cast becoming fully fleshed-out characters early on is a welcoming change from Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s slow build, the oscillating movements between what are essentially three different story points can be frustrating at times. Whereas the gameplay has been extremely streamlined to arguably the series peak, Monolith Soft still has some lessons to learn in terms of compact story writing. The narrative is stronger than Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and its prequel Torna ~ The Golden Country, yet it is far from being the perfect adventure that Shulk and the original party previously took players on because of the lack of fast-forging team dynamics.

Xenoblade Chronicles had high aspirations but kept its focus tight and never attempted to exceed its limitations. Being on the Wii, Monolith Soft was much more restricted and had less to work with, but they used their restraints to their advantage. As to be expected when a developer is given more power, Monolith Soft has continued to aim larger with each new Xenoblade Chronicles entry on Nintendo Switch. Those efforts have made their stories a tad more difficult to understand, but the trade-off is the delivery of stronger payoffs.

The culmination and untangling of Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s entire story is ultimately as satisfying as it is exhilarating. After the player gets to know the characters in the first three chapters, the back half of the game is downright emotional, shocking, and constantly mesmerizing. Like the best stories in video games, it unravels into something difficult to put down–and the game’s scale does not help this great problem. Considering its immense size, it is easy to appreciate how Monolith Soft has handled a literal titan of a game as they urge players to play through the story and explore every inch of Aionios to solve its inhabitants’ tsunami of conundrums and falling outs.

The Inhabitants May Fight For Life, But Aionios Has Plenty of It

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 review Nintendo Switch Monolith Soft game
Image: Nintendo

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 shines brightest against its predecessors through its sense of exploration and how its palpable world ties together its technicalities through a fulfilling quest structure. From getting quests started to engaging in over-the-top battles, the developer has finally found a balance between attempting to simplify the systems of Xenoblade Chronicles while getting as complex as Xenoblade Chronicles 2.

Unlike its predecessors, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 rarely feels like it’s pulling players away from Aionios for large increments of time with menus and overdrawn globe-trotting side quests. Bionis and Mechnois may have helped give Xenoblade Chronicles a better story structure, and Alrest’s titan maps helped better pinpoint the locations of side quests in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but there is no denying that Aionios can be far more effective to explore thanks to its streamlined aspects that keep players on the run and in the action rather than calculating variables. The game wants players to spend most of their time venturing with the cast.

Many open-world RPGs have gameplay structures that either lead to players roaming barren landscapes or being sucked into adjusting hundreds of equipment elements in menus. Monolith Soft manages to avoid such prominent issues–ones that it has suffered from, especially in recent years–by simplifying aspects of its gameplay and minimizing some options. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is still packed with dialogue, but rather than giving players over a thousand side quests to complete where they will traverse back and forth across a large world fighting enemies and delivering items, the game keeps players locked in on-foot exploration and combat scenarios of different scales. Even though Aionios is massive, there is never an area of the world that feels wasted or empty, thanks to how quests have been formatted and equipment has been optimized.

In Xenoblade Chronicles 3, there are only a handful of actual “side quests” to complete as the game focuses on the main story and the newly introduced Hero Quests that aim to flesh out the narrative and give players more combat options to tinker with. While players will surely miss some of the witty one-per-side quest characters, allowing the game to focus on a smaller array of focused stories pays off on the narrative and gameplay fronts. Simplifying all the fetch quests to an encyclopedia of constantly updating tasks players can browse and submit items to at any given moment without locating NPCs is a genius way of urging users to go on a collectathon while saving time from hours of constant disruptions. Meanwhile, giving the minor cast a chance to shine in their own stories and become playable heroes that contribute to a malleable character class system keeps gameplay refreshing.

At every point, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 gives players a reason to traverse its fantastical atmosphere. Ultimately though, the game’s promise of adventure tailors to all different player experiences. According to Nintendo, the world of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is shockingly over five times the size of its predecessor, yet the player’s adventure can range from 40 hours to well over a hundred, depending on how much content they choose to tackle. Due to how experience points can be distributed along with the number of different quests to tackle, the overwhelming problematic size of the series has been cut for more casual players looking to focus on the game’s storytelling and combat. Simply put, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 lacks a lot of padding but contains an extraordinary amount of content for those who want more.

Players who both explore all of Aionios and choose not to will never be let down by the content and locations they will come across. Whether you are fighting an innocent Capybara hybrid on the way to the next colony or a secret Agnus super boss machine larger than a building, the range of enemy diversity and set pieces to discover during the adventure never fails to please. Even after over 100 hours into the game, players will still find plenty of new characters and creatures with memorable designs, homes, and battles to engage in. Every Xenoblade Chronicles game has a fantastic world, but the way Aionios calls back to the prior games while creating a memorable new atmosphere helps give returning players a deeper connection to the franchise while newcomers are left in wonder.

Those same feelings also extend to the game’s masterful soundtrack. The entire score of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 deserves a special mention as Monolith Soft’s composing team has somehow managed to outdo themselves once again. Like every other Xenoblade Chronicles game, the soundtrack here is nothing short of phenomenal as it carefully enhances every moment and location the game has to offer. Between the electric and octane themes of Moebius to the serene and elevating flute renditions of the off-seers, there is a ridiculous amount of distinguished elements in the game’s sound design to adore. Much like the rest of the game, it never disappoints at exceeding some of its predecessors while trying something so brilliantly isolating from the other entries.

Engage the Enemy

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 review Nintendo Switch Monolith Soft game
Image: Nintendo

At the end of the day, though, an immersive world and a story can only be excellently shaped based on the foundation of its gameplay. With Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Monolith Soft last found itself in a tight position. The seemingly simplified nature of the first entry’s gameplay formula and bloated tutorials inevitably led to many players failing to fully grasp deceptively deep combat. As alluded to before, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a best-of-both-worlds scenario as it takes several notes from its predecessors and combines their best aspects. In the same vein as the reworked quest structure and menus, the game’s combat has been streamlined perfectly to blend the highlights of its predecessors without being confusing or offering too much at once.

Like the other Xenoblade Chronicles games, players will find themselves carefully using arts to create combos and keep their team alive amidst challenging bosses and hoards of enemies. Players can still command their allies with pre-set pattern options, but they also have been given far more flexibility in terms of control as they can now swap between characters with the click of a button. With the addition of this one simple feature, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 immediately adds a sense of importance to every moving element of a party. For players especially playing on a harder difficulty, making the best-optimized team possible is as meticulously challenging as it is satisfying. Additionally, the ability to swap between party members during battle can be a lifesaver when the AI is not always doing what the player would hope.

Strangely enough, there are both fewer and more technicalities to tinker with in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 when it comes to building the party. As alluded to before, the systems of upgrading arts and choosing from hundreds of different equipment pieces across multiple slots have been almost entirely axed. While the swappable arts system is still as versatile as ever, and the lessening of gear is appreciated, the addition of the aforementioned character classes obtained by completing Hero Quests helps players customize the party to an unbelievable number of possibilities.

The class system adds so many enjoyable variables to mess with that never feel meaningless compared to other games in the series and RPGs in general. Each class a character can use can legitimately be utilized to restrategize teams and create new combat flows that no other Xenoblade game can. The seemingly infinite number of combat possibilities is only possible because of the whole party being present in the field.

Having all seven party members present at once not only makes Xenoblade Chronicles 3 more challenging to multitask, but it also makes the game feel more like that group adventure most RPGs try to be. While many games in this genre had players plenty of characters but only allow them to use three or four at once, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 nails the feeling of bringing every character together on their quest. Every character pays their contributions to the party and is constantly partaking in the action both in and out of cutscenes. Meanwhile, the idea of including a seventh party member that can be interchanged between a whole cast of unlockable characters is brilliant because these heroes open a gateway of unique strategies. Despite being an RPG with a linear A-to-B story path, it is easy to see why every player’s adventure would feel unique from a gameplay perspective alone.

The highlight of Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s gameplay is the Evangelion-like beings known as Ouroboros–a feature that is heavily tied into the game’s narrative and has its own set of skill trees to upgrade. After filling a charge meter, players can combine select characters in the party to create six powerful formations capable of causing status effects and high numbers of damage. The only shame about the Ouroboros is how late their potential is fully unlocked as they become game-changing abilities at about the halfway point of the story. It takes a lot more time than it probably should for players to finally be able to utilize everything Ouroboros has to offer, but even when the player is unlocking features deep into their adventure, they help keep Xenoblade Chronicles 3 engaging. The precise timeline of unlockable features only keeps the adventure alive.

The Bridge Between Worlds

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Image: Nintendo

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a magnificent JRPG and a monumental step forward for Monolith Soft as a game developer. While I had some personal fears walking into the latest entry after my rather ill experience with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Monolith Soft managed to fix all my concerns with the final entry in its loosely connected trilogy of hopeful tales. Whether you are a fan of Shulk and Rex’s adventures or a newcomer to this universe yearning for a better tomorrow, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 showcases a deep love for the whole series in one brilliantly executed package. Without a doubt, this is a Nintendo Switch essential that system owners should not miss–especially if they are looking for a narrative-heavy adventure.

With plenty of DLC stories on the way thanks to the Expansion Pass, Monolith Soft has a bright future already locked in for its latest epic in the coming years. Like many of the developer’s previous projects, after its credits roll and players are left in awe over its conclusion, they will only wonder how Monolith Soft will manage to top itself again before their next science-fiction fantasy releases. No matter where their future may go, the memories of Noah, Mio, and the rest of the party will never fade away.

Creative writer, NXpress Host, and Games Editor. I have always held a high interest in the fields of professional writing and communications. You can find me with my head deep in the espionage genre or in a kayak upstream. I’ll always be first in line for the next Hideo Kojima or Masahiro Sakurai game.