I’ve been looking forward to Monolith Soft’s next game since the last one ended in 2017, though not without my share of reservations. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was a meandering JRPG with a mix of systems and extremely uneven storytelling. As much as I love the series, I was worried Xenoblade Chronicles 3 would be the same. So far it is not. It’s a first-party Nintendo Switch blockbuster that can rank with the rest of the library.
After five hours, it feels like the most lush and balanced game ever in the series. Environments are scattered but filled. Combat has a lot of layers to experiment with, but none of them feel too dumb or overbearing. Your party list is loaded with classic archetypes that stop short of cliche. And the music responsible for maintaining momentum through long, grinding sections of a game like this is as excellent as ever.
Given discussions about Xenoblade 3huge runtime and how it is still being trained 10 o’clock in, my number one concern was walking. However, the game wastes almost no time in getting started. You play as Noah, a member of the nation of Keves, who along with his comrades is thrust into an existential battle against the rival nation of Agnus. Both sides are tied to “flame clocks” in giant mech bases called Ferronis that harvest life energy from the fallen in battle. People are born as children and only live 10 years or less if they don’t take enough lives to feed the clock. It’s kind of like Royal battle by Philip K. Dick.
Things start off with a big fight before quickly devolving into otherworldly intrigue. Noah and his crew encounter rival fighters from an opposing nation while on a reconnaissance mission, only to be thrown into chaos on both sides after a mysterious old man tells them they are all pawns in a larger conspiracy. Next thing you know, cyborgs are fighting, heroes are merging together, and a group six characters deep has been delivered to your hands to fight your way to the bottom of Xenoblade 3the secrets of.
All this happens in the first few hours. I spent most of my time before and after battles across fields, rivers and mountain passes. Despite its heady premise and chatty ensemble, the heart of Xenoblade 3The gameplay of the game remains a classic JRPG grind. Much of this can be accomplished on autopilot. More difficult non-boss fights are called out with special fonts above the enemies’ heads, denoting their extra power, better rewards, or both. And unlike in Xenoblade 2, the landscapes are once again liberally littered with collectibles that you can pick up just by walking across them. End of stopping every five seconds to press a button prompt to find extra pieces of wood to craft or cook mushrooms.
As for combat, I’m still unlocking some of the core features, but customizing special attacks (called “Arts”) in battle and changing character classes open up pretty early. It’s easy to see how these interconnected systems, which involve a certain level of mixing and matching of active and passive abilities, can make for some very satisfying tinkering between marquee boss fights. And while I was initially concerned that having six party members on screen at once would make battles unnecessarily chaotic, the ability to swap between them at will adds a level of welcome micromanagement to Xenoblade 3 which I sorely missed in previous games (the UI remains a nightmare).
My only real complaint is that the hard lessons are sometimes too self-explanatory and can’t be skipped. Do I need the game to walk me through equipping new armor step by step? No. Likewise, I don’t need the characters talking about different game systems to make them feel vaguely part of the sci-fi world building. People merge their bodies and become cyborgs. Magical costume changes and young people brandishing giant swords are the least of my worries.
Fortunately, none of this gets in the way too much. I’ve spent the last few days really enjoying myself Xenoblade 3 while I was playing it and constantly thinking about it when I wasn’t. That rarely happens to me these days. Especially when it comes to JRPGs. but for now, Xenoblade 3 managed to combine some of my favorite elements from past Monolith games (mechs, cabals, free battle) with what works so well in others. Namely the group of militant students bragging, questioning and attacking each other as they try to overthrow the government and while minimize. Works at Persona 5, Fire Emblem: Three Housesand right now it really works for me in Xenoblade 3. I still have a few dozen hours before I know if the rest of the game meets the requirements.