Prologue: A Life Sent On
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 begins with a melody. An earnest youth named Noah plays his flute as the horrors of war rage around him. Noah is an off-seer, and his song allows the souls of departed comrades to pass on. In a world of ceaseless violence, where the very earth is scorched and dying, Noah’s music is all that can be heard above the din. It’s a lonely tune, at first, but it is soon joined by another.
Xenoblade is my favorite JRPG series of all time, but developer Monolith Soft’s maximalist design philosophy can be daunting for casual players. Xenoblade 1 could get bogged down with sidequests, Xenoblade 2 had confusing tutorials, and Xenoblade X was a great game that almost no one played because it was stuck on the Wii U. But with Xenoblade 3, Monolith has perfected their craft. This 150+ hour epic fixes nearly every issue in the previous games, expands the world even further, and ties the entire Xeno series together into one unforgettable conclusion.
This is gonna be a long review, so strap in! (Spoilers for Chapter 1, and some references to Xenoblade 1 and 2 story elements for clarity.)
Chapter 1: Ouroboros
Aionios is the ancient Greek word for “eternity”. In Xenoblade 3, it is a supercontinent that combines the worlds of the two previous games into one. It’s a grim place, trapped in endless war between the nations Keves and Agnus. In order to stay alive, teenage soldiers must continuously kill each other in order to feed a mechanical monstrosity known as the Flame Clock. War is a natural and necessary part of life in this world — hence the slogan, “Fight to live, live to fight.”
Life in Aionios is nasty, brutish, and short, but there are still people brave enough to challenge the status quo. From Keves, representing the first game, we have the Shonen protag Noah, his beefcake companion Lanz, and tsundere/best girl Eunie. And from Agnus, representing Xenoblade 2, there is the adorable Mio, whiz kid Taion, and Sena, the girl with the gall. The two parties receive a distress signal and start fighting as soon as they meet, but they soon realize that more than their own lives is at stake.
An old man named Vandham tells the six soldiers of their true enemy: the shadowy organization Moebius, who has orchestrated the war since the beginning. He gives each of them the power of Ouroboros, allowing them to bond into Evangelion-esque mecha and fight Moebius on their own terms. However, once they learn the truth, Noah and co. are branded enemies of the state and hunted from both sides. Their only hope for survival is to reach the forgotten city on top of the world, defeat Moebius, and destroy the corrupt systems that hold the world in conflict.
After a long introductory chapter, these six members form your core party for the rest of the game. The ensemble cast sidesteps some traditional pitfalls of JRPG storytelling: no character arc feels superfluous or overshadows the others. Although it takes a while for everyone to warm up to each other, each party member forms a unique bond with the rest of the group. Eunie, for example, loves to throw shade and flame-based cuss words – but Taion, a smartass himself, realizes this is a defense mechanism to hide her traumatic past. Their relationship is only subtly hinted at throughout the story, but it is given as much care as the world-shaking calamities that drive the main plot. And the stellar voice cast, in both English and Japanese, brings these lovable characters to life.
A core party of six might seem small, but our heroes are joined by an expansive supporting cast of optional party members – coincidentally also called Heroes. While you can’t control Heroes directly, they all have powerful abilities to teach your main party and unique story arcs that introduce more lore to Aionios. Unlike in Xenoblade 2, where rare Blades were acquired at random, here each Hero has a unique sidequest that fits in with the rest of the story. My favorites are the absolute badass Ashera, and Juniper, the first canon non-binary character in the series. (There are still some fanservicey designs, but they’re a bit more tasteful this time around.)
If there’s one gripe I have with the story, it’s with its main antagonists. They are too numerous and one-note. Some of them have connections to the main cast, but you fight them so many times that they start to feel like generic Power Rangers villains rather than real, personal threats. While there are a couple standout characters with their own dynamic arcs, I found Moebius as a whole to be underwhelming compared to the fantastic rogues galleries of previous Xeno games.
Even so, this is the darkest and most thematically rich story in the series thus far. Each character must ask themselves grim, existential questions like, “Do the people in power actually care about us, or are they just exploiting us for their own benefit?”, “Is violence an inevitable part of human nature?”, and “What if I wake up one day and realize everything I believed in was a lie?” There are no easy answers here; both the characters and the audience will need to figure these things out for themselves. In a world where popular discourse is increasingly polarized, it is so refreshing to have a story talk about these big ideas without talking down to its audience.
Just make sure to pace yourself and have snacks ready. The Xeno series has always had long cutscenes, and some of them here are… well, not as bad as the infamous “chair therapy scene” which takes up the back half of Xenogears, but close.
Chapter 2: Meme to Live, Live to Meme
Let’s take a step back. What’s the first thing that pops up when you think about Xenoblade? For much of the internet, the most memorable part about this series isn’t the deep lore, the soul-shattering OSTs, or the esoteric philosophical references. It’s not even the mechs or waifus. For most gamers, the most memorable aspect of Xenoblade is… the memes. (I promise I’m going somewhere with this!)
See, these games have a lot of fighting, and the battles are fast paced and LOUD. They run on a real-time system similar to most modern MMOs: each unit takes turns trading auto-attacks, which are used to build up your Arts, or special abilities. Each new entry amplifies the scope of its battle system: here, all six party members fight at once, and you can switch between them on the fly. When things get dicey, you can fight in the Ouroboros, making you temporarily invulnerable and giving you powerful Arts to stagger the enemy. And when everyone gets really fired up, they can unleash a Chain Attack, an over-the-top extravaganza that can go way over the damage cap and multiply your XP gain tenfold.
All this is to say that Xenoblade 3 has probably the best battle system in any modern JRPG, as long as you don’t get sensory overload from hearing anime characters constantly screaming over high-energy rock music.
The best thing about the battle system is what you can do outside of it. This game introduces an in-depth class system, inspired by the classic Final Fantasy V. Each class is categorized as a fighter, tank, or healer, and they all have unique weapons and abilities. As you level up each one, you’ll be able to swap their skills around, allowing for unique and game-breaking builds. Lanz starts out as a Heavy Guard – but you can later make him a Signifer, a support class that can buff the entire party at once. Want to make a defensive party that never takes damage, or go all in on DPS? You can do whatever you want here. And the slick menu screen, complete with lo-fi background music, makes all the JRPG min-maxing nonsense intuitive and fun.
Xenoblade 3 has the series’ most complex battle system yet, but Monolith has done their damndest to make it the most streamlined as well. If anything, it might be too streamlined…? Like, the tutorials are more straightforward, but now there are so many of them that they bog down the first few hours. There are also rest spots where you can cook, craft gems, unlock new quests, and use bonus XP to level up. I only used bonus XP to get through the slow-paced early game; afterwards, I was overleveled from exploring and overkilling enemies on chain attacks. (As before, the real challenge comes from the “Unique Monsters” that dominate the landscape.) But if the biggest complaint I have is “I had too much fun running around like an idiot and made the game too easy for myself”, that only shows how much of a joy this ruined world is to explore.
Chapter 3: Aionios
If there’s one aspect of Xenoblade that gets unanimous praise, it’s the world design. The first game set the standard, featuring two vast and distinct worlds on the titans Bionis and Mechonis. The sequel took this concept and ran with it, boasting a whopping seven titans with their own lush environments. Xenoblade 3’s world combines those of its predecessors in one, creating the largest and most immersive environments in the series to date.
Combining these worlds was a brilliant idea on Monolith’s part. It fits perfectly into the series’ lore, makes for great fanservice, and meshes disparate regions into new, distinct biomes. The Fornis region starts as a desert wasteland, but transitions into verdant plains and a shimmering canyon. Neighboring Maktha Wildwood is half underground forest, half creepy techno-dungeon. But the standout location is Erythia Sea, a vast ocean surrounding the towering ruins of the Mechonis Sword. There are even entire huge areas that are technically optional, but your curiosity and wanderlust will lead you to them naturally.
Fortunately, even though this world is massive, traversing it is more fun than ever. As you recruit new Heroes, you’ll unlock a variety of movement skills like climbing vines or walking through poisonous swamps. Unlike its predecessor, where these skills depended on which Blades were in your active party, here each one is a permanent Metroidvania-style upgrade. My favorite is Juniper’s ability, which lets you grind on rails a la Sonic Adventure 2. Now this is some JRPG grinding I can get behind!
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Xeno game without copious sidequests, but 3 has the best of the bunch by far. Each questline has its own mini-story arc, developing the side characters and connecting players to the larger world. Even quests that feel like filler, like the recurring one about all the Nopon traders, have heartwarming moments when they’re all done. I was motivated to do as many quests as possible – not just to fill out a checklist or gain more XP, but to see everyone’s journey through to the end. At least do all the Hero Quests; by the end, your hard work will be worth it!
And on a purely aesthetic level, the worlds of Xenoblade never disappoint. Environments are gorgeous, with lush colors that remind me of Breath of the Wild’s painterly vistas. Character models are strikingly detailed, often looking like a 1-to-1 translation of their original artwork. Monsters are huge, terrifying, weird, and (sometimes) adorable, and have a great deal of visual variety. And as is standard for the series, the sunsets and night skies are some of the most breathtaking I’ve seen in a game.
Music always plays a large role in JRPG stories, but here the music is part of the story itself. Noah and Mio are both flautists, and the flute represents the themes of death and the passage of time. It can often sound somber and mournful, as in the many striking environmental tracks, but it can also rock out with the electric guitars on the epic boss battle themes. My favorite track is the Chain Attack theme, which somehow combines rock, disco, epic orchestra, and fusion jazz. Sure, you’ll probably hear it a hundred times before the end, but who’s really going to complain about a sick beat like this?!
Unfortunately, Monolith’s grand ambitions have once again pushed the Switch to its limits. While every big game these days has some glitches, my time with Xenoblade 3 was marred by numerous resolution and framerate drops. I also noticed the music skipping in crowded areas like The City, which I hope will be fixed soon in a patch. This can break the immersion from time to time — but considering the technical wizardry it must have taken just to make the thing run on Switch, it’s not that big of a deal. Let’s just get to the end already!
Epilogue: The Weight of Life
I’ve made many comparisons to previous Xenoblade games, to show how they are connected and how the series has evolved. But I also think Xenoblade 3 is a masterpiece that stands on its own. Newcomers may not get all the call-backs and lore their first time through, but they’ll still fall in love with the unforgettable characters and story. While not my personal favorite entry (Pyra/Mythra are still #1!), it’s still the most consistently high-quality JRPG I’ve played since the Final Fantasies of yesteryear. It takes me back to my childhood, but its deep themes still resonate in our chaotic modern world.
We end as we began, with executive auteur Tetsuya Takahashi. He and his wife Sorya Saga have helmed the Xeno series through thick and thin, in all its successes and failures. Could he have imagined in the early 90’s, when he was doing grunt work for Square and staring at Gundam models on his desk, that he would bring those dinky toy robots to life? Could he have imagined forming his own company that eventually would work on Mario and Zelda games? Could he have imagined the six-part magnum opus he had envisioned would be fully realized, albiet 25 years later? Life doesn’t always turn out as planned, and there will inevitably be tragedy and heartbreak on the way. But Xenoblade – all the Xenoblades – prove that if you keep trying and believe in yourself, anything is possible. As long as you have the backing of a multi-billion dollar corporation, at least.