I’ve been looking forward to the next Monolith Soft game since the last one ended in 2017, albeit not without my fair share of reservations. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 it was a tortuous JRPG with a hodgepodge of systems and an extremely erratic narrative. As much as I love the show, I was worried Xenoblade Chronicles 3 it would be the same. So far, it isn’t. It’s a Nintendo Switch first party blockbuster that can be hung on the rest of the library.
After five hours, it seems the most lush and balanced game in the series. The rooms are sprawling but full. Combat has many levels to experiment with, but none of them seem overly obtuse or overbearing. Your band roster is full of classic archetypes that stop at the cliché. And the music, responsible for sustaining momentum through long and gritty sections of a game like this, is as excellent as ever.
Give discussions about Xenoblade 3gigantic runtime and how it is still tutorial 10 hours later, my number one concern was rhythm. However, the game doesn’t waste much time getting started. You play Noah, a member of Keves ‘nation, who along with his companions is engaged in an existential struggle against Agnus’ rival nation. Both sides are tied to “fiery clocks” within gigantic mech bases called Ferronis that draw life energy from the fallen in battle. People are born as babies and only live 10 years, or less if they don’t take enough lives to power the clock. It’s kind of like Battle royal because of Philip K. Dick.
Things start with a big battle before quickly moving on to otherworldly intrigues. Noah and his crew run into rival fighters from the opposing nation during a recon mission only for both sides who are thrown into chaos after a mysterious old man tells them they are all pawns in a larger storyline. The next thing you know, the cyborgs are fighting, the characters are merging together and a deep six character party is delivered into your hands to fight all the way through. Xenoblade 3the secrets.
All of this happens within the first two hours. I spent most of my time before and after battling across fields, rivers and mountain passes. Despite its heady premise and talkative ensemble, the heart of Xenoblade 3The gameplay of remains the classic JRPG grinding. Much of it can be accomplished on autopilot. The toughest battles against non-bosses are invoked with special characters above the heads of the enemies that denote their extra power, better rewards, or both. And unlike Xenoblade 2, the landscapes are once again generously seasoned with collectible resources that you can collect by simply walking on them. You no longer have to stop every five seconds to press a button to discover extra pieces of woodworking or mushroom cooking.
As for combat, I’m still unlocking some of the core features, but customizing special attacks (called “Arts”) in battle and changing character classes are opening up pretty soon. It’s easy to see how these interlocking systems, which include a certain level of mixing and matching of active and passive skills, can lead to a lot of satisfying tinkering between main boss fights. And while I was initially concerned that having six party members on screen at the same time would make battles unnecessarily chaotic, being able to swap between them at will adds a welcome level of micromanagement to Xenoblade 3 which I have missed a lot in previous games (UI remains a nightmare).
My only real qualm is that the heavy tutorial is sometimes overly explanatory and not skippable. Do I need the game to guide me step by step in equipping a new piece of armor? No. Likewise, I don’t need the characters to talk about various game systems to make them feel vaguely part of the science fiction world building. People join bodies and become cyborgs. Magical costume changes and young adults wielding giant swords is the least of my worries.
Fortunately, none of this gets in the way too much. I’ve spent the last couple of days really enjoying myself Xenoblade 3 as I played it and thought about it constantly when I wasn’t. It rarely happens to me these days. Especially when it comes to JRPG. But for now, Xenoblade 3 managed to combine some of my favorite elements from past Monolith games (mech, cabal, free-flowing combat) with what worked so well in others. Namely the group of student fighters who praise, question and peck each other as they try to overthrow the powers that are and while keeping the thrill to a minimum. It worked Person 5, Fire emblem: three housesand, currently, it really works for me in Xenoblade 3. I still have several dozen hours before I know if the rest of the game is up to par.