With two well-received games already under their belt, Monolith Soft has much to prove with Xenoblade Chronicles 3. The game’s world feels the most familiar with elements from the first two numbered games and the Wii U exclusive title, Xenoblade Chronicles X, feeling accounted for. My brief time exploring the game’s opening hours fills me with confidence in saying fans of the series and newcomers alike are in for a treat.
The initial character designs, in particular, feel more refined and mature, if not a little on the nose, with colour-coded black and white factions that make up the warring colonies present in the game. Even still, the character designs will be a marked improvement for many over Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and its borderline hentai-esque ensemble.
Thematically, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 doesn’t hold anything back and sets the stage for what will likely be the darkest entry into the series. The already unstable, monster-infested world of Aioniosis is at war with the Keves and the Agnus colonies, with both sides guilty of employing the use of child soldiers.
With ten terms to live, those who are not killed outright from the seemingly, never-ending war, which includes the protagonist of Xenoblade Chronicles 3, Noah and his fellow squad mates, still live knowing that they will rapidly reach adolescence in which they expire.
Those who reach their 10th term are given the honour of a special homecoming ceremony, a militaristic ritual in which mature soldiers expire into a cacophony of firefly-like particles.
“Xenoblade Chronicles 3 doesn’t hold anything back and sets the stage for what will likely be the darkest entry into the series.”
Death is a theme intrinsically tied with Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s narrative. In fact, besides being adept with the titular Xenoblade, Noah is the designated Off-Seer of his group, a particular class of soldier tasked with sending off the souls of the dead to the afterlife. (Think Yuna from Final Fantasy X).
Monolith Soft deserve praise for optimizing their engine. Graphically, thanks to the cel-shaded anime aesthetic that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and later, the HD remaster of the Wii original utilized, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 looks fantastic despite the Nintendo Switch’s aging hardware. The game seems to run well in both handheld and TV mode, with only minor anti-aliasing issues that become apparent when played while undocked. Image quality, in general, seems to fair better than Xenoblade Chronicles 2, particularly when undocked, resulting in actually wanting to play the game more often in handheld mode.
In terms of gameplay changes and improvements, as far as the early game is concerned, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 features vast semi-open world zones, just like previous games in the series, with a few subtle but needed flourishes. Instead of the Gathering Points system present in the second game, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 features raw materials strewn about the map that appear as orbs of light from a distance and materialize into distinct items when in range.
Another subtle but much-needed improvement is the ability to draw a guiding marker on the overworld that routes the quickest path forward, something that makes navigating different elevations a breeze compared to past entries into the series.
“Xenoblade Chronicles 3 features vast semi-open world zones, just like previous games in the series, with a few subtle but needed flourishes.”
Battling in Xenoblade Chronicles 3, at least early on, feels closest to the first game, emphasizing balancing your team and learning to cancel into special attacks to deal maximum damage. The two biggest additions that change things up for the third entry are the interlink command and the ability to change classes. Interlink allows specific party members to transform into their Ouroboros forms, a timed window in which two-party members fuse, allowing the party to deal extra damage before reverting back.
The class change system allows the player to take on the role of another party member, unlocking unique attacks and other benefits. Overall, the gameplay feels familiar to past entries into the series but polished and nuanced enough that fans will immediately notice the subtle changes throughout.
Of course, this is only scratching the surface of Xenoblade Chronicles 3, a game that genuinely seems to be shaping up to be a worthy entry into the series. My full review of the game will delve deeper into the massive world of Aionios before Xenoblade Chronicles 3 drops on July 29, 2022.