Xenoblade 3 already seduces me

I’ve been looking forward to Monolith Soft’s next game since the last one ended in 2017, but not without my share of reservations. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was a meandering JRPG with a hodgepodge of systems and wildly uneven storytelling. As much as I love the series, I was so worried Xenoblade Chronicles 3 would be the same. So far, that is not the case. It’s a proprietary Nintendo Switch blockbuster that can hang with the rest of the library.

Five hours later, this looks like the lushest and most balanced game in the series. The environments are sprawling but packed. The combat has plenty of layers to experiment with, but none of them feel too obtuse or overbearing. Your party roster is filled with classic archetypes that stop short of the snap. And the music, responsible for keeping the momentum going through long gritty sections of a game like this, is still excellent.

The characters of Xenoblade 3 fight a huge battle.

Screenshot: nintendo

Given the discussions on Xenoblade 3gargantuan runtime and how is it still tutoring 10 hours in, my number one concern was pacing. However, the game takes almost no time to start. You play as Noah, a member of the nation of Keves, who along with his comrades is locked in an existential struggle against the rival nation of Agnus. Both parties are contracted to “flame clocks” inside giant robot bases called Ferronis that suck the life energy of those fallen in battle. People are born children and only live 10 years, or less if they don’t take enough lives to power the clock. It’s a bit like battle royale through Philip K. Dick.

Things start with a big battle before quickly swinging into an otherworldly plot. Noah and his crew encounter rival fighters from the opposing nation during a scouting mission, but both sides are thrown into chaos after a mysterious old man tells them they are all pawns in a bigger plot. vast. Next thing you know, the cyborgs are battling, the characters are merging, and a group of six deep characters are delivered into your hands to fight your way to the bottom of Xenoblade 3the secrets.

A chaotic battle screen shows Xenoblade 3's messy UI.

Screenshot: Nintendo / Kotaku

Everything happens in the first hours. I spent most of my time before and after fighting across fields, rivers and mountain passes. Despite its heady premise and garrulous ensemble, the heart of Xenoblade 3The gameplay remains a classic JRPG grinding. Much can be accomplished on autopilot. Tougher non-boss battles are announced with special fonts on the enemies’ heads indicating their extra power, better rewards, or both. And unlike Xenoblade 2, the landscapes are once again liberally strewn with collectible resources that you can pick up simply by walking over them. No more stopping every five seconds to press a button prompt to discover extra wood chunks or cooking mushrooms.

When it comes to combat, I’m still unlocking some of the basic features, but customizing special attacks (called “Arts”) in combat and changing character classes opens up pretty early. It’s easy to see how these interlocking systems, which include some level of mixing and matching active and passive abilities, can lead to a lot of satisfying tweaks between marquee boss fights. And while I was originally concerned that having six party members on screen at once would make battles unnecessarily chaotic, being able to swap between them at will adds a welcome level of micromanagement to Xenoblade 3 which I missed a lot in previous games (the UI is still a nightmare).

The mysterious villains of Xenoblade 3 are shrouded in darkness.

Screenshot: nintendo

My only real problem is that the heavy tutoring is sometimes too explanatory and unavoidable. Do I need the game to walk me through equipping a new piece of armor? No. Likewise, I don’t need the characters discussing various game systems for them to feel loosely integrated into the sci-fi world-building. People join bodies and become cyborgs. Magical costume changes and young adults wielding giant swords are the least of my worries.

Fortunately, none of this is too much of a hindrance. I spent the last two days really enjoying Xenoblade 3 while I was playing it and thinking about it continuously when I wasn’t playing it. 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, fluid combat) with what works so well in others. Namely the group of student fighters who praise, interrogate and shoot each other while trying to overthrow the powers that be and while keep grimacing to a minimum. It worked in personas 5, Fire Emblem: Three Housesand, currently, it really works for me in Xenoblade 3. I still have dozens of hours to go before I know if the rest of the game is up to it.


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