Almost five years after the world of Xenoblade was cracked open like an egg with the launch of its sequel, a potential end to a great trilogy is on the horizon. Like just about any other entry in the series, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 can be considered a self-contained story, but recognizable iconography and easter eggs are abound from the get-go, offering veterans lots of little lore nuggets to taste along the way and enough vague story hooks to rope in newcomers without confusing them.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 kicks off with an event that you’re highly encouraged to pay close attention to. The shift in setting from that initial moment can give off such a whiplash that you’ll immediately forget about it if you’re not careful, which will likely lead to a spot of confusion as things start to unravel. I’m far from the end of the game myself, but I’m already scratching my head trying to understand how the prologue connects to what makes up the actual playable game. And, if it’s anything like the second game, I’ll be waiting a while yet to discover it.
Even still, fans of the series will immediately feel right at home with this one. There’s a big battle right from the get-go, ripping you out of the cosy intro and straight into the stakes of what’s already known to be a war with no real end in sight. There’s talk of outposts and colonies rising through the ranks to get better equipment and food, and cutscenes that almost paint the battles as sporting events rather than bloody assaults against the values of either side.
A Slow but Steady Start
The battle system takes cues from the original game with the first three characters in that it’s a bit of a slog waiting for lengthy cooldowns after blowing through your three simple attacks. You charge a stronger one by chaining them off auto-attacks, but it’s still a slow start for anyone who’s played through to the stronger hours of the earlier games.
On the other side of the war, though, are three more playable characters who use a system closer to that of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, meaning they quickly charge their attacks with auto-attacks, making things far more fluid but reliant on aggressive tactics. There’s no backing away to take a breather with this lot.
Once you meet up with that second half of the cast - following an incredibly anime battle scene, I might add - you set aside your differences and unite against an even greater threat: big, scary shark men with striking eyes and the sort of modulated voice those who’ve played the original will immediately start memeing on.
From that point on, you’re free to explore the world without the promise of steak when you get home after a hard battle on the front. The war you left behind rages on, with the practically robotic soldiers your party once called their comrades now blocking access to the colonies without any breathing room to explain that there’s more to the world than what they’re being told to fight for.
The fight that united the six-strong party with the seismic blast of a mysterious stone marked them in a way that the soldiers of Keves and Agnes just can’t ignore: they’re on auto-pilot, and all you can do is head for neutral territory for answers, fighting through the common Brogs and rare Bunnits in familiar fashion.
Change Your Clothes, Change Your Style
Class changes and Fusion mechanics unlock a few hours in, but even those do little to speed up the combat in the opening few chapters. Though there’s always a lot going on in any battle thanks to the five AI-controlled companions backing you up, there’s no getting around the fact that combat is sluggish early on.
There’s the hope that it’ll speed up once new battle mechanics are done trickling in and the intricacies click into place like in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but for all I know, that could take 30+ hours again like it did when that game polarized curious newcomers during the Nintendo Switch’s infancy.
If you’ve made it through the other games, you’ll do just fine by riding on the interactions of the crew and their Nopon chaperones, but there’s no denying that combat can feel a little weightless and not at all as frantic and exciting as they typically end up later down the line. For soldiers coming up on their tenth (and final) year in service before they’re serenaded off into the breeze, they’re a little on the slow side when it comes to clashing steel, but there are plenty of traditional RPG elements tucked away in the menus that allude to things ramping up by the end.
It’s far too soon to draw any conclusions on Xenoblade Chronicles 3 just yet, but it’s looking like a beginner-friendly JRPG with a story that’s going to be easy to follow for newcomers and filled to the brim with vague connections to keep veterans entertained as they stroll through its signature lush landscapes. It’s a slow start for sure, but the series has a track record for rewarding those who stick with it, and it’s looking like the same might very well be true here as well.
Even if you’re new to the story, whatever’s expected to happen at the end to connect the dots will, just like the second game, encourage you to check the others out. It’s a good way to be.