Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Review: A Journey of a Thousand Miles
Knowing what to say about Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is hard. It's a massive game that I've put about 50 hours into — a raindrop in the ocean of its totality. The weird thing is, with just about any other game, that playtime is generally more than enough time to write a review. Still, I would probably need about another 150 hours to see everything that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has to offer.
That's not to say I haven't devoted myself to becoming a full-blown XC3 expert since launch, but it is an important truth to understand that adds context to this review. There's just a lot here. So, is Xenoblade Chronicles 3 any good? The short answer is yes. The long answer? Well, that's what the rest of the review is for.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 doesn't make the best first impression, but if you're able to muscle through its opening hours full of tutorials, you'll find yourself deeply engrossed in its story, systems, and world, keeping your Switch within arms reach at all times, just in case you end up with a few minutes to play.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Review: A Journey of a Thousand Miles
It takes quite a bit of work to like Xenoblade Chronicles 3 in its early hours. Without exaggeration, the main tutorial lasts roughly seven to 10 hours, easing you into the depths of its systems until your head is entirely underwater.
While it's hardly ideal, I prefer this method of tutorialization as opposed to other games in the genre like Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, which essentially push you into the deep end with little more than a pair of half-inflated floaties in the first two hours. That said, the hours and hours of tutorials XC3 throws your way certainly become taxing, making it tough to feel motivated to play between sessions in the early going.
The studio behind the game, Monolith Soft, knew this, bringing their A-game with the story in its first act. That narrative kept me coming back until XC3's mechanical ideas were fully baked and as delectable as one of Manana's delicious dishes.
The premise of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is excellent: two warring countries have been fighting for longer than anyone on either side can remember, and three soldiers from both factions are exposed to the potential truth that the war is pointless. From there, the six go on a mission to find real answers to what's happening behind the scenes. On top of that, all people are bred for war, only living for 10 years before dying, so there's a ticking clock for the cast, some of whom are getting quite close to the end, all of which adds a nice level of drama to the mix.
Because I haven't finished Xenoblade Chronicles 3 just yet (remember: there's a lot here — really), I can't say if it sticks the landing on all fronts, but so far, I've seen some incredible character growth from just about the entire main cast that makes each cutscene exciting, simply for the sake of seeing what happens next.
In a recent session, one character has truly accepted the grim ending that awaits them and discusses the fear of being forgotten to time before they inevitably pass on. It's heavy stuff, but XC3 takes its time to make some of its more poignant points. Because of that, they resonate and feel earned; you understand each character's point of view before they start opening up.
The cutscene choreography also brings a cinematic flair to things that was completely unexpected but absolutely lovely. The fights are masterfully animated, and their visuals do a lot of heavy lifting to compensate for the Switch's hardware limitations that often result in low-resolution video.
On top of having excellent choreography, the camera placement is always interesting, making each cutscene feel uniquely handcrafted. While not every scene gets the full treatment, enough of them do, showing a lot of care went into its most emotional moments.
Another notable element is that fully animated and voiced cutscenes aren't a rarity in Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Many optional side quests feature cutscenes so spectacular that you'd think they're essential to the main story. Because they aren't, there's always the sense that you're discovering meaningful additional content every time you stray off the main path.
While the story drives much of Xenoblade Chronicles 3's early hours, the combat mechanics ultimately share the spotlight when the training wheels come off. There is a glut of complexity in XC3's combat system, which gives the game a genuinely satisfying loop. Because it's so cooldown-focused and complex, it took me a while to understand just how active combat truly is. Once it clicked, however, I found myself engaging in every fight, completely invested in the combat systems.
Usually, when a story really hits, I rush to the next beat and skip more of the mechanic-focused sections, but XC3's depth still has me fighting everything I can to get the immediate satisfaction of lining up multiple attacks, performing flashy Talent Arts, and pulling off team-powered Chain Attacks, which temporarily stop the action for what are essentially small math puzzles that deal devastating damage to enemies and bosses alike.
It's unfortunate, then, that the combat can be so obtuse in the early going, despite the hours of tutorials. Only after I watched a video explaining the sheer depth of its mechanics that I understood some of its vaguer elements. Because of that, it's tough to say that I felt adequately prepared by the game itself to face the challenges it had in store. Once it all makes sense, it's a wonderful system, but it's a shame that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is so poor at explaining itself.
Beyond that, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 struggles the most with its presentation. The Switch is pushed to its absolute limit here. Poor textures, low resolutions throughout, and frequent pop-ins could potentially be enough to put players off. It's the thing that makes you wonder what could be if the Switch received any performance upgrade.
However, not all of Xenoblade Chronicles 3's presentation issues are solely the blame of the Switch's outdated hardware. Incessantly repeating (and irritating) voice lines, stiff character animations outside of proper cutscenes, and the very inclusion of the ever-grating Nopon characters highlight some of the game's rougher edges. While these things aren't precisely dealbreakers thanks to the heights XC3 reaches, they are little annoyances that can quickly stack up.
While the game certainly has its share of presentation issues, that didn't stop me from exploring as much of the open world as I possibly could. The various areas that make up Xenoblade Chronicles 3's Aionios are vast and fully realized, radiating a true sense of place no matter where you are — and all that makes the narrative that much stronger. Likewise, the optional side quests and Hero quests can do a lot to bolster that feeling.
In particular, the optional Hero quests that have you recruit new characters to your team, unlocking new classes and Combat Arts along the way, often feel like essential pieces of the game's story that shouldn't be skipped over. It's always exciting to find quests like these because, while the main story is compelling in its own right, there's something special about finding these missions that add unique elements to your journey.
That's not to say every quest is worth doing; there are some dull fetch quests here and there. It's a little frustrating that there's no real distinction between which quests are filler and which have additional story elements, but it's pretty easy to figure that out quickly and move back to the meatier quests at hand.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 — The Bottom Line
- Gripping narrative with beautifully animated cutscenes.
- Solid voice performances from the main cast.
- Extraordinarily deep combat mechanics.
- Excellent musical score.
- Well-realized open world.
- Overly long tutorial.
- Presentation issues.
- Irritating repeated voice lines.
Ultimately, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a testament to excellent mechanics and good storytelling. Although the depths of both can be overwhelming, especially to newcomers, they overshadow the game's weaker components, some of which could be enough to keep some from playing if they were in a lesser game. I'll put up with Nopons and a boringly simple traversal system if it means I can fight cool, big monsters with flashy team attacks set against a story about how we spend the precious moments of our lives.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is about a world where the dead are honored through emotional remembrance, which is how I'll likely look back on the game for quite some time after its credits roll. There's still so much to experience that I look forward to in the game's vast, sprawling world each time I pick up my Switch.
A recommendation for Xenoblade Chronicles 3 comes pretty easily if you're a fan of previous Xenoblade games or just a fan of JRPGs in general. For others, it's tougher due to its complex mechanics and slow early pacing. Regardless, though there are rough edges, XC3 makes up for it thanks to areas of absolute brilliance, and it's a game well worth experiencing.
[Note: Nintendo provided the copy of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 used for this review.]