Xenoblade Chronicles 3 takes place in the world of Aionios, a suspiciously similar-looking setting to both prior entries in the series, where two nations – Keves and Agnus – are locked in an eternal war with one another. It follows protagonists Noah and Mio, alongside their group of friends Lanz, Eunie, Sena, Taion, Riku, and Manana, whose parties were once enemies but now must join together to uncover the dark, hidden truth about the nature of their lives. I’ve spent over 100 hours doing just that, so at long last here is our final review for Xenoblade Chronicles 3.
In Aionios, both soldiers of Keves’s and Agnus’s lives are limited to brief 10-year “terms” after which their life force is reunited with their nation’s Queen. Noah and Mio are “off-seers” for their respective nations whose purpose it is to play the flute in sending off the souls of fallen soldiers who died in war and aren’t able to rejoin their Queen. Surviving the full ten terms is the equivalent to dying of old age, yet in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 the truth at the bottom of this unnaturally-determined life span holds a sinister secret. The question behind these short lives is introduced when the party members meet another human that has mysteriously lived past this fabricated life expectancy, which is a first for them, who opens their eyes (quite literally) to a new possibility – to live unshackled from the artificial constraint on their existence.
In true JRPG fashion, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is riddled with new terminologies, such as “off-seer”, that can become overwhelming at times; especially when dialogue becomes heavily crowded with words such as “Flame Clock'', “Ferronis”, “Ouroboros”, “Moebius” and more. It was honestly a little difficult to remember all of this vocabulary at first. I didn’t let that stop me though, because the true story revolves around the relationships formed between the party members as they grow closer together, as well as exploring their pasts and coming to realize what it really means to be alive.
A Colorful Cast of Cohorts
One thing that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 does better than its predecessors is really making it feel that each of its cast of characters is given equal screen time and focuses on the party as a whole rather than a singular protagonist. Although it can be a lot to take in at the start as I learned each party member’s personality, the ramp-up to character development is expounded across an elongated tutorial that encompasses the first ten hours or so, with further growth as the story unfolds. Enemies become friends, and relationships deepen to the point where each of the two groups finds kinship with someone from the other as their counterpoint.
My favorite relationship would have to be the muscle-brained Lanz, who starts off as the primary Tank for Noah’s group, and the petite but spunky Sena from Mio’s team who initially deepen their relationship by bonding over strength training. The juxtaposition between these two party members’ appearances are at odds with the similarity they share in their physical strength, which shows itself early on in the story when they try to Super Saiyan Fusion their way into becoming an Ouroboros (more on what that is later) during a hilarious cutscene.
There is also an eclectic cast of side characters, many of which hold special classes that can be unlocked later on for the main party members via Hero Quests. Many of these side quests appear as part of the story itself, but some are entirely optional where I had to go out of my way to initiate outside of the main progression in order to unlock. Although their personalities are only surface-level, they still add an extra dimension of diversity to the cast that often persists even up to the closing battle. Long-time fans will be excited to see a few returning faces as well.
The Majestic World of Aionios
Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s world of Aionios holds some truly breathtaking scenery and is ultimately a joy to venture through. Admittedly the first few areas are deceptively more linear than prior entries. This led me to believe there wouldn’t be as much canvassing to accomplish in fleshing out the map, but that assumption gradually deteriorated away as the more I surveyed the open environments they grew increasingly massive in scale. The biomes also became much more varied as I journeyed through Aionios. The initial rocky terrain gave way to an empty desert which led to crag-laden canyons that developed into lush open plans which in turn melded into wooded mountain ranges and beyond – and that’s just within one of the many massive regions to explore.
Some vistas are absolutely magnificent to behold, and there are parts of Aionios where it is evident that the developers want players to stop and take in the scenery. One example fairly early on while in the Fornis Region, after learning a mechanic to scale up cliff faces via climbing up vines, leads to a cliff overhang that perfectly captures several different biomes in one shot. These practically panoramic viewpoints are littered throughout Xenoblade Chronicles 3 for the intrepid adventurer to discover, amongst other treasures.
And that’s one of the major improvements that I felt Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has made over prior entries. It feels rewarding to stray off the beaten path and to diverge away from quest markers in lieu of unearthing treasures, or stumbling upon a unique monster, or locating a new landmark and leaving no stone unturned. There are so many secreted away nooks and crannies and secret caves to delve into, and the world tantalized me with inaccessible prizes that I couldn’t obtain until after advancing to points in the story where I would learn a new traversal method. I was constantly hooked on the allure of a new treasure hunt.
Even after realizing that I was way over-leveled for the areas I was exploring, I couldn’t help but get distracted by the occasional glowing treasure chest in the distance, or the glittering red particles from a soldier husks that I needed to send off, or skirmishes between two groups of enemies that I could go and intervene in. There was so much to scout out and hunt for in-between objectives that sometimes I just would spend hours running around and uncovering the map’s fog of war instead of actually making any progress towards the main mission.
Gratefully, there is fast travel and it is very much a beloved and oft-used feature that has saved me loads of time to quickly zoom to certain points in the map. Unfortunately due to the extreme vertical nature in some areas, it can be hard to discern which fast travel point is always best. Many times I warped to one spot when the quest point I needed to go to was on a cliff above, which took longer to walk around and up the cliff than it would have to just choose a fast travel point that looked further away but was on the same plane. Regrettably, there are no mounts or vehicles that make these hikes any easier - although there is one point in the story that the party has access to a boat that makes traveling around better but only in that one area.
Gotta Quest ‘Em All
The story takes place across nearly all corners of Aionios in combating the mysterious organization known as Moebius, whose members directly oppose the party at every turn. Those who have joined Moebius are staved off from death and freed from the confines of a flame clock and in turn can utilize the flame clock’s power - and the life force it holds - to protect their own lives. This corrupt organization seemingly holds all of the world’s secrets that the main cast of characters will fight tirelessly to discover the truths.
Short cutscenes between chapters provide behind-the-scenes glimpses into the hierarchy and goings-on of this secret organization while teasing power struggles between the members. There’s a lot of foreshadowing that happens during these parts as well which are masterfully hidden in plain sight. It wasn’t until much later on in the story that I was able to recount these scenes with a feeling of “Aha!” such as the relationships between different members of Moebius and one of the big reveals mid-game about who “N” and “M” are. These revelations kept coming even up until the final battle against “Z”, the leader of Moebius, whose final fight was spectacularly flashy and mind-bendingly psychedelic.
In addition to Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s Main Story Quests, there are both Standard Quests, which perform the same function as a typical side-quest, as well as special Hero Quests that, once completed, unlock a new class for the whole party to work towards and rank up in. A lot of quests are simply handed out by NPCs, but others required me to gather information around town first. To trigger this second type of quest, I had to eavesdrop on nearby denizens spilling the local tea. Once I gained enough insight into whatever issue was plaguing the populace, I had to reconvene the party at a rest spot – whether that be at the local canteen or out in the wilds at a camp. The party discussed the issue at hand, often adding even more exposition, and decided on a course of action for helping to resolve it.
I appreciated this new perspective in acquiring these ancillary quests as it felt more immersive and active in engaging with the world of Aionios and its societies. There are still a lot of fetch quests in Xenoblade Chronicles 3, but they’ve been confined to a new sub-category called the Collectopaedia. Associated requests are collected in a list within the quests menu that can be completed and turned in at any time. All of them are repeatable, but with diminished rewards after the first.
The Nitty-Gritty Fighty
The biggest improvement in terms of gameplay for Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is hands-down the changes to combat. It retains the same auto-attack combat as seen in the series’ prior entries, but makes a plethora of quality-of-life improvements that make combat feel more fast-paced and dynamic than before. There’s even more of an emphasis on the MMO-esque “Holy Trinity” of having assigned Tank, Healer, and DPS roles but with an additional freedom of choice that now comes with being able to switch character’s respective classes. It goes even further by being able to fine-tune specific builds with the help of accessories, both passive and active skills, slotable gems, and more allowing for making characters geared towards being extra tanky or with an emphasis on critical hits - whatever spec I want!
Another improvement is the ability to swap between party members mid-combat, not just while exploring the overworld. This let me not only follow the flow better during combat, but allowed me to take over a crucial role that I felt the AI was lacking in - such as healing. One of my biggest tips is to not neglect learning how to play each class - not just DPS like in the beginning - as I couldn’t anticipate when a situation might crop up that required me to play a more active part in managing the party’s health, or in managing the monsters’ aggro. Thankfully, there was a nifty training feature called Training Drills that’s available at any time through the main menu to practice mechanics such as canceling arts or learning how to utilize area-of-affect healing abilities.
The new Ouroborus interlink mechanic also adds another dimension to combat, combining two characters in a Super Saiyan Fusion fashion into a more powerful entity. This new form comes with its own Soul Tree for each character to spend SP and unlock new skills, skill upgrades, and passive abilities while transformed that make them even deadlier. I appreciate that unlocking this form is tantamount to kicking off the main story as well, which makes it feel more interconnected to Xenoblade Chronicle 3’s story than some of the other mechanics (the ability to use other party members’ classes felt very quickly glossed over, for example).
Battles do get messy on-screen, especially when there are a lot of mobs or when so many effects are going off at once due to having so many party members. It can be chaotic trying to keep track of which mobs are attacking which party member, especially when playing as a Tank and attempting to hold down aggro for the party. Although initially pulling aggro is easy, it becomes difficult when trying to select a specific mob because switching targets will toggle between all of the mobs on screen regardless of distance or involvement in the fight. What’s impressive is how the Switch handles these large fights, often with little to no discernible sacrifice to graphics or performance. Overall, the only performance drops I noticed came during some of the larger-than-life boss fights that featured either gargantuan enemies or colossal set pieces.
A Master-Class in Classes
Perhaps the reason that I enjoyed Xenoblade Chronicle 3’s combat so much comes down to the breadth of classes available to choose from, and how much I could micromanage each party member’s loadout. Even Healer classes have attack Arts to slot that make them more viable for dishing out damage, and in tandem with accessories to boost damage dealt while reducing agro gained means that I didn’t have to worry about the Tank holding it down. Similarly, slotting the slower Ogre class with gems that boost dexterity and reduce auto-attack intervals meant that they hit faster and with fewer missed swings. I won’t spoil some of my favorite classes I unlocked, but there are a total of 25 different ones including the starting six - and some of the combinations are literal game-changers.I absolutely loved the Final Fantasy-like system of acquiring and unlocking classes for the party. After finishing a Hero Quest, someone in the party will be able to immediately switch over to it while everyone else has to unlock it over time as the class is utilized in the party. I immediately prioritized every new Hero Quest that I came across so that I could see which party member would get it first, and who had the highest potential in that class. Unfortunately, not all party members learn each class at the same rate and some aren’t suited for them as much as others. All classes are ranked D through S for individual party members, so some are automatically more tailored towards a particular class and its offerings whereas others might miss out altogether if it isn’t conducive to trying to unlock it for them.
While I would personally prefer to have each character use every class equally, that fundamentally paints them as being blank canvases which detracts from their overall personalities. The tactically-inclined Taion touts the healing Tactician role with tact but would fumble as Noah’s Swordfighter or Lanz’s Heavy Guard class. Although he is suited towards other healer roles and actually excels at a couple unlockable DPS roles later on, these differences early-on ultimately mold his available Class skills and Master skills separately than the rest of the party. It makes each character stand out a bit more on their own when they do eventually branch out into opposing roles.
Much To Do Besides Nothing
Besides exploring the open world and engaging in side quests, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 offers a bevy of other activities to engage in that comprise a complete experience. One of the incentives to hunt down monsters and scavenge Aionios’s resources is gathering ingredients to craft specific Gems while at a rest spot. As a nice quality-of-life, these Gems can be universally applied to each character without the need to craft multiple copies. They provide bonuses to accommodate each of the three roles as well as some general-use buffs like reducing aggro generation or adding a chance to strike twice per auto-attack.
Also while at rest spots, the crew can cook dishes that provide short-term party-wide buffs like increasing experience gained or extra drops from defeated enemies. New recipes are collected throughout the world and at other colonies’ canteens when the party eats there for the first time, which makes dining out a sort of motivation to an unmarked recipe-collecting side quest - at least for me, it did. A shortage of ingredients can be exchanged for silver Nopon coins instead, which can be found while doing a host of other miscellaneous adventuring activities, such as opening treasure chests or intervening in skirmishes as they come up.
These Nopon coins have a multitude of uses such as being traded at Nopon X-changes for accessories, to quickly complete Collectopeaedia requests, used in lieu of cooking ingredients or gem crafting ingredients, and even for quickly ranking up classes. They almost feel like an artificially-injected Pay-to-Win mechanic if they were available to purchase directly through the Nintendo eshop (and if there was any Multiplayer component to actually “win” by). Which, technically, the Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Expansion Pass does include some as part of the Adventure Support Pack which was available on Day 1, but at least they’re not available to purchase outside of that… yet.
The Final World Word
Monolithsoft has culminated in an ending that they’ve had their sights on for over a decade, and it shows in the level of detail and quality of life improvements that they’ve made emanating from that ten-plus years’ worth of experience. It’s a robust conclusion to the JRPG franchise and spans well over a hundred hours of gameplay, leading up to a finale that long-time fans will thoroughly enjoy without leaving newer players wanting. Although the true potential of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 feels held back by the limitations of the Switch’s hardware, developer Monolithsoft has clearly taken all of the lessons and experiences that they’ve accumulated over the years and crafted a gem that even Riku the Nopon would consider priceless.