Xenoblade Chronicles 3 review: The latest great RPG on Switch
(Pocket-lint) – The Xenoblade saga has been a slow burner of a series so far, picking up fans with each outing and spinoff, and it’s been a few years since Xenoblade Chronicles 2 came out.
Now the third game has arrived as another Switch exclusive, offering an absolutely behemoth journey with a wide cast of characters and a cup that runneth over with gameplay systems.
We’ve been sinking deep into its massive world, and are pleased to report that it’s a top-quality JRPG.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 might be just what you need, provided that what you need is a honking great JRPG to play on your Switch, with so much content that it could easily keep you busy for the next six months.
If that sounds like we’re not fully behind it, don’t worry – we’re loving our time in this world, and the process of getting to know our party and exploring the vast plains they’re driven to make it across is classic in feel but modern in terms of production.
You get a scintillating soundtrack, impressive visuals and a story that takes its time to really soak you in its world, and the fact that you get to play it on the go is the cherry on top.
This is a must-play for JRPG fans who own a Switch, and a top contender even if you’ve never touched the series before.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3
4.5 stars – Pocket-lint recommended
- Great cutscenes
- Fun cast of characters
- Nicely layered combat
- Huge world
- Tutorial is endless
- Pacing is hard to predict
- A long-term commitment
A world at war
The Xenoblade Chronicles games don’t follow on from each other in a strict sequence, although they inhabit the same world, so you don’t need to come in with detailed knowledge of the past two mainline games. The series is more like Final Fantasy for its gameplay evolutions but fresh stories.
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This third game drops us into a neverending conflict between two martial nations, Keves and Agnus. Each fights against the other with an army made up of cloned soldiers with artificially short lifespans of just 10 years.
These soldiers do their best to survive for that time before earning the right to a homecoming ceremony that sees them dissolve into life power, returning to the core of their nation’s reserves.
You take control of Noah, a Kevesi soldier, and his squad as they head to a mysterious objective in the opening hours of the game. At that objective, they’re thrust together with a squad from Agnus, and effectively forced to become outlaws from either nation, in search of a better life for themselves and others.
It’s a fun opening, albeit one that takes a few hours to get things going, and the world you inhabit is engaging in a fun, science fiction thought experiment kind of way. Your own party is made up of six characters whose banter is at the heart of the game’s staying power, and their relationships strike a nice balance between hokey sentimentality and more frivolous fun.
The story Xenoblade Chronicles 3 tells goes a long, long way from there, though – this is a huge journey that spans massive areas and introduces a whole heap of characters as it runs its course.
You won’t roll credits in much less than 50 hours unless you’re trying super hard to streamline your game, and most people will sit somewhere between 50 and 100 hours, so this is a heck of a commitment.
The nature of its storytelling also means that you’ll sometimes find that sitting and playing for an hour involves 15 minutes of cutscenes, while other sessions might stretch for hours without such interruptions (if you see them that way).
Mountains of gameplay
If Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has a big world to explore, then, and an expansive cast to meet, its gameplay lives up to that same standard, with an absolutely chunky array of systems to get your head around.
The core of the game is in its exploration and combat, and while the first is nice and simple, the latter becomes anything but.
With an auto-attack system that lands a hit every few seconds, your time in battle is largely taken up in making sure that your characters use their special abilities in the right order and with accurate timing, which makes it actually quite chilled-out to play.
However, these special abilities just keep on getting more nuanced as the game progresses, taking in class changes, rhythm differences, fusion attacks and even the occasional ability to merge characters into super-powered giants for more fearsome foes.
It’s a layer-cake of quite impressive complexity, but perhaps the greatest feat pulled off by developer Monolith Software is that it never gets overwhelming. The game takes its time over the first 10 hours or more to introduce these things slowly, and while they do change your thinking you can also just keep things simple a lot of the time.
There’s even an auto-battle button for most common encounters, letting you fight easy enemies without any strain at all. And while snapshots of the in-battle user interface can look frankly mad, it really isn’t as complex as it looks when you’re playing.
Being able to tell enemies’ levels before you fight them, and some enemies being labelled for extra challenging battles, makes for even more control over how much thought you have to put into most battles.
The downside to that slow pace is that you will sometimes find yourself being told about self-evident systems like equipping items over the course of slow walkthroughs, but a lot of this chaff is relegated to hints that you can access in the menu, further easing things along.
When everything comes together and you’re in the flow of a full battle with your six characters, swapping between them to get everything synergised right, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is great fun to play, more laid-back than an action-RPG like Tales of Arise but still as engaging as you’d like it to be.
A visual leap
Tales of Arise has the advantage of appearing on the likes of the PS5 and Xbox Series X to help it paint some stunning sights, though, whereas Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is limited by the Nintendo Switch’s constrained power limits.
That said, though, this is a really impressive visual outing that makes large strides over its predecessor in terms of performance and detail. Playing in docked mode, the game might not ever pass for next-gen, but it’s got enough visual style to be very pleasant on the eye.
In handheld, things get a little grainier, but this is hardly the only Switch game to suffer on that front.
The range of environments that you’ll move through is impressive, with a day-night cycle adding to the sense of variety, while character designs are also funky and pop out really nicely.
There’s a creditable cast of voice actors giving cutscenes their all, toeing a line between overacting and sincerity that works really nicely for the most part. Those cutscenes, meanwhile, are really impressive, with dynamic and unexpected camera movements and transitions really adding to the game’s production values.
The real star here, though, is the game’s magisterial soundtrack, which soars in dramatic moments but also knows how to use quieter points to eke out effective melodies from lone flutes and pianos.
It’s a lovely mix that really elevates the game world around it.
This is a brilliant JRPG that brings everything the genre has with it, from a fun cast of characters to a sprawling world to explore in your own time. It’s got masses of content to get through, and the number of systems to keep track of means it won’t be for everyone. If you’ve been looking for your next long-term obsession, though, this could be the answer.
Writing by Max Freeman-Mills. Editing by Conor Allison.