Monolith Soft has strived to recreate and scale up what’s new in the first Xenoblade Chronicles adventure since its release in 2012. The third chapter in the science fantasy JRPG series meets the same frustrating fate as XC X and XC 2. Despite its top-notch combat and character progression features, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a bloated trek through vast but lifeless environments, further marred by an untouchedness become narration with one of the worst casts in the franchise.
XC 3 uses a real-time combat system where “Arts”, advanced abilities mapped to the controller’s face buttons, give combat a natural, straightforward cadence. By canceling auto attacks on the arts while balancing the cooldown, I quickly took down most enemies in the early game. However, finding stronger challengers that would defend rare treasures or simply graze off the beaten path forced me to rethink traditional attack patterns and interact with every mechanic. From taking control of a healer and adopting a “group” tactic that allowed me to save my team with long-range AoE arts, to taking down staggered enemies with combos, every decision I made felt worthwhile and rewarding.
Classes add tension to the loop. The six playable party members can learn any class and encourage me to experiment with combinations. Even seventh “hero” characters recruited from main and side quests offer rarer, hybrid classes to choose from. Some of my fighters touted robust health and defense stats, making them spookers for tank classes, while the nimble ones were better suited for DPS roles. Each class came with their own arts/passive abilities and were a joy to play. I liked drawing aggression with heavy guard taunts and then switching to a dual sword attacker to stab the busy enemy in the back. The team’s healing just before a devastating blow made the mid to late game fights invigorating.
My favorite combat features were interlinks and chain attacks. Both can be activated by performing class abilities after filling the gauges, with the former allowing two party members to merge into a humanoid robot called Ouroboros. These gigantic deities eliminate entire squadrons of opponents or even the odds of powerful bosses in one fell swoop. Chain Attacks are team-wide specials that dramatically slow down the action and allow a range of character arts to not only deal heavy damage, but also allow for bonuses like reduced aggression and high dodge. Interlinks and Chain Attacks were power trips that always made me smile, even when my patience with the storyline and exploration waned.
The nations of Keves and Agnus are locked in constant conflict, with both sides suffering enormous casualties. Soldiers are subject to a morbid, bloody 10-year lifespan. When Noah, Eunie, and Lanz team up with Agnus agents Mio, Taion, and Sena, the crew decides on new goals: end intercultural violence, defeat the “real” enemy, and find a just reason to live. This premise is eerily similar to last year’s Tales of Arise. Where infectious, likable personalities fixed the game’s occasional thematic blunders, XC 3’s protagonists are unforgettable caricatures that lack the emotional complexity a story of this nature demands. Stiff cutscene animations coupled with brain-numbing repetitive barks – “I’m the MVP!” or “That’s a rare doodad!” – do the six champions no favors.
This superficiality extends to the explorable settings, which lack the impressive sights and vistas of previous Xeno entries. These open-world zones are filled with dangerous creatures, from flying stingrays to ferocious kaiju-sized monkeys, and collectibles that can be sold for profit or given to quest NPCs. Aside from challenging monsters, collecting respawnable drops, and recruiting heroes in Keves or Agnus settlements, there’s not much to do or see. The generic locations – forests, deserts, mountains; You can probably guess the rest – were barren places I spent hours navigating to get to the next disappointing story checkpoint.
Thankfully, character progression systems have helped ease the monotony. XC 3 offered an impressive number of opportunities to increase the strength of my group. In camps scattered throughout each biome, I would level up everyone, craft gems that increase specific stats, and cook meals that affect XP and CP (class point) gain. There’s even an Interlink skill tree that I can use to improve my Ouroboros’ combat effectiveness. Minor upgrades, like improved run speed or food effect duration, came from completing fetch quests, speaking to NPCs, and liberating Keves or Agnus settlements – this usually amounted to working with a hero to defeat a powerful opponent. The depth of customization made the gameplay more enjoyable, but after dozens of hours of performing the same activities to bolster my combat efficiency, the shine faded.
My party of seven felt like a small army as explosive arts and flashy ouroboros combos lit up an already chaotic battlefield. And quality of life improvements like customizable shortcut hotbars and in-game GPS streamlined browsing and menu traversal. Still, the narrative and world designs left a lot to be desired, as critical plot twists are frustratingly obvious, character growth is virtually non-existent, and navigating any uninspired setting proves a tedious exercise. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a double-edged sword that needs a little more sharpness.