After dozens of hours, I have returned from Aionios to announce that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 might be one of the biggest Nintendo Switch games, not only because its story and size, but because it is one of the of the most technically-impressive games of Nintendo's hybrid platform to date. And it's true that some weeks ago I said that the gameplay was kind of flat. Well, I have to admit that I was just talking about a tiny little percentage of the game, and nothing to do with the fundamentals of the systems. But for your peace of mind, I can already assure you that: you are going to love Xenoblade Chronicles 3.
To sum up the preview (which I suggest reading to obtain every single detail), Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is set in Aionios, a world where two nations (Keves and Agnus) are at war. The inhabitants rarely reach 10 years of service, because they usually die in combat. While exploring an unknown source of energy Noah, Lanz and Eunie (from Keves) must join Mio, Taion and Sena (from Agnus) to face a new threat: a Moebius. These monsters feed on human life energy, and they get it from the Flame Clocks that are protected by each nation. During the battle, Noah and Mio come together and are transformed into a huge robot named Uroboros, which is controlled by both minds. Following the fusion, they set off in search of answers and ultimately find Fendespada (none other than the Sword of Mekonis from the first Xenoblade Chronicles), where they hope to discover ways of ending the ceaseless combat between the two nations. And that's as far as I'm going to dive into the story.
I won't be focussing on the story itself in this review for two main reasons. First, because it is the main point of the game, so I don't want to spoil anything. And second, because sometimes it can be confusing (expect some typical elements of the Japanese shōnen genre and those trademark plot twists). The characters, as well as their stories and relations, are kind of traditional, but they have enough depth and progression in a way that everyone is a protagonist in a certain moment of the storyline, although the main burden falls on Noah and Mio.
This is an ad:
Besides this storyline, each of the six regular characters (we are also joined by a pair of Pon assistants, Riku and Manana, who take care of weapons and food) has its own class, weapons, arts, and personal clothing... that the others one can also impact. Every single member of the group can learn and exchange the class of their peers, even control them. The important aspect to consider when looking at the exchange types is that it opens possibilities of delivering special blows or dominating "borrowed" arts from the main class. That adds a new level to a real-time combat that already seemed difficult to overcome. It is also very similar to the last DLC of Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna - The Golden Country.
There are bonuses for accessories, gems that enhance attributes and the combination with your partner to become Urobóros. If we add to this being able to combine in the same class arts (special attacks), the whole thing almost pushes the development of abilities and customisation beyond the verge of the unmanageable. And that's the reason why I think that there isn't any quick way to skip the fights (although even as an option from the main menu I honestly believe that it should exist). In Xenoblade Chronicles 3 we switch from one team member to another just by touching a button, and in the most important fights it's vital to be able to use moves at the very exact moment. They have also solved Chain Attacks by adding combos and modifiers to string together thousands of points that can be the difference between victory or defeat. It certainly doesn't sound flat at all.
This is an ad:
The world of Aionios is both beautiful and huge. Waterfalls, valleys, mountains, lakes, winding roads that end at a distant summit... if it was not for the fast travel that has been introduced at save points or when entering large areas (after defeating certain unique enemies, they will leave a travel mark, which will be a great help in crossing the world) moving from one location to another would take hours. And not only it is huge, but it is densely populated. We find different monsters, materials, and objects for collection in each location. You can lose track of time before continuing with the active mission (even though the secondary missions are still the big point to improve in the series) just by walking around each zone and using this time to collect materials that might be very useful to prepare the group for a battle, alongside changing equipment, levelling-up, and saving the game. Don't forget that all of this is on a Switch, which here goes a step further in terms of terrain and background-laden textures. In the handheld mode you may notice that sacrifices are made in certain areas, or that enemies are popping in at a certain distance, but as far as the world is concerned, I think that this is a new technical ceiling.
Everybody is interconnected. But you won't obtain the skills (like climbing or sliding down the thick cables of fallen titans) to take certain paths until late in the game. You can lose some time while investigating each area to reach the containers filled with special spoils or to give the soldiers a rest. My best advice would be to enjoy the adventure. This game is a traditional JRPG, and you will need hours and hours to complete the story, and twice as many hours to reveal all its secrets. At first, the battle may seem boring and easy, but quickly the level of difficulty will increase and in the clashes (especially if it's against a group of enemies) you will have to think fast to create a strategy, waiting for the charge of a certain attack or for your ally to use its healing power. The music of Yasunori Mitsuda's soundtrack is fantastic: melodies to which they have introduced more flute elements such as those carried by Noah and Mio that make you feel the soul of the series. However, the repetition of the same dialogue at the end of the combat ends up being exhausting. A little variety would have been welcome.
I thought that my lack of previous knowledge of Xenoblade would be a dangerous burden to play XC3, but the truth is that I have not felt lost at all. Technically it is the best in the series, and I think it can be a good opportunity if someone is willing to take the step into this vast, complex, and titanic world. Its combat system, without being anything genuine or new, permeates enough to provide a sense of power when ending a major confrontation with victory. And Aionios is a world that every RPG and adventure lover should visit. Monolith Soft has really refined their formula, and I loved going on this journey.