By Isaac Espinosa
The darkest of days rises on the vast realm of Aionos, and it’s time for you to assemble your team and save your world from destruction. Following the story of Noah and his childhood friends Eunie and Lanz, you go on a quest to save this world made of two countries from its fate, and the ties that bind it to its war-torn history. The ensuing adventure of Xenoblade Chronicles 3, which I played through on my Switch, represents one of the greatest stories that the console has to offer.
That tale begins with a somewhat overwhelming amount of information that sets the tone for the rest of the game and sends the player into a world that’s been ripped to shreds by constant battles and countless lost lives. Noah, Eunie and Lanz all originate from the nation of Keves, where the three of them were raised as soldiers to fight in an everlasting war with Agnus, the nation that borders Keves. In a twist of fate, however, a mission to investigate a large source of Ether unexpectedly becomes one of the most important events in our heroes’ lives. They encounter the Agnus soldiers Mio, Sena and Taion, and a minor scuffle between the two groups is interrupted when a human uses the Ether source to affect the six soldiers, turning them into a fusion of characters the game calls an Ouroboros, not the traditional Ouroboros of myth. Then, they must head toward a legendary city with a large sword suspended above it. All six of the soldiers call a truce and return to their separate colonies, only to find that they are not given a warm welcome. The six are all suddenly attacked by members of their respective nations, and Noah, Mio and the rest of the group have no choice but to meet up again and form a team of six, so that they can set out to find this fabled city and live free from their war-shackled fate.
Not only is every corner of vast Aionos filled with details and lore, but the main narrative is an emotional roller coaster, as affecting as anything in the modern Nintendo canon. All this is accompanied by one of the most impactful and epic gaming soundtracks ever composed. There are characters that you’ll grow attached to in an instant, plot twists that break your heart twice over in the same sequence, and many moments that leave you pining for more. Your main group – Noah, Mio, Lanz, Sena, Eunie and Taion – are all fascinating characters that enhance the journey with their surprisingly flexible dynamics, and they all bounce off of each other in a way that makes it hard to dislike any of them. Lanz, especially, is a favorite of mine. His confident and hot-headed demeanor comes from a place of compassion, and it’s impossible to see him as anything less than a great friend to Noah and Eunie.
The gameplay particularly combat and exploration, a huge part of Xenoblade Chronicles 3, does not disappoint. Combat is simple at first, allowing you to manipulate your team of six as you take on a foe. You can switch between party members and let AI control the other five. Optimal use of this mechanic requires you to move between characters and utilize their arts in order to win battles, employing skills that do more damage or have specific effects on enemies. This takes on more importance as your characters learn more arts and even gain the ability to fuse, which lets you take two party members and turn them into a powerful beast for a limited time. The best part about combat is the frequent introduction of new ways to play; as you go forward, things become increasingly complex and allow you to have more freedom during a fight. And Xenoblade Chronicles 3 paces these properly, at a rate that allows players to sit with what they’ve learned before, to test it and their new knowledge in their next bout.
Exploration is also integral to Xenoblade Chronicles 3, and it makes the world feel full and alive. Every region of Aionos presents some kind of searchable structure, enemy or NPC for you to interact with. You can find containers, which give you bountiful amounts of useful items. You can use campsites as a base to craft gems in order to boost aspects of your party members, or simply to relax and take a break from the action. You can help members of both Keves and Agnus along the way, increasing your allegiance to both nations. It’s effortless to immerse yourself in the world of Aionos, either grinding your levels while killing enemies, or just finding some random little part of the world that you haven’t visited yet. Although the story is linear and divided into chapters, its world doesn’t feel segmented. Everything you find helps to build the game’s world and its story: an incredible achievement.
If I had to come up with one thing I didn’t care for, it’s that there are some salient details that the game doesn’t explicitly reveal. For instance, leveling up your character at a campsite makes it harder for you to increase the class levels that you need in order to teach your party new skills. This stems from how class points scale based on your level – overleveling your party will mean that you’ll receive fewer of them. But not all the omissions are a turn-off. I think it’s somewhat brilliant to not explain these types of hidden mechanics to the player. To me, it also show the various ways that the game can be played. And besides, it’s not like it’s all that hard to level up your classes for your party members anyway.
There is no other word I would use to describe Xenoblade Chronicles 3 than outstanding, for its amazing amount of content, its superb writing and pacing, and above all, its sublimely immersive world, which will leave you losing track of the passage of time. After what this game did to me, I was left speechless and sobbing at my screen. I cannot recommend this game enough. If you don’t pick it up, you’ll miss out on a true masterpiece.
Bronx native Isaac Espinosa is a senior intern at the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Alongside being named the Circle’s first assistant mentor, Isaac also published his first story in The Verge.