Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Preview

It’s here. It’s finally here (well not quite, but almost). Xenoblade Chronicles 3. I cannot stress enough how excited I’ve been for a new Xenoblade game. The first game (and its Definitive Edition) is one of my favourite games of all time, and the second, while quite good, fell a little bit flat tonally — not to mention the performance issues. And now, thank goodness, the third game is here, and after spending a significant amount of time with it, I’m very excited to say that it’s everything I’d hoped for. Let’s get into it. 

So what’s it all about? 

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a game about death. If that sounds a little bit morbid, that’s because it is — there’s no escaping that this story is often dark and often heartbreaking. The basic gist of it is that there’s these two nations, Keves and Agnus, who fight against each other in an eternal battle at the whims of their respective queens. Soldiers from these nations are born physically and mentally in their teens, and live for just ten years (or terms, as they’re called here), prime fighting age. It’s their role in life to train up, fight against the other nation, and kill them for their life force, which then gets funneled into something called a Flame Clock, the heart of each colony. If the Flame Clock peters out, the colony’s inhabitants die, so each and every person spends their lives fighting and killing in the hopes they make it to the end of their tenth term, where they’re sent off to the afterlife in a ceremony called homecoming. 

Our heroes in this game are made up of three soldiers from each of the nations – three from Keves and three from Agnus – who, in the midst of a particularly brutal battle, are set upon by a revolting bipedal creature called a Moebius. They come into contact with an old man (Gasp! But how? People don’t live beyond ten years!), who explains to them that life doesn’t have to be this way, filled with death, fighting, and shortened life spans. Then he breaks open a fancy-looking Fabergé egg, their souls get briefly ripped out of their bodies, and they gain the ability to fuse together to form an Ouroborus, a big mech-like creature that, curiously, looks a lot like a Moebius. Funny that. Each of the soldiers gets linked to a soldier of the opposite nation, linking their lives together and making them enemies of, well, just about everyone else in the world. Their nature is to fight against each other, but here they are, forced to work alongside each other, making them traitors to their nations. 

The story’s good then? 

Oh yes, very very good. It takes a big step back from Xenoblade 2’s silliness, presenting a much more relatable, grounded story with some very likeable characters. Of course, it’s still Xenoblade so there’s definitely going to be healthy doses of Kingdom Hearts-style nonsense later on, but at its core it’s a game about making the most of the time you have left on this plane of existence and leaving your mark on the world. I think most people can probably relate to that sentiment. The tonal shift that comes with the quite heavy topic at the core of its storytelling brings it much closer in tone to Xenoblade 1 than its sequel, but it’s handled carefully, lovingly, in a way that doesn’t make it feel like a pantomime. I never thought I’d be praising a Xenoblade game for its storytelling restraint, but its willingness to hold back where prior games might have leaned a little too far in is a welcome change that makes the experience compelling from minute one. 

In yet another example of shocking amounts of restraint, Xenoblade 3 also avoids the all-too-common JRPG curse of filling its first few hours with dry exposition, instead opting to parcel out its storytelling, and in particular its backstory, in bits and pieces throughout the game. Characters’ motivations and relationships won’t always be crystal clear from the get-go, but that’s a good thing — we find out relevant information about these characters as it becomes necessary, rather than dumping it all at the front and expecting you to remember it all. The result is a storytelling experience that, despite obviously being long, avoids being long-winded, and stops short of tiring the player out. It’s a fantastic feat, and one that I am continually surprised keeps up throughout the game. 

Do I need to have played the first two games to enjoy this one? 

Ugh, this is a tough question. I’m hesitant to say yes, because I think, on the whole, you could probably enjoy this game just fine without having played any of the others. On the other hand, if you’ve been paying attention to the game’s marketing at all, you’ve probably already made assumptions about how this game connects to others. There are areas and characters in the world that seem like they’re probably related to areas and characters in previous games, and while I don’t think it would be strictly necessary to know all about them, let alone through 200 million hours of gameplay, I think it’s likely you’ll get a lot more out of the experience if you have that extra context. I’m being very careful about what I’m saying here, in part because I don’t want to get in trouble, but also in part because this entire question is answered with a gigantic “it depends”. To put it bluntly, if you’re interested in playing this game but haven’t played the others, you should probably play the others first, not because they’re necessary for this one, but because they’re excellent games and both available on the Switch. If you don’t care enough about the extra stuff and just want to play a dope game, Xenoblade 3 is good for that too, and you could always go back and play the others later if you feel like learning more about the Xenoblade universe. 

That’s great, but how does it play? 

For overworld navigation and exploration, it’s more or less identical to the previous two games; that is to say it’s great. Wandering around in big open fields across several frankly gigantic maps is wonderful, and as far as I can tell, the story won’t really take you everywhere you need to go, so exploration offers a lot to the experience. As you’d expect, there’s a tonne of side-quests and other things to do, some of them quite lovely and some of them very grindy fetch quests. That’s fine, really, because you don’t really need to do all of them if you don’t want to, and you can pick up or drop a quest at any time so you’re rarely locked into doing something you don’t like. 

As for the combat, it’s a little bit of a mix between Xenoblade 1 and Xenoblade 2’s battle systems, leaning more on the latter with some wonderful new extras thrown in for good balance. I’d still describe it as “single player MMO”-style gameplay, with your character auto-attacking while you wait for Arts (or action skills, as you might want to call them) to recharge, at which point you can activate them to get off some big damage, heal your allies, or set up buffing circles that characters standing in get buffs from. For characters from Keves, whose races (High Entia- and Machina-like people) seem to be primarily based on Xenoblade 1, those arts will charge up naturally over time, just like they did in the first game. On the other side of the coin, characters from Agnus (whose Gormotti- and Blade-like races are lifted from Xenoblade 2) will have their arts recharge based on the amount of auto-attacks performed, just like in Xenoblade 2. Characters can also use a second palette of Arts from the nation opposite their own, thanks to that whole “linked to the others forever” thing, with a whole host of options for interesting synergies to explore. 

You said there were new things, too?

I did! Probably the biggest new addition is the Ouroboros mechanic, which lets you interlink two characters, taking them both off the field and replacing them with a big, powerful monster. You can’t stay in this form forever, as a “heat” metre will fill up over time and as you attack, but its attacks are very strong, and its Arts even stronger, so it’s a good option for finishing off a tough enemy. It’s also extremely useful for getting yourself out of a tough bind, as will sometimes be required, as the Ouroboros has no health, so quickly activating it when one of your characters is about to die pretty much makes that character invincible for a short time, at the minor cost of not being able to use their standard abilities.

 Chain attacks are back, too, with a system that’s vaguely similar to Xenoblade 1’s chain attack system, but with its own quirks and strengths. The basic gist of it is that, when the chain gauge is filled (which seems to happen when you perform combos or attack cancels), you can press the + button to freeze time and launch into a chain attack. At the start of each chain attack round you’ll get to pick from a few different strategies; strategies will have effects either during the round, like lowering the enemy’s defence or strengthening attacks, or after the round, like healing or buffing your own characters. Then, you’ll get to pick from your list of characters, and have each of them use an Art. Depending on the character, each of these Art uses will add a certain amount to the chain metre, and once you hit 100% or above, the strategy’s finishing move will execute. Depending on the character’s class and the order you use them in, you can even freeze the metre for an attack, letting you get extra hits in. After the round ends, a certain amount of characters will be “replenished”, meaning you’ll get to use them in the next round too, and from there you’ll get to pick another strategy and start all over again. Defeat the enemy, or run out of characters to use, and the chain will end. It’s pretty cool, and getting a huge chain going both feels great and also nets you boatloads of experience, which is always nice. 

You mentioned the class system for a moment there, what’s up with that? 

I’m glad you asked, imaginary questioner who I invented as a delivery mechanism for this preview! The class system is another new addition to Xenoblade Chronicles 3, and it’s one of the more interesting systems in the game. Unlike Xenoblade 1, which basically locked each character into one class, and Xenoblade 2, which more or less let anyone go hog wild with any blade, Xenoblade 3 has a much more traditional class system. Each character starts with one class, which are broadly split up into three categories: attackers, defenders, and healers. You’ll be locked into these for a little while, but eventually you’ll be able to change classes. At first, each character will only be able to change into one other class, the one that belongs to the character they’re interlinked with (eg, Noah and Mio can pick each other’s classes, but not Eunie and Taion’s classes, and vice versa), but by having a character of a particular class in the party, every other person in the party will gain a little bit of experience towards unlocking that class for themselves after each battle. 

There’s also a bunch of unlockable classes, which can be obtained through Hero missions. Heroes are swappable, but unplayable, seventh party members, and usually you’ll have to do a quest for or with them before you can add them to your team permanently. Once you complete that quest, however, you’ll also unlock their class. Having that Hero selected as your seventh party member will give experience towards that class, but each Hero class also gets inherited right away by one specific party member, usually whoever was most involved in their quest. Having that extra character in your party means you can round out your team a little bit more — if you find you’re taking forever to kill enemies, adding an attacker Hero is probably a good bet, while if you’re finding you die a lot, adding a healer Hero will help you stay alive that little bit longer. It’s a good system, and works very well in tandem with the class system, as you may not always want to use the Hero’s class on the inheritor. Having said that, each character has a different level of effectiveness with each class, so it’s not always a great idea to just chuck any old class on any old character. As with Arts, there’s a lot of funky synergy that you can play with in the class system, and trying out new classes (as well as seeing the outfits those classes bring) is always an absolute joy. 

Okay, lay it on me, what’s the performance like? 

Well, it’s certainly better than Xenoblade 2, I can tell you that much. There are certainly times where, particularly in handheld, it looks quite jaggy and a little bit unappealing, but for the most part, it looks great. The frame rate is seemingly rock solid to me, and the resolution drops, while often quite noticeable, are a damn sight better than the previous game’s blur-fest. Still, it’s an incredibly beautiful game, with huge, sweeping vistas and gorgeous visual flourishes from start to finish. I thought it would be difficult to top Xenoblade 1’s 2011 wow factor in environment design, but Xenoblade 3 does exactly that, and then some. I think Monolith Soft knew that, too, because they included an option to take screenshots without the UI by pressing the L+R buttons together at any point while exploring or in battle. 

And the music? 

It’s 100% bangers all the way down. Xenoblade music has always been good, and it’s absolutely no exception here. You’ve probably seen a couple of the videos that Nintendo accounts have posted with tracks from the game (I’ve included one below), but these little sneak previews only scratch the surface of some of the incredible music in the game. I can’t talk about my favourite track, embargo restrictions and all that, but when my final review is up you can bet I’ll be singing its praises for the rest of eternity and beyond. 

Your answers are getting shorter, is that just because you want to wrap this up and go play more of the game? 


Okay fine, just tell me when and where I can get my grubby little mitts on it. 

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 will launch on the Nintendo Switch eShop and at retailers on the 29th of July. As always, we’ve put together an Aussie Bargain Roundup, which we’ll be updating frequently in the leadup to the game’s launch.

All screenshots provided by Nintendo, because I forgot to take many early-game screenshots. Nintendo, please don’t get mad at me.

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About The Author
Oliver Brandt
Deputy Editor, sometimes-reviewer, and Oxford comma advocate. If something's published on Vooks, there's a good chance I looked over it first. I spend way too much on games and use way too many em dashes.
  • Wisehunter
    July 10, 2022 at 10:12 am

    Nice preview! Cannot wait to dive in this beautiful world, listen to the fantastic music, follow the great story, and engage with the deep strategic battles!

    Monolith Soft deserves all the praise it can get. On the technical side for instance, while other Nintendo franchises with much higher sales projection have been delivering subpar projects in relation to the switch capabilities (cough cough, pokemon, cough), Monolith Soft, even with smaller resources and sales projection, manages to make games that greatly surpasses other switch titles, and overshadows other JRPGs (that became hallways fests rather than delivering beautiful worlds to explore, right FF7R?). With Xenoblade 3 they took the switch to its absolute limits, in between the scale and detail of the world, detailed character models and monster (consideranly more monster variety than Zelda BOTW), up to seven characters in real time plus all enemies and tons of particles and yet running great (Zelda on the other hand had the infamous Kakaruki village, lost woods, or lauching a enemy after freezing, really). And apparently they found the same good balance between visuals and battery duration for portable mode as Dragon Quest 11S did. Battery life is super important when undocked, we can ask the steamdeck and its super short 2 hours life about that hehe. But yeah, more than that and it would not be a switch game anymore, and I doubt Zelda BOTW 2 will surpass this level of ambition unless a new switch model arrives.

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