Xenoblade Chronicles 3 in the test - The best of two worlds
Xenoblade Chronicles 3, the next part of the popular JRPG series, will be released on 29 July 2022. It combines the future of the two predecessors, but still has its very own story. In our test, we tell you whether the time-consuming adventure is worth it.
This is an article by our content partner "PC Games". Here you can find the original article by Annika Menzel and Sascha Lohmüller.
While many games in recent years have been released late or had to be postponed for a longer period of time, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has attracted attention in a completely different direction. The game was announced in February of this year and was even supposed to be released in September, which would have been quite a quick release after the announcement. Two months later came the surprising news: we don't have to wait that long!
The release was brought forward, which is why you can already start on 29 July 2022 in the new adventure from developer studio Monolith Soft and Nintendo. The game links the events from the previous parts together, but you don't have to be scared off as a newcomer, because an independent story is told and you don't necessarily need any previous knowledge. In our review, you can find out why Xenoblade Chronicles 3, despite its minor weaknesses, has become a very successful JRPG that you definitely shouldn't miss.
Only the strongest survive long enough
The story is set in the world of Aionios, which is home to the two countries of Keves and Agnus. However, this sounds more idyllic than it actually is, because the two nations repeatedly face each other in fierce battles.
Both sides are not interested in expanding their territory or enforcing their world views, but in stealing as much life energy as possible. They urgently need it in order to be able to continue to exist.
The reason for this are the so-called flame clocks that dictate everyday life in the respective colonies. If the clocks are not supplied with enough life energy, the soldiers soon die. As a result, the peoples are caught in a seemingly endless war in which both sides fight for survival.
The inhabitants of the world don't know any different, as they are trained purely for this purpose. They are given ten intervals, each lasting a year, to do their duty on the battlefield. Those who survive return to the queen of the respective country in a ceremony. This homecoming counts as a great honour, but not many manage to stay alive that long.
During one of the countless battles, a small troop from Keves and a small troop from Agnus clash. They fight each other and only with the appearance of a threatening enemy do the two groups come together.
Noah and Mio, the respective leaders, merge into a unit called Ouroboros and are thus able to put the enemy to flight - at least for the time being.
Ouroboros still has an ace up his sleeve and, by means of a kind of spell, ensures that the whole world is now out to get them. From then on, the story takes a course that we don't want to anticipate. Even though none of the turning points really swept us off our feet, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has some surprising moments and doesn't shy away from serious topics.
Overall, the story has convinced us despite some lengths and is itself thought-provoking. Noah and Mio, as guides to their respective colonies, are responsible for seeing off their fallen comrades after battle and sending them on their way. Due to the fact that people have a limited amount of time even if they survive, the issue of death is commonplace. With Mio herself having barely three months left before her intervals are used up, it is particularly present in the small group.
Over time, we have grown very fond of the characters we accompany on their adventure. While at first they have to overcome their differences and squabbles are the order of the day, the plot welds them closer and closer together. Even if the characters seem a little stereotypical at the beginning, they later show their multi-layered character and their different motivations. Above all, the relationships they develop among themselves make for a pleasant dynamic.
Large scope, slow start
At the beginning, it takes a while for the game to gain momentum. First, it is made sure that all the important characters are in the right place at the right time, the game world and its background are explained and the combat system is set up - but there are always new tutorials waiting for you in the course of the game anyway. As with its predecessors, you have to be patient until Xenoblade Chronicles 3 reveals its true strengths.
If you accidentally skip a cutscene or don't pay attention, you can watch it again at any time via the main menu. There you can also set various options such as time of day and weather. Given the sheer amount and length of the scenes, it is no wonder that you resort to this feature to better follow the storyline.
You don't have to have played the other parts to understand them. However, you will miss a lot of details that connect the third part with the previous titles and make up part of its charm.
We still recommend that you play through the JRPGs in chronological order. If they are too long for you or you are primarily interested in the setting of the new game, it is still possible to enter the franchise with it. However, a short adventure does not await you.
Even if you focus on the main storyline and only pursue a few side activities, you will be busy for between 50 and 60 hours. If you want to discover the entire world and complete all the tasks, you will have to spend a considerable amount of time playing.
Simply marching through is not possible anyway, as you need the necessary levels to hold your own against the enemies. The bonus experience points, which can be distributed at will at resting points, provide an initial remedy.
Nevertheless, you should not run away from enemies and also check off the one or other side task to avoid having to grind later. If you explore everything and take your time, you should have no problems with the difficulty.
Complex combat system: Chains and combos
The combat system on "Normal" is pleasantly challenging and demands tactical skill. In case of doubt, even one unfavourable decision can cause you to lose the fight. In addition to the automatic attacks of the characters, you have various techniques at your disposal. If you use them at the right time or in the right position, additional effects await you.
In addition, as in the predecessors, you can string together combos that are particularly effective and give you an advantage. For example, stagger an enemy, knock them over, make them faint and add an explosion on top to inflict a lot of damage. New in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 are the Ouroboros abilities of the three pairs. For a certain amount of time, you can fight in this combined, stronger form and use the corresponding skills. Some are upgraded if you have previously reached the third level of synchronisation by using fused attacks.
This gives the combat system a tactical component, which is mainly important with strong enemies. If you are not vastly overlevelled, the fights will never be over quickly. Instead, you wear down the big enemies over time while trying not to become a victim yourself. It is also essential to equip yourself with the strongest classes and equipment beforehand, otherwise your defeat is pre-programmed in some cases.
Accordingly, there is no guarantee that you will leave victorious just because you have a few more levels under your belt. The attack chains known from the predecessors are also present, but they have been tweaked.
You always have a choice of three different commands, each with different effects. Then you select attacks from individual characters until the tactics bar exceeds 100 points, which causes the command to be executed.
You do this until there are no more characters left or until you have successfully completed an Ouroboros command, for which you must first have sent the corresponding pair ahead. Which characters you have attacking plays an important role. Attackers will give bonus points if they strike first.
Healers will never raise the tactic points above 99 and if a defender attacks last, an already spent character will be brought back into the fray. This results in a wide variety of combinations to weaken the opponent and inflict as much damage as possible.
We also liked to save ourselves in an attack chain when the life bars of the party members were vanishingly low and we could thus heal them in a relaxed manner. Due to the many functions, the combat system takes some time to unfold.
What at first seems a little unspectacular and then somewhat confusing due to the possibilities quickly turns into a very entertaining concept and one of the game's greatest strengths. However, this does not save it from feeling a little monotonous in the later hours of the game, once a certain routine has settled in.
Holding Out For A Hero: Different Heroes, Classes and Colonies
To counteract this, it is a good idea to regularly change the classes of the individual characters. There are different types of the three superordinate categories attacker, defender and healer, which can also be learned by the respective other party members.
So not only do you have the option to equip your favourite character with the most fun class for you, but you can also change the number of the three categories represented. Against some enemies you may need an additional healer, against others you will have to muster more attack power.
Therefore, the principle of heroes joining your party as a seventh member comes in handy. As you progress through the game, you'll meet several of these characters and have to complete a mission to make them part of your team. The quests are already worthwhile for the stories they tell, which are lovingly done in contrast to the rather generic side quests. Afterwards, the respective hero not only supports you in the battles, but also passes on his or her class to you.
Whether you decide on a fixed seventh member or switch between the different options depending on the situation is entirely up to you. However, you should not do without them, as the additional fighting power is very welcome, especially in the more difficult boss fights. You will get to know some of the heroes as soon as you come into contact with the colony. If you help the people living there and improve your relationship with the inhabitants through quests and conversations, this will give you various permanent bonuses. These places are also important because they give you new side quests.
Some you will be assigned directly, others you will get by discussing information. If you overhear a conversation in a colony, you can talk about it with your companions at the resting point and decide how to proceed. In addition, there are the Kollektikon cards, which you can use to deliver the material you are looking for. This spares you some fetch quests, which are usually found in abundance in games of this kind. There are still plenty of tasks that send you out to just collect or kill monsters, but it feels good to just tick off these tasks along the way via the menu.
Determination instead of an endless odyssey
A very welcome innovation is the navigation. In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, we were still tormented by opaque, endless detours that first had to be found.
Neither the compass nor the map were of much help, which caused a lot of frustration in the meantime. Fortunately, these times are now over - developer Monolith Soft has come up with a good way to guide you through the new adventure.
You can have a red line show you the fastest way to your current destination at any time. However, the game warns you right at the beginning that this is not necessarily the best option. Very strong enemies or other hurdles await you there, which is why it is usually worth looking for an optimal route.
However, if we simply wanted to get to the next quest point quickly or had no plan through which corners of the game world we had to go this time, we were very grateful for the orientation. In the best Xenoblade style, the walking routes are sometimes quite long, but the fast travel system saved us a few steps.
You can even set your character to automatically walk straight ahead if you really don't feel like walking but still have a fair way to go.
You can travel to certain places as well as to already discovered resting points. There you can forge useful jewels, cook food or clean your clothes. After all, your clothes can easily get damaged in the thick of battle.
This is expressed as a nice detail in the cutscenes, in which the characters look as if they have been in contact with the ground.
You will also encounter monsters in the initial areas that have a godlike level compared to you and can wipe you out of the history of the world within seconds.
At least it happened to us much less often than in the predecessor that we accidentally attracted such an enemy's attention and immediately regretted it. In general, the enemy monsters no longer attack you as soon as they are a few levels below you, making areas that have already been explored a relaxed stroll later on.
With one eye smiling and one eye closed
In terms of gameplay, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 does many things very well, but there are also some points of criticism: Namely, the title has a few weak points in technical and graphical terms. Everything looks a little blurry, the textures have to reload and are sometimes muddy. The smaller trees in the distance, for example, just look like green spots. On the large screen, the game makes a better overall impression than in handheld mode.
In addition, there are problems with the frame rate, as enemies further away move much slower than you. The video sequences, which are not only numerous but otherwise well realised, also suffer from the quality. The characters sometimes seem stiff and a little emotionless. Later in the game, we occasionally had to deal with jerks in hectic fights and even in a sequence. So there is still some catching up to do here. In contrast to the second part, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 no longer relies on the anime style, but approaches the visuals of the first part again.
There is also much less emphasis on fanservice, which should mainly please fans who found the adventure around Rex and Pyra too clichéd. In general, however, the art design is once again excellent, and you can expect a stylistically impressive game world as well as a wide variety of characters and creatures. Whether you prefer this more down-to-earth style or miss the visuals from the second part is ultimately a matter of taste.
We were happy with both, but the less over-the-top characters fit better with the serious tone of the story. Nevertheless, a few characters with cat ears or exaggerated body features should not be missing, of course, it is still a JRPG.
For the voice acting, you can choose between English and Japanese. The English synchro is again well done, only in combination with the German subtitles it causes confusion, as they don't always match in meaning. This is probably due to the fact that such translations are often done separately from the Japanese.
There is also a lot of use of proverbs and idioms, which sometimes seem out of place. There is a lot of swearing, but always with child-friendly expressions like "Verfunkt!". Our opinion: It's either all or nothing.
The enemy names are also as funny as usual. Those who have played the previous games, however, will certainly not be bothered by an Illumi butterfly or Piros crab. In the end, it doesn't matter what the names of the creatures we are beating up are - but the names did make us shake our heads and smile.
Like its predecessors, the game shines with its very well-done soundtrack, especially the melodies of the signposts will stay in your head for a long time. What caused our ears some grief, however, was the familiar battle chatter.
The characters shout wildly - all attacks, commands and mutual encouragement have to be shared immediately. Towards the end of the game, we found ourselves turning off the sound sometimes during fights against standard opponents.
Yes, the game has its weaknesses. However, these are minor criticisms in terms of the overall gaming experience, which is why we can turn a blind eye to the graphics and other shortcomings. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has become a very successful JRPG that combines the two predecessors without excluding newcomers.
If you are in the mood for an extensive adventure with an emotional story and a multi-layered battle system, you should not miss the new part.
The best of both worlds, with forgivable weaknesses
The game not only combines the worlds and events from the two predecessors (Xenoblade Chronicles X is excluded here), but also unites the positive characteristics of both games. The huge scope paired with an exciting and serious story is once again convincing. In the best Xenoblade manner, the start is rather slow and especially in the later stages you have to be patient, as some battles feel unnecessarily stretched out. This has caused me frustration at times, especially when a second attempt was due. The mediocre graphics and technical inconsistencies are a real shame, but the art design shines once again. Otherwise, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has become one of the best JRPGs of recent years, which you should not miss if you can overlook the small weaknesses.
- Large gameplay: 50-60 hours purely for the main missions.
- Emotional and exciting story as well as a great soundtrack
- Multi-layered combat system that requires tactics and preparation
- Individual play style through the different character classes
- Likeable characters that grow on you
- On "Normal" a pleasantly challenging difficulty level
- Lack of graphic quality and slight technical difficulties
- Sometimes it feels artificially drawn out
- After a while, the normal battles become a daily grind
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