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'Xenoblade Chronicles 3' Preview: JRPG Meets Existential Crisis

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'Xenoblade Chronicles 3' Preview: JRPG Meets Existential Crisis

Xenoblade Chronicles is a series that’s never shied away from a grand, explosive story. From Shulk’s quest for revenge against the Mechon, to Rex’s journey to take the mysterious Blade, Pyra, back to the legendary land of Elysium, and even the slightly forgotten Wii U instalment’s tale of the human race fighting for survival on an unknown planet after being forced to flee Earth thanks to an alien war, Monolith Soft have always aimed big when it comes to the narratives of these chunky JRPGs.

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If you’re an existing fan of the series, I’m sure it’ll be absolutely no surprise to hear that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is shaping up to be no exception. In fact, the beginnings of the game seem to be setting up this highly-anticipated threequel to reach even greater heights than its predecessors - and that’s saying something.

Check out the trailer for Xenoblade Chronicles 3 right here.

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The game pulls absolutely no punches when it comes to throwing you straight into its war-torn, dystopian world. Aionios is ravaged by constant battle between the two nations of Keves and Agnus, who aren’t just fighting to survive, they’re fighting to live. And yes, there is a difference, I promise. 

Each of the nations’ colonies have what’s known as a Flame Clock - filled with the life force of those living there. No life force equals no life, obviously, but the only way to keep the Clock topped up is by killing those from the opposing nation, and that’s exactly what every living person is dedicated to doing.

Just in case things couldn’t get any worse, each person is born with a mere 10-year (or 10-term, as they call it) lifespan - indicated by a red mark on their body which loses its colour over the years. Each person is given life as a young soldier, rather than a baby, which is a whole other can of worms that, understandably, the start of the game doesn’t give you an answer to.

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So, a world of people who’ll only live for 10 years at best, constantly trying to kill each other? It’s hardly a merry setup, so it’s a good job our cast of characters is quite so likeable. We’re immediately introduced to Noah, Lanz, and Eunie - three friends from Keves’ Colony 9 (no, not that one) who, like everyone else, are being pitted against the enemy in the hopes of seeing another day. Noah, who feels slightly like an off-brand Shulk, is an off-seer - beyond his soldier duties, he’s also responsible for sending off the dead with a melancholy tune from his flute. He also has a signature bright red sword (no, not either of those) which long-time fans of the series should come to expect by now.

As an off-seer, Noah is responsible for sending off the dead. / Credit: Nintendo.
As an off-seer, Noah is responsible for sending off the dead. / Credit: Nintendo.

As for Lanz and Eunie, both of them seem to have been plucked straight from the world of XC1, with them being Machina and High Entia people, respectively. Lanz gives off some big burly jock energy (which you can probably gather from his design alone), whereas Eunie is very sarcastic and sassy (she definitely has the potential to become a massive fan favourite). 

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After this, it’s not too long before we meet Mio, Sena and Taion, all hailing from Agnus. Sena is a small but powerful, happy-go-lucky girl with a hammer. Taion is a stern and serious tactician, who fights using a swarm of seemingly sentient ‘Mondo’ (they look like little origami creations). Finally, Mio, like Noah, is an off-seer, and on first impressions, seems like easily the most interesting character out of the lot. She’s a compassionate Gormotti girl (that’s Xenoblade for cat girl, for those uninitiated), who we quickly discover only has three months of her lifespan left. 

These two trios first meet as sworn enemies, but when a greater foe presents itself, they end up having to band together to take it down, and in doing so, discover the power of Ouroboros (aka, fusion) when Noah and Mio accidentally ‘interlink’, taking on a huge, immensely strong combined form. From then, they team up, and set out on their quest to put an end to this threat, and restore the world to order.

Mio only has three months of her lifespan remaining, as shown by the mark on her neck. / Credit: Nintendo.
Mio only has three months of her lifespan remaining, as shown by the mark on her neck. / Credit: Nintendo.
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The battle gameplay is admittedly slightly limited in the game’s beginnings - it seems to take tips from the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 school of throwing new tutorials at you over the course of hours (with more that I’m sure is yet to come, given the amount of mechanics which I’ve seen in the advertising campaign that I’m yet to encounter). Even so, it’s great fun, and takes inspiration from both XC1 and its sequel in how it works. 

For those unfamiliar with the series, all of the Xenoblade games so far have used a real-time battle system, and 3 is no exception. Your party members will all auto-attack enemies that they’re in range of, and you, as the player, can select a number of different moves (known as Arts), which boast a variety of effects and levels of strength. For example, some deal more damage from behind, some heal your allies, and some can inflict status effects on enemies.

Between the first game and its sequel, Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s gameplay feels more like that of 2, mainly because of its inclusion of the ‘cancel attack’ mechanic (basically, timing an art at the same time as an auto-attack, for bonus effects), but it still distinguishes itself well. 

It has to be said, on first impressions alone, the areas and landscapes are breathtaking, as is to be expected from the series. From the desolate war zone you first find yourself in, to the plains of the Aetia Region, Aionios is stunning, and is simply begging to be explored. Honestly, my only complaint with the world so far is that the beginning of the game somewhat restricts your traversal of it, simply as a result of the story events. This isn’t off-putting, but as a veteran of the series, I couldn’t help but feel slightly frustrated that I kept being met with invisible walls when I wanted to see what was around the corner. 

Aionios' environments are stunning, and feature some landmarks which veterans of the series will recognise. / Credit: Nintendo.
Aionios' environments are stunning, and feature some landmarks which veterans of the series will recognise. / Credit: Nintendo.

The soundtrack is also gorgeous, and although as of now, I’ve not heard anything that I can imagine being as memorable as the likes of ‘Mechanical Rhythm’, ‘You Will Know Our Names’ and ‘Drifting Soul’, I’m sure there’s plenty of time for the absolute bangers to roll in. Regardless, the music is still beautiful, and matches the atmosphere of the game perfectly. 

So far, as a returning fan, I’m enchanted by Xenoblade Chronicles 3, but I can easily see how anyone, even someone who had no knowledge of the series whatsoever, could get sucked into the world of Aionios. As I write these words, I’m just itching to get back into the game, explore more locations, and uncover more of its fantastical story - so if you don’t mind me, I’m going to go and do just that. 

Featured Image Credit: Nintendo

Topics: Nintendo, Nintendo Switch

Catherine Lewis
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