Game Review: Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Full disclosure, I still haven't beaten this game yet but have gotten far enough into it that I think I can confidently review it.
Firstly, if you haven't played the 2 games prior to this one in the franchise then go check em out. Xenoblade Chronicles, the first one, was originally on the Wii U but has since been ported to the Switch. I even think there might have been a 3DS version too.
All three games are unique with their story lines and characters. There is no need to play the other games, although I would recommend it simply because they are good games. Much like Final Fantasy, the series is that it largely utilizes elements from previous entries like names, art styles, enemies, combat system, etc., while at the same time making each game unique.
For this, the third entry in the series, the developers amped this up a bit. The combat system remains largely the same with the entire party fighting at the same time in an active combat system. You control 1 character and the others fight using AI. Attacks can sometimes be influenced by positioning during combat. For example, one attack may deal extra damage or inflict a certain status on the enemy if you use that attack while standing to the side of the target instead of in front of or behind them. This makes combat a very active arena where players need to stay cognizant of their surroundings and positioning to use their abilities to the best of their capabilities. Sometimes such things can mean the difference between life and death in boss fights.
Graphics look really nice. Keep in mind that this is a Switch game and not a PS5 of Xbox One X game. The Switch hardware isn't designed to do the extreme graphics of those consoles because the Switch is designed to be portable. They sacrificed graphics quality for portability and battery life, which isn't a bad thing at all. I find myself playing my Switch more than my PS5 these days, even when I'm at home and my Switch is docked.
But as far as Switch games go, this one looks nice. The colors are nice and bright, the models are well done, the environment is well rendered and full of vegetation and obstacles. Its a very pretty Switch game is what I'm saying.
The story on this one is a bit of a doozy. There seems to be a number of twists and turns along the way. I won't spoil anything for anyone who hasn't played yet but just when you think you have something figured out, the game throws you another curve. I'm deep enough into the game right now that I think I have a pretty good handle on what's going on and what will happen next but that's usually when BAM, something hits you from the side that you didn't see coming so we'll see.
The world in Xeno 3 is HUGE. Before its release I read a report that said the map was something like 5x bigger than Xeno 2. I didn't believe it at first but now, damn this map is big. I spent all day yesterday zooming around an ocean in a boat and I don't think I covered 25% of the whole area. And I'm an explorer who likes to go into new places and explore the map before doing much of anything else. I got tired of exploring that ocean and just started playing because the map was just so big. Almost TOO BIG.
But that big map size also has a downside to it. Because you can explore so much and do so many things off the beaten path and outside of the quest lines, it is SUPER easy to over-level your characters. By the time I started the second chapter of the story my characters were nearly double the recommended level for that portion of the game. And since then, I've only continued to level up. My characters far exceed the story level which makes for easy questing and story progression which almost takes away from the game. Granted, I knew I was power leveling my characters when I did it but still, I'm WAY OVER level now. The story line has me fighting enemies in their mid-40s and my characters are in their 70's. Its not much of a fight right now.
And on top of that, unlike some of the previous games, your characters can unlock and change classes. There are three types of classes: Attacker, Defender, and Healer. Each class has multiple sub-classes that can be unlocked by completing optional Hero Quests along the way. Each of these sub-classes have Ranks. You start at Rank 1 and can work your way up to Rank 10 through combat (later in the game you can unlock the ability to achieve higher ranks for each class). Unlocking a sub-class doesn't automatically unlock it for everyone either. It unlocks it for 1 character in your party and then through using that class in combat it will eventually unlock for the other characters who then start at Rank 1. This means that if you want to unlock every sub-class for each character and then built them up to Rank 10 that you have to do a lot of grinding which means getting a lot of EXP that will level your characters up WAY beyond what is needed for the story.
There are some classes that can be unlocked to achieve Rank 20 that I've run across so far. These are the starting classes that your characters have out of the box when the game starts. I haven't seen where the unlockable classes do this but it may be deeper in the game than what I've achieved to date.
And there are a lot of sub-classes to unlock. There is a total of 23 sub-classes. You start with 6 unlocked with your characters, each with their own sub-class; 2 attackers, 2 defenders, and 2 healers. The other 17 classes you have to find the Hero that has that class and complete their quest to unlock their class. Most heroes will also be added as someone you can add to your party for combat. All heroes can only occupy one spot on your team so you can never have more than one hero fighting with you at a time but this does help balance your party configuration, which is also important.
The gameplay and enemy design does require that you put some thought into your party configuration. Even at my high levels, if I create a party of just attack classes then I will die in even simple fights. Same if I go all healers or all defenders. Each class has its purpose and it is important that you maintain a relative balance in your party to remain effective in combat. If you want extra healing, use a healing hero. If you want extra damage, use an attacking hero. And so on.
The music is very fitting for the game, the world, and just in general seems at home with a JRPG like this. It is the kind of music we've come to expect from this genre.
And while I have thoroughly enjoyed this game, there are some downsides to it.
The boat used to traverse the ocean handles like the Titanic. If there was an iceberg in this game, I'd hit it no matter what I tried to do. The turning radius on the boat is atrocious. It moves through the water much faster than swimming but controls about as good as a quadriplegic in a canoe with no oars.
The Collection Quest turn ins are extremely inefficient. Each Collection Quest can be completed multiple time but have to be turned in individually. There is no bulk turn in option and each turn in takes roughly 5-6 seconds to complete as each screen has to process before it lets you push a button to advance. Yesterday I spent about an hour just turning in Collection Quests 1 by 1. I don't understand why the developers didn't give us an option to turn in multiple at a time but created this option expecting us to use it. As it stands, it isn't very user friendly and is a huge drag that takes away from the game. How can I enjoy this massive map and compelling story if it takes me 30 minutes or more to turn in all the new Collection Quests I've unlocked after discovering a new town? It just seems like an unnecessary waste of time and an unwanted break from the story. I mean, if I could turn in my Collection Quests within 5 minutes then that wouldn't be a big deal but when it takes 30-60 minutes to turn them in because I have to go through this slow process for each individual turn in, even to the same character for the same repeatable quest, its just too much. I really hope that patch that at some point but I'm not going to hold my breath.
Similar to the Collection Quests, there are places along the way where you encounter corpses, not in a grotesque fashion or anything though, and your characters "see them off" by playing a melody that helps their souls transition. Its kind of a nice thought in how such a normally macabre scene is portrayed in so many other games that your character take the time to honor the fallen. The downside is that each time you do this it takes a 10 second animation that can't be skipped or avoided. And in some areas there are multiple corpses that have to be sent off to the afterlife. You can spend a couple of minutes in some areas completing this chore just because you have to sit and wait 10 seconds each time before moving to the next one to wait another 10 seconds. Its just a time drag that slows down the game to me and I wish it wasn't that way.
With a map this big, fast travel is a necessity. The game does have fast travel but opening the world map and finding a place to fast travel is not always very simple. If you are in one part of the world and need to go to another, you have to find that region in the map, drill down to the sub-region, and then scan the map to find the marker you want to fast travel to. There doesn't seem to be an option, at least not that I've found yet, that lets you see a list of places to travel to and easily select a destination that way. There seems to be a lot of hunt/find involved for fast travel.
These knocks aside, I have really enjoyed the game and have no plans on stopping. I will continue to explore. I will continue to unlock sub-classes. I will continue to grind until everyone has each sub-class open and at max Rank. I found a boss enemy that was level 110 in an are the other day. I will be able to kill it before long and I won't consider the game complete until all those unique enemies are dead.
If you like JRPGs and have a Switch, then I recommend this game to you. If you don't have a Switch, consider getting one. There are a number of good JRPGs on the system and it looks like more are coming.
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