Our thoughts after the first few hours.
Ever since the original Xenoblade on Nintendo Wii, Monolith has been providing Nintendo fans with one of the most inventive and stunning open-world action JRPGs on the market. Whether the giant, long dead husks of Bionis and Mechonis in Xenoblade Chronicles, the much more lively titans of its sequel, or the seamless alien world of Mira in Xenoblade Chronicles X, each of these games felt distinct and somewhat isolated from each other. While yes, the original Xenoblade and Xenoblade 2 would ultimately prove to be connected by more than just numeric succession, each existed largely independently. That’s part of what makes Xenoblade Chronicles 3 so exciting. It represents the first direct follow up to two incredible games.
I won’t go deep into the story, partially because I’m simply not allowed to at this time, but also because I hold the stories of these games in high regard and have no interest in spoiling them. Rest assured that any story details I do mention are covered in what you’d essentially consider the tutorial. By Xenoblade standards, what I’ll mention in this preview correlates roughly to the events before you even leave Colony 9 at the start of the original Xenoblade.
What struck me immediately is the huge shift in tone for Xenoblade 3 versus the prior two mainline entries. There is no innocent youth who is pulled away from his home by the desire to do right. From the moment Xenoblade 3 begins, Noah, your primary character, is already a trained and capable soldier. He has been for his entire life. Rather than an archetypal call to action to send him out into the world, Noah is forced into an alliance with his enemies in order to flee for their lives. Their own nations pursue them after Noah and his party gain the power of the Oroburos somewhat against their will, allowing them to fuse into powerful beings. The world of Xenoblade 3 is one of turmoil and war, subverting any expectations you may have had based on the endings on Xenoblade or Xenoblade 2.
This is not to say that Xenoblade 3 feels unlike any other game in the series. The real-time, menu-based combat is here, built on the back of changes made in both Xenoblade 2 and its expansion, Torna ~ The Golden Country. While there are no sentient blades to accompany you on your journey, the new class system serves much the same purpose without the tedious gacha mechanics. Each character can learn the class of every other member of the party. While classes are separated into three basic categories—tank, attacker, and healer—each class has its own entirely unique moveset. The more you use a class, the more you’ll rank it up. Mastering a class by reaching rank ten then allows you to carry select skills and arts from that class over to another. This allows for a lot of freedom in how you ultimately build out each character.
The world is unified but separated into loading zones much like the original Xenoblade. That being said, the size of each zone is comparable to several of the original’s areas combined. The world looks beautiful too, just as you’d expect from a Xenoblade game. My initial impression is that Monolith has reigned in some small elements of their technical ambition as compared to Xenoblade 2 in exchange for performance and image quality. The grass doesn’t draw out quite as far but is significantly more 3D in appearance. To my eye the materials feel slightly pulled back as well. The result, however, is an overall higher rendering resolution in both docked and handheld mode. The opening areas also run significantly better than the prior game, rarely straying from their 30 frames-per-second target. I will say however that the culling distance on grass near to the camera is a bit too far out. It's fine if the camera is high in the air, but if you play with a lower camera or occasionally like to explore in first-person, like me, you may notice grass disappearing in a circle around the camera. Finally, I’ve noticed that at times, environment textures appear slightly unstable. This may be a result of image upscaling. I’ve spotted some edge flicker in select situations that could be a sign of this. It could also be the result of tessellation, as at times it almost appears as if the geometry itself is morphing slightly. All that being said, the environment textures aren’t a constant issue, and they’re likely one most players will never even notice. Taken all together, Xenoblade 3’s presentation resolves a significantly cleaner image on average than the prior Xenoblade entries on Switch. This applies both to docked and handheld play.
We’ve still got a while before I can provide my full formal review, which is good, because I still have plenty of game left to play. For now, suffice it to say that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 seems to be doing an excellent job at moving the series forward in new and interesting ways. Mechanically, they’ve taken what worked and re-imagined what didn’t, and it is a noticeable improvement. On the technical front, Monolith continues to push hard against the outermost limits of the Switch’s capabilities, while turning in a more appealing overall level of performance than their previous efforts. As for the story, well, I don’t want to ruin that for you. Plus the ninjas would be after me if I did.
A review copy was provided by Nintendo