The Nintendo Switch came out of the gate swinging in 2017. That year, Nintendo released three first-party games that have been regarded as some of the best video games ever made: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
If that last one sounds unfamiliar to you, you’re not alone. The Xenoblade franchise is a bit more niche, but it doesn’t deserve to be.
Xenoblade 2, the sequel to the critically-acclaimed but criminally-underselling Xenoblade Chronicles, expanded the scope of the franchise’s story and bizarrely acted as a direct sequel to a game that many fans thought would never get a story follow-up.
Now, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is here, and critics say it’s a worthy successor to the second game in every way.
Where Xenoblade 2 featured a more fantasy-driven look, and stylized, anime-inspired character designs, Xenoblade 3 takes after the first game in the series more. It’s a more sci-fi-inspired game, complete with numerous giant robots and high-tech weapons showcased early in the game. Naturally, these elements played a role in the second game, but they were much less prominent than in some of the other games in the wider Xeno franchise.
The character designs, while still inspired by anime, are a bit more realistic this time around. The bizarre proportions and outlandish character outfits from the second game have been (mostly) dialed back, and the gratuitous fan service isn’t nearly as noticeable in Xenoblade 3.
Fans of the Xeno series won’t be surprised to learn that this game’s story is gripping, heartfelt, and philosophically rich. The game follows a group of six characters drawn from two warring city-states.
The world is harsh and unforgiving: most people in the world of Aionios are lab-grown, genetically-engineered soldiers who are only permitted to live for ten years. Their only goals in life are to fight and die at the behest of their shadowy, unseen masters.
Somehow, their deaths fuel arcane devices called “flame clocks” that dictate how long each colony is permitted to continue fighting. The protagonists decide to break this cycle of violence when they meet an old man. His unusual appearance and advanced age stun the young protagonists, all of whom are technically children.
The ensuing adventure is moving and offers a touching commentary on warfare, loss, and the human condition. It’s not exactly lighthearted anime fun, but it’s a worthy successor to a surprisingly deep JRPG franchise!