Bittersweet brilliance: PETER HOSKIN reviews Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 (Nintendo Switch, £49.99)
Verdict: Bittersweet brilliance
If you were to show this game to any normal person for five minutes, then it – and you – might look silly. There’s the name, for starters: Xenoblade Chronicles 3, a mashup of words that borders on the parodic.
Then there’s what would actually be happening: big-eyed characters bantering with each other before unsheathing oversized swords and using them to wallop what look like… recalcitrant rabbits?
But anyone who spends more than five minutes with Xenoblade Chronicles 3 will discover one of the finest games of the year. It might even be one of the best games of its kind ever made.
The characters in this game are effectively child soldiers, created to fight in a never-ending war, they have a shelf-life of ten years, after which point they simply disappear
It helps that this third Xenoblade Chronicles game doesn’t require any knowledge of the previous two. Sure, it follows them in design: you guide a band of buddies through a verdant futurescape and an epic, apocalyptic story over dozens of hours. And, it’s true, there are moments of narrative overlap for, er, Xenoblunatics like me.
But, on the whole, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a model of self-containment that plays more like the first entry in a new series than the third in a decade-old one. Everything is introduced as though from scratch.
This is particularly noticeable in the case of the combat. There’s a lot going on whenever you bump into an unfriendly animal (or worse) in the wild: special moves, tactical positioning, hard-hitting combos, commands for your other party members… the screen becomes a jumble of icons and colours.
Anyone who spends more than five minutes with Xenoblade Chronicles 3 will discover one of the finest games of the year. It might even be one of the best games of its kind ever made.
It could all be very confusing, particularly if Xenoblade Chronicles 3 didn’t take the time to explain all its systems one by one. As it is, however, the combat soon becomes instinctual – and a joy.
But don’t worry: Xenoblade Chronicles 3 isn’t too straightforward. It’s welcoming, but that is a different thing. The gameplay offers more than enough challenge for veterans, and the story is, in very intentional ways, plenty challenging too.
Oh, yes, I forgot to mention: the characters in this game are effectively child soldiers, created to fight in a never-ending war. They have a shelf-life of ten years, after which point they are simply disappeared. For all its beauty – and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 certainly looks beautiful on the Switch – this is a dark, sad world, defined by death. That’s what you are fighting for. And against.
So: sad, beautiful, challenging, welcoming, silly… somehow Xenoblade Chronicles 3 manages to be all of these things and quite a few more. Just watch out for those bunnies.