The running joke in my social circles is that Nintendo is currently celebrating “JRPG summer.” June gave us the excellent action hybrid Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, to be followed in short order by July’s updated version of Live A Live and the much anticipated Xenoblade Chronicles 3. XC3 is easily the most challenging of the trio, but it offers exactly the blend of deep storytelling, nuanced combat, and outstanding world-building that the Xenoblade faithful crave.
Unsurprisingly, this means the game’s earliest hours are dominated by cut–scenes and tutorials. There’s a lot to digest here, so it makes sense to lay all the necessary groundwork as soon as possible.
First and foremost comes familiarizing players with the combat system, which quickly takes on additional layers as play progresses. On its most basic level, combat is automatic. Just draw your weapon using the A button as you approach an enemy to commence the smackdown.
This real-time approach allows the player to move around the battlefield, finding the optimal position to unleash Class Arts. These Class-specific attacks are mapped to X, Y, and B, and are executed by pressing the corresponding buttons. Arts, however, must cool down in-between uses.
The game’s Class system allows you to spec out your team with an optimal assortment of Attackers (Swordfighter and Ogre), Defenders (Zephyr and Heavy Guard), and Healers (Tactician and Medic Gunner), each of which uses their specialized Arts to the advantage of your entire fighting force. Perform enough skillfully deployed Arts and auto-attacks to fill the Chain Attack gauge, press the + button, and you’ll launch a massive assault of perfectly-choreographed moves by issuing Orders to these troops.
Additional Arts are mapped to the directions of the d-pad, as are a series of helpful Tactics when holding the ZL trigger. You can also press the left direction button with the Interlink Gauge filled to merge two fighters into a special Ouroboros form—part mech, part gestalt, all badass war machine. Ouroboros have access to their own Arts, but using Ouroboros Arts fills up a heat gauge. Once that gauge is maxed out, the Ouroboros splits back into its two component parts to continue the fight.
As for the meaning behind all this carnage… well, that’s sort of the crux of the story in Xenoblade Chronicles 3. A chance meeting between agents of Keves and Agnus reveals that the two warring nations have much more in common than either would have imagined. Noah and his Agnian counterpart, Mio, are both off-seers, battlefield musicians who play for the departed spirits of their fallen comrades, and each is backed up by a pair of friends hoping to make their mark on the enduring conflict in the scant 10-year lifespan each is promised.
Quickly they realize that their scattered colonies, massive mobile Ferronis (each powered by a prominent Flame Clock), and even their military power structures are far too similar to be simple happenstance. Now on the run from both armies, these unlikely allies embark on an epic sci-fi adventure with the hopes of discovering that there’s more to their existence than merely powering engines of war.