A toothless story of a dying world
There are plenty of games about war.
Some of those games will claim that war never changes, while others will remark on how its changed over the years. Xenoblade 3, however, struggles to say anything.
Another 100-hour-long epic from Monolith is a third revision of an everchanging series, with new characters and mechanics. In a way it's impressive that no Xenoblade title is like the other, even if they do share some DNA. However, I think that this one might be the weakest of them all.
Xenoblade 2 was seen, by many, to be "too anime". It didn't take itself seriously and had a lot of cutscenes with sexual humor that never really landed for me. While I'm relieved that the seuqel does away with that nonsense, it's been replaced by something that might be worse: a game trying to tell a serious story that it's unable to write.
JRPGs take pride in their worlds. Almost every new one has a completely different universe filled with its lore and characters, cultures and traditions. In a lot of jRPGs the world can be considered its own character. Xenoblade 3's world is quite unique in that regard: it's a war-torn nightmare. Not the first in video game history, but ceratainly unique in that it pretty much gives up some jRPG traditions to make that point. Towns, for example, have been replaced with militaristic colonies. None give off that friendly feel you can see when you enter a town in a game. Instead, you're greeted with people who take you for an enemy. People, whose lives are so short and meaningless, they're spent only on fighting.
If those words have intrigued you, however, Xenobalde 3 might not be for you. The game has an interesting premise, yet during its overly long story it's afraid to say anything about it. Its satire is bland and not at all new and its observations about life are dry.
Xenoblade 3, nuch more than any other game in the series, revels in its premise. It feels like creators had the idea of constant war between artificial people with short lifespans, and then didn't know what to do with it. There are children's books with premises of endless wars that benefit only the elites that don't take around 100 hours to sit through.
Xenoblade 3 is a game that wants to be about fascism. However, Xenoblade 3 is also a game that would never want you to think that it's a game about fascism. It never wants to say anything too dark, so let's not worry too much. While people of the world have lived under constant propaganda, many of them are going to be your friends nearly immediately, including those who you've been at war with for ages!
You know those silly sidequests in jRPGs where, by bringing someone ten rat tails you effectively cause an NPC to not be racist or cure someone's suicidal thoughts? This whole adventure feels like that. A serious theme wasted on a story that wants to be serious but never does anything to be serious. The moment you set foot on an enemy territory, you just talk it out! No human is evil, and views can always be changed unless you're specifically chosen by the story to be the Evil Guy.
There are two significant themes to Xenoblade 3. The one - war, mostly hangs over the plot and the people of the story. The other one is far more personal and the one you'll be hearing all too much about - life and rebirth.
While I hated the game's weak excuse for a world where nothing dark happens despite it being worse than hell, the actual dialogue is rarely better. You might note that I've not written anything about characters, and it's simply because they aren't there. Technically you do control a big party consisting of characters with names. Those characters even have traits (around one each): one is smart, one is strong but on the dumber side, one is foul-mouthed. Yet the minute something starts happening, their traits disappear so that they could start delivering extremely long dialogues about life and purpose.
The game feels like it has thrice the Nier: Automata's text and, somehow, nothing as smart to say. A few good scenes are buried in the sea of anime foreshadowing that exists solely for viewers' - not characters' and their developements' - benefit. Some good ideas are washed away by a million words about friendship. Some story scenes go as long as infamous Metal Gear Solid 4's cutscenes!
I have recently replayed Wolfenstein: The New Order, and I was amazed by how every character felt simple and unique, and how much the game could say with, sometimes, quite little. How it balanced humor, an essential part of being alive, with tragedies happening around the world. That game is also 6 hours long.
After Xenoblade 2 and 3 I've started wondering if the only reason I liked the original game is because it was released on the Wii. Perhaps we would get a much inferior version of the game if the technology was there to jam all the script into the disc and bloat the game further. As it stands, however, Xenoblade Chronicles - the original - feels way more comfortable and subtle, even if it's also not perfect.
My main gripe with Xenoblade 3 is undoubtedly its story, however I would argue that gameplay has been downgraded, too. I've mentioned how the original came on Wii, and, surprisingly, that game has so much less tutorializing.
Xenoblade 3 is all about telling you what to do in the worst of ways. One of those games that will never leave you alone until you press the exact buttons shown on screen to do what it tells you to. Maybe it would be more understandable if its systems weren't so... bare.
Even with its new job system, Xenoblade 3 feels like a much poorer version of Xenoblade 1. The only things you can do with characters now are: equip accessories (up to 3), equip gems for passive bonuses and change your jobs. This could be crammed into only one menu of Xenoblade 1 - equipment menu - where you did do most of those things already, along with actually changing every single piece of equipment and its' looks.
Unsurprisingly, the battle system has received another overhaul. I don't think it's good. For as many tutorials as I've read on it, it's pretty much just Xenoblade 1's pseudo-MMO system with a bit more to it. However, all three Xenoblades feel like games that think that cramming more systems into its battles will make them more complex. In reality, however, you'll do mostly the same things over and over again.
There is some value to Xenoblade 3 - exploration of its world still feels fantastic. However, with colleactopedia gone and replaced with sidequest-like requests and no towns to look forward to, even that felt slightly worse than other games.
If there's one last thing I want to bring up as being worse it's the fact that the game has a bright red, often blinding, HUD.
Xenoblade 3 feels like a game that could've been great, but was mangled because its story was deemed far too important. And even then, it never really gets going. You keep wondering if it will get better right until the end, yet aside from a few scenes (The entrance to The City being the high point) it never does.
In an industry filled with games like newer Wolfenstein titles, Nier, Pathologic, Silent Hill 2, and others, Xenoblade stands out as pretentious title that wants to say things that others have already said, with better words, and in shorter times.