The Xenoblade series is a bit divisive among Nintendo fans. The series wears its big heart on its sleeve, and it’s defined by goofy voice acting, massive game worlds, and every JRPG trope in the book. If you’re a fan of the genre, Xenoblade is the kind of series that you’ll sink hundreds of hours into without batting an eye.
If you’re not a fan of sprawling JRPGs that have no consideration for the player’s time, however, then you’ll probably hate the series as much as you would its cousins, Xenogears and Xenosaga. The Xeno meta-series has existed in some form since the late ‘90s when director Tetsuya Takahashi still worked for Squaresoft. And it hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. The franchise still focuses on stories involving class, existentialism, religion, warfare, and anime cat-girls. Okay, the cat-girl thing is a relatively recent addition.
I’m not going to lie here: I am an unashamed mega-fan of the Xenoblade Chronicles series. While I’m largely unfamiliar with Takahashi’s earlier work, the first and second mainline entries in the Xenoblade franchise are some of my favorite games. And, despite being first-party Nintendo titles, they couldn’t feel more distinct from the rest of the company’s most prominent offerings.
Not Very “Nintendo”
When the first Xenoblade title was released for the Wii back in 2010, it was something of a niche title. It was late in the console’s life cycle, and it was so bizarre that Nintendo didn’t even bother localizing the game for North America. Nintendo of Europe translated the sprawling JRPG into English, casting British voice actors and giving the game its distinctive sound in the West.
It took a massive online campaign, called Operation Rainfall, to bring the game to North America. Fans quite literally had to beg Nintendo to bring the game Stateside, and, when it finally arrived, it was more of a cult hit than a blockbuster. Nintendo clearly believed in the title, though, giving it two re-releases: one on the 3DS and then a proper HD remaster on the Switch.
Fans and critics alike have noted that the series doesn’t feel much like Nintendo’s other offerings. It’s huge, complex, existential, and overtly dismissive of the kind of simplicity that makes Mario and The Legend of Zelda such enduring hits. Instead, Xenoblade focuses on huge interlocking systems and sweeping storylines that make it feel more like a Sega series from a bygone era.
Small, Vocal Following
The niche series enjoyed a small but vocal following throughout the 2010s, which was only bolstered when the first game’s main character, Shulk, was added to the roster of Super Smash Bros fighters. Many casual Nintendo fans who had only seen Shulk in Smash picked up the second main entry in the series, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 when it launched on the Switch in 2017.
It’s now become clear that someone in Nintendo’s corporate office really likes Xenoblade–or, at least, they feel like they owe Takahashi a few favors for his team’s tireless efforts on first-party Nintendo titles. His team, Monolith Soft, has helped Nintendo’s R&D on everything from Breath of the Wild to Splatoon 2 and Animal Crossing. The Xeno series is clearly one of Takahashi’s passion projects, and that passion shines through in every facet of the massive Xenoblade franchise.
Xenoblade 2 sold comparatively well, too, moving two million units. That’s not a lot by first-party Nintendo standards, but it’s more than you would expect for a niche JRPG that takes 80 hours to complete. Now Nintendo is throwing its marketing weight behind the upcoming Xenoblade Chronicles 3, another massive RPG that promises to tie a bow on the lingering plot threads from the first and second outings.
Warning: Spoilers for Xenoblade Chronicles 1 and 2 follow in the next sections. Play those first before you read on unless you don’t mind knowing what happens!
Xenoblade Chronicles 3
During a recent Nintendo Direct stream, the publisher unveiled new details about the upcoming Switch exclusive. The game will take place in the new continent of Aionios, though fans of the first two games will notice a few familiar elements. The giant mechs that populate the landscape look notably similar to the Mechon from Xenoblade 1, while the game’s cover art seems to show the Urayan Titan, a landscape from Xenoblade 2.
Monolith Soft hasn’t been coy about these connections, either. Xenoblade 3 will reportedly follow the events of both its predecessors, showing what happens to Earth in the aftermath of Rex and Shulk’s respective struggles against the gods of their worlds. If you need a refresher: after defeating their respective final bosses, both Shulk and Rex used their newfound powers to reshape their worlds. While the humans of their settings once lived on the backs of gigantic Titans, the two protagonists each created new landmasses for the people to live on after the events of their respective games.
Xenoblade 2 also revealed that the setting, Alrest, is really just the upper atmosphere of Earth. The Architect, the god of Alrest, was a human scientist named Klaus who accidentally created a disaster that destroyed most of humanity and created a parallel reality. Half of his own consciousness was sent to that reality, which became the setting of the first Xenoblade game. The events of the first and second game take place simultaneously, and Xenoblade 3 is poised to act as a follow-up to both tales.
The Main Cast
Players will control a party of six playable characters, drawn from two warring factions within Aionios. Noah, Eunie, and Lanz are warriors from the Keeves colony, while Mio, Taion, and Sena are from the rival city of Agnus. The six characters initially meet as enemies, as their home villages are locked in an endless cycle of war. However, a character who bears a striking resemblance to Xenoblade 2’s Vandham (and is also voiced by Simon Thorp) appears and gets the two groups to work together.
The party learns that a shadowy cabal is pulling the strings of the conflict between Keeves and Agnus and that this organization is somehow responsible for the “flame clock” that dictates the life span of every human in Aionios. This “flame clock” gives each person only ten years to live, and they must battle others and claim lives in order to extend their lifespans.
Fans of the Xeno series will recognize the themes of warring nations, mysterious powers behind the throne, and a group of angsty teenagers all working to change the world. And there’s a cherry on top, too: the playable characters can fuse with one another to become giant mechs known as Ouroboros. Giant robots are a hallmark of the Xeno franchise, starting with the very first entry, Xenogears.
Combat and Classes
The third entry sees yet another iteration of the Xenoblade series’ trademark combat system. The cadence of using Break abilities to Topple and then Daze or Launch your foes returns, as does the Combat Arts palette and auto-attack combat system. If you’ve never played the series, Xenoblade is essentially an MMO that you play by yourself, complete with AI-controlled allies that simulate the feeling of traveling with a party.
The third outing will introduce six new classes that resemble the class-based system of the oft-forgotten Wii U exclusive Xenoblade Chronicles X. Each of the six playable characters starts with one of these classes unlocked: Swordfighter, Zephyr, Medic Gunner, Tactician, Heavy Guard, and Ogre. These are divided into the three main categories you’d expect from an RPG–healer, attacker, and tank.
As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock the ability to change each character’s class on the fly. This will allow you to mix things up in combat and tackle complicated situations with an ever-shifting battle plan. As you level up each class, you’ll gain the ability to equip skills from one class to another, allowing you to use healing skills on a tank or tanking skills on an attacker.
Release and Expansion Pass
Nintendo only announced Xenoblade 3 in February, but it’s already just around the corner. While it was originally slated for a September release, it became one of the rare games to have its release date moved up. The game will hit the Switch on July 29, rounding out a busy summer of Nintendo releases.
Fans of the game will also be able to buy an expansion pass that will offer a handful of new features post-launch, including a handful of new heroes to join the party and a new story scenario in December 2023. Notably, the expansion pass’s key art shows Rex’s Aegis blade and Shulk’s Monado resting alongside Noah’s weapon. This has some fans speculating that the protagonists of the first two games could make cameo appearances in the game’s storyline, and perhaps could even be the new heroes teased in the expansion pass.
The game will also feature support for Nintendo’s Amiibo accessories. For instance, the Direct stream confirmed that players who scan a Shulk Amiibo will be able to replace Noah’s sword with the Monado in a fun nod to the first Xenoblade game. Fans of the cult-classic series are eager to get their hands on the game to find out where the story goes next–myself included.