This article contains spoilers for the Xenoblade Chronicles franchise. Well, X is barely mentioned… But 1, 2, and 3 all get spoiled to hell. Oh! And Xenogears and Xenosaga are in there, too. You have been warned!
Xenogears is a classic, deservedly laudable videogame. However, no one can say that the final product was what was imagined when the project was initially developed. Some of its most iconic moments, from Fei’s continual chair warming to entire dungeons that appeared only as JPEGs, were the result of a game that should have been two “episodes” being compressed into a single title. Whether you believe ChuChu on the cross is something that would have happened if anyone involved had longer than five seconds to consider the theological ramifications is immaterial, we simply know that Xenogears as we have it is not the same animal that would have come from an expanded development cycle. Even tracing back to its origins as a potential Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger sequel, Xenogears was forced to find its identity on the fly(ing robot). In short, Xenogears is great, but what we know as the final product “Xenogears” was totally an accident.
And then Xenogears begat Xenosaga. Xenosaga was a “saga” that was released over years, and, if that trilogy did not maintain a consistent cast, you would be forgiven for assuming they were three unrelated games. Classic RPG combat system! Or something about toppling now? Wait, now we’re done with that, and attempting a structure where you are supposed to draw aggro? And gameplay aside, the plot of Xenosaga was very publicly modified (almost exactly) halfway through, with its driving writer being canned, stories being heavily altered, and, oh yeah, the second game was supposed to be part of the first game that was supposed to be part of six games. You have about the same possibility of properly pacing a story in those circumstances as you do seeing a fish graduate law school (note: this jape should not be seen as related to my ongoing suit against The Law Firm of Fishguy and Octoman). I have objectively proven that Xenosaga is a trilogy worthy of its existence, but Xenosaga, after years of development shifts, is more of an accident than anything.
Xenoblade Chronicles was arguably the first Xeno title that was a complete game. It was not initially planned as a “Xeno” title, but dropping the Monado from its title was suggested to honor what had come before. Xenoblade was designed from the start to be a perfect combination of gameplay and plot by the guy who was responsible for the 30-minute cutscenes of Xenosaga. In pursuit of this ideal, Xenoblade Chronicles became a franchise that rewarded the player not only for combat, but also other mundane tasks like talking to NPCs or discovering new locales. And this all worked well… but combined poorly with a world that eventually got whittled down to, like, two towns and a cave as the plot progressed. A game that simultaneously rewards you for looking everywhere but effectively locks you out of that option in favor of advancing the story is a major miss. Did the producers not understand the game they were making? Was this all just an accident?
(And we’re going to skip Xenoblade Chronicles X, because talking about that delightful mess should be an article all on its own…)
So Xenoblade Chronicles led to Xenoblade Chronicles 2. This was the game that was advertised as a reason to buy the Nintendo Switch, and it did not disappoint. It is an amazing game! However, it still seemed to shoot itself in the foot, primarily through tying the exploration of the world to a gacha system that meant you would never see whole swaths of the planet if you had rotten luck. And even if you got the Blade you wanted, you would have to shuffle your buddies around like a deck of cards every time you had to have two distinct “skills” working together. So the combat was great, the plot was passable, but that all-important exploration aspect was again marred by some bizarre design choices. Combine this with the fact that it is all but impossible to play Xenoblade Chronicles 2 while another person is in the room judging your protagonist’s growing harem of slave weapon ladies, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 clearly had some issues. It is just an accident of fate (and maybe Nintendo promotion), that the game became as smashingly prominent as it has.
And now there’s Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is perfect. And, appropriate for its lineage, it is a story of accidents.
It is 100% canon that every party member, monster, continent, and even the gods of Xenoblade Chronicles 1 & 2 were created by accident. In some nebulous future of Earth, the Conduit (the ubiquitous MonolithSoft monolith that is sometimes called a Zohar) is discovered. Well-meaning scientists stick it on a space station for study, and, when a global war broke out, the Conduit was threatened. Given the Conduit had proven itself to have the ability to warp all of space and dimensions, it was considered a worthwhile endeavor to keep it out of greedy hands. Unfortunately, one of its caretakers, Klaus, had a minor freakout about wanting to protect the Conduit and -ye shall become as gods- about it, activating the Conduit. This led to a few things happening:
1. Nearly all of humanity and the Earth as we know it is wiped out.
2. The “Earth” is split into two (whole) planets.
3. Klaus is split into two (mostly) independent beings across the two worlds
4. The Klaus duplicate twins, now the benevolent Architect and the malicious Zanza, both wind up in separate worlds, and gain powers akin to godhood.
5. Just for funsies, Galea, Klaus’s coworker who objected to him activating the Conduit, becomes something divine, and stands in opposition to Zanza on Zanza’s world. Architect is alone on his planet.
6. Galea (technically now Meyneth), Zanza, and Architect all create desperate forms of life in their respective domains. Some of these creatures are pretty much humans, some are giant metal bugs, and some are enormous dragons for some reason.
7. And then a whole lot of stuff happens for centuries with these people (“people”) on two different planets, mostly independent of meddling from the newly minted gods. (Sure, Zanza eventually did his best to wreck up the place, but that only impacted, like, six people until it got to be an issue.)
So, to be absolutely clear: Shulk, Pyra, Mythra, Rex, the Nopons, and that dude with the metal face all only existed because some weirdo screwed up his science experiment but good. And then, when the events of Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 eventually culminate with the deaths of the Klaus trinity, they become worlds that are completely separated from his inadvertent origins. Give or take some city ruins skulking around Architect’s planet, the worlds of Bionis/Mechonis and Alrest are now independent entities completely divorced from their Earthly roots.
But then the past came back to destroy everybody.
These two planets were originally one, and nature loves smooshing together complimentary pairs. Some time after the first two Xenoblade Chronicles adventures, the planets started to gravitate toward each other, and, whether they were going to distinctly merge or just plain smack into each other, it was going to spell the end for everybody actually living on those two planets. So two (mostly) immortals from two different Xenoblade games decided to work together, and build a machine to reboot their worlds and their citizens after a double global catastrophe. Unfortunately, they live in a Xeno universe, so the AI responsible for this machine went a little nuts, and subverted the worlds passing harmlessly plan to create a single mega-planet fueled by an eternal war that would be fought by the undying souls of two planets’ populations. In order to permanently stave off the potential apocalypse of planets bumping continents, this new Aionios world was meant to be a place trapped in a perpetual cycle of events repeating infinitely in an approximately 20-year loop for the rest of time.
But, as that malevolent AI should have noticed, accidents happen.
One of the two queens responsible for this mess created a failsafe that would allow a handful of enslaved souls to break free of the cycle and save the worlds. Unfortunately, overthrowing a planetary AI with throbbing god powers isn’t the easiest thing in the world, so it took years and years to find a crop of heroes that would actually win the day. But all was not lost in the meanwhile! Even if every hero didn’t cross the finish line, they were able to see a world beyond the trap that had been laid by this latest mad god, and they rebelled with swords and the ability to breed like bunnies. By the time the true heroes of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 are getting going, an entire city of previous-hero descendants are palling around and living their best (hidden) lives. Two planets’ worth of teenage enslaved souls populating this one giga-planet, and now there is a third column of citizens that have nothing to do with all that nonsense. An accident of fallen heroes leads to a society of a whole new people.
And let’s be clear here: Xenoblade Chronicles 3 goes out of its own way to establish these people as the happiest people on the planet. The City has its share of problems, but it also has people laughing, playing, and reading novels (possibly while laughing and playing). The entire rest of the world is a warzone, but these sheltered citizens never have to pick up a Blade if they so choose. They are dimly aware that it is a hellscape of struggle outside, but they are contentedly chilling in comfort within the walls of the City. They are an accident of this Eternal Now, and they’ve got the best deal out of anybody.
And, having survived the mistakes of its predecessors, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is similarly the happiest little accident.
The developers of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 carefully sifted through all the accidents of previous Xeno games, and distilled the perfect variations on those preexisting ideas. The Blade gacha system of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 gave way to the Hero System of XC3, which created a situation wherein “Blades” that will help you fight battles and traverse the world are rewards for actual accomplishments, and not just having the best luck. The combat system is a clear evolution of concepts introduced in Xenoblade Chronicles 1 (and, even before that, Xenosaga Episode 2), but it has been streamlined to the point that you will be slaying murderous lobsters with ease. And some issues the franchise has had going all the way back to Xenogears have finally be assuaged, like how “giant robots” no longer feel like wasteful fuel sinks that must be micromanaged. Big bots are the crushing weapons they always could have been! Activating the Ouroboros ability to hop in a two person wannabe mech is always the best choice in combat, and you no longer have to worry about spending your dough on a separate upgrade tree to enjoy that (though, if you want, you can play with its sphere grid). Even improving the colonies feels a thousand times better than it did in previous games.
In fact, let us explore those colonies a little deeper. Many have said Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is baby crazy, and its ultimate moral is about how great it is to meet someone of the opposite sex and squirt out some kids. There is a lot of textual support for this interpretation, as there is an overt emphasis on “isn’t f$^*ing fascinating” in the previously mentioned City (the one place on this planet where people are mackin’ it). They even go as far as retroactively making XC2’s protagonist an omega dad (which is significant, as Rex never even mentioned the concept of parenting during the entirety of XC2, so it makes as much sense as announcing a game later that Zeke became a librarian). However, this emphasis on children could simply be something of a byproduct of the theme of “let things move forward”, as children are the most obvious example of that. Do not live in the stasis of “the eternal now”, make changes in your life, move forward… and the corollary is that for a lot of people throughout history, “having kids” is the most obvious example of that moving forward. You can’t be in the ten-year time loop of being a young adult forever, and it is a lot harder to showcase that with “Eunie grew as a person and opened a flower shop and she really enjoys building models on quiet Sunday afternoons” than just “babies babies babies!”
That said, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 does make raising kids fun.
All of the Xenoblade Chronicles titles have had… what did they call it in the first place… something like “The Colony System”. Basically, you solve side quests in a particular town, and this leads to earning local “points”, so eventually the town “ranks up”, and maybe this means you can get more complicated sidequests, find more items at shops, or get discounts. This was there from the beginning in Xenoblade Chronicles, and then XC2 added to it by including some creepy system where you could become an owner of local shops. It was kind of… confusing? The implication was that Rex was gradually “buying into” the towns and businesses he frequented, but it felt about as inconsequential as playing Monopoly, and permeated a weird “landlord” vibe (in a game that already glowingly featured slavery). This teenager now owns all the food stores in town? Somebody should call the cops about that. No, not the regular cops.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has much the same system in place. You are no longer buying fruit stands, but you are performing the same tasks of completing sidequests or handing over 10 Aruba Cacti or whatever to watch a little bar fill up. The rewards are still there, but, as someone playing on normal mode (so, to be clear, if this is more important in hard mode, I am unaware), the various shops and such are not that much of a gameplay factor. It is likely that having a Level 5 colony somewhere grants you access to some system-breaking benefit, but in a game where gold/credits/whatever barely get used (gems upgrades and CP rewards are much more valuable), there is barely a “physical” benefit to making a colony better.
That said, you will never stop helping these colonies, because they are babies.
Here’s the cycle for damn near every colony in the game: you arrive at the Colony. It is controlled by The Bad Guys. At least one of the Bad Guys is skulking about, and they have some weird plan that maybe could be benevolent at first glance, but is revealed to be powered by sacrificing orphan puppies. You personally defeat the Bad Guy, often with the help of one random person from the Colony. Random Person is revealed to be the leader of said Colony. The Bad Guy is now dead, the colony’s connection to the Home Office is severed, and now Random Person is left responsible for the whole Colony. Everybody knows you’ve got an adventure to go adventure at, but if you could stop back in and help out from time to time, that would be great. Blue Colony needs food badly…
And after about the 25th time this happens you might notice something: you are pumping up these colony scores because you want to help the babies. All the towns or colonies or whatever in previous Xenoblade games had issues (like, they were often wrecked to all heck by a visiting Metal Face or similar), but they were established places long before you ever sauntered in. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 made a big deal about Rex’s hometown being his responsibility from the start, but every other “town” was a hulking city that didn’t care if Rex lived or died. You guys got a king sitting right there! You don’t need me to go collect strawberries to impact real estate costs! You’re good!
But the colonies of Xenoblade Chronicles 3? You cut them off from their previous parents. You personally did that with a big, glowy sword. You are responsible for them now. You are a good person, right? You are the one out there slaughtering Magical Deer or whatever. You don’t want to bring some Magical Venison home to the kids? You don’t want to help the new colony leader find their footing? You don’t want to make sure Pebbles and Bam Bam survive their whacky adventures with a robot? These poor things are children, don’t you want to make sure they’re okay?!
And, yes, it winds up making the rewards for all these quests a lot more emotion-based than anything else. You care about Colony 9 and its inhabitants having a better life because your characters care about these citizens. Sure, earning a handful of CP is nice, but aren’t you more concerned about the locals having enough food? And by the end of the game when you have a network of liberated Colonies sharing supplies and collectapedia’ing flowers back and forth to each other… It feels nice. The babies are growing up now, and you can venture off to the final boss confident in the knowledge that they are going to be okay without you.
…. And then, in grand Xeno-tradition, beating the game obliterates the planet, and reboots two different universes, thus negating everything you have ever done…
But still! It’s the thought that counts! And it is hard to say whether that thought was deliberate or not. Did this plot grow from the idea that influencing individual towns had to be deeply and emotionally tied to the lore? Was this always the intention, going back three games and fifteen years? Or was it yet another happy accident?
Let’s be clear here: the creators of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 are experienced developers who have collective decades under their belts. Nothing in this game happened by complete accident. But accidents happen. Xenoblade Chronicles comes from many of the same people that spent the Playstation and Playstation 2 eras with no real idea of how to finish a game on time. Or how to make a battle system feel truly satisfying. Or how to write a plot that didn’t lean on reincarnation like it was the alpha and omega. Or… Oh… Wait a tick. They actually couldn’t get away from that last one… Hm…
Well, I suppose it is an endless cycle. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is the happiest accident out there, even if it does wear its past on its sleeve.
SBC #05 Mythra & Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Mythra in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
- She any Good? It is odd that Mythra is the weaker of the two Zohar gals, as she was often portrayed as the machine gun to Pyra’s handgun during XC2. That said, being the faster of the duo is not my first choice (I prefer to stand around and smash), but being able to switch between Captain Falcon and Ganondorf is at least novel. Unlike the bad old days of Samus/Zero Suit Samus, Pyra/Mythra feels like a good team.
- That final smash work? Absolutely. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 even made those team moves a lot easier to understand, so XB3 retroactively makes its featured finale feel like a “final smash” when blasting away some letter-named dude.
- The background work? “The Cloud Sea of Alrest” can kinda still work to represent Xenoblade Chronicles 3. You never get an airship in XC3, so who is to say Gramps isn’t still up there, flying around without a care in the world? Let me have this.
- Classic Mode: “Shared Destinies” is, appropriately enough, shared between Pyra and Mythra, so it’s the exact same fight no matter which lady you put in the lead. Hey, come to think of it, the relationship between Ryu and Ken is remarkably similar the Pyra and Mythra. Normal, strong person who came first, and secondary newcomer who has all sorts of flashy fire attacks. Though I don’t think Ken looks as good in stockings…
- Smash Trivia: The battle system of Xenoblade Chronicles basing its special attacks on the “crosspad” of buttons actually maps pretty easily to the “direction + button” attacks of Super Smash Bros. Now, I’m not saying this means that they could import Xenoblade Chronicles characters into Smash Bros wholesale, but I am saying that I would rather see Sena over another weirdo from Fire Emblem.
- Amiibo Corner: You would think that by this late in Super Smash Bros Ultimate development, Sakurai would start posing his character trophies to be a little more “reality” friendly. But nope! The Xeno gals require their own pillars to stand. At least it leads to this moderately dynamic pose for Mythra that is almost leaning into a high five.
- Does the character work to represent this game? Despite teases, it is only Mythra’s man that appears in the DLC, and not the lady herself; so she ultimately is in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 for maybe three seconds for a photograph. While this seems like it would barely qualify as a cameo, the fandom is now going to have to debate that picture for the rest of time, so her appearance is inversely significant.
Mythra in Xenoblade Chronicles 3
- System: Nintendo Switch. Portable mode is less effective for sidequests when every single one is plot related…
- Number of players: Six active party members! Seven with a hero! Still just one player.
- Let’s Fight: This is the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 battle system all over again, but with less blood-thirsty monsters butting in. It makes all the difference! Oh, and there’s an actual reason to switch between party leaders in this adventure. Improvements all around!
- Lore Questions: “We are hardened warriors that have lived all of our lives preparing for battle. We know we will die soon, as our lifespan is predetermined, and we know we are nearing the end.” “Cool. So what level are you?” “We’re level 1.” “And those wee bunnies over there?” “They’re level 3.”
- Favorite Hero: Ashenpelt Gray looks like what would happen if Vincent Valentine was allowed to become an old man. But the twist of his character is that he is a dedicated wife guy, and will literally do anything for his lady love back at home (who, incidentally, is an expert mechanic and saboteur). I can get behind that kind of characterization. Then again, maybe Vincent Valentine always was a wife guy, too…
- Favorite Class: Full Metal Jaguar is my favorite, and it has nothing to do with Gray. I just like a class that includes A. attacking B. range C. a move that gets bonuses for just standing dead in front of an enemy, and D. a lot of somersaulting. Add it all up, and it is objectively the best class in the game.
- The Queen of Cats: It was obvious in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 that someone wanted Nia to be more of a prominent character, but she was continually overshadowed by the main trinity. So it really comes as no surprise that Nia is now Queen of the World, and the most active of the two refugees from the previous titles. Also: she swears. Good kitty!
- What’s in a name? So two queens build a special device that will help their populations weather an annihilation event. Call it a kind of ark, if you will. And the main character of the game where this ark is central is named “Noah”. Just throwing that out there.
- Horse Armor: The Season Pass of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 DLC was useless for months (oh boy, another robot slave girl), and then we got “practically its own game” Future Imperfect. Future Imperfect is wall-to-wall fanservice, and continues the themes of the main game by allowing Rex and Shulk of previous Xenoblade titles to pal around with their kids. And a pretty obvious Fei Fong Wong expy, too! And then there is an amazing scene that directly ties the Xenoblade Chronicles Trilogy plot to Xenoblade Chronicles X and Xenosaga. The whole shebang was released a week after my birthday, and it is hard to claim it was anything but a belated gift.
- Did you know? The scene where our heroes all gasp and teleport their clothes around to demonstrate how they can now swap classes is the most videogame thing that has ever happened.
- Would I play again: I logged 90 hours in this game stomping down every cave, quest, and monster from here to the Great Sword. Then I logged 30 hours in the DLC a few months later. I am good for the moment. Have to move on from the Endless Now sometime…
What’s next? He’s sly like a Fox, so Fox McCloud slides into this challenge a lot faster than most. Please look forward to it!
The lore we never needed…