A Newcomer’s Guide to Xenoblade Chronicles

So last year I made a newcomer’s guide to Metroid, and I liked writing that post so much, I decided to make more of them. This year, with the recent announcement of Xenoblade Chronicles 3, I’d love nothing more than to introduce more people to Xenoblade. I’m going to structure this much like my last post, trying to provide you with answers to Frequently Asked Questions. Let’s get started!

Would I Like Xenoblade Chronicles?

Well, that depends on what kinds of games you like. The easiest way I can describe Xenoblade Chronicles is an open world JRPG that mixes action and turn-based combat. That’s a big jumble of terms, so let’s break it all down bit by bit:

  • Xenoblade’s environments are large open areas connected together. You actually explore on the bodies of gigantic creatures called Titans. And honestly, the design of these Titans is what sets Xenoblade apart from most other video games. You don’t just explore a jungle – you explore the back of the Titan Bionis, with its giant trees and psychic dinosaurs. You don’t just explore a beach — you explore the tops of island-sized jellyfish called the Leftherian Archipelago. Every area is stunning. Almost no video game world looks like them. Only Breath of the Wild‘s Hyrule, with its intimidating and ever-present Hyrule Castle, has ever topped it for me. In fact, the developers of Xenoblade (Monolithsoft) actually helped Nintendo make Breath of the Wild, and this studio is also currently hard at work supporting development of its sequel as well. Not every studio can provide development support for one masterpiece while simultaneously creating another on their own. They’re experts at making open worlds. While you may not parkour around a city’s rooftops like Assassin’s Creed II, or experiment in a sandbox like Super Mario Odyssey, if you like open world games, then you’ll likely enjoy Xenoblade Chronicles.
I know that there are a lot of icons and meters, but the combat will make sense once you start playing, I promise.
  • Xenoblade’s combat is quite unique. Your character executes basic attacks automatically, while you control their Arts (or special moves). Combat boils down to choosing what Art to select and when. Eventually you’ll be juggling all sorts of arts and combos with your teammates. Different games in the Xenoblade series make their own twists on this formula, but the foundation is the same across all games. Honestly, it’s quite complex, even for an RPG veteran like myself. During my first playthroughs I went online and found some combat tips on YouTube that were quite helpful, and I’d recommend you do the same. Fighting in Xenoblade feels like a modernized version of the Active Time Battle (ATB) system from classic JRPGs like Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger. There’s plenty of time for you to sit back and strategize, but it also flows just fast enough that you need to pay attention and commit to your decisions. If you liked the combat of Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger, or wished these games had more modern combat features, then you’ll adore Xenoblade Chronicles.
By this point, Xenoblade’s characters feel like real people to me.
  • Finally, the stories of Xenoblade games start out like most other JRPGs – our protagonists encounter a personal tragedy that compels them on a world-trotting quest, recruiting a band of misfits along the way. What sets Xenoblade apart from the rest of them is its backdrops of large political conflicts as well as the array of poignant philosophical questions that the characters wrestle with. In the first game, Shulk thinks he’s embarking on a quest for revenge in a struggle of “good versus evil,” but his journey ends up a lot more interesting than that. Similarly, the whole cast of characters start out with archetypal personalities – Reyn is a strong but loveable knucklehead while Melia is a sheltered yet strong-willed princess. However, each character will develop in their own way, and by the end these fictional people feel like real friends. If you like the epic yet emotional confrontations found in other classic JRPGs, like Final Fantasy Tactics or the Persona series, then you’ll have a hard time putting Xenoblade down.

Can Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Be My First Game?

Based on a recent statement by the producer, Tetsuya Takahashi, you should be able to play the newest game and follow along just fine. The main party is an entirely new cast of characters, and while there will likely be several references to past entries, they aren’t “required reading” by any means. If it helps, think of Xenoblade 1 and 2 as prequels to this new entry.

This is my recommended play order, from right to left.

Where Would You Recommend I Start With the Series?

Like with Metroid Dread, I think you’ll get more out of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 if you play at least one of the previous games. It’ll not only give you context about the basic lore, it’ll also give you perspective on how the series has evolved over time.

Seriously, all we need is a port of Xenoblade Chronicles X, and then every game will be on the Switch. As spoiled as I feel already, I can’t help but want it.

Thankfully, the Nintendo Switch is actually a Xenoblade machine — it has the exact opposite of a Metroid problem. You have access to every past game in the series, save for the Wii U exclusive Xenoblade Chronicles X, which could be seen as more of a spinoff anyway. For the record, I haven’t played X (though I want a Switch port soooo bad… seriously, do it you cowards!), but I doubt Xenoblade Chronicles 3 will acknowledge it. It’s a tragedy that it hasn’t been ported (yet) but you likely won’t need to worry about it.

My answer to the question “What Should I Play First?” is a lot more straightforward than with my Metroid post: start with Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. It’s a masterpiece. Seriously. It’s one of my favorite games ever made. Other Xenoblade games have their own pros and cons, but this one is the best overall. It’s quite a long game, too, so it’ll keep you plenty busy until the third entry comes out in July.

The next game to play is also the obvious choice: Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I like it! It has its own merits, but it also has significant flaws. I actually think the combat is much better than in the first game, and the world still manages to feel unique from the first one. However, its story and characters start out a lot more generic. Its tutorial also does a poor job at explaining its mechanics. The result is a game that sometimes feels amazing, but other times feel frustrating and a bit embarrassing. If you skip one game, skip this one.

All that being said, let me clue you in on one little secret: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 also has DLC that basically forms its own stand-alone prequel. It’s called Torna: The Golden Country. Its MSRB is only $40, and it takes significantly less time to complete, more around 25 to 30 hours (as opposed to Xenoblade 2’s 60 to 80 hours). If you want to skip the second game and just play Torna: The Golden Country, you have my blessing. In fact, this side-game may be a better option for newcomers that don’t want to invest a full $60 (along with a big chunk of their free time), yet still want a taste of what the games are like. Torna’s worlds aren’t quite as unique to explore, but the story is much improved and the combat has its own clever twists. The physical version, unfortunately, costs a lot of money at the moment, but you can still buy the stand-alone story from the Switch eShop, and you don’t even need to buy Xenoblade Chronicles 2 first!

And that’s it! I hope this has helped you understand the Xenoblade Chronicles series better. If you still want to learn more about these games and why I enjoy them, I have a review of the original Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii, as well as reviews of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and Torna: The Golden Country all up on my blog. And you can be sure I’ll be playing Xenoblade Chronicles 3 when it releases and reviewing it as well.

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