Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Review, Part 2: The Guilt of Being Alive

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a JRPG developed by Monolithsoft and published by Nintendo. It was released in July 2022 as a Nintendo Switch exclusive. MSRB is $60. This is Part 2 of my review; if you haven’t yet, I recommend reading Part 1. Reader Warning: I will be spoiling the game in this post, including Hero quests and the main story through Chapter 5.

Zeon shakes his head as he holds up a shriveled, rotten vegetable. He had expected farming to be hard — he’s a Kevesi soldier, after all, not a farmer — but this is the colony’s third crop failure in a row. Zeon divulges the bad news to Noah and the rest of the Ouroboros team. The six members of Ouroboros were travelling the region, overthrowing the Moebius overlords and liberating colonies on both sides of this eternal war. Surely they would know what to do. Noah suggests traveling to Colony Tau for help. Colony Tau resides deep in the forest, under the protection of massive trees and fertile soil. They know farming techniques that Zeon may be able to use to help his people. The only problem is Colony Tau were Agnians, sworn enemies, just months prior. Would the wounds of war still be too fresh? Would Colony Tau really allow him an audience?

To his relief, Tau’s commander, Juniper, welcomes him in without hesitation. Juniper teaches Zeon a technique for fertilizing the ground and suggests planting a more robust specie of potato. Juniper makes an offhand comment, saying, “All life is built upon some kind of sacrifice.” And Zeon responds with an equally insightful remark: “Indeed. Life is a cruel thing.”

When I got to that part of Xenoblade Chronicles 3, I had to set my controller down.

“Finally,” I thought as a brushed aside tears, “Someone gets it.”

“I Shouldn’t Be Here”

I grew up as a middle child. My older brother has a learning disability and needed a lot of support and attention during those childhood years. My little sister also needed a lot of attention because, well… she was the youngest. It wasn’t their fault, and I don’t harbor any ill feelings toward them, it’s just what happened. For much of my childhood, I had to fend for myself. I mean, my parents fed me and took care of me, but the emotional support that I needed wasn’t usually available. I grew up quickly. I learned to be helpful, to do my part in watching out for my siblings. The bright side to this is that, to this day, I feel close to my siblings and I’m thankful for the relationships that we have.

Unfortunately, a byproduct of this childhood meant that I always felt this sinking sensation, as if… I was just taking up space.

I wasn’t supposed to be here.

I was a burden.

My mere existence was taking away attention and care from people more deserving of it. Whether it was food, water, or love, I couldn’t help but feel like…

….it all should be for someone who needed it more.

At first my childhood religion alleviated this feeling, but in the end they only made it worse. On one hand, the church gave me clear instructions on what was good and bad, and what role I was supposed to fulfill. I felt useful, at least when I could complete all of what was expected of me.

The problem was, this was a high-demand religion.

Their standards became so impossibly high that I’d inevitably mess something up. I’d do something on their “bad” list, or fail to finish something on the “good” list, the latter of which sometimes felt even worse. And every mistake impelled me to berate myself. My thoughts would occasionally spiral down to darker places: “Great, now I’m even a burden to God and Jesus. Now they have to suffer more for another sin of mine.” Every time I met someone with less privilege than me, it only hammered that feeling in even harder. The weight was overwhelming, and I went into extreme self-abnegation. I believed that I didn’t deserve basic needs without the church somehow approving it. I went numb to my own feelings, and I’d not realize I was angry or sad until a day (or even weeks) after a triggering event happened. I was that out of touch with myself.

I felt guilty for being alive.

Years of distance from this church, as well as an awesome relationship with my partner, has helped to undo this damage, but my youth will always have this shadow cast upon it.

Without trying to sound too pretentious, my childhood felt like an eclipsed sun — bright on the outside, but blacked out underneath. It’s tempting to ignore this shadow, these wounds, because peering deeper may involve changing your worldview. It’s terrifying. But eventually, I couldn’t ignore it any longer. And the past several years of my life have been spent trying to accept and heal this dark center.

Ideally, in life we have more balance than what I had in my younger years. We walk a tightrope between taking care of ourselves and taking care of others. The former necessitates some form of selfishness; the latter involves empathy and selflessness. We need to survive without becoming cruel and heartless. We need to reach out without becoming codependent. We absolutely need balance. But how do we achieve it?

Noah, Mio, Sena, Lanz, Eunie, Taion… they all had to find their way through that question. They had to confront the guilt and regret from their traumatic pasts. I felt a strong connection with not only Ouroboros, but also the minor characters like Zeon, Fiona, and Juniper, because all of them try to come to terms with the awful premise of this world. Not only that, they learn to take matters into their own hands, fight the ruling class of Moebius, and create a better future.

“I am Enough.”

Almost every party member in the game suffers guilt due to seeing someone they care about die. Ouroboros wouldn’t even exist without Vandam sacrificing himself to deliver the Ouroboros Stone to our six main characters. We have Taion dealing with the loss of Nimue, Mio with the loss of Miyabi, and the Kevesi trio coming to terms with both Joran’s death and Mwamba’s. Everyone copes in different ways. Taion becomes reserved and calculating, believing that if he can come up with the best strategy, he can prevent all potential hazards. Lanz takes the opposite route — he’s on the move, believing that if he punches the enemy hard enough, he’ll never feel helpless. And you see the Taion and Lanz clash throughout the game for those exact reasons.

This connection and conflict is the first part to healing. You usually can’t see what you’re doing wrong until you notice someone else trying to cope in a different way. You realize that you share the same root problem — your only difference is how you branched out from it.

The second part is taking a look at that root problem. And thankfully the world of Aionios made some intangible things in our world more concrete to help us along. Look closely at the way characters die in Xenoblade Chronicles 3: you mostly see red embers clinging around their bodies. I interpret these red embers as guilt and regret; the Flame Clocks — or rather, the entire world — runs on guilt as its literal fuel. It’s how Z keeps the rest of Moebius (and consequently, the rest of society) fearing the future and only seeking to live in his “endless now.” Guilt and fear keep the world perpetually frozen in place, unable to move on from mistakes.

That’s where the off-seers come in. As an off-seer plays the flute, you see the red embers change to blue ones as they fade away. I interpret the blue embers as peace. While the dead of Aionios may have to go back into the cycle of rebirth, for the moment they receive some respite from the guilt and lingering regret they feel from a life cut short. You are easing the grief of the fallen every time you send them on, but the change is never permanent.

So how do you actually break the cycle? How do you take the future into your own hands and break your own metaphorical Flame Clock?

You stand up for yourself.

This is maybe the one lesson that almost every JRPG protagonist has helped me come to terms with: stand up for yourself. It took me so long to do it, but taking a long and hard look at those who seek to exploit you and keep you down helps me find the courage to do so. And Noah certainly embodies that principle. While his character development is overall not as dynamic as I would’ve liked, I couldn’t help but admire his strong moral compass and his willpower to see things through.

But a strong willpower and a cool sword isn’t enough. Remember, we need to stand up for ourselves without becoming cruel. And that’s where Mio (and M, her alter self) completes Noah: through kindness and gratitude. The only way you can truly break the cycle of guilt and punishment is by being kind to yourself. Imagine a friend was saying the words you think out loud about themselves. What would you do? Self-kindness is more than just indulging in an hour of video games for yourself, or buying something nice for yourself. That stuff is fun, but it goes beyond that. Self-kindness is taking care of yourself, treating yourself like a plant or a pet or a child. It’s making sure you stay hydrated, putting on moisturizer so that your face doesn’t dry out, and forgiving yourself for making mistakes. It’s about remembering your accomplishments and stopping yourself from thinking mean things about yourself. This self-kindness is the way out of the cycle. If you can be kind to yourself, you can be kind to others. When it’s time for you to move on, your embers will shine a brilliant gold instead of an angry red.

During the heart-wrenching end of Chapter 5, when Mio (or I should say, M) is sent on, she has found peace with herself. She finally believes that she is enough, and she has found how to be kind to herself. As she becomes whole, she moves toward the future, leaving the cycle of rebirth behind. I find this moment to be the highlight of the game, and it honestly carries more emotional weight than the actual ending. While Noah may have reminded me to take the sword of my willpower and carve a future for myself, Mio reminded me that in this cruel world, it’s most important to be grateful and kind.

Epilogue

After returning from his visit to Colony Tau, Zeon’s first attempt at a new potato crop turned out rotting away yet again. However, the real victory was how his soldiers-turned-farmers didn’t give into despair, despite their fourth failure. They were kind, they were patient, and they were determined. They didn’t linger on blame or shame. They tried again, and they failed again. It was only on their sixth attempt that they finally cultivated a yielding crop.

The bonds formed between Colony Tau and Colony 9 helped them survive. Their will gave them the strength to move forward. And their mutual kindness healed them and brought them through to a new future.

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