Though Xenoblade Chronicles is not the biggest-selling franchise to consistently grace Nintendo's hardware, it's clear that Nintendo is happy to recognise that some brands and genres deserve support for the loyalty they earn among fans. MonolithSoft, a company majority-owned by Nintendo that often pops up as a contributing studio to major titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, has enjoyed the freedom to pursue the growth of this JRPG brand — and now we await the latest entry, Xenoblade Chronicles 3, which will be arriving unexpectedly early on 29th July 2022 after being previously announced for September.

Xenoblade's blend of styles, enormous world and sheer depth of mechanics, lore and concept helped it to earn a devoted fanbase

Whether it's to plug a gap due to something else in the schedule moving (Splatoon 3 perhaps?) or a calculated move to get the game in fans' hands over the quieter summer months while avoiding the more crowded Fall and Winter release period is unclear at present, but one thing's for certain: with Breath of the Wild 2 having slipped into 2023, we're glad that we'll be diving into this huge first-party Switch adventure a little earlier than expected.

For those unaware, the co-founder of MonolithSoft is Tetsuya Takahashi, a hugely experienced developer with a background that includes work on some of the most iconic JRPGs ever made, including as an artist on Chrono Trigger. After going his own way with a talented team in 1999, however, the struggles of the Xenosaga series and creative differences with the majority-shareholding Bandai Namco meant there were some challenging years. Nintendo saw potential, however, and having acquired 80% of MonolithSoft in 2007 it shifted the company towards its current role — as lead on major independent projects and also contributor to other Nintendo titles.

Xenoblade Chronicles was the first full game of the partnership, of course, and enjoyed a positive launch with its 2010 Japanese release before making its way to the West in 2011/2012. If you cast your mind back, that was a period where it wasn't a given that Nintendo would localise all of its releases for the West, but fan demand for the Wii JRPG meant it eventually happened — even if Nintendo of America was particularly slow to embrace it. The blend of styles, enormous world and sheer depth of mechanics, lore and concept helped it to earn a devoted fanbase.

While Xenoblade Chronicles X gave us a very different vibe and style on Wii U — one which too few players got to enjoy, unfortunately — but it felt like a key moment when Xenoblade Chronicles 2 came to the Switch, giving us a numbered sequel on a system that was rapidly becoming a smash hit. As of around 18 months ago, that sequel had passed 2 million sales, too, showing an appetite among players for the growing IP. On the sales front, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition hit around 1.3 million sales in about a month after release, so the combination of the IP and the Switch audience has worked to make the series sustainable at the very least, and a valuable part of Nintendo's broader catalogue.

As a long term fan that's enjoyed all the releases to date — including the impressive but undeniably niche New 3DS-exclusive version of the original — I'm particularly intrigued by this new entry. I'm no super fan, I don't play them to 100% or complete multiple playthroughs; I simply don't have the time! But I've reached the credits in them, and am hugely appreciative of how the first two numbered games have been both standalone and smartly linked. There's a fascinating overarching narrative going on that only really becomes clear when you reach the endings, and even then an 'endings explained' video is perhaps still necessary.

There's one such video below with big spoilers, but we'll be avoiding specifics in this article. If you've played both games already and are interested in the theories and extended lore, though, it's worth a watch.

Even before some eye-opening links very late in the respective games, the world MonolithSoft created is excellent at putting in small references to imply that something bigger is happening. It may just be the name of a weapon wielded by a particular character, or shared themes and implications at shared histories, but it does this with enough subtlety that while fans see it, newcomers to either game won't be aware they're missing anything. It's clever storytelling.

What makes Xenoblade Chronicles 3 so fascinating, to me, is that Nintendo's official page for the game isn't even pretending that these links won't be a factor.

Bringing together the futures of Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles 2, this title will take players to the world of Aionios, home to two hostile nations

That official page is worth a look, as it outlines some key characters and teases a plot in which there are two main protagonists, on opposite sides of a war. When the first trailer dropped (below) fans were freeze-framing it and listening to voice lines for familiar actors; yes, the game once again has plenty of British accents, and we seem to have picked up another Australian character in a clip as well. Takahashi-san is actively encouraging this, too, highlighting hidden details to be found in the trailer.

The music in this game maintains the unique Xenoblade Chronicles touch while also taking on a new challenge, namely that of integrating as its motif – a flute-based melody. The flute is actually one of the key themes in this game. A variety of other elements and themes are hidden in the trailer. We’ll be revealing the details bit by bit going forward.

The new trailer at the top of this article, meanwhile, sets the scene further and there's little doubt that lore enthusiasts will be sifting through it as we type these words. There are some shots that hint even further at the worlds of the first two games colliding, and characters with different coloured eyes (one red) also potentially plays into a key revelation from the end of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Even if you don't want to go that deep into references, it's another trailer that sets the scene for a tale of drama, conflict and emotive moments.

Also notable in the new trailer are looks at some new gameplay ideas, particularly within the real time battles. We see some extra mobility (potentially for dodging attacks?), seemingly more active characters on the field at once, a 'Tactics' button, a transformation mechanic, and a suggestion that all of the above could further shake up how we utilise Chain Attacks. The official website has been updated — the transformation aspect is when a tag-team pair can transform into a 'giant form called Ouroboros'. You'll be able to change character classes, too, another wrinkle to the extensive customisation and ability management in previous entries.

Like its predecessors, then, it looks like we'll get clever evolutions within the core gameplay. That's as exciting as all of the lore and dozens of hours of adventuring.

Image: Nintendo / MONOLITHSOFT

With all of this in mind Nintendo has, very smartly, ensured that with the first two games already on Switch, there's the possibility for newcomers to catch up ahead of the third entry. In fact, if you're a series newcomer, have the funds and want some meaty games to tackle in the next few months, it's well worth playing both of them (in order) to get immersed in the extended lore.

Nintendo has smartly ensured that the first two games are already on Switch. In fact, if you're a series newcomer, it's well worth playing both of them (in order) to get immersed in the extended lore

They're actually quite different in tone, with the third looking like another shift to a more serious piece of storytelling. The first game happily went from loud drama to lighthearted banter at the drop of a hat, while the second was definitely more cartoonish and fantastical (though it got pretty dark at times as well). As mentioned before though, there are threads between the two that are interesting to discover in playthroughs.

Beyond that, I'm also optimistic that this could be the most impressive entry yet in terms of production values. Especially at launch, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 felt like it wasn't quite optimised for Switch, but the Torna - The Golden Country DLC expansion seemed smoother and sharper. When you compare the trailers for 3 compared to equivalents for its predecessor, too, we see generally better performance and visuals. As a sucker for instrument-led storytelling and soundtracks, I'm also fascinated to see the role of flutes and music in the new game.

As for the prospects for the third game's success, they seem positive at present. Nintendo will no doubt have a marketing campaign to flesh out and tease the game's world and cast, and let's not forget that awareness of the IP will be boosted by its predecessors on Switch and its characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. There could certainly be some new fans that take the plunge as the Xenoblade name becomes more familiar and prestigious.

Fans have been sifting through the new trailer looking for clues
Image: Nintendo / MONOLITHSOFT

All told, I'm pretty sure I'll spend a significant part of the Summer (and probably also Autumn / Fall) immersed in MonolithSoft's latest; it's shaping up to be a game that could be equally alluring to new fans, too.