In my review for Xenoblade Chronicles 3, I said that progressing the five-star rankings belonging to each individual colony felt largely superfluous. Turns out I was wrong, and there’s so much more to these disparate homesteads than meets the eye.
Reviewing JRPGs is hard. I had a month with Monolith Soft’s latest before the embargo date, meaning there was more than enough time to experience everything the game had to offer before committing to my final score. But you still miss things in that rush to the finish line, something I’ve come to discover as I continue to explore the magical world of Aionios.
During my 60 hour playthrough I tried my best to complete all the hero quests that crossed my path, mostly to unlock new classes and give my core party a greater level of versatility in battle. But I didn’t rank them up, or get the chance to reach Level 20 and unlock further skills and abilities only made possible by seeking out certain story quests. None of these are accessible unless you’re willing to dig deep into colonies and all they represent, which isn’t something the game ever tells you is the case.
Colonies are Xenoblade Chronicle 3’s equivalent of towns. Agnus and Keves are two individual factions spread across the land, with their colonies often residing under towering mechs that hold their flame clocks and ruling consul members. All the soldiers can do is gather resources and try to survive on the basic amenities provided to them. These boil down to little more than small tents, a measly canteen, and perhaps a room for the commanding officer to call the shots if they’re lucky enough to spare such a luxury. It’s a rough life.
But each one has a distinct personality, often driven by the commander calling the shots. Colony Tau exists within the ruins of a destroyed city, now overcome by bustling woodland and toxic lakes that make carving out a living amidst the wilds far more difficult. Juniper calls this land home, a non-binary character forced to take up the role of commander when their former mentor falls in battle. Many of their quests involve gathering supplies to keep things ticking, or seeking out friends who have gone missing amidst the hostile environments that surround the struggling colony. After each quest you often unlock new lines of dialogue for each NPC in the area, which in turn can provide access to quests or conversations that usher the shared questline towards its final destination.
These aren’t filler missions either. Character development is always paramount, with smaller actions influencing the growth of smaller cast members until the storyline concludes with a major boss battle and lessons learned that you carry forward with you. Juniper has to realise their value as a leader, and even in the face of failure they still have opportunities to grow and do right by those under their stewardship. Consul members often deem those who call these colonies home as unworthy, little more than playthings to be discarded in a perpetual war, but by destroying their respective flame clocks we offer them freedom to make choices on their own. Some stay, some depart, while others search for newfound purpose.
While the main narrative touches upon these themes consistently, unearthing smaller tales amidst the colonies that are so often hidden beneath smaller side quests is worthwhile. It’s a shame that so many of these moments are hidden behind rather arbitrary barriers. I appreciate and understand why larger storytelling crescendos are hidden behind smaller quests filled with nuggets of character development, but it also means that fully voiced dialogue and bespoke cutscenes might not be seen by anyone except the most hardcore completionists. Even without seeing any of these I was a high enough level to beat the game, deciding to venture back into the world because even as the credits rolled, there was still so much more I wanted to discover.
This is a testament to both Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and Monolith Soft, and I perhaps should have delved a bit deeper before filing my review. We all make mistakes, and in the face of myriad secrets across the game’s countless colonies I've come across so many stories worth unearthing, all of which serve to grow this world and those who call it home.
Some of them should have been displayed more front and centre, but having to seek them out and being rewarded for taking an interest in the growth of Aionios beyond the wider destiny of our main characters is incredibly rewarding. I already thought this was one of the finest JRPGs in recent memory, but upon further inspection I’ve come to learn it’s even better.
If you’re playing right now, be sure to take your time and pay attention to the colonies you pass by. Don’t just recruit the hero character and move on. Speak to people, take on quests, and even embark on errands that on the surface might feel arduous. It’s more than worth it.
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