Nerium, Imran and John are joined by our good friend Eric Van Allen to discuss Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and the series’ complex history. Find out how the studio was founded with a love for giant robots, the typical need to warn people about the embarrassing horny tropes, and how the series sourced Western mythology in the same way that most Western developers do with literally everywhere else in the world. You can tune in down below or listen on your preferred podcast player of choice.
Nerium: Hello everybody, and welcome back to another episode of 99 Potions, the premier Fanbyte RPG podcast. I am one of your hosts, Nerium Strom, Senior Managing Editor of fanbyte.com. I am joined as is always and forever and has never not been the case, one Eric van Allen of Destructoid. [laughter]
Eric: Yes. Only ever of Destructoid, never of many other websites on this God-given internet. Hello, hi.
Nerium: Never, exactly. Hi, how you doing?
Eric: I’m doing all right. It’s been a time. I’ve been diving deep down the RPG rabbit hole that is Xenoblade Chronicles 3, and I’m ready to eat a lot of crow on this podcast. It’s gonna be great.
Nerium: Oh, awesome.
Imran: Ah, shit, crow.
John: Love that.
Nerium: Crow’s in this one, huh?
Eric: Mm-hmm. Piping hot crow.
Nerium: I love that character. [laughter] Joining me also are two special guests that we just kind of like found on the street, wandering around in the dust and by the tumbleweeds. We’ve got News Editor for fanbyte.com, Imran Khan.
Imran: I feel like, in retrospect, the funnier introduction would’ve been to introduce this as a Normandy FM episode [laughter] with John and I on it.
Nerium: Yeah, that would’ve… [laughs]
Eric: Sorry, Ken, I’ve replaced you with three people. [laughter] I’m moneyballing this.
Imran: Oh no!
Nerium: We are also joined by… [rock music starts playing] Wha–? Oh, by God, that’s John Warren’s music!
John: I’m back. I’ve been away. I’ve been on the coast of Alaska. I’ve also contracted–
Nerium: From parts unknown, John Warren!
John: From parts unknown. I’ve also contracted many illnesses, but I’m here. [laughter] I’m here today and here to talk about one of my favorite meta series of all time. [music ends] It’s very exciting. I’m glad we’re doing this.
Nerium: Yeah. I love the Alien franchise of, you know, Fireteam Elite.
Nerium: Isolation, all that stuff.
Nerium: So we’re here to talk about the Xenomorphs, which is great stuff.
John: Mm. That’s right.
Imran: Hey, Nerium.
Nerium: Yeah? What’s up?
Imran: If you love the Aliens franchise, you should play Live A Live.
Eric: Oh, that’s accurate. Yeah.
Nerium: God damnit. There’s just, every podcast I’ve been on for the past like three weeks. I was on the Giant Bombcast. I’ve been on Channel F. I’ve been on 99 Potions. [laughs] Everybody keeps telling me to play my Live A Live.
Imran: I’m just saying, if you love Aliens, they also very clearly love Aliens.
Nerium: Okay. That’s good to know.
Eric: Or Alien. I feel like the first Alien more than Aliens.
Imran: Oh, that’s true, yes. Alien singular.
Nerium: Okay. Well, I’ll keep that in mind.
Eric: Just one alien this time.
Nerium: But God, it’s not like I have a bunch of other stuff to play. [quiet laughter]
Nerium: Uh, games like Xenoblade Chronicles 3, which is actually what I’m talking about. Actually what this document note says here, says, is…I don’t know what I just said, even. What this document says is: “Xenogears Blade Saga 2: the quest for less money.” [laughter] Which is a funny joke. I don’t know. I bet– I’m almost certain that the Xenoblade Chronicles franchise makes more money now than Xenosaga probably.
John: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Imran: It definitely does. Just, it didn’t look like it would for a while, but yeah.
Imran: It is now actually a surprisingly successful RPG series.
Nerium: Against all odds.
John: Only took only took Takahashi, what, 20, 24 years to get there? [laughter] Damn.
Nerium: Listen, it’s the Fanbyte motto of just keep doing shit until eventually people like it. [laughs]
John: Uh huh. Yeah.
Imran: Until people stop giving you money, just keep doing what work– or what you think works.
Nerium: Exactly. We are going to be going through, I think probably primarily in order, which means we’ll get to the newest game last, which will be Xenoblade Chronicles 3, but we’ll bounce around and jump around and do whatever we want, because that is how we roll. We’re the bad boys of video gaming. [quiet laughter] If we are starting with that though, we can talk about–
Imran: The bad boys and thems. [laughter]
Nerium: The bad boys and them, one, singular. [laughter] But yeah, I mean, the actual question I have for everybody to really start things off is like, what is everybody’s relationship with this series? franchise? meta-narrative? And I’ll start with Eric, since you are the regular host and everything like that, [laughter] so you get first dibs.
Eric: The regular host? Oh God. Why are you foisting more podcasting duties on me? [laughter] Yeah, so like Xeno whatever, Xeno series, I guess you–
Imran: Xeno: Warrior Princess.
Eric: Yes, Xeno: Warrior Princess. I started with Xenosaga back on the PlayStation 2, because I, as much as I played some PlayStation 1 RPGs, my RPG playing did not really kick off until Final Fantasy X on the PlayStation 2, which was a hugely, hugely influential game and series on me. If you want to hear more about that, go check out Normandy FM, the retrospective we did on Final Fantasy X there. Let Yuna play the Super Bowl. [laughter] But…
Eric: Xenosaga was this game I went to kind of looking for something like that, and what I wound up finding was just the most bonkers, like all over the place meta narrative, like Christian imagery. It was the closest thing to Evangelion I had seen [“Totally”] since like seeing Evangelion, [“Yeah”] just in the fact that someone was clearly obsessed with like crosses and biblically correct angels and things like that, and I loved it. That stuff was great. Takahashi was about like five, ten years ahead of the game on the whole android robot girl thing with 2B in Nier Automata. KOS-MOS is great. And then I dabbled in the other games but never really got far in them, and then Xenoblade came out, and I was…I didn’t really play my Wii much, so I, you know, Chronicles 1 passed me by. Chronicles 2 looked like it was a trap, like you just got sent to jail if you bought that game, [laughter] so I just passed on it.
Nerium: And you should be.
Eric: Yeah. I’ve often described it as Weird Science, the anime JRPG, [laughter, Nerium: “Mm”] because it is literally a game about a small boy-child and his tall hot girlfriend sword, and I’ve never been able to get past that. I don’t think I ever will get past that. I’m sorry. But–
John: [singing Oingo Boingo] “Weeeiird.” [laughter]
Nerium: Bill Paxton is in this one too, which is interesting.
Eric: It’s incredible.
John: Bill Paxton in his final role, in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. [laughter]
Imran: As Rex from Xenoblade.
Nerium: As Rex from Xenoblade.
Eric: But yeah, Xenoblade 3…not to get like too far ahead of the ball here, but Xenoblade 3 might be one of my favorite games I’ve played this year.
Eric: It rips. It is so good, in ways that, number one, I did not think this series could be, even enjoying Xenosaga 1 a lot, but also it just feels like…it feels like the big RPG that the Switch has needed for a while.
Nerium: Right, yeah.
Eric: I feel like the Switch has long been, you know, kind of a home for retro RPGs [John: “Mm, sure”] and like homages to classic gaming. You have like Octopath [Nerium: “Octopath, yeah”] and Triangle Strategy, both of which are great games but feel very nostalgic.
Eric: And this is the closest thing we’ve had to like a big budget…I keep comparing Xenoblade 3 to Tales of Arise, ’cause it feels like the Tales of Arise moment for this series.
John: Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense.
John: That makes sense. I mean, if you want to know my history with the Xeno meta franchise, I mean, I was a Xenogears OG.
Eric: Oh, heck yeah.
John: I played that game, and it really blew my mind, back in, you know, ‘98, ‘99, whenever I played it. And yeah, I’ve been just really interested in Tetsuya Takahashi ever since. I think that the Xenosaga series is like enormously flawed and goofy, [“Mm-hmm”] but it’s so big. They take so many big swings in that thing. [laughter] Like, go back and play the Xenosaga trilogy if you haven’t. It’s like, it’s totally, totally, totally, worth it if you like just the biggest boldest bullshit you can imagine in your JRPGs. And Xenoblade, I think like in terms of, you know, mechanics and scope and clarity, I think Xenoblade is really tight, you know, compared to [“Mm-hmm”] the rest of their other games, but they’re still sprawling and huge and interesting, and they seem like a real evolution of what I feel like they wanted to do with the original Xenogears, in terms of making something that has scale and weird platforming, honestly. Like, you know, hey, can I make this platforming work kind of stuff in a JRPG, which is like finicky and kind of goofy and maybe not what you want from a JRPG, but it’s like, [“Mm”] it kind of helps kind of, you know, build out the sense of scale of this like really large world, and they got that all the way back in Xenogears. So, there’s a lot of stuff that they really started, you know, 25 years ago. You see a lot of those things in Xenoblade, even up to the brand new Xenoblade Chronicles 3, which I also think is very good. I’ve not played that much of it, but I think it is…I think it is very clearly a good culmination of a bunch of lessons learned from Xenoblade 1, 2, and then X. So yeah, I’m excited to get deeper into that.
Imran: For me, I remember borrowing Xenogears from a friend as a kid, and I don’t think at the time, at that time in my life of being a 14-year-old who had mostly just played Final Fantasy games.
Imran: The comparison that came into my head like a couple of months ago, and I feel like it still kinda holds, is if Final Fantasy VII and VIII were like the Uncharted 2 of JRPGs, then Xenogears was like Binary Domain.
Nerium: Ooh, okay.
Imran: A game that like is actually very interesting, but boy, if you’re only used to Uncharted 2, that’s gonna be like a real fucking hard no, [“Mm-hmm”] when that’s your touchstone at the moment. So like, I didn’t play it then. I’ve never actually gone back to it. I’ve seen like let’s plays and read synopses and it’s like, it all seems like a very interesting narrative but maybe kind of a chore to play, especially when you already know the story, so I’ve never gone back to it. Maybe someday in my life, maybe if they remake it, who knows, I might do so. Xenosaga, I bought the first one. I remember…that game came out at a time where I think it came out probably a decade too early [Nerium: “Mm”] of people going, “Well, I’m not even playing– you’re not playing this game, you’re just watching it,” [“Yeah, mm-hmm”] ’cause I remember that was a thing people used to say about games like Xenosaga and like Metal Gear and stuff like that, of “I can’t believe there’s 15, 20 minutes in this cutscene between this and the next battle.”
John: Uh huh.
Imran: I remember that that like being a thing that really bothered me, and I don’t think it would bother me now. I think it bothered me then ’cause that was the conversation of “these aren’t games because you’re just watching them,” and I was very easily influenced by that, right?
Nerium: Yeah. I feel like JRPGs also suffered from like the overlong– this was the height of like overlong summon animations as well.
Nerium: Like, where you– it was partially, yeah, it was just like the cutscenes are too long, but also partially it was just like boy, every random battle– it was also like the height of random battles. Like I feel like JRPGs for a long time were kind of like in decline until really—at least in the West—until really Persona kind of [“Mm-hmm”] really revitalized a lot of that stuff with like Persona 4 I remember being like an especially big deal when it came to Vita and people getting like way into that kind of pinning a lot of the hopes and dreams of stuff there. And then, you know, obviously JRPGs are kind of back in vogue now, but there was, yeah, there was a time there where…Binary Domain is a really good example, ‘cause that’s like [“Mm-hmm”] a very good game from that era of a bunch of Japanese developers doing not very good games that are a lot of third person shooters that were trying to be Uncharted, that were trying to be Gears of War [“Mm-hmm”] and not really getting it all the way. And then, yeah, I think we’ve kind of moved back into a place of like people being like, “I don’t know, I have a different idea,” and Xenoblade feels like a different thing. Xenoblade doesn’t feel like anything else right now.
Imran: Yeah. Xenoblade– so, I remember playing Xenoblade, ’cause I was– I remember the launch hype towards that. Or not hype, I guess. The people looking at the like pictures with kind of bemused interest, ’cause like, it looked real ugly on the way. It was not a good looking game at all, until you like leave that first area and you like, you see the rest of the big open world and what it’s actually trying to go for. [“Yeah,” “Mm-hmm,” “Right”] but like you look at the PR shots Nintendo sent in 2007 and be like, what is this game? Why does this look like this?
John: Uh huh.
Imran: Why do people look like they have weird blurry mouths and the fruit looks like a flat texture and all that? And it’s because they weren’t very good at that stuff, and the Wii was not a very powerful system.
Imran: But like, it…I think that kind of, I think Nintendo of America also looked at that stuff and was like, no, we’re not bringing this over. And it was like really interesting. I don’t think I would probably been interested in the game until Nintendo said, “No, you can’t have it.”
Eric: Mm, yeah.
Imran: I was like, okay, now I’m very interested in it. Now I want to play this.
John: Yeah. [laughs]
Nerium: It was a thing that I don’t think a lot of people even remember at this point, but it was part of Operation Rainfall.
Imran: Yeah. It was like the main thrust of that thing, ’cause like it was that, The Last Story, and…
Nerium: Pandora’s Tower.
Imran: Pandora’s Tower, yeah.
Eric: [sarcastic] Three games we all remember so fondly. [laughter]
Imran: Pandora’s Tower is not bad.
John: [sarcastic] Everybody’s always talking about Pandora’s Tower and The Last Story.
Nerium: I know a lot of people really liked Last Story too, actually.
John: Yeah, I liked The Last Story. I did.
Imran: It should get released on something else, which it never will, but.
Imran: But yeah, I ended up buying Xenoblade ’cause it was a GameStop exclusive, if I recall correctly.
Nerium: Yeah, it was.
Imran: You could only buy it at GameStop.
John: Wow. I didn’t remember that at all.
Nerium: There was like a bunch of weird stuff. They were selling like used copies for more than the cost of the game new, because it was like rare, [“Ugh”] but then there were like accusations of GameStop opening up copies so it would count as used.
John: Oh my God! [laughs]
Nerium: So they could sell it for more than MSRP. That was a weird thing, but yeah, that did– like, I don’t remember how much evidence there was of intentionally opening stuff, but they were definitely selling it for like $70 and stuff like that, like, used.
Imran: Yeah. And I remember that game came out, I think, two weeks before I was going to take a trip to like Portland and San Francisco and to like just visit some family, whatever. So I figured, okay, I can beat this game in two weeks. One, that’s a terrible idea.
Nerium: Mm-hmm. [quiet laughter]
Imran: Two, I did this while I think Frasier had just come to Netflix.
Imran: So I tried watching– I was binging Frasier.
Imran: So now I have, in my head, an indelible link between Xenoblade and Frasier that will just never go away. And like, I remember this coming up when Shulk got revealed for Smash Brothers, [Nerium: “Yeah”] ’cause they played Xenoblade music, and that Xenoblade music in my head triggered memories of Frasier. So… [laughter] It’s like a Pavlovian reaction.
Eric: Put “Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs” over Shulk doing a back slash. [laughter]
Imran: Frasier is really feeling it.
Nerium: “Now it’s Niles time!” [laughter]
Imran: But yeah, I really fucking enjoyed that game. I bought 2 much later, ’cause I think 2 came out at just the worst time. 2 came out like weeks after Mario Odyssey? No, no. It came about two months after Mario Odyssey, but like also that was a busy time. I didn’t have time to play Xenoblade 2, and I think I had just started at Game Informer at the time, so like…
Nerium: Oh, sure.
Imran: Yeah, it was very busy. I didn’t play 2 until recently, and I really like it? I think it’s a very good video game, but also I wrote a– I think I– this was like six months ago, ’cause I did a micro review for it on Fanbyte. That game doesn’t auto save, [“Yeah,” “Ooh”] and I ended up losing to a crash several hours of gameplay that I’ve just not gone back to since then.
Imran: And now that Xenoblade 3 seems really good, [Nerium: “Mm-hmm”] I probably will go back to it and actually like finish that game at some point.
Nerium: That’s what I’ve been doing. I finished Xenoblade 1, ’cause I– so, my experience, I didn’t play Xenogears when it came out, but I played a bunch of it when we did an episode talking about Xenogears for 99 Potions, very early on at the beginning of 99 Potions’ run. I never touched Xenosaga. Xenosaga was always like the butt of a bunch of Xplay jokes, and that was what I knew about Xenosaga. [laughter] And Xenoblade Chronicles 1, I played it on the Wii, I played it on the 3DS, and then I played it on the Switch, and I never beat it any of those times. And I was like half– I always get about like halfway through or got about halfway through to the part where you get to the big snowy mountain [“Mm-hmm”] after going to prison island and I think– it’s like almost exactly the halfway mark of the game, according to people.
Nerium: So I did that twice. I did it once on the Wii, and I did it once on the 3DS version, and then I finally– and then I did it again on the Switch version. Finally came back and beat it, like in the last like two weeks.
Eric: Mm, nice.
Nerium: And then I have also been doing the same thing with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to lead up to Xenoblade Chronicles 3, because people are hyping up Xenoblade Chronicles 3 like it is actually, like genuinely super, super good. I think Xenoblade Chronicles 2, as somebody who is playing that game– partially, this is the result of me having to get back into that game 60% of the way through after three years or whatever since I last played it, but I think Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is pretty bad, mostly. [laughter] I think the story and dialogue are…I mean, using English voice acting, which is probably a mistake, because it’s really just not very good, but–
John: [voice] No, Nerium! That’s not true. No! Don’t say that about the voice acting! [laughter]
Nerium: Well, some– so, this one, some people sound like that, but then there’s like Tetsuya Nomura characters.
John: Oh, that’s true.
Nerium: Which I don’t know if you knew that, but like, so yeah, like the main character Rex, who’s just this like little fucking little lad [laughs, imitates voice] who does sound like this.
John: He’s just a little fucker.
Eric: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Nerium: He’s the worst. He looks like that and sounds like that.
Imran: I think people from Torna have American accents for whatever reason.
Eric: Oh, I remember that.
Nerium: And they also look like Kingdom Hearts characters for whatever reason.
Eric: Uh huh. Yep.
Imran: What if Nomura made his own country?
Nerium: [laughs] No!
Imran: Like literally made his own country.
Eric: Oh my God.
Nerium: I don’t want that.
Nerium: Oh no.
Eric: Oh my God. [laughter]
Nerium: That absolutely sounds like the name of a webcomic that like just is about what I’m talking– [laughter]
Eric: It’s an Undertale alt fiction waiting to happen right there. [laughter]
Nerium: So yeah, like I haven’t played 3 yet, because I do want the context, but boy. I ranted about it already on Channel F this week. People can go listen to Channel F on fanbyte.com/podcasts, but I think the game is overdesigned and very sloppy in some places.
Imran: How far are you in that game?
Nerium: I’m like nearly done. I’m like–
Nerium: I think I have like two and a half chapters left.
Imran: Okay. ‘Cause I was gonna say, I do think it gets better over time, but if you’re already that far in and you’re really not feeling it, then…
Nerium: [voice] I’m really not feeling it.
John: [voice] I’m not feeling it! [laughter]
Nerium: [voice] Sorry, the vibes are off.
Eric: I refuse to take part in this mockery of accents on here. [Nerium laughs] I will not feel it.
Nerium: I’m sorry.
John: [voice] Eric, join the fray!
Eric: Oh, no, no. I can’t. I’ve had to eat so much crow, ’cause I had declared that I would never play Xenoblade Chronicles because of how ridiculous the accents are. [laughter]
Eric: And I now hate to admit that one of my favorite parts of 3 is the character Eunie, who has the most unabashed accent in the world.
John: Uh huh. Yep. Mm-hmm.
Eric: And honestly, I’m like completely there for it. She’s great, so.
John: Yep. Yeah.
Eric: Yeah, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is the story of me like eating my own words over and over again.
John: The Monolith localization team was– all they’ve got in their room is a copy of Dick van Dyke doing the Chimbley Sweep from fucking Mary Poppins. [laughter] They’re like, I guess this is just it.
Imran: So I have to assume this is the way it is because of the weird way it got localized where Nintendo of America passed on it. Nintendo of Europe didn’t.
Nerium: Right. Mm.
Imran: So they localized it in Europe, and then they just reused that localization for America, so now it has like, by this weird hook and crook circumstance, has a European like basis for its localization.
Eric: It’s not completely outside the realm of– ’cause like Final Fantasy XIV also just inexplicably–
Eric: Like I feel like the, you know, British accent is the go-to for any sort of vaguely evilese adjacent style [“Yeah, sure”] or like high fantasy style, but there’s something about Xenoblade’s, though.
Nerium: Well, in the case of Final Fantasy XIV, they also specifically switched from like doing a California-based like [Eric: “Right, right”] agency for voice acting to a British one, like for Heavensward. You haven’t gotten to that point yet, [Eric: “Oh–”] Imran.
Eric: Oh, okay. I was gonna say, I’m in Endwalker. [laughs]
Imran: I’m still gathering food for some kind of fucking festival. [laughter] Just like, let me fight the fucking Titan! Yeah. Last night was frustrating. [laughter]
Nerium: I actually, I don’t mind the– like, honestly, a lot of the people and a lot of the accents in these games don’t bother me that much.
John: No, they don’t bother me. It’s just, it’s such a…it’s just so unbelievably predictable. Like, I could now identify a Xenoblade game by audio. [Nerium laughs]
Eric: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
John: Like, it’s not bad. Like, it’s not unpleasant to me, but it is funny, very funny.
Nerium: I think it’s just really particularly a mess in 2, because that game is so just sprawling and weird [John: “Yeah”] in a lot of ways and has like too much going on most of the time.
John: It does have a lot going on. Yeah.
Imran: I will say, though, that 2’s environment art is like next level.
John: It’s very good.
Nerium: Oh, all of the environment art across all of these games.
John: Yeah, is unbelievable.
Nerium: X, 1, 2. We didn’t even mention X, I guess.
Imran: Oh yeah. We fucking didn’t mention X. Holy shit.
Eric: Neither has Nintendo, to be fair.
Imran: I completely forgot X existed. [laughter]
John: That’s the one I’ve played the least, and I want them to bring it to Switch, but they probably never will, I guess.
Eric: No. Nintendo’s like, “We’ve brought all Xenoblade, the entire series to the Switch.”
John: Uh huh. Yep.
Eric: And then someone in the back is like, “What about X?”
John: “What about X?”
Eric: Like, [emphatically] “We’ve brought all Xenoblade games to the Switch.” [laughs]
Imran: Escort that man out of the audience. [laughter]
Nerium: Which is a huge bummer to me, ’cause I fucking love mechs. I don’t know. People– have you heard about this? I love mechs and mech shit, and that game has like some of the coolest mech shit in it of any game in a long time.
John: Yeah, that shit’s great.
Imran: That game is actually pretty good, I think.
Nerium: It is!
John: That’s what I hear.
Imran: It’s just it was not what anyone wanted after Xenoblade 1, I think. And I think people– because the Wii U was a failure, so many games had these unrealistic expectations put on them to be like, oh, this is the real Final Fantasy XIII, [John: “Mm, right”] because this is the game that like we want to be like the next big thing.
Eric: Ah, okay, okay.
Imran: Then it’s not, it’s its own different thing that is very different from what the last thing was, so people kind of turned on it a bit. But I think in terms of like worldbuilding, that’s one of these strongest games or JRPGs in the last 10 years.
Nerium: And also you can get into a mech, jump into the air, turn that mech into a motorcycle, and keep driving through the environment.
Imran: Yeah, and then go punch a giant monster in the face.
John: Yeah, I mean–
Imran: It fucking rules.
John: They took…you know, every single like…listen, and we will at some point do this and I think do a deeper dive on it, and I would love to do that and be a part of it and design it from toe to tip and lovingly dote on it. But it’s like, Xenogears set up all of these concepts that like are, [“Mm-hmm”] you know, that Takahashi and this team, this full team have like, you know, addressed at some point in all of these subsequent games. Like, Xenosaga was a lot of that religious theming from Xenogears and kind of putting it on, you know, a more macro scale, you know, that they had time to address, but like Xenoblade X was a lot of the gear and mech stuff that they established in Xenogears that I thought was so exciting and ambitious, and they turned it into an open world thing, and from– I mean, from what I’ve played and seen, it was very successful, but it just was on the Wii U, so.
Nerium: It’s like the last big, good Wii U game that has not been ported to the Switch, really.
John: Yeah. Right.
Eric: I mean, it’s also like, to talk about the history of Monolith Soft a little bit, like these, you can’t talk about all the mechs and stuff without also noting that this studio was basically founded on a love for Gundam.
Eric: [laughs] Or like a distinct love for just giant robots but also like the stories that can be told around them. When we were doing…we did a developer quest for Monolith Soft over on Axe of the Blood God, an RPG podcast, a competitor of this podcast. Got y’all. [laughter] But we did a developer quest for Monolith Soft, and one of the quotes I pulled from ??? asks about Xenoblade Chronicles was talking about Takahashi, and Sakaguchi, you know, one of the fathers of Final Fantasy, [John: “Yeah”] was talking about how one really clear memory that he had of Takahashi was that no sooner had he formed a separate team and gone to go work on his project that would become Xenogears and all that, that his desk became completely covered in Gundam models and toy guns. Like, the second Takahashi was given any level of like room to run with this stuff, he was like, okay, in come the ??? and [John: “Oh yeah”] the mechs, and we’re just going all out. And there’s, like, that’s just kind of the spirit of the Xeno series in general [John: “Yeah”] is just always being a hundred percent that shit all the time, even when it may not have been the smartest decision to make [laughs, John: “Right”] or the best demographic decision to make.
John: Yeah. I mean, the real thing for me that I’ve been really, I don’t know, just excited to see this team do, is just, you know…and folks may not know this, but like when Xenogears came out, you know, it was a big two disc thing. Kind of famously the second disc is kind of a mess. It’s like an unfinished rush job that, you know, doesn’t really end the story anywhere near at the depth that the first disc kind of set it up. It’s like…it’s unbelievable. It’s like something you should absolutely experience for yourself. [“Mm-hmm”] I’ve never really…I can’t immediately think of a game that does quite what this does, is just go, “Oh, by the way, all this other stuff happens. Um, and then the game ends.” It’s like, it’s so bizarre. [“Mm-hmm”] But when you get to the end of the credits, it just says, “Thanks for playing Xenogears Episode 5,” and you’re like, “Wait a second. What?” [laughter] Then you find out that, you know, they wanted to make this kind of six game series, and really this was the most compelling chunk, and so they made it, and, you know, it didn’t do well enough to address any of the rest of the planned series, and then they kind of, you know, they kind of repackaged it into whatever became of Xenosaga, which is actually pretty different and it had to be different for legal reasons.
But it’s like, I’ve just, I don’t know. I’ve really enjoyed watching them kind of take the ambitiousness of that original game and, you know, just spreading that out into two decades worth of, I think, very high quality if uneven JRPGs, and it’s just been a…I don’t know, a real delight. Like I was very, very sad about Xenogears not being able to continue. And there are rights issues there. There are, you know, Square Enix still owns the rights to that stuff, and Monolith can’t really do anything in that universe anymore, so they’d have to do some sort of collab or get rid of the rights or whatever. I was sad about that for a long time, but Monolith Soft has been making, I think, increasingly competent games, honestly, for the past 20 years.
John: And it’s been a delight, I think.
Nerium: Yeah, I genuinely think like 2 is a step back from 1 in a lot of ways. I think like 2 just kind of has eyes that are bigger than its stomach in a lot of ways [“Mm, mm-hmm”] and like also is like trying to pave over a lot of that stuff with like, “How do we get mass market appeal?” and the way that they got mass market appeal [“Yeah”] or attempted to was just like make the tackiest horny characters they possibly could.
John: [laughs] Sure.
Eric: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Imran: They’ve always been like that.
John: They’ve done…yeah.
Nerium: This is on a different level.
Eric: This was a gacha. This was a gacha!
John: MOMO and KOS-MOS and stuff from Xenosaga, like, that shit was pretty wild too.
Imran: The part you were talking about, Nere, of like the ice area in Xenoblade, right after that, you meet the big titty mech queen.
John: Mm-hmm. Sure.
Nerium: God, yeah.
Eric: That’s a good elevator pitch. That’s a good elevator pitch. [laughter]
Imran: The thing is, the mountain ice area and the area after the big titty mech queen: genuinely great storytelling and like profound moments.
Imran: But again, in the middle of that is the big titty– like they’ve always been like this.
Nerium: For sure, but like…ugh, I don’t know.
Imran: They surface it more in Xenoblade 2. I’m not gonna disagree with you.
Nerium: They really do. Like, Pyra and Mythra are just like something else.
Imran: I would say, if they had launched Xenoblade 2 with the Pyra and Mythra designs in Smash Brothers, I think it…
Nerium: Mm. Yeah, totally.
Imran: I think people would’ve liked it a lot better.
Imran: But I think like, also, those– I don’t disagree with you that that whole aspect is gross, especially some with the gacha blades you can get.
Nerium: Yeah! That whole– we didn’t even talk about–
Eric: Yes, the gacha system that really does that, yeah.
Nerium: Does 3 have that, Eric?
Eric: 3 does not have a Gache system.
Eric: It has like a different thing for getting additional units and like classes that I think is a lot more interesting, but from what I understand, like the Xenoblade 2 gacha system was basically just a way for them to add a bunch of extra flavor and also just like get a bunch of concept artists to make all these blades that they have for different stuff.
Nerium: Right, ’cause a bunch of them are designed by different people.
Eric: Yeah. One of them, I believe, is…
Imran: They basically went through Pixiv and just grabbed artists.
Eric: Yeah. One–
Imran: Which is like cool, but also leads to a lot of horny designs [Eric: “Yes”] that they maybe should’ve checked.
Nerium: Oh my God. I took a screenshot of this character. I’m gonna…God. I forgot to save it anywhere, but there’s a character that I got the other day called Dahlia?
Nerium: Who is like this ice bunny girl, with just…
Imran: Oh, I don’t even need to Google that. I know who you’re talking about, yes.
Nerium: [laughs] Okay, yeah. Who’s just…who’s like wearing like this micro dress and just has actually like breasts that are bigger than her head. It’s wild.
Imran: She has the most wild proportions I’ve ever seen in a like fictional character. Like, imagine if someone took Jessica Rabbit and put her in a funhouse mirror.
Nerium: It’s off the wall.
Eric: I feel really bad for her, ’cause like the back pain has just gotta be something else. Good God. [laughter]
Imran: Yeah. And like, some of the blades are actually really good designs, and some are like really terrible designs, and it’s a weird mix.
Nerium: Yeah, I like some of the blades.
Imran: Because like, they had so many designers working on these things, and they should have exercised some degree of like, “Hey, no, this is…no to this one. Let’s try a different one.”
Nerium: Right. And at least it’s just some stuff of like the game just having, like, not having a super clear aesthetic a lot of the time? [“Mm, mm-hmm”] like a game, just like…one of the first like story characters you get is like one called Vess, and she’s like got a cool enough design, but she looks like she’s just straight up from a different video game.
Nerium: And so do the bad guys who were designed by Tetsuya Nomura. They just look nothing like Rex does or like the–
Nerium: It’s very strange, and like, I think that’s part of why that game is just like, ah, maybe kind of the not super beloved middle child of all this stuff, but I’m like genuinely super curious. I know we’re probably going to get into maybe some very light spoiler territory. I don’t know. We’ll see. But like, I’m very curious about like why people are so gaga for 3 right now, because I’ve put in the work. I’m nearly done with 2. I’m gonna put in a little bit more work to get through it, to finally get to 3, and I’m hoping that there’s a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. [laughs]
Imran: I mean, you say 2 is like not beloved, but…it is?
Nerium: It is.
Imran: Like, it is at least—and maybe 3 beats it—the best selling of any of the games with Xeno as the sub- or pre-title.
Nerium: Sure, but also it is the game that whenever I, you know, anecdotally talk to people, it is the one that everybody kind of points to and says like, yeah, but also it’s the– it’s kind of embarrassing to– it’s the most embarrassing one in a lot of ways.
Imran: I think that’s also true.
Eric: That’s an anime thing, though.
Eric: Like how many times have you recommended an anime series to somebody and been like, “Okay, look, but I gotta like tell you some things up front, before we get–”
Nerium: Yeah, uh huh.
John: I mean, that’s…
Eric: “You’re gonna love Neon Genesis Evangelion, but…we gotta talk.” [laughter]
Imran: That’s every Chainsaw Man conversation I’ve had in the last two weeks.
Eric: Oh, I have been…I’ve been screaming at people to read Chainsaw Man, and it is also like, I promise it’s about more than he just wants to touch boobs. I promise you it’s more than that.
Imran: That’s only the first like 15 to 20 chapters. Once you get past that, it’s fine.
Eric: And also that like desire is like very important to Denji’s characterization and about how the systems in place take advantage of people who have naive worldviews, and… [laughs] Sorry. This is not a Chainsaw Man podcast.
Nerium: Chainsaw Man is very good. I’m not gonna disagree with anything. [laughs]
Imran: The fact that he’s a sex pest is an important part of his character is just like, it’s like saying her ass is part of her character too. [Nerium laughs]
Eric: He’s not a– he’s not a sex pest. He is a fricking teenage boy who has a one track mind and chainsaws for hands, all right?
Imran: That comment was more about Mineta from My Hero Academia.
Nerium: Yeah, yes.
Eric: Oh, no Mineta deserves [“Mineta sucks”] the void. Mineta should be launched into the sun. I hate that character.
Imran: [laughs] But yeah, when you have to explain like My Hero Academia, like, “Okay, so there’s a character named Miss Midnight. Maybe just ignore her? Don’t Google that.” And like, yes, in that I think that’s to some extent like Xenoblade 2, of like Mòrag is one of the best designs in the series, [“Mm, mm-hmm”] but like, you can’t really look at Mòrag and also not look at like sex snow bunny next to her.
Nerium: They don’t feel like they belong in the same universe even, sometimes.
Nerium: It’s very strange.
Eric: I do think that’s a strength of Xenoblade 3, is that it feels like it has a much more like comprehensive and put together view of what the world should look like, and framing it all around this war that is happening across the, you know, landscape really helps with that. You can very easily identify like what faction a character hails from. And they do mix in a lot of the fantasy races that they’ve created in Xenoblade, I imagine for story reasons. I will be like full– you know, full disclosure, I’m not there yet as to whether or not they explain any of that or not. But they do a really good job of just creating these really cool characters that also all look like they should be living in the same world and doing things, and there’s not really outlandish designs in a way that feels jarring. There’s just really neat, cool designs. There’s…so far I’ve got like awesome gun dude that kind of looks like Happy Chaos from Guilty Gear and like super cool sword lady and guy who heals people with his bullets and stuff. Like, that’s…
Eric: It’s got more of a direction rather than that gacha system we were talking about where it’s like, “Okay, what’s coming out of the machine this time to join my party and look a little ridiculous?”
Imran: Speaking of like the different races in Xenoblade, quick up or down, like, kill ’em or love ’em.
Eric: [laughs] Oh God.
Imran: What do people think about Nopons?
Eric: Oh, I love ‘em.
John: I think they’re fine. I think they’re fine.
Nerium: I hate Nopons. [laughter]
Eric: Play Xenoblade 3. I promise you. Play Xenoblade 3. You will love Nopons. [Nerium sighs]
Imran: I largely dislike Nopons, except I think like, they already hit the zenith with Riki in the first game.
Imran: Where like, okay, actually we’ve been misjudging these things. They are smart, mature, you know, they’re fathers and sons and all that. Like, they’re cool characters. It’s just that you don’t see that from the outside. Then after that, they were just character…what’s–? comedic elements and not so much characters.
Nerium: Yeah. I mean, I’ll–
Imran: Except for 3. I’ve not played 3, to be clear.
Nerium: I can tie this into the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 discussion, which I want to be clear about one thing. Like, we talked about like a lot of the really corny and tacky designs in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I got no problem with big titty character designs. Like, I’m a fan personally of that in a lot of ways, but they’re just not very…they’re oftentimes just very not interestingly designed. They’re not– they’re just corny. However, in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the Nopon party member you get is an engineer who builds a robot sex maid who joins your party. [laughs]
Imran: Weird Science.
Eric: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Nerium: Weird Science.
Eric: It’s Weird Science.
John: Now, Nere, do you like Nopons more or less than Chu-Chu, the little bear that gets crucified in Xenogears? [laughter]
Nerium: I think I like Nopons less.
John: You think you like Nopons less. Okay. Interesting. Okay.
Nerium: But I will say this, in fairness to…okay, but I wanted to bring up the robot sex maid part, because that is one of the actual most embarrassing parts of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, where they…
Imran: Yes. But also–
Nerium: Like your guy Tora has built a little robot, and then it does the “Uh buh buh wha–?” [laughter] as like his cabinet opens up and it reveals that he has a bunch of like fucking [Imran: “Maid costumes”] fetish costumes for her to wear.
Imran: But also she’s the best party member in terms of like strength.
Nerium: She’s really good.
Imran: So you can’t not use her.
Nerium: I don’t have a problem with Poppi either. Like, Poppi’s actually like– I like Poppi. She’s cool. But it just, God, that fucking…they just had no restraint. They had no editor on any of this stuff when they maybe needed it.
Nerium: That said…
Imran: Which is also like the thing of like the contrast, you have that character, then you have like Mòrag standing right next to her.
Nerium: Yeah. And Brighid is a character who I think, like, is [“Mm”] I think pretty cool. Like Brighid is Mòrag’s blade, and it is like definitely like a horny design, but I think she looks cool. Like, she’s got these two fire whips and stuff like that. Her legs are made of fire. It’s cool. In fairness to the Nopons, I will say I did play Future Connected, [Imran: “Mm”] which is the epilogue to Xenoblade Chronicles 1.
Nerium: So it’s technically the most recent thing that they’ve done other than Xenoblade Chronicles 3.
Nerium: And you have two Nopon party members in that, and those two characters are actually really good, so I do believe that they have gotten better at writing Nopons.
Nerium: Like, I’m willing to trust that in 3 especially they’ll be better, because the two you get, they’re like a brother and a sister, they’re the daughter and son of Riki from the first game.
Nerium: They talk a lot about Riki and how he’s like just a really good dad, like when he’s at home and stuff like that, [“Yeah”] and it’s cute. It’s very fun.
John: When you think about restraint and this team, there’s obviously like the horny stuff, and the horny stuff is in most of their games, I’d say. But to me, it’s been a while since they’ve taken a big swing, like putting, you know, Jesus of Nazareth in the game.
Eric: See, I was waiting for us to talk about Xenosaga, the fact that Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ are canonical in this world.
John: [laughs] Yeah. Uh huh. Major characters.
Eric: And not just canonical [John: “But playable characters”] but part of the lore.
John: [laughs] Yeah.
Eric: It’s crucial to the lore.
Eric: And I’ve always– one of my favorite things is that if you ever see a fictional world in which a Bible or the concept of Christmas exists, that implies that Christianity is real in that universe.
Eric: So just apply that whenever you want, whenever you see a character mention Christmas in any way, you now know that Christmas exists, like Christianity exists in that universe, and Jesus Christ [“Mm-hmm”] was in that universe at one point.
Eric: It can lead to some fun paths, but like the way that Xenosaga specifically goes so out of its way to incorporate all this stuff, like the, you know, “subtext is for cowards” route of like, no, if we’re going to use all this imagery, we might as well just use the whole buffalo while we’re at it. [laughs]
Eric: It’s honestly, I think that’s why I like the Xeno games so much, even when I bounce off of them, you know, tonally or for whatever other reason, is that they are so unabashed about like, no, we’re gonna do the thing. We’re not gonna like half-ass it.
Nerium: But I think it was…this is a very old tweet, like literally years ago. It was the first time I’d thought about Xenoblade since like watching G4TV. But I remember I think it was Christine Love tweeted something along the lines of like, turnabout is fair play with this stuff, because it is really interesting, like from a cultural perspective of the way that Western games and media and movies mine other cultures and other religions for like exoticized [“Oh, sure. Right”] character designs and like ideas and stuff like that. It’s just like, oh, on this week’s episode of Supernatural, we’re gonna kill Vishnu or whatever. [laughter] Like, they’ll just– that just happens constantly in Western media. And like Xenosaga is one of the most like high profile examples of an Eastern like developer doing the exact opposite thing of just like being like, all right, here, we’ve made Jesus Christ a mini boss or whatever. [laughs]
John: Yeah, I mean, for folks that really wanted that stuff, we were feasting in the mid 2000s, ’cause we had Xenosaga [“Mm-hmm”] and we had Shadow Hearts, and like those were two series on the PS2 that like there were Eastern based developers that took these Western concepts and Western culture and really just went fucking ham with all of it.
John: And that was, mm, chef’s kiss. Beautiful time for those six games.
John: The three Xenosagas and the three Shadow Hearts. We’ve never done Shadow Hearts on this show. We should really do that.
Nerium: We haven’t.
Imran: We haven’t.
Nerium: Another game with huge titty characters. [laughter]
Eric: Yeah, yeah.
Imran: 3 is wild, Shadow Hearts 3.
John: 3 is very wild.
Imran: Genuinely wild.
Imran: Like, not a great game necessarily, [John: “No”] but absolutely wild.
Imran: Like, for Xenosaga specifically, like the writer Soraya Saga, who is like Takahashi’s wife.
Imran: Like, she has a huge interest in Western philosophy.
Imran: She has typically named dropped Yung and Nietzsche and Freud [Nerium: “Mm”] as like things that have influenced her writing. So like, she…I think Saga was her working out this idea of, I believe she was raised religious, [“Mm”] so she believes that like religion controls people, and she wants to explore that, and that’s the– like, Saga is just, it was supposed to be a six game exploration of that concept.
Imran: And then by like Xenoblade, they were like, I don’t know, mechs, I guess?
Eric: Yeah. [Nerium laughs]
Imran: So like, something was a little bit lost, but I think like, it was lost in the way of…I think they got it out of their system of what they wanted to talk about.
John: Yeah. I think they got a little more interested in mechanically…like in the mechanical relationship between the player and the game, I think.
John: Like, I think like Xenogears and Xenosaga were very much explorations of this like narrative and setting and things like that. And Xenosaga especially kind of like didn’t give a shit about being mechanically interesting at all.
John: There were very– you know, as Nerium was pointing out earlier, the turn-based battles were kind of agonizing in the Xenosaga series, actually. They were just like, it was at a period where a lot of those battles were very long and animations were too long, and like Xenosaga was a terrible, you know, example of that, and…
Imran: Yeah, I remember a fight where only chaos could do damage, so if you didn’t have chaos leveled up, [John: “Right, mm-hmm”] then you were just screwed.
John: Yeah, it was a mechanically very frustrating game, and I think, mechanically, this team has gotten much more interested in providing an enjoyable experience and then kind of layering an interesting story and characters kind of, you know, over that, which I think is maybe the opposite of the philosophy they had kind of early going, but that shows. I think like that they’ve just made better games. I mean, I think you can definitely argue that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is not as good, but it’s like, I think for the most part, they’ve made strides as they’ve gone.
Imran: Yeah. Like Xenoblade Chronicles X is essentially a ship of theseus analogy, but like about humanity and like, what if we– what if a thing that is humanity but is not humanity begins creating a new planet for themselves for life? How does– is it still the same planet if they like rip it apart and create it to like their own designs and desires?
John: Mm, uh huh.
Imran: And like, it gets a little weird at some point, in terms of how that story starts progressing, but I can see where they started going for it, and like that old– ’cause like Saga’s not writing for them anymore, but she’s still doing like scenario writing and stuff like that, but I can see where their attention is now, at least. It’s not in the same…it’s not as not subtle as Xenosaga was.
John: Uh huh. Right. [laughs] Yeah.
Imran: But also, like, I think some of that not subtlety worked to its benefit [John: “Yeah”] in a way that feels…like with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, feels harder to defend in some way.
John: Yeah. I could see that.
Nerium: And on like talking about the gameplay and stuff like that too, like I just do think that these games…but I remember one of the big things people actually like, more so than even the British accents, people like talking shit about the original Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii was just like, “It’s an MMO. It’s just like MMO combat, so it’s not fun.” [“Mm”] ‘Cause there was also just like… [laughs] I feel like that has kind of gone out of the window too, but there was a time there where people were like, “I refuse to play MMOs because you just press buttons.”
Nerium: And it was like, that’s…
Eric: That’s what video games are. [laughter]
Nerium: Yeah, right!
John: That’s what video games are. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Nerium: But there was like this, I don’t know, there was this maybe like post World of Warcraft pushback against a lot of that stuff. And there was like a lot of, I think it was partially just like so many video games like chasing the MMO bandwagon and stuff like that.
Nerium: You had like, you know, every major franchise had to have an MMO associated with it. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, whatever.
Eric: Yeah, you had FFXI followed by FFXII, which was a very like MMO take on Final Fantasy, yeah.
John: Mm-hmm. Sure.
Nerium: Well, and it’s fun that you bring up XI, because I do think that like Xenoblade specifically is in conversation with– it’s in conversation with XII, ’cause it’s using a lot of the– or XIV, I think, [“Mm, mm-hmm”] because it’s using a lot of the ideas, and it’s built on a lot of the ideas of like positional attacks and stuff like that [“Absolutely”] and like building up meters and gauges. I think also like the world design is very XI. Like the idea of you will just be walking around a big, giant, giant, giant place that is [“Mm-hmm”] zero load times, it’s all connected. You can walk up a mountain and see where you came from down below, and the skybox looks gorgeous. You see a waterfall, and it looks like you can still, a hundred miles away, you can still see the mist bubbling out of the waterfall where it’s hitting the ground.
Nerium: And also a giant fucking dinosaur will just come out and eat you. [laughs]
Eric: Oh God.
Nerium: Because they’re at level 90, and you’re level 17, [“Yeah”] and that is such a Final Fantasy XI thing.
Eric: I’ve been really impressed as I’ve been playing Xenoblade 3 specifically, in that it feels like they’re encouraging you to find more in the world and explore more, ’cause they have this idea of like secret areas that are like off the beaten path places that you have to kind of go looking for, and you get a little reward and a ping when you find them. And at first, I found one and I was like, “Wait, that’s it?” There’s like no container up here. There’s no like special item. I don’t get anything.
Eric: It’s just like, “Hey, you found a cool place.” And then I was like, “Oh. Hey, yeah, I did find kind of a cool place.” I took some screenshots, and I went into first person mode and just kinda looked around. I was like, dang, this world’s kind of rad. I mean, that hearkens back to when Takahashi first pitched Xenoblade 1. Infamously, he brought it into Nintendo. They just built a model of the two giants that were [Nerium: “Mm”] like fighting and had died and that the world had grown on top of.
John: Yeah. Yep.
Eric: They just brought a model in of that.
Eric: And that was the pitch. They were like, “Look at this.”
John: Consider: it’s a good pitch.
Nerium: It’s a good pitch!
Eric: Look at this.
Nerium: The world is so cool!
Eric: [laughs] Yeah.
Imran: Honestly, that was like the main thing that got me interested in Xenoblade was the idea that you are on two things that are so like inconceivably big [“Mm-hmm, mm-hmm”] that they just look like land to you.
John: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Eric: And that different biomes grew depending on like what part of the body they were on, so like, [Nerium: “Mm-hmm”] ones that saw sun a lot would be, you know, more kind of the arid or like, you know, hotter places, but then you get to like the small of the back, and it’s a frozen wasteland. [laughs] Like, there’s some cool stuff like that in there [Imran: “Yeah”] that they put a lot of really interesting thought into the world, and I don’t know that I’ve seen all of that yet with Xenoblade 3, but it definitely has like some early touches of this, like the design of the world is very important to what’s happening in the story.
Imran: Yeah. 2 is like this sky-based thing, and I think it works, like, does that super well.
John: Oh, yes, yeah.
Imran: Like, there’s one too many caves in that game, ‘cause they’re going into the Titan things.
Imran: But like, there’s one area that’s like, the islands are just large jellyfish that are like [John: “Mm”] held together by like ramshackle rope bridges.
Imran: And it’s the most interesting looking thing that like, I can’t be mad at that game, because that environment art is just so out of this world.
Nerium: Yeah, Monolith Soft is just like…God, they…that one thing has never gone away. Like, they have, from– I don’t know what they were doing in Xenosaga, so I don’t know if like there’s any of that element in those games at all, but like–
John: It’s probably the worst in Xenosaga, I would say, but yeah.
Nerium: Okay. Like even on the Wii and on the 3DS, like those are not the best looking versions of that game, obviously, ’cause the definitive edition really overhauled the way that the game looks. But even back then, like the draw distance that they were able to coax out of a fucking Wii was just wild.
Imran: Yeah. I think like, so, the way that they’ve kind of been split up now is Nintendo has one Monolith Soft studio that does like actual game design, and like they do the Xenoblade games and stuff like that, and then they have another that kind of does tech work, and then they work together sometimes to like make games. And I think the one that works on tech is…like, they’ve improved a lot by working on other games. Like, you could tell, with Xenoblade 3, they learned a lot by working on Breath of the Wild and like the dozen other games like Breath of the Wild 2 that they’ve improved. And I was looking at the Digital Foundry stuff for Xenoblade 3, which is leagues better technically than Xenoblade 2 was.
Imran: And like, in that video for Digital Foundry, they’re speculating like, oh, this must be why Breath of the Wild 2 looks better than we thought, [“Right”] because they’re learning. They’re getting better. They’re applying this stuff that they’ve learned in Xenoblade 2 to the next game– or Xenoblade 3 to their next game as well.
Imran: So I think like the way they’re split up is…it’s sad, because the studio that does essentially mercenary work is the one that made Baten Kaitos, which I think is a fucking fantastic game.
Imran: But like, it does seem like it is improving their tech ability over time.
John: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, this is…Xenoblade 3 especially is in a resting game from a kind of a technical experience. I mean, obviously it still looks like a Nintendo Switch game, so it’s not like a, you know, it’s not gonna look like fucking Elden Ring or whatever, but it’s like, it is it just all the stuff that Nere was talking about, draw distance and, you know, seeing stuff from a distance. You could do this, you could do that. You can see all these biomes and, you know, the scale is just, you know, impressive. It’s something that they’ve always– they’ve done well in this console generation and the previous one, and like, they’re just getting much, much, much better at it, which is very cool. I really can’t wait to see what they can do with even more powerful hardware, which we may or may not be getting at some point soon, so.
Nerium: [laughs] Yeah. Well, I don’t know. It sounds like we’ve kind of dug into a lot of stuff. Like I said, we kind of touched on it a little bit, but I do really want to hear specifically like what sets Xenoblade Chronicles 3 apart [John: “Yeah”] from a lot of what we’ve already kind of gone over.
Eric: I’d love to step in on that role, if you’d have me.
John: Yeah, please.
Eric: As somebody who, like I said, dropped off this series pretty hard after Xenosaga 1 and was never really enticed back in, I think the first thing that really caught me was the framing of this story. Like, Xenoblade 1 and Xenoblade 2 are both very much like the chosen boy [John: “Mm-hmm”] discovers powers and goes on a trip with his friends.
Eric: And like, I’ve heard that story so many times. I’m very tired of it at this point, to be frank, and that’s kind of why I like things like FFVII Remake and the way it’s twisting some of that stuff is at least like they’re trying something different.
Eric: They’re doing something weird and new. And so, Xenoblade Chronicles 3, again, I compared to Tales of Arise earlier in that it has kind of the same vibes of it’s this group of warriors. So, the setup of the world is that these nations, Agnus and Keves, are at war at all times. They’re just constantly at war, and they all have…everyone can only live for 10 years—10 terms, as they call it—and at the end of their 10 terms, if they live that long, they’re given this Homecoming.
John: Which is rare.
Eric: Yeah, very rare, very rare. The game opens with everybody excitedly going to see the first Homecoming at the colony that they’re living at, [John: “Yeah”] ’cause it’s never happened before, but they’re given like the sendoff that like turns them into these big gold particles. So everybody lives for 10 years. That’s it. Like that is all you have.
Nerium: They get Logan’s Runned?
Eric: Yes. They Logan’s Runned it.
Eric: [laughs] And all of these…basically, two babies are bred and born and are sent out to fight in wars, because the primary method of energy on this world is life force, and so when they die, their spirit particles get sucked up by these giant mechs called Ferronises that fill the Flame Clock, and it’s all about like filling the Flame Clock. [Nerium laughs] Like, you have to kill other people–
Imran: I’m all about filling the Flame Clock. [Nerium laughs]
Eric: Yeah. Yeah. People are saying this, you hear it.
Nerium: You could be making up everything you just said. [laughs]
Eric: I know, I know. I’m actually pitching my new RPG.
John: I know, it sounds like Eric is, but nope, it’s all true. [Nerium laughs]
Eric: But it starts off really cool, because like, I mean, right off the bat, they don’t even like wait for something bad to happen. Like, the main character is immediately going, “Hey, y’all, this is kind of messed up. This doesn’t seem like a very sustainable way to run a world. Everybody has to kill each other to stay alive, and we’re all just being born to die and all that?”
John: Uh huh.
Eric: “That seems kind of bad. I don’t want to die. Do you want to? That sounds bad.”
Eric: And eventually, due to plot reasons, three special forces from Agnus and three from Keves are forced together and discover some secrets about the world and go off on a quest where they’re now being hunted by the shadow organization behind everything, while also trying to deal with the fact that they’re now caught, you know, they’re both seen as traitors by their individual nations. And I think that alone really is interesting, because it’s the same as Arise, where it’s like, “Hey, the world’s messed up and we’re tired of just being at its whims until we die. We’re going to overthrow it by force now,” and that’s like a really compelling idea of like revolution and liberation. And as you go through the story, you can find all these side quests about different colonies, where you solve their problems and free them from the Flame Clock and try to like make this world right again.
Eric: I also think that like the…we talked a little bit about it, but the hero design is really compelling. So you have six characters in your party, and that is like your core party, and they can all also swap around classes and learn from each other, and there’s a really compelling sense of like learning different classes and mastering arts from those classes that gives me like Final Fantasy Tactics vibes, where like mastering a class lets you then use those abilities in another class, so now you can really start to define roles and come up with cool combinations. But the hero design is really compelling too. There’s– I was gonna post some pictures in here, because we talked a lot about the gacha folks and how bad they were, but like, here’s one that I just ran into named Alexandria that I really think is neat, and I have to like gain five more levels to recruit her, but she’s really awesome.
There’s also Juniper who I am working on the side quest for at the moment, trying to find, but Juniper is a bow wielding hero that is currently getting a lot of attention because they are a non-binary character, and people are unhappy about that, because even though Uchikoshi is out here dunking on ignorant people, there are people online who are still like, “Oh my God, this can’t exist in a JRPG.” But all of it goes to show that like this is a cast that is varied. It’s a cast that has a lot of really cool and interesting characters on the fringes to go and discover, even when you’re not doing the main plot. And then the actual main plot, I was up until like 3 in the morning last night, because I was in the middle– if y’all have played at home, it’s that big scene that happens in chapter three near a waterfall, and that’s all I’ll say. But it was 30 minutes of the most unabashed bonkers stuff I’ve seen in an RPG since I played patch 2.5 of Final Fantasy XIV.
Eric: Like that level of stuff, of like pre-Heavensward XIV, where I’m just like, what is happening? What’s going on? Oh my God, so much is happening. How is this all coming together so fast? And it paces its storytelling out so well in having these individual heroes’ stories that are really compelling, and then you go jump back on the MSQ, jump back on the main quest, and there are huge world reveals and big mech fights. The individual party members can all fuse into each other to become mechs, which is just really cool. They do like a fusion dance basically and then become mechs, and that’s both a battle mechanic and a really fun storytelling mechanic, ’cause they also share their memories when they do that. It is just a really cool vibe that I think is so different from Xenoblade 1 and 2, like so notably different.
Nerium: Well…everything that you’ve said sounds like exactly what I want [Nerium and Eric laugh] and sounds great, and I’m watching like gameplay footage of like the combat right now, and I’m like, God! Oh, what if I just deleted Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and jumped straight to 3? [laughs]
John: 3 is a better video game, Nere, like I’ll tell you that. Like, it’s better. [Nere grumbles in frustration]
Eric: And I’ve been hearing that like there are links and there are references that definitely like [Nerium: “Yeah,” John: “There are”] reward people who have played Xenoblade 1 and 2.
Eric: But also, you could really just jump in with this one. I am jumping in with this one. I watched like a brief lore explainer of what happens in the first game, so I have at least that knowledge, [John: “Right”] but I’ve like very little clue of what happens in 2.
Eric: And I am eating it up. I am, like, I’m probably about 30 to 35 hours in and still [John: “Wow, okay”] only on chapter three, because I am just loving roaming around this world and fighting the monsters.
Eric: I think the combat system’s absolutely fantastic. It feels like it’s learned the best lessons from previous games as well as other stuff like the Tales series about how to do combos really well and how to reward players for playing their role.
John: Yeah. I was gonna say, Eric, like, I’ve been kind of frustrated at how deeply tutorialized everything is in the early going.
Eric: Mm, mm-hmm.
John: But then, but then I remembered that I thought Xenoblade 1 and 2 did a really bad job of explaining [Eric: “Yeah”] a lot of its systems. So it’s like, now I’m enjoying the battle system a lot more, because I think I understand how everything works, which is great.
Eric: I’ve seen some people tweet some stuff that are like, “Oh my God, look at these tutorials. I feel like I need to just sit down and–” yeah, you do need to like digest them. But number one, just about every time they pop a tutorial window in front of you, you close it, and then the game is immediately like, “Okay, let’s put that into practice.”
Eric: Let’s like, here’s a checklist thing on the side.
John: They give you a checklist. Yeah.
John: That’s kind of cool.
Eric: And two, like once you learn the terminology that it’s using, like the concept…I’ve talked about this before, but like the idea of special canceling has basically become part of like intrinsic gamer like literacy at this point.
Eric: The idea of, you know, even going back to fighting games, do a punch and then cancel it into a fireball. That’s just something that people are gradually understanding, because it’s seeped into RPGs. It’s seeped into action games. It’s part of everything at this point, so, and that’s like a big crux of what is happening in Xenoblade 3, is you are intended to kind of, okay, you have a basic attack, and then you have an art, which is like your basic super move– not super move, like special move. And then you have a fusion art, which is you’ve taken a normal art but you’ve combined it with another art that you’ve mastered from another class, so now when you–
Eric: Like, the good example is you have a ground slam, right? It just hits the ground, does an AOE damage, great, good stuff. But say you’ve mastered a medic class, and so now you can fusion art a heal onto that ground slam, so when you ground slam, it also heals everybody in an AOE around you. And that’s kind of the basis of what their class system and battle system does, [Nerium sighs] is it encourages you to like have everybody branch out into different things and then come up with these really cool ability combinations [John: “Hybrids”] that are then going to like feed into longer, more interesting combos over time.
Nerium: God. Ugh!
John: It’s good. Yeah, it’s good stuff.
Imran: I love that the last few weeks have just been like someone describing a game, Nere, and you’re like, “God damnit!” [laughter]
Nerium: Yeah! I did it to Jan, and now it’s happening to me. It’s fucking karma.
Imran: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Nerium: It sucks.
Nerium: ‘Cause I’ve got like, I’m working on– thankfully, I think No Man’s Sky is a little bit, you know, to bed right now, ’cause it’s just running through that event, but I’ve got that. I’ve got Warframe stuff to play.
Nerium: I’ve got– I want to play Total War: Warhammer III. They got that Immortal Empires expansion coming out sometime in the near future. I’ve got Final Fantasy to catch up on, ’cause they got that patch coming out.
Nerium: I got Live A Live. I’ve got this. I want to play that Into the Breach DLC. There’s that like Mortuary Assistant horror game looks really cool. God! There’s just– it’s just nonstop. It’s everywhere.
Imran: Guess what, motherfucker? It never ends! [laughter]
Nerium: It never ends!
John: Never ends.
Nerium: Just keeps going.
Eric: But Xenoblade has auto save and quick save and save just about anywhere, and…
John: Yeah. Yeah, it’s really nice.
Eric: It’s like the benefit. I actually think I wouldn’t like this game as much if I was playing on Steam or on my PlayStation, because [“Yeah”] I love being able to just pick up, play it, play it on my couch, play it in bed. I was watching the Evo Top 8s and playing a bunch of Xenoblade during all of that.
John: Mm, yeah.
Eric: And like, it has ups and downs and a lot of moments where you can be like, okay, something like story is happening. I’m going to put it in my dock and play it on the TV. And now like, [John: “Right”] I’m just running around doing collectible quests, so I’m gonna put something on while I play this or whatever.
Nerium: Spoken like somebody who doesn’t own a Steam Deck yet. [laughter]
Eric: Hey, I have a Steam Deck. I have a Steam Deck.
Nerium: Oh, yeah?
Eric: Let me tell you: that bad boy can play a whole lot of old video games. [laughter]
John: Yes, it can.
Eric: And that’s all we’re gonna say about that right now. [laughter]
John: It sure can.
Nerium: Googling Xenoblade Chronicles X emulation.
John: [laughs] Yeah. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 also has a hit F to pay respects button, which I think is great.
John: You’ll find dead people on the battlefield all the time, and you need to go over and flute their souls home. [Nerium laughs] You just like…
Imran: You need to play ’em off. Yeah.
John: Just play ’em off. It’s very Yuna Final Fantasy X kind of stuff.
Nerium: Yeah, I was gonna say.
John: Which I think is kind of fun.
John: The overworld exploration stuff is really fun. I do think it is pretty funny that you just see this like, what looks like a blanket of stars, and it’s just all the little flat 2D texture collectables that you can just run into. [laughs]
Imran: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
John: It’s very, very funny. I think the menuing in Xenoblade– this is so small, but it’s like, I think the menus in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 are way better than 1 and 2.
John: So there’s just a lot of like quality of life stuff that I think is much better in 3 than 1 and 2. I’ve played 1 most recently, on the Switch, and just a lot of just big improvements there, so. This game is very cool.
John: Like, I picked it up this week, and I knew I was gonna play it. I intended to play it on my cruise, however, the internet on the ship was so bad, my Switch could not even say, “Hey, we’re gonna check to see if you can play this game that you pre-ordered.”
John: Couldn’t even do that.
Eric: Oh no.
John: So I didn’t play the game until I got back. Picked it up just so I could really talk about it on this show, but now I’m kind of like, oh, I might like see this through, which is like pretty rare for me in the middle of a year to just like play something from start to finish, honestly. It’s pretty rare for me.
Nerium: Especially something that is 90 hours long.
John: Yeah. But this is one of those games that I, you know, kind of like Elden Ring. I’m like, okay, I think I’m really gonna stick this thing out, so.
John: Yeah, it’s really good. So, pick it up if you’re like even remotely interested in the other games in the series or are interested in them but maybe you didn’t even like the first two. I would say, like, they’ve done enough stuff in 3 to maybe compel you to change your mind on this series, but it’s very, very good. It’s probably the best thing they’ve made, maybe ever. I think it’s very good.
Nerium: Mm. Interesting.
Imran: Again, they just kind of keep improving, which is fantastic.
Imran: Like, not even tech, in terms of like game design and like, to an extent story, though I definitely can see people who are like [John: “Oh, yeah”] “No, Xenogears and Xenosaga are the top and these do not compete.” But…
Eric: Oh, this one’s got a banger story, though. It goes places. It goes places.
Imran: I was gonna say the most important aspect of Xenoblade 3 is that it turns out all my reporting was correct, so. [laughter] When I reported on it with details last year, turned out it was correct.
Eric: At the end of the day, I was right, and that’s the best kind of win.
John: That’s all that matters.
Imran: Like whether I play the game or not, I was right, and that’s important. [laughter]
Nerium: Mm-hmm. That’s, yeah, I think that’s what we all wanted to come here together and say together as a crew, was to say Imran was right. [“Mm-hmm, mm-hmm”]
John: You know, they have that famous copy of Okami on Wii with the IGN watermark on it.
John: I think we really need like a boxed copy of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 [Nerium: “Mm”] with Imran saying “I was right” on the back of the box or something. [Imran laughs] No context, absolutely none. Yeah.
Imran: Was it worth getting blacklisted by Nintendo? Who can say? But whatever. [laughter]
John: Who can say?
Nerium: Whatever. Nintendo wasn’t sending us games early anyway. [laughter] All right. We should wrap up. That was a pretty fruitful conversation, I think, especially since Imran was right, [“Mm-hmm”] but Eric, thank you so much for being on with us.
Eric: Absolutely. It was a joy. I always love coming on this podcast and talking with y’all folks and especially about a game that I have honestly had to just turn around and be like, well, Monolith Soft good, Xenoblade Chronicles good, I am a stan now.
Eric: I admit defeat.
Imran: So Normandy FM, the entire Xenoblade series when?
John: Oh, wow.
Eric: Oh, no, Ken– I have to make Ken play Fallout New Vegas first. That’s the most important part.
Eric: I am so close to cracking that topic with him. It will happen, eventually. Give it time.
John: I think Ken’s gonna really like that game.
Nerium: Yeah, same.
Eric: He likes Cyberpunk, [John: “Yeah”] and I’ve been trying to tell him that if you like Cyberpunk, Fallout New Vegas does everything that game does better than Cyberpunk.
John: Way better. Yep.
Nerium: Did it eight years ago, 10 years ago, whatever.
John: Uh huh. Yeah.
Imran: Not broken and not badly written.
Eric: Well, I don’t know about the broken part.
Nerium: Well, maybe a little broken sometimes. [laughter]
Eric: It’s funny broken.
Imran: Okay. Broken, but can be fixed.
John: Oh, oh, like literally playable, yeah.
Nerium: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
John: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Nerium: Oh, I love that idea. Eric, if you need me to be your like spy on the inside getting Ken to play New Vegas. He would love New Vegas.
Imran: By “spy on the inside,” means we’re Ken’s bosses. We can just say, [laughter] “Hey, we’re gonna do a lot of Fallout New Vegas news soon.”
John: Yeah, you’re on the New Vegas beat, Ken. [laughter]
Eric: Just drop it in casual conversation, you know?
Imran: We’re gonna launch our New Vegas vertical.
Eric: Finally. [laughter]
Nerium: Buy him a sandwich for lunch that day, and it’s just got wad of cash in it that says, “Play Fallout New Vegas.” [laughter]
John: Hey, we bought you thebloatfly dot com.
John: Now it’s just the Final Fantasy– I mean, it’s just the New Vegas vertical.
Eric: This is our new mascot, Mr. House.
Imran: We need you to interview Matthew Perry, so… [laughter]
John: Oh my God, please.
Nerium: Fuck. All right. We’ve really gotta wrap it up after that. I can’t go on. [clears throat] But before we wrap on up, I’m just gonna say real quick that you can find me on Twitter @neriumstrom. You can find Eric van Allen where?
Eric: You can find me on Twitter @seamoosi. You can find me by day over at Destructoid, writing articles there, and you can find me by evenings and night doing Axe of the Blood God, @bloodgodpod and Normandy FM @normandyfmshow.
Nerium: Like Stripperella, you have a job at night and then another job at later night. [John laughs]
Eric: Yeah. Yeah, because that really worked out well for Stripperella and Batman and everybody else who’s done that, [laughter] so I only see good things in my future from this.
Nerium: Where can people follow you, Imran?
Imran: You can find me on Twitter @imranzomg, or you can find me at fanbyte.com where I do most of my writing. I’ve been doing a lot of Evo writing this week.
Nerium: Oh yeah.
Imran: Also go to the Fanbyte Discord at fanbyte.casa, and you can @ me, and I will answer questions about whatever you want.
Nerium: Cool. And John, where can people follow you?
John: You can find me at @floppyadult. I’m locked down right now, but you can still request me, and I might let you in. Who knows?
Nerium: Ooh, exclusive John news.
John: I just love not being perceived.
Eric: It’s so nice.
Nerium: It’s so good.
John: I don’t know how long this is gonna go on, but it’s just, it’s nice. It’s nice to just be chill, and you probably really can’t find me many other places. I don’t really do a whole lot of writing these days, and just kind of…
Nerium: Yeah. John’s actually a spy.
Nerium: John keeps it on the down low.
John: Kind of. Yeah, a little bit.
John: But yeah, you can find me there and some other podcasts and blah blah blah. But yeah, thanks.
Nerium: Hmm. And you can find one of our wonderful producers, Paul Tamayo, at @polimayo on Twitter. Paul has also written a couple of things for us in the recent past that you can read on fanbyte.com, and hey, while you’re at it, read one of my things on fanbyte.com. I just wrote a massive No Man’s Sky tips guide. We have the thing on the website where if you tweet something from Fanbyte it gives like an estimated time to read, and the estimated time to read on my “No Man’s Sky Tips Guide: 45 Things the Game Doesn’t Tell You” is 41 minutes. [laughs]
John: 41 minutes.
Imran: Oh, you couldn’t have gotten up four more minutes?
John: Yeah, come on. Come on, Nere. Get that bad boy up to 45.
Nerium: Yeah. I mean, it needs to be at least as long as an episode of syndicated television, so. [John laughs]
Imran: Nearly as long as this podcast. [laughter]
John: I want to spend the entire time that an episode of The Good Wife is on to read a No Man’s Sky guide. [laughter]
Nerium: Well, you could open that one up or you can open up any of them and just leave that open up on your computer for a little while. Click on all those little animated things that show you Final Fantasy XIV and whatever. Those are ads. You want to click on those. It makes the experience way better. And another thing that makes everybody’s experience way better is sidling on over to the bar, the 99 Potions bar. Does the bar have a name? We’ve never named the bar.
John: We never named it. We’ll have to think about that.
Imran: Let’s do that in a meeting next week.
Imran: Let’s like sit down and be like, let’s figure out the name for the bar.
John: I love that.
Nerium: Yeah. I love this.
Imran: Or go to fanbyte.casa into the 99 Potions thing, like channel, and just…
John: Yeah, what should the tavern be called?
Nerium: Ooh, yeah!
Imran: Tell us what the bar is called.
Nerium: Please send us your suggestions for what the bar that we go to should be called. Please do. Now, while we’re in the bar with no name, though, we might as well grab ourselves a drink off the high shelf, come on together, and give it a good old clink!