I’ve always been drawn to genre stories about heroes who are defined by their power to persist. Peter Parkerfamous for climbing out from under a pile of rubble in amazing spider man #33, was etched in my mind as a kid, and Tom King, Mitch Gerads and Clayton Cowles Mister Miracle is part of my all time favoriterites for a similar reason. So recently, at a low point in my life, it makes sense to have gravitated towards another.
The recent release of the science-fantasy JRPG Xenoblade Chronicles 3—the third in developer Monolith Soft’s latest “Xeno” franchise sequel which also includes the Xenogears and Xenosaga games – was something I was already looking forward to much of this year, but even more so after entering a month-long depressive episode which, the week before its release, thed to me finally being diagnosed with clinical depression. As someone who has struggled with mental health since childhood, games have always been a respite from my thoughts, especially JRPGs. Who wouldn’t love the chance to team up and use the power of friendship to slay a god, or even esoteric concepts like the embodiment of despairlike a power fantasy in such a state?
Honestly, that’s what I expected Xenolame as I eagerly started it—great characters, more British accents that you couldn’t shake a giant anime sword, and the chance to run around beating stuff until I go kill god. And while it’s a bit too fresh to say if that’s what I took away from it without diving into spoilers, what I took away most from it was a central thesis that I needed to hear. as I began to properly struggle with my own sanity for the first time in years.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3, as a game that can take tens or even more than a hundred hours to beat, represents a lot that is expected of Japanese role-playing as a genre at this point. You have a group of brave young shoots: six artificially bred soldiers, evenly split between the opposing realms of Keves and Agnus. Jheir world, Aionios, is locked in a perpetual war where each side kills the other to harvest their life essence for colony sustaining “flame clocks” that literally slow down the amount of life itself when fueled. They achieveThey are trapped in a cycle of conflict by greater powers and rebel against it. There are dark, cackling villains operating behind the scenes beyond these realms, working for the True Big Bad. There’s a lot of talk about friendship and overcoming differences together, and sometimes the power of said friendship allows your heroes to merge and form a giant robot gestalt called Ouroboros, to do lots of cute super attacks loaded with giant numbers. So far, so very JRPG.
But what struck me most about Xenolame as I dug into it, beyond the endearing relationships between its main characters or the thrilling and overwhelming spectacle of its combat mechanics, it was how deeply human its story of defiance was to accept, to process and move on from great grief and trauma. Noah, Mio, Eunie, Lanz, Taion and Sena slowly open up over the course of the game as they come to trust each other – former enemies become surprising allies bound by the power of the Ouroboros – and reveal to the player and their friends the hardships that marked their short lives in an endless war. Moments of vulnerability become moments of healing, as they are not only acknowledged, but specifically acknowledged as events of the past, and are things that can be moved past as they all look to their future.
The fight for a future the heroes of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 the struggle for is deeply personal – their existence as artificial soldiers in the Kevesi/Agnian conflict is defined by what is called their “terms”, their bodies designed to decay after 10 years if not shot in the fight before that. The chance to see a life beyond what was instilled in them as the point where it would definitely be over is what drives every party member, especially Mio, who is the “oldest” and just months away from her apparent expiry. Date. I couldn’t help myself, trying to get even a little respite from my own struggles, seeing a parallel. Being diagnosed with depression was both a huge relief and, rightly or wrongly, a source of embarrassment. On the one hand, thank goodness, there was something seriously wrong with me, and I could start getting treatment for it. The other, oh my god there was really something wrong with me. My joy was mixed with frustrated shame – I had admitted a vulnerability, exposed a flaw, said but not quite accepted that I was unwell.
And so, as I delved into the background mechanics of Xenolame– leveling up classes, doing side quests, exploring its vast world, and having its amazing soundtrack seared into my ears – to try and escape reconciling those feelings, the setbacks its heroes have endured time and again over the years. and as the story progressed I was left. Every time Noah and his friends are knocked down, proverbially or otherwise, they get back up, leaning on each other because they now realizee they don’t have to rely solely on themselves to persist – only together can they achieve their goal of shaping their destiny, both holistically in how they lean on each other as friends and literally in the power of their gestalt forms.
“Sometimes you might get lost,” Noah thinks in a climactic moment. “You will stop, maybe cry in frustration. But you know, it’s very good. For the endless roads they travel, so look up, face your chosen horizon, and just walk. It was a message I needed to hear even as I sought respite from my life in the world of Aionios to know where I was in my own journey with my sanity. My diagnosis wasn’t the end point, but a step on a long journey where I can stay and treat it for as long as I need, but also a place I can look back to while I pick myself up and keep walking on the road I forged myself.
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