The original Xenoblade Chronicles, released in 2011, was one of the last great games of the Nintendo Wii’s life, and because it came so late, it was played by far fewer people than would have been hoped. It was a huge achievement of an RPG, too, with a deep mythology, a widely-acclaimed battle system, huge sprawling maps, and vibrant characters. Developers Monolith Soft and Monster Games have ported the game as a New Nintendo 3DS exclusive, allowing more people to play this masterpiece. I take up my
Vorpal Sword Monado Blade and head into the wild yonder to see how well this port stacks up against the original.
Some of you might be wondering why this game is a New 3DS exclusive (and yes, exclusive is right–it is definitely not backward compatible with the old 3DS). As I mentioned in my review of the New 3DS, the little portable contains a more powerful CPU and more RAM than the original, and according to Monolith, without these advantages, the game would be otherwise impossible to port. It’s existence on the New 3DS also means that the right-nub is excellently placed as the camera control—and you’ll need it.
The game takes place in a world that is a giant ocean that contains two giant creatures—the Bionis and the Mechonis—battling for supremacy. The two creatures died during a stalemate, and after millennia, new forms of life arose on both creatures. The game follows the adventures of Shulk, an inhabitant of Colony 9 on the Bionis, as he tries to understand the reason for the Mechon attacks. Adding to the mystery is a powerful, mystical sword called the Monado, which seems to be the only thing that can harm the Mechon. The story pushes Shulk to his limits as he tries to save his friends and his home.
Although Xenoblade Chronicles 3D looks and feels very similar to many JRPGs, it’s far more like a MMORPG than you’d think. The game is vast and filled with so much to explore and do that you can easily spend well over 100 hours playing this game. The battle system is a strange mix of real-time and turn-based fighting. While you are not issuing commands, the characters fight automatically. Commands only convey special attacks, and these need a timed recharge before you can use them again. It took me one or two battles to get used to the idea, and the game introduces new battle mechanics in line with the story, so it never feels “sprung upon you”.
Again, on the MMORPG feel, the game is so littered with sidequests and missions that you can barely walk a few steps without stumbling across them. Xenoblade Chronicles understands that you will probably spend so much time on side missions that you can forget where the main story wanted you to go in the first place, so pleasingly, there’s a mechanism in place to remind you.
The game is ridiculously deep, with so many systems in place that you’ll be absorbed for ages just plumbing the depths of it all, and yet the game actively goes out of its way to make your life as a gamer easier; for example, there’s a simple-to-use fast travel system in place to help you get around with ease. Some of the aforementioned depth can be found in the character relationship system that shows you how well or how badly you’re interacting with NPCs, and I’ll admit that this is something I’ve seldom seen in RPGs. In fact, the levelling and ability system is far easier to understand than the relationship system, and I guess it echoes real life that way.
None of this will be news to anyone who played the original Wii game, so how does it compare? Overall, it’s insanely close. A direct, side-by-side comparison will show that the New 3DS version has fewer polys, worse textures, and fewer details (such as the amount of grass on the screen), but at a glance, it’s barely noticeable. I had to hold my 3DS up to my TV to figure out what the differences were. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is still a graphically beautiful game. The setting is strange and alien, moreso than other JRPGs which are known for being weird, and you can catch glimpses of the weirdness of the setting in the background as you roam the lands. The sound production had a brilliantly high production value on the Wii, and this carries over to the New 3DS. I like that the characters don’t have whiny American voices, but are voiced by British talent instead. An option to have the Japanese voices would have been nice, but would also have probably made the game file much bigger than it already is.
Speaking of the game file, if you’re planning on buy the digital version of the game, you will need to get a bigger SD card than the default 4GB card that the New 3DS comes with: the game is HUGE, and if you have a small data cap, you’ll be reaching that limit with ease. For the South African market, you’re probably better off buying the game cart at retail, because the extra data cost, as well as the cost or buying a replacement SD card, means that you’ll be easily paying a couple hundred rands more than the cost of a physical copy of the game.
It’s by no means the perfect game, or even the perfect port. I heard that there was some restriction on using the touch screen, but its use would have made playing much easier. The game menu appears in the main upper screen, and you have to navigate the menu while using the D-pad. Not ideal, but if it’s a programming limitation, that’s something we have to accept. Another issue I found was with the camera control. It would have been nice to be able to add a control sensitivity setting to the game, since I sometimes found myself swinging the camera wildly back and forth while trying to find the perfect view.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D supports amiibo but only if you have the Shulk character. What it does it allows you earn tokens to buy game models and music from the “Collections” area of the title screen. You can also buy these things with Play coins and from Streetpass, but I’ve found that my luck with Streetpass a little thin going, to be honest (my puzzle panels in Mii Plaza have more holes than the plot of a B-movie).
Quite honestly, if you’re a huge JRPG, you’ll already have your New 3DS lined up and ready for this title. If I had to say which RPG it reminds me most of, then it’d be Rogue Galaxy on the Playstation 2—coincidentally one of my favourite underrated JRPGs ever. Is it worth the cost of getting a whole new 3DS for? I’d say yes, but bear in mind that if you’re not that much into JRPGs, you likely won’t enjoy this game in any event. Those of us who do enjoy them will find a game that’s got wonderful story, brilliant and vibrant settings, a fun battle system, and something that you’ll be playing for ages to come, even if the characters are a little trope-heavy.
Final Score: 9 enchanted prawns out of 10
Developer: Monolith Soft
Port: Monster Games
Platform: New Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: 10 April 2015
Age Rating: 12+