Xenoblade Chronicles 3D (New 3DS) – Review
When the original Xenoblade Chronicles finally came to Wii in North America, it was one of those games that I wanted to play but was in no hurry to purchase.
Of course, considering it was exclusive to GameStop with a very limited run, that was a mistake that I later regretted as unless you are able to find a used copy at a GameStop in-store, the rarity of the game often has it going for around $100 minimum. Even used copies often run around $80+.
The reason for this scarcity (besides being a GameStop exclusive) is that Xenoblade Chronicles, along with the games Pandora’s Tower and The Last Story, were titles Nintendo of America was hesitant to bring stateside for fear of not selling well enough. Thanks to Operation Rainfall, a campaign whose sole purpose was to bring these fascinating Japanese RPGs to the U.S., Nintendo of America finally brought all three titles over, albeit with Xenoblade Chronicles at least in a very limited run using the European localization.
With the addition of Shulk (the main character from Xenoblade Chronicles) to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, many people who never had the chance to play Xenoblade Chronicles became even more interested in checking it out. And to accommodate that, Nintendo has just ported the game to the newest version of their handheld console as the first New 3DS exclusive (we have no idea if there will be others in the future).
But is it worth the cost of a New 3DS just to play? In short, absolutely. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is without question one of the most enjoyable RPGs I’ve played in a long time and well worth buying if you have a New 3DS or are planning to get one.
“I’m really feeling it!”
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D has you taking on the role of a young man named Shulk as he seeks to understand the power of a legendary sword, the Monado, and how to use it in fighting against the mechanical monsters known as Mechons. The thing about the Monado is that it is the one sword in existence that can actually destroy Mechons, whereas other weapons require (at the very least) that a Mechon is knocked down before it can be damaged. And even then, the Mechons are still capable of getting back up (in game, this is more of a story point than a practical one as you don’t have to really destroy any Mechons until after Shulk obtains the Monado). But even before Shulk gets to use the Monado, players are given plenty of opportunities to fight and experience some of what makes the game so great.
The battle system itself is really interesting as it has a more western feel to it, much like Final Fantasy XII did. The battles are essentially in real time (except for the few special occasions the action pauses to allow specific attacks to be chosen) and Shulk (or whoever is chosen as the party leader) is the only one directly controlled most of the time. He has different special attacks (called Arts) that you can choose as you move him around manually and when not using his Arts, he attacks the targeted enemy automatically. And because this game is more action oriented, the positioning of characters makes a difference in how attacks land both in favor of and against the player. For example, one of Shulk’s Arts is “Back Slash” which deals considerably more damage if used while attacking an enemy from behind the back. His “Air Slash” not only inflicts the break status (which enables an enemy to be knocked over, or topple), but if used on an enemy’s side, usually inflicts slow. All the while, the C-stick on the New 3DS works splendidly for camera control most of the time (though it occasionally has minor issues in the heat of battle).
And this is where the A.I. of the party members comes in really handy. I found that 95% of the time when I had Shulk inflict the break status on an enemy, Reyn (one of the other main characters and Shulk’s childhood friend) would use an attack that inflicts topple, knocking over the enemy and making them more susceptible to damage while keeping them from attacking for a short time. Add to that Shulk’s “Shaker Edge” and the enemy becomes dazed, making it take longer for them to recover from topple. Examples like this really make the game feel like the different characters are a real team, even though the player has virtually no control over the other party members. And while there are occasionally missteps from the other characters, typically the A.I. showed itself to be extremely smart and helpful.
What makes the party feel even more like a team is the constant interaction between one another. In a-typical Japanese fashion, the characters announce the names of their Arts as they perform them, but they also encourage one another while fighting. Occasionally, the frequent quips both before and after battles become a little annoying, but most of the time I just found myself really liking the characters. Each of them have different personalities, backgrounds, and functions in battles.
Outside of battles, there are lots of things that can be said about the gameplay. While the game length is easily 70-plus hours without doing all of the side quests, there are over 400 different side quests available to do. And unlike in many RPGs, the side quests frequently happen without having to go to any special location; oftentimes I completed side quests I had taken on without even trying. I just happened to kill the enemies needed for a certain quest. But what makes the side quests the best is that most of the time, there is no need to return to the quest giver; when one is completed you receive the reward right away. Touches like this make me wonder why RPGs didn’t do it sooner and why much of any of them still require backtracking.
One of my favorite things about this game, though, is that it rewards you for going off the beaten path. Sure, you can follow the indicator telling you where to go next for the story, but if you want to just explore and fight whatever you come across (barring the enemy is not a significantly higher level than you, though even some lower level boss-type enemies can still give trouble), the player will gain experience just for venturing off and discovering new landmarks. These landmarks serve also as quick-travel points which can be accessed by simply pressing ZR and choosing the location (for access to landmarks in the same area, e.g. Colony 9, Bionis Leg, etc.) or by opening the map through the X menu for any landmark. This rapid-travel option saves a lot of time for getting around such a massive world, particularly if, like me, you want to do all of the side quests.
“Did you see that, Sharla?”
What also really impresses me about this game is the massive environments. The world in which the game takes place is spread across two ancient titan gods (literally the size of small planets) who died while battling and remained frozen in time, Bionis and Mechonis. Bionis had life develop including the Homs (humans), Nopon (a race unique to the game), and a bunch of other creatures that feel like they belong in the world. Mechonis, on the other hand, is a mechanical type of world that is home to the machines known as Mechon and other machine-type lifeforms. And whether traversing across Bionis’ body from its (literal) foot where Colony 9 is located or on the head of Mechonis, the scale never ceases to amaze.
I will admit that the scale would definitely be better suited to a large screen, as is possible with the Wii version of Xenoblade Chronicles, but even on the small screen of the New 3DS, I still have a great sense of how huge these environments are and how unnerving it sometimes is to remember I am walking across (and even inside) the body of a deceased being. And while there were definitely some graphical concessions made to fit the game on the New 3DS, it runs super smoothly and has never had any noticeable drops in framerate or freeze-ups of any kind. I cannot honestly say that this game looks any better than games on the 3DS (because it does not), but it certainly has the biggest world by a massive amount and it’s very clear why the game could only exist on the New 3DS & New 3DS XL.
Also important to note is that despite what many other reviews have said, the 3D effect does add plenty to the game; it makes the textures look far less pixelated and adds a great sense of depth. That coupled with the New 3DS’ super-stable 3D makes it definitely worth playing that way.
“How good are we?!”
The soundtrack of this game is easily one of my favorites. Every musical placement felt appropriate, from the themes of Colony 9 and the especially grand Gaur Plains to the each of the different types of battles and the changes of themes depending on whether it is day or night. The compositions of Yoko Shimomura, including the main battle theme and the town theme for Colony 9 had little touches that reminded me of her work on Kingdom Hearts. ACE+ also composed some absolutely fantastic pieces for the game, including the very memorable and epic Gaur Plains theme and many others. Manami Kiyota also brings in a large number of compositions, including a beautiful piano piece called “Memories.” Yasunori Mitsuda, who composed for Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross (among others), even composed a vocal piece found later in the game. And while there is a bonus feature that enables players to unlock musical tracks from the game, it appears that only a portion of them are actually available to obtain until you progress further in the game.* All in all, the soundtrack is wonderful and is excellent whether played through the New 3DS’ speakers or headphones.
Similarly in terms of sound, the British voice acting from the original European localization is excellent. While the lines said in battle occasionally get repetitive, the voice acting itself is full of enthusiasm and believability and adds something different to what sometimes is sub-par American localization (e.g. Final Fantasy X’s Tidus, though the “practicing laughing” section is cringe-worthy regardless). What is sure to be a disappointment for some folks is the lack of the Japanese voice tracks as an option, something which was available in the Wii version.
“Let’s not lose our heads, though.”
Undoubtedly, there is going to be some debate for those interested in the game as to whether or not it is worth purchasing a New 3DS (XL) just to play it. Obviously, if the only game you intend to play on New 3DS is Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, it is probably not worth the money. But if you see it as I did–a better way to play an already excellent library of 3DS and DS games as well as the only place to play Xenoblade Chronicles 3D–it is worth the investment. Having a massive game like Xenoblade Chronicles 3D on the go is incredibly beneficial if you do not get a lot of time to play games at home and have your handheld with you all the time. The ability to simply close the system at any time and pick back up immediately where I left off really helps to keep me coming back to the game whenever I have a free moment. Of course, there is also the option to save anywhere (outside of battle), so if the battery is running too low for sleep mode, it’s still possible to pick up wherever you leave off. The Wii version does have the advantages of playing on a much larger screen with better textures and as it is still possible to save anywhere (outside of battle), picking up and putting down the game is easier than in games where a save point has to be found.
In the end, it comes down to preference, but if you have a New 3DS or New 3DS XL already, you should absolutely buy Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. If you do not have the latest Nintendo handheld and have either a Wii or Wii U, you can still find a copy of the original Xenoblade Chronicles, but in North America you will likely have to shell out around $100 for a new copy. But regardless of which route you go, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is an incredibly rich, deep RPG experience with tons of game time and is well worth buying.
“Now it’s Reyn time!”
I came into playing this game with high hopes based on all the praise I had heard over the years for the Wii version and the New 3DS version, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D has not disappointed me in the least. There is so much more that could be said about the game, but in short, it deserves every bit of praise it has received.
*The use of the Shulk amiibo is downright pitiful; it just gives you three tokens per day to use on obtaining either songs from the game for the jukebox or 3D character models. The amiibo itself is still great, however.