Xenoblade Chronicles 3D Review (Nintendo 3DS)
I wonder how many Super Smash Bros. players turned on the game for the first time, saw this blond kid with a red sword and thought, "Who the heck is this guy?" Nintendo must have anticipated a lot of those reactions, as they saw fit to re-release Xenoblade Chronicles for the 3DS a few short months later. It turns out that this kid, Shulk, is an adept swordsman wielding a legendary blade of light, and his source game is one of the best RPG experiences in the last five years.
Porting this game to a handheld system was no doubt a massive undertaking. Xenoblade Chronicles is gigantic, hosting dozens of important characters in a massive world with enemies coming from every direction. It's so big in fact that I had to purchase a 16 GB Micro SD card just to download it, as it doesn't fit on the standard 4 GB card included with the system (so digital players beware). Despite the massive file size I wasn't sure if the transition would succeed, but this port is just as impressive and fun as the original Wii release, so anyone who decides to first experience Xenoblade here won't miss a beat.
One of the biggest obstacles I foresaw for the development team was choosing a comfortable control scheme for the game, for while the Wii version allowed use of the Classic controller, I had preferred the Wii remote and nunchuk setting on the home console. The New Nintendo 3DS' control scheme works wonders in Xenoblade 3D, doing more for maintaining a console-like experience than anything else. The C-stick is perfect for controlling the camera, allowing for easy viewing of an entire environment before setting off, and the extra shoulder buttons allow for better overall button placement. It's hard to describe how natural the button layout feels without trying it, but the game truly feels like it belonged on the 3DS all along.
Aside from the button scheme, the game plays exactly as it did on the Wii. Battles are fought in real time with characters attacking automatically until I give them specific commands, and I can unleash more powerful attacks by chaining with members of my party. All of the Wii's mechanics are here in the 3DS version, and it blows my mind how successful they were. Somehow the dev team found a happy medium on the New Nintendo 3DS, as button placement feels natural and comfortable in every aspect of control. There were a few times that I would accidentally enter a battle with an enemy 100 yards away from my party or open a menu instead of talking to a NPC, but I made those mistakes in the beginning of the Wii version too, so I quickly overcame them.
While the gameplay came through unscathed, the visual fidelity understandably had to take a few steps back. That's not to say the same still doesn't look wonderful (because it does), but resolution and color both had to be sacrified to make the game work. The graphical cutbacks are most apparent, of all places, in the character's faces. While the Wii version never had precise facial expressions itself, there was still definition in facial structure during cutscenes. Here the characters looked like they came from Ocarina of Time, their faces forced inward until they're almost flat. It's a minor detail, one that in 2010 would have been nothing to even mention, but in 2015 it sticks out like a sore thumb.
The world of Xenoblade Chronicles, however, is still as massive and beautiful as it ever was. Every single area brims with color and stretches out as far as the eye can see, making this one of the most impressive handheld RPGs available. I'm pretty sure every detail from the world in the Wii version made its way unscathed into the 3DS version, as I have yet to find any part of any environment that doesn't look as good as it did before. Now that I think about it, limiting the character's facial structure (which is only seen a few times in cutscenes) makes a lot more sense that limiting the world I play in (which I see all the time), so I have to give them a pass.
The story of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is exactly the same as the Wii version, with no chapters or scenes missing, and that is the best news of all. I once again to see the mysterys of Bionis unfold, learn more about the powerful Monado sword with Shulk and his team, and battle legions of evil Mechons just as I did half a decade ago. It's a wonderful thing that this tale came through intact, as it was one of the best stories told on the Wii, so I expect it will soon become one of the best stories in the DS family as well. That's no small task considering the magnitude of the RPG library available on the Nintendo handheld since its inception, including franchises like Suikoden, Final Fantasy, Valkyrie Profile and Shin Megami Tensei. For Xenoblade to debut and make an instant impact is impressive.
A lot of folks were displeased with Xenoblade 3D being exclusive to the newest iteration of the Nintendo 3DS, but after playing the game I understand why that choice was made. Xenoblade Chronicles is massive. The story plays out over 40-50 hours of gameplay without digressing through side-quests, the orchestral score contains over 90 tracks, and as I've mentioned before the environments we explore are unreal in scale. The updated processor most likely played a huge part in bringing this game to life, especially at the same frame rate and movement speed as the console version. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is the only game exclusive to this new 3DS to date, but it's the perfect choice for that exclusivity considering how quickly it justifies a New 3DS purchase.
Even those who have played through Shulk's big adventure before will love experiencing it again in Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. The game survives the console-to-portable transition amazingly well, with only a few minor graphical imperfections to speak of. The story is still gripping, the characters still enjoyable, and the gameplay still a gold standard in the RPG realm. I may even play through it a third time I enjoyed it so much, and I barely have time to eat a meal let along repeat a game I've already finished.
This review was completed with a digital code for Xenoblade Chronicles 3D provided by the publisher for Nintendo 3DS.