I never had the chance to play Xenoblade Chronicles on the Nintendo Wii. And by the time I did have a chance, the game was out of stores, and used game dealers were selling it as a premium title, so I let it go, hoping one day Nintendo would re-release the game in the Nintendo eShop download. Luckily for me, and for fans new and old, the Big N did us one better and brought Xenoblade Chronicles to the New Nintendo 3DS as an exclusive for the new handheld — the only true exclusive to date — and finally, I’m able to see what the fuss was all about.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is a true, honest to god, no-holding-back JRPG. In recent years, western developers have revamped the fantasy RPG genre with games like Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age, and JRPGs have been reduced to Final Fantasy remasters, most of ATLUS U.S.A’s catalog, and ports. Not so here.
Xenoblade Chronicles borrows from many tried and true JRPG tropes to create a compelling world. Magic versus Mechs: check. Young male protagonist with a destiny: check. A group of friends uniting to save the world for cataclysmic evil: check. A mystical, powerful weapon that only our hero can wield: check. It all comes together and works to make for an amazing game.
Combat is simple at first, but gets incredibly complicated (in a good way) and diverse as the game goes on. The action is handled automatically after the player selects an enemy, and then the player dictates how the characters attack. It’s not turn based by any stretch of the imagination, but there is a fair amount of cooling off period-juggling. The main hero, Shulk, has a bag full of wonderful, upgradable moves that the player can choose, and can even team up with his two other companions to unleash devastating tri-attacks.
At first, combat seemed almost too simple, but I was proven wrong fast as developed Monolith heaped more and more options and rules to the point that I even had the ability to see future moves of my enemy, and plan a counter before the moves was made. In fact, this feature takes Xenoblade Chronicles 3D to a whole different level.
The world, presented here, takes place on the dead body of a titan called Bionis. Bionis and Mechonis fought a battle that ended with both dying and life forming (if you can call mechs “life”) on their corpses. This adds a new wrinkle to the world at large, and really highlights the epic storytelling that Monolith is doing here. Battles are not random, as the player can see his enemy, and in MMORPG fashion, strong enemies are mixed with weaker enemies, so the player must decide if engaging is worth it. In fact, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D has an MMO feel, more so than any game I’ve ever played on a handheld system.
The graphics here are very hit and miss. The land and environs looks amazing, as blades of grass sway in the breeze and the skies, which change with the day/night cycle, really create a visual wonderland. But the character models — especially for Shulk — look muddy and drained out, a by-product of the weaker Wii abilities to process graphics. It’s a shame that Monolith couldn’t remaster the characters, as games like Monster Hunter 4 and even the recent Attack on Titan both have better character designs. Shulk’s blurry, low-rez face, with big blue eyes that blend into his silver hair, is a distraction, even when his partners look crisper and more detailed. It bothered me that the power of the New N3DS couldn’t do more there.
The voice acting and music are both very well done. The characters chat constantly, which does get annoying after awhile. Everyone speaks with a British accent (even going so far to representing different regions of Great Britain), and that helps to tell the wonderful story — and make no mistake, the story here is wonderful, full of heartbreak and redemption. The score is a sweeping masterpiece that really transports the player into the game, even if the graphics are muddy more often than not.
The game’s main weapon, the Monado, is a perfect example of how to craft story elements into the legend of an item. As Shulk discovers what the Monado can so, so do we, the players. It works here, as the combat and gameplay changes each time the Monado reveals more of itself. Its slow-burn storytelling, tied to combat, which happens frequently enough that the Monado itself is a character in the game. That’s actually really cool.
The New Nintendo 3DS offers street pass options to collect tokens to unlock songs to play in the system’s jukebox, and character models that can be viewed independently from the game. There is also an Amiibo option, but of course, that would mean opening one of the rarest of all Amiibos to use, and after much debate, I decided to keep my Shulk in his package and forego any special token drops. Maybe one day, Nintendo will figure out that mass producing the pieces that are actually used in other games should be a priority, or at least allow the figs to me used in their packaging. As time goes on, Nintendo’s horrible fumble of all things Amiibo becomes more and more clear.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is a very well done game that gives players a chance to play a game that they may have missed on the Wii, and even lets veteran XC players revisit a true classic. Even though the graphics were mostly untouched from the Wii version, there is still a wonderful, in-depth JRPG here and fans new and old will have plenty to celebrate as they take Shulk and the Monado through the epic story.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is available now, exclusively for the New Nintendo 3DS system. This review was based of a copy of the game purchased at retail.
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