Xenoblade Chronicles 3D Review

As a flagship for newly updated handheld hardware, Xenoblade Chronicles is a pretty smart pick for Nintendo. It's the first game to require the New Nintendo 3DS hardware - and promises to deliver a slimmed-down version of what was arguably one of the most ambitious and impressive experiences on the Wii - quite the task.

I reviewed the original version of Xenoblade for the Wii back in 2011, and because of that I'm not going to spend a bunch of time going over the core mechanics of the game in incredible detail. That original review is still there to peruse, and the core beats of how the game plays out are much the same as they were then.

Same sprawling world - much smaller screen.

For those wanting an overview, though, let's break it down: Xenoblade impressively manages to successfully mingle real-time action RPG combat with a level of depth in customization and exploration that really makes the game feel like one of the few truly sprawling Japanese RPGs of the last generation.

Its narrative is comparatively far more run-of-the-mill and typical of the JRPG world of recent years, with protagonist Shulk cast into the role of the wielder of the Monado, a mysterious sword of incredible power.

The cast of characters is colorful and slot into the typical anime-esque tropes precisely as you'd expect, but a couple of stand-outs grow beyond that in some appreciated, significant ways.

If you're expecting highbrow storytelling Xenoblade will leave you cold, but what is there is meaty and interesting enough to built a world one can become invested in, providing the necessary pace and momentum to encourage constant onward movement through its the lengthy storyline.

Back in the original review I mused on the novelty of British-English voice acting, a result of the game being localized by Nintendo's European branch rather than by the Americans. It's a novel dub, but also one with problems. Primarily the voice cast appear to have been directed to grossly over-act - something that lends Xenoblade's story a melodramatic Saturday-morning-cartoon feel that just doesn't always hit the mark. Add to that repetitious battle cries and you've got a recipie for frustration - and one route around that in the original title, the Japanese dub, is gone here.

Xenoblade was a massive game on Wii, and some things were inevitably going to be on the chopping block in the transfer from disc to cartridge - Japanese voices one of them. It's a shame, but an understandable cut that now means it's English dub or mute. 

Combat is as satisfying as always, but on the smaller screen the HUD looks cluttered.

The previously mentioned combat can be read about in detail in 2011's review, but in short it can be summed up as something vaguely reminiscent of titles like Final Fantasy XII but with an even more action-focused bent. What makes it impressive is that it does so without any loss of the complexity that more experienced and discerning RPG fans demand.

In addition to the narrative's critical path, the game offers up a slew of side-quests at any given time.

At least a selection of these are recommended to be correctly equipped to continue the main plot, but even if you fall flat in combat the punishment isn't a game over screen but rather a checkpoint-like respawning system that's surprisingly forgiving for a game of this type. 

Forgiving is a word I'd generally use to describe Xenoblade in general - it's got that Nintendo touch of being accessible, and even newcomers should be able to fairly easily see the game's story to its end - but those who want to can absolutely dig deeper and find a deeper challenge.

Xenoblade Chronicles is a damn fine game, then. It has story issues and in some senses can outstay its welcome with the sheer number of side quests and activities, but its sprawling world is a beautiful and engaging one, and its combat is satisfying - but what about that port?

This is the other side of the Xenoblade Chronicles 3D coin - the dirtier, seedier side, one that isn't as easily to heartily recommend.

The New 3DS may have snazzy new processors that improve its output, but the screens are still lower-resolution means that much of the wonderful art direction makes its appearance in a more muddied fashion, while the impressively-sized landscapes no longer see their draw distances stretch to quite such impressive lengths.

All of the original sizable environments are intact.

On the Wii (and later emulated) Xenoblade remained one of the better-looking JRPGs of the generation despite the weaker hardware, but the New 3DS is too weak to have it retain that crown. It's still very pretty, and certainly stands out as an achievement on the 3DS platform in general - especially with its rock solid frame rate - but it simply isn't designed for this platform, with even the 3D effect falling flat in how it's used.

It feels strange to at once be saying that this is a solid, competent, well-working port but simultaneously say it doesn't quite work, but it's the truth. It stumbles in the weirdest of ways, such as in too-small text and the tiny screen appearing cluttered in busier encounters - even shifting some information to the bottom screen doesn't quite save it. It looks good, but it simply doesn't stand as tall as the original game thanks to this - and it has to be noted.

While dual audio is lost, there's a little space on the cart for a few extra features, including some rudimentary support for both StreetPass and Amiibos, both of which unlock things in a model viewer and a sort of sound test function for listening back the game's excellent score.

The port doesn't quite do the original justice visually, then - but it's still recognizably and absolutely Xenoblade. That means it's still one of the finest Japanese RPGs in recent memory, and essentially a must-play for any fan of the genre. Is this the definitive version? No - that remains on the Wii. It's still damn impressive, however, that all this has been squeezed onto a handheld - and it's a perfectly adequate way to enjoy this brilliant game.