Review: Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
Published by Jack Taylor October 6, 2015
One of the best games of the last generation gets a brand new audience on New Nintendo 3DS.
Xenoblade Chronicles is one of the best games on Wii. There's very little point in arguing that, because whichever way you look at it, the game is a true epic of the highest quality, lasting over 100 hours and constantly evolving in many different ways. This is why, for at least the past couple of years, we've been clamouring for a portable version of the game; the ability to play such an incredible game on the go would bring so many new fans to the game, and can you imagine what it would do for the Nintendo 3DS to have yet another 100-hour-plus experience to its name? Okay, so it's a New Nintendo 3DS exclusive, but is it strong enough to warrant the purchase of new hardware? (The answer is yes, but if you'd still like to keep reading, we'd be ever so grateful.)
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is a role-playing game which takes place across the titanic lands of Bionis and Mechonis, two beings which clashed in battle thousands of years earlier. After the two simultaneously and mortally wounded each other in the battle, they entered a deep slumber, seemingly never to wake yet eventually becoming home to an incredibly diverse number of worlds and races. Eventually - as explained at the start of the game - the two sides would go to war, as the overpowering and ruthless Mechon of Mechonis would seek out to destroy the Homs and Nopon of Bionis, who would try to overcome their common enemy with little success. Your story begins a year after the Battle of Sword Valley, a climactic duel between Homs and Mechon at the centre point between the two words.
There are a huge number of people to meet during the game, but the characters in your party are the ones who'll stick with you throughout. Shulk, the game's primary protagonist, initially strikes you as a sort of tech-savvy mechanic, but is the primary focus of the game due to the fact that he wields a legendary sword called the Monado which grants him a number of special traits, including the ability to cut through Mechon armour and even to see visions of future events. His allies include his best friends Reyn - who often fails to think before he speaks - and Fiora, as well as her elder brother Dunban, not to mention a huge supporting cast list. You'll learn many new things throughout your adventure and meet new people wherever you go - and you'll be going to a lot of different places, which equals a lot of different faces.
The combat in Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is well balanced, starting off purely with the basics and giving you much more to get your teeth into as the game progresses. Stripped down, each party member has one weapon at their disposal, and you'll have up to three active party members at once. When you initiate a battle with an enemy or monster, your party members will be able to automatically attack while in range, but you also have special attacks called Arts at your disposal. Each has a different effect and is colour-coded based on its primary purpose; for example, red Arts are offence-based, blue Arts are used for healing, and pink and green Arts generally help to knock enemies off their balance. Each character has different Arts and these can be made more powerful as you progress further through the game. Each party member also has a more focused Talent Art, which has a more specific purpose unique to that person.
Monsters are dotted all around the world of Bionis, but something that sets Xenoblade apart from many other RPGs is that a lot of the 'monsters' you'll come across are actually docile. While you'll still be able to engage in combat with them, these creatures won't give you a second look unless you threaten them first. Others aren't as friendly and will attack upon sight, unless you're more powerful than they are, and others will sometimes come in groups, attacking if you engage in combat with another nearby creature. Defeating monsters gets you experience for your party members, levelling them up and making them more powerful, while downed enemies will also drop materials and items - sometimes even rare weapons and armour. Bionis has its own species of animals, including bunnits and bunnivs, arachnos, antols, brogs, and more, which you'll encounter throughout. Some are unique - denoted by a unique name - and are tougher to beat, with better rewards.
Quests make up a major part of Xenoblade and are key to your quest for a number of reasons. While role-playing games are very well known for their sidequests and fun little asides, in Xenoblade, it'll actually be very useful to find and complete as many as you can. They won't just fall on you: it's up to you to talk to the people of Bionis, including named individuals who will take their place on a massive affinity chart, chronicling how everyone is connected and the relationships between certain people. You'll be given specific quest details which might involve finding certain items, defeating a monster or a group of monsters, or talking to another person. Some quests will be more involved than others and will add more to be done before completion, but all quests will have the same end result: you gain experience, useful items, and greater affinity with that person's location. That's key, because if you have a greater affinity with Colony 9, for example, the people who live there will give you more complex quests with even better rewards.
Whether from defeated enemies or completed quests, you'll likely find yourself with quite a collection of weapons and armour, which will go without saying for anyone who's played a role-playing game recently. We've already said that all party members can equip a weapon - in Shulk's case, it has to be the Monado - but everyone can also equip a number of pieces of armour, including for the head, body, arms, legs, and feet. Each piece of armour has unique attack and defence stats for both physical and ether-based attacks - ether being the lifeblood that the Bionis lives off - in addition to other stats. Weapons and armour can also have gems attached to them; you can craft gems using special crystals dropped by enemies, and gems can have a wide array of different effects, including greater attack or defence, quicker movement, more auto-attacks, stealth around vicious enemies, and far more besides. Equip them as you like and craft whatever you feel is best suited to you, because while it can be time-consuming, it can also be very beneficial.
One of the most incredible things about the perception of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is just how long it is. It can last you 100 hours easily, and if you really dig into it - which is very easily done - it's a good 150-hour experience. This is something that's so rarely seen on a handheld outside of the greats and the classics - Pokémon and Dragon Quest being just two examples - so just the fact that this experience exists is phenomenal. To a player who doesn't know how long it's going to last, it can be deceptively lengthy as well. There's an area called Eryth Sea, which is probably the game's fourth or fifth big location, and you get a sense that you're near the business end of the game when you get here because of what's going on around you; you're nowhere near. Absolutely nowhere near. You've barely scratched the surface, but if you think about how good it's been to that point, it just keeps getting better.
What really keeps the game going for so long isn't the gameplay, as you might expect - yes, it's great, and it stays great, but it can't carry a game for 150 hours. Gameplay, on its own, never can. What keeps Xenoblade alive for so long is its frantic and incredibly enthralling story, which barely slows down, supported by a cast of fantastic characters. It's also full to the brim of some of the most amazing scenery you're ever likely to see in a role-playing game, aided in turn by glorious visuals - it's ported surprisingly well, and though it's not perfect, it still looks bloody good - and a beautiful soundtrack. There are these tiny little cracks and crevices in every single location, and it's going to take you a long time to find them, but it's worth it to come across some really fantastic places. There's a sense of triumph finding a secret location or well-hidden monster.
While the game being ported from Wii to New Nintendo 3DS obviously isn't going to hurt its gameplay or storyline, there's still the presentation to be discussed, and if we're perfectly honest, we wish a little more time had been spent on this. To be clear, we're not talking about the game's visuals, which are undoubtedly very impressive, but instead its menus and such. These menus, pop-up boxes, icons et al have come straight from the Wii game, and perhaps more thought could have been put into how they could be adapted for the handheld. Maps are small and fairly zoomed-out in bigger areas, so more could definitely have been done there, especially since some are fairly well covered by area names and the like. The game's use of the touch screen is also a little disappointing: the overhead map could be much bigger; area maps could be made interactive; menus such as equipping and items could be made much more intuitive by adding in touch control. It doesn't detract from your enjoyment of the game, but since everything else is of stellar quality, this is something of a shame.
Thanks to the fact that Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is exclusive to New Nintendo 3DS, the original game's controls have also ported across very well. Anyone who used the Classic Controller or Classic Controller Pro to play the original will be able to jump right in on this one, while it's still nice and easy for players who used the Wii Remote and Nunchuk as well. The new C Stick is used to control the camera, which feels seamless, while the Circle Pad is used for character movement, and it and the D-Pad share duties across menus, maps, and other options. This is vital for fast-paced battles, since you'll need to act as quickly as you can think, and the controls are able to let you do this with no frustration. That's not to say the battles you wage won't have you sweating a bit, but at least the controls won't get in your way.
There's so much that can be done in the game that it's certainly a very involved game, but at the same time, it doesn't take a great deal of effort to involve yourself in its ways. The main part of the game will always be your focus, but its asides - sorting out items, crafting gems, doing quests, even rebuilding an entire area in your spare time - are easy concepts to grasp and will be worth the time you take to carry them out. It can be difficult to constantly be on the ball whenever you get new items, so sorting through them all at once, or taking some time to go through and make use of some better equipment, is more than likely going to be your best bet. It takes you off the beaten path for a little while, and that's where the full scope of the game really comes into view.
As one of the biggest and most revered games on Wii, there's no doubt that Xenoblade Chronicles deserves the attention it still receives today, and the opportunity to bring it to a new audience was clearly too good for Nintendo to pass up. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is a stunning game in every way, and one that should be played by anybody who loves video games - even by anyone who's never played an RPG before, since there's easily enough in it to please anybody. It's a hugely satisfying experience and one that is more than welcome on New Nintendo 3DS, particularly since it deserves to be played by as many people as possible. It's incredibly in-depth, yet easily accessible, and that's part of what makes it such a special game; mainly, though, it's the way the storyline and characters will keep you coming back for more. It's an experience you'll never want to end.
The Nintendo Channel would like to thank Nintendo for providing a copy of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D to review.