Xenoblade Chronicles 3D Review

The Monado's power is now in your pocket.
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Xenoblade Chronicles 3D on the New Nintendo 3DS

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In August 2011, an RPG came to the Wii that stretched a grin across the face of those who’d been hankering for a good Wii RPG as far as the eye could see. Well, in Europe at least. Thanks to Operation Rainfall though it finally made its way to North American shores and everyone in the west could dip into a whole new RPG experience called Xenoblade Chronicles. Since then, it’s been announced that a follow up will be coming to the WiiU. That news wouldn’t have been so excitng for those who missed out on the original if it weren’t for the arrival of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D on the New Nintendo 3DS.

We say the New 3DS because the original model, in all of its forms, is incapable of running the game. So while a great many people actually own a 3DS, only those who’ve invested in the most recent iteration of the handheld will be able to indulge in Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. One does have to ask though, is the cost of buying a whole new console worth it when the only game that doesn’t work on older machines is this one? That’s what we’re here to find out.

xenoblade chronicles 3d

Alright so before we even start taking a look at Xenoblade Chronicles, it’s time to take on that big ol’ elephant in the room. You know, the one that’s starting you in the face after you’ve taken a look at the screenshot above.

There are some visual issues with the game. Xenoblade Chronicle‘s original outing on the Wii wasn’t exactly a gorgeous experience, but on the 3DS there have been some concessions made to make it fit on the cartridge. Under close scrutiny textures are ugly with a side of mud. There’s no crisp detail so during closeups, even though all of the important details are there if you look hard enough into the New Nintendo 3DS’ little viewport.. Now yes, that sounds like a bad thing. When you take a look at the grand scheme of things in Xenoblade Chronicles though, it sort of pales away into nothing. Poor visual fidelity can be disregarded quite easily when the stark realization of just how sizable and deep the game is.

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Something that could only really be compared to witchcraft has been achieved here by the development team. The best things in life aren’t always pretty after all.  Xenoblade Chronicles on the 3DS isn’t going to be winning any beauty pageants anytime soon, and yet it’s a gorgeous sight to lay your eyes upon in its own special way.

This isn’t for how it looks, this is for just how much the game offers to you.

xenoblade chronicles 3d

Good things most certainly come in small packages. What Xenoblade Chronicles 3D brings to the world is a huge package of good things in a postage stamp-sized piece of plastic. All you have to do is peek around the somewhat janky corner and there’s a host of great features to get your teeth into. First in line it’s the world itself that springs into view. Within the first couple of Xenoblade‘s 60+ hour  run-time you’re introduced to the first of many huge environments. They stretch out to the horizon, bustling with herds of interestingly designed fauna just waiting to be cut down in exciting combat.It is when you realize just how huge these areas are that the reason for Xenoblade Chronicles only working on the New Nintendo 3DS finally begins to ring true. The sense of scope that Monolith Soft and Monster Games have managed to cram onto a tiny little cartridge is something that has to be seen to be believed. Each of these areas is much larger than you’d expect, with some taking upwards of 15 minutes to cross. There is a fast travel system that will allow you skip across pathways already trodden, but its best only reserved for when necessary. Using it too much is simply a disservice to those who’ve worked so hard on bringing this port to the handheld and to yourself for missing out on Xenoblade Chronicles 3D‘s greatest asset.

Xenoblade Chronicles also manages to weave a tale of a scope rarely seen in the handheld market. It houses a beautifully written story, whose beats land perfectly in time to create a symphony of  tale-weaving. Twists and turns in the plot are a surprise rather than the predictable drivel we’re so used to seeing in the lengthier RPGs of yesteryear. In the rare moments where the tale begins to run out of steam, another lump of narrative coal is dumped into the furnace to get things going again. It even manages to reach a satisfying conclusion.

xenoblade chronicles 3d

Thoughout you follow the adventures of Shulk, a young Hom researcher of Colony 9 who spends his days studying the Monado. It’s a weapon of untold power, one of the only weapons in the Hom armory capable of actually taking down a Mechon. Mechanical and twisted in nature, the Mechon are attacking from the lands of Mechonis, a titanic creature who died in battle with the home of all biological life in Xenoblade Chronicles‘ world, the Bionis. It is across the lands of these humongous titans that the whole game players out. The amount of colorful characters that populate the world go further to add strength and scale to this surprisingly huge title, even if their encouragement can be a little grating at times.

Characters like Reyn and Shulk work together in battle to take down their opponents. Battling against opposing forces in Xenoblade Chronicles takes place in real time rather than via a turn-based affair. You and your gaggle of buddies use a selection of Arts, the skills of Xenoblade, to take down foes. The system itself works surprisingly well on the New Nintendo 3DS but it isn’t without some minor problems that can make it all a tad frustrating at times. Chief among which are the issues with positioning. Many of the Arts available to characters, in particular Shulk who you could call the main character even though you can play as any party member, require you to be at the back or side of your enemies. The smaller screen can make this much more difficult at times than it was on the Wii, especially when some of the creatures are so large it’s difficult to tell their front from back during battle.

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One thing the combat of Xenoblade Chronicles does manage to do well is keep your attention no matter what the encounter. Thanks to the fact everything plays out in real time, you have to direct whichever character you’re currently controlling to throw out skills whenever possible. You rarely feel like any battle is trivial either, so almost all of your concentration has to be on the battle in order to ensure things like threat levels and directional attacks are properly managed to avoid death.

Worthy of particular mention in these combat scenarios are battles against the Mechon. Thanks to their near-immunity to attacks that aren’t coming from the Monado, your focus has to drift to deciding whether it’s more important to deal more damage to them directly with this weapon, or enhance the weapons of your whole party to give them strength. It’s a constantly evolving system that balances new mechanics on top of the base combat system with far from reckless abandon. Everything that’s new is brought to the table in a timely fashion, avoiding the problem of overwhelming the player by simply never coming close to that happening.

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You’ll also learn quite quickly that teamwork is important to progress in Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. Now of course this isn’t multiplayer because there simply isn’t a component in the game for it. You and your party buddies work together to defeat foes, passing encouragement back and forth through a timed button press. It’s a good system that makes you care about companions and how they fight, but their constant praise can become a bit irritating. The first few times you hear Reyn proclaim “Now it’s Reyn time!”, there’s a sense of togetherness to it all. After the hundredth time however, it gets a to be a minor irritation that never really goes away.

Togetherness is also heavily promoted by the Chain Attack system. This fills a bar on the screen, with three smaller segments within it. One of these can be used to either revive a downed comrade or warn them of incoming attacks (a special power which the Monado grants it user) while all three can be activated to let off a string of precision attacks. These are vital when taking on the game’s more powerful and threatening enemies, but using them in normal combat isn’t exactly a waste of time either as the whole thing refills quicker than you might think.

Some minor technical issues do keep Xenoblade Chronicles back from being a must-have game on the New Nintendo 3DS. For no apparent reason, enemies will disappear from view before or even during combat. Luckily this is a rare occurrence, but it’s still a gripe that holds Xenoblade back. You should also never, ever turn on the game’s 3D setting. There’s a novelty to enjoying one of the best games to hit the Wii in steroscopic 3D, that cannot be denied. But, it does slash at the game’s already struggling graphical fidelity, while not being all that noticeable unless you’re reading the text pop ups on screen.

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These few problems can be put to one side though since Xenoblade Chronicles 3D stands out on its own over almost everything available on the 3DS. It is, without a doubt, one of the largest and most spectacular RPG available now on the Nintendo 3DS. Those who’ve bought a New Nintendo 3DS will already be eyeing this game and so they should, because it is worth the cost for something this grand on a handheld. If you’re looking at it and considering buying a New Nintendo 3DS just for Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, maybe go back and think long on it. This is great, but it’s not the killer app that it should have been for the updated handheld.

Take up the Monado and put down the Mechon who dare to stand against you, you are Bionis’ only hope in this expansive, spectacular handheld RPG.

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Chris Jecks
Chris Jecks has been covering the games industry for over eight years. He typically covers new releases, FIFA, Fortnite, any good shooters, and loves nothing more than a good Pro Clubs session with the lads. Chris has a History degree from the University of Central Lancashire. He spends his days eagerly awaiting the release of BioShock 4.