Xenoblade Chronicles was in a really interesting and compelling situation when it released on a worldwide level. The game hit Japan first, then moved over to Europe. It wasn't until fans started rallying and petitioning Nintendo that the game eventually made its way over to the North American audience on the Wii.
It came at a point in the Wii's life cycle that hardcore RPGs of a similar ilk on the platform were practically nonexistent. Xenoblade Chronicles was truly a title released for fans abroad, and it was met with both loving and harsh criticism once it arrived.
Some of that love and hate was fair, but I'll contend that a lot of it came because Xenoblade Chronicles was so completely hyped by those petitioning and begging for its North American release. The game sort of rolled in on a wave of hype that was bigger than it could ever be.
Still, it was good. I played the original on the Wii and wound up with something like 150 hours in the experience before I walked away. I loved the game in spite of its flaws, and hearing that it was being ported over to the New Nintendo 3DS was extremely exciting for me.
And here we are today. We're roughly two weeks away from the North American launch of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, and I've sunk a ton of time into a port of a game that I already spent months upon months playing.
The good news? It holds up.
The Sacrifices of Going Portable
Xenoblade Chronicles was never a truly pretty game on the Wii. In an era where other JRPGs were going full blown HD thanks to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Xenoblade Chronicles had to make up for all the jaggies with vibrant colors and a grand sense of scale.
The good news for the New 3DS version of the game is that it's still quite colorful. Heck, even that sense of scale holds up in certain portions of the adventure. The UI looks and feels fine, the text is all legible and the 3D, well, works. The 3D isn't all that impressive here, but it works. It isn't impressive because of the texture and character model quality.
Which brings me to this game's portable problems. In spite of how absolutely wonderful of a game Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is, it's still very much a compressed port of an already stretched effort on the Wii. Colonies 9 and 6 look muddy as all get out, large battles feel like a pool of rigged pixels screaming at each other and the actual character models during cut scenes never impress.
The mechons look fine, I suppose, but that's largely because they've always been sharp, angular beasts. Everything else? It feels compressed and old. I never really noticed the framerate drag, though. For whatever that's worth. I'm not saying it's completely without stutter, but the game never felt choppy to me.
Look, if you've been with me here at TechnoBuffalo long enough, you'll know that I'm not exactly a champion of graphics over gameplay. None of us are on this site. Still, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D had to make some sacrifices moving from the big screen to the small one(s), and they are pretty darn apparent for someone who dumped a ton of time into the original.
Still a Well-Polished RPG with a Great Story
I hit you with all of those porting problems early because I really do think they need to be addressed. Now that they're talked about, well, they're out of the way. Which is where they should be for a game like this one.
Shulk's adventure is awesome, with or without the graphical downgrades suffered in a port. Xenoblade Chronicles originally succeeded because it was a well-made RPG with a unique take on several sets of mechanics.
The same remains true with this New 3DS version. The act of traversing the world is still fun, the storyline is still captivating and the threat of the mechons is still very real.
Combat, too, feels good. In fact, this was one of my favorite aspects of the original game. You approach a monster controlling one of your, typically, three party members, and you open an assault on them. You'll automatically attack with standard moves, but you'll need to select special arts and abilities in order to turn tougher battles in your favor. There's nothing quite like mastering the break and topple set in this game, especially as the usually smart NPC teammates know when to initiate their sides of combos at almost all times.
Then there are the unique monsters and looting. You'll fight all sorts of nasty giant bugs, crazy dinosaur looking beasts and a host of mechincal baddies. Every big battle and unique monster encounter feels great, and I often found myself seeking those out even more than the story quests.
Speaking of quests, do you remember how many side affairs there are in this game? Talk to every NPC with a name over their heads early and often. You'll get a load of sidequests this way, and that means a lot more gold and XP for your party. If I remember correctly, there's something like 400+ quests in this game if you dig them up. You won't be short on content.
Xenoblade Chronicles is a good game. Heck, it's one of the best JRPGs ever made. It still has that awkward padding feel toward the final third of the campaign, but it holds up on then portable just fine. The good news here is that a whole new generation of players can experience it if they missed it on the Wii.
The Joy of Portability
The greatest asset that this port of Xenoblade Chronicles has, in my opinion, is the fact that it's portable. Yes, you read that right. The biggest issues this game faces are the ones that crop up from moving from a console to a handheld, but I'd argue that in spite of the graphical loss, the portable version is almost one I want to play more.
I know that a lot of gamers enjoy their grand RPG experiences on televisions in huge, sweeping and cinematic fashion. I'm certainly not taking away that medium for this genre. It's just that when I'm presented with a massive 100+ hour JRPG complete with huge segments of content padding, I'd rather play it on the go.
Perhaps not even "on the go," so to speak. I like portable RPGs like this one because I can kick back, relax and take in the grind while I'm lounging around. It's a more passive experience, and when the mechanics are solid, I actually find myself happier with a handheld version of a big RPG than the TV type.
This wouldn't work if the core gameplay in Xenoblade was clunky, boring or broken. The smoothness of the battles and relative ease of the UI make this a much more enjoyable experience.
Heck, this even extends beyond Xenoblade Chronicles 3D for me. I like the PS Vita version of Persona 4 more than the one on the PlayStation 2 for the same reason. I played both, but I found myself having a lot more fun and taking it in at a better pace on the handheld.
It's hard to explain, but I'm willing to take the graphical trade-off and lesser sound quality that comes with Xenoblade Chronicles 3D because of the ability to relax and play it portably. I've enjoyed it on long trips out of state, during hockey games and while chilling out before bed over the last week or so, and that's all because it's been made smaller.
It seems so obvious, right? But, for me, as a consumer, I'm totally fine with double dipping on portable ports like this one because of the type of play they encourage. This massive RPG is epic and challenging at times, but I was able to relax with it thanks to its platform. That, in my mind, is pretty darn cool.
In spite of its status as a compressed port, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is still a version of one of the best RPGs ever. It's packed with content, and perfectly valued for audiences new and old.
Yes. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D took a big hit by moving from a console to a handheld. The 3D isn't that great, the c-stick support works just fine and the textures have gone super muddy and pixelated.
However, even I was surprised by just how well the story and gameplay hold up in the face of all that. This portable port made a lot of sacrifices to jump from the Wii to the New Nintendo 3DS, but I'd argue that it's totally worth it.
Having a 100+ hour JRPG that was beautifully created to play whenever you want on your New Nintendo 3DS is awesome. Even with it's problems, I might even like it more on the handheld than the console, though I'm admittedly a little weird there.
This is a great game, and you should absolutely snag it if you like huge JRPGs and own a New Nintendo 3DS.
Disclaimer: We received a code to download Xenoblade Chronicles 3D from Nintendo. I put well over 100 hours into the original, and I approached 35 during my play of this port before starting this review.
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