Xenoblade Chronicles 3D Review

Xeno Title

Title: Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
Developer: Monolith Soft, Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Type: 3DS
NA Availability: 
Digital | Retail

EU Availability: Digital | Retail
Block Usage:  28,800

Xeno is a series that has been around since the days of the original PlayStation, but it never stays in the same series.  Xenogears came out on the PlayStation, thanks to Square Enix.  It’s highly regarded as one of the RPG Gems of the PlayStation and is also on PSN as a PS One Classic.  Then came Xenosaga on the PlayStation 2, which was more of a spiritual successor to Xenogears than an actual sequel.  This lasted 3 individual episodes that released as separate PS2 games, but the same overall story.

Then came the Xeno series that modern gamers are all aware of: Xenoblade.  On the Nintendo Wii, Xeno was brought to the gaming world as Xenoblade Chronicles.  It was a different release, for many reasons.  First is that it came late in the Wii’s life cycle and an open-world (in a sense) RPG isn’t exactly the genre the Wii is known best for.  Tied with the fact that GameStop claimed retail exclusivity of it in North America, it quickly became scarce.  Still, its popularity went up very quickly.  When the new Smash Bros was first announced, Shulk, the main character of Xenoblade Chronicles, was one of the highest demanded playable characters.

Bringing the game to a more wide audience and fixing the retail problem, Nintendo decided to port the game to the Nintendo 3DS.  This was also coinciding with the launch of the New Nintendo 3DS, the new model with extra CPU power (for games that are programmed to use it).  This game remains the main reason to buy a New Nintendo 3DS, since it won’t launch or work on the older models (3DS, 3DS XL, 2DS)  So, here is my official review of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D!

Story

Xeno Story

The story takes place on top of two giant mythical creatures, the Bionis and Mechonis, that fought a great war in the distant past.  Now their bodies are homes to two races of people.  Humans live on the Bionis, having made villages and settlements on parts of the body.  The Mechonis is home to the Mechon, villains that have raided and attacked the Bionis’ inhabitants on multiple occasions.  You play as Shulk, a citizen of one of the Bionis Colonies, whom comes in contact with a magical weapon known as the Manado, which is tied to the old war.
After his colony is attacked by the Mechon and the Manado comes to him, he travels the world to track down the Mechons that attacked his home, unknowingly getting wrapped up in a much bigger plot than petty revenge.  The story is one of the strongest points of the game.  There is some really nice writing and dialogue here as well as the overall story and story flow.

If I were to compare it to anything, I would directly compare the progression and feel of both the story and the game to Final Fantasy.  Not to modern Final Fantasy, but the feel just has that Final Fantasy RPG feel, like the feel you get when you play the PS1 FF games.  It’s just got a feel that just feels “right” to me and gives me the same feeling I got the first time I went through Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX.

Gameplay

Xeno Game 1

Xenoblade Chronicles is an RPG that is another that doesn’t fall into one subgenre.  It’s an Action RPG, but also has strategy elements.  In other ways, the combat feels like a normal turn-based RPG but with free roam around the field.  Kind of like Neptunia, but more action-oriented.  It’s very hard to define as a single genre.  Let’s just call it an RPG for now, with emphasis on Action RPG mechanics.

Progressing through the game has you exploring the world in a similar sense and style as you do in Final Fantasy X but not as linear.  You run from place to place and the sections between areas is freely explore-able.  While you do have quick travel to go to places you’ve already found and discovered (a little Bethesda element thrown in with discovering locations), everything you can explore, unless they’re locked until a certain story event happens.

As you explore, story events will spawn automatically, but you’ll also have NPCs all over that will give you side quests that you can do.  While all of these are optional and small tasks, they’re worth looking into.  It could lead you to get a material you need for an upgrade or much-needed equipment upgrades.  Again, you don’t have to do any of these, in favor of keeping on towards story objectives to advance the story to the next area.

Xeno Game 2

The rest of the game will basically be spawning story events and fighting enemies, both random encounters and scripted story fights.  When combat starts, you get access to the unique battle system that makes me at a loss to define this game as a specific genre.  Enemies are set on the field already, so you can avoid them if you don’t want to fight them.  You can also sneak up on them to initiate a pre-emptive strike.  The nice thing is that the battle starts in real-time.  You don’t have to go to another screen for the stage.

In combat you have free roam to run around the area and several skills equipped that can be used for attacks and support.  Using up one of these skills will disable it while it recharges.  This requires you to switch to other skills while you try to move around and avoid enemy attacks.  (Avoiding isn’t as easy as other RPGs since there’s no dodge button)  Since there is a recharge time, you will likely find many situations where you’ve used all your skills and are just running around, waiting for them to recharge so you can attack again.

There are special skills you can use every so often as well.  Chain Attacks are one of these attacks, letting time stop and each party member initiate one skill while the enemy is helpless to evade.  The other kind of the Monado skills, which are essential for specific boss fights.  Many bosses require you to attack them enough to stagger them and then again to take them to a disabled state.  Before that you can barely do any damage to them.  This is very similar to staggering enemies in Final Fantasy XIII.  Some of these bosses can only be staggered by being hit by the Monado, which brings quite a bit of strategy to the table.

Xeno Game 3

After battle, you have experience to level up and increase your stats.  With this, you also have skills and arts you can learn.  Skills are passive skills like increasing stats, starting battle with buffs, etc.  Each person has a skill tree and you can equip one and they’ll work towards each skill as you fight.  Arts, however, are learned via story events.  Enhancing these is a matter of getting points as you fight and dividing the points to leveling up each art.

This continues for the majority of the game, while other effects will also add themselves later on, as the Monado grows.  These can be useful, like seeing enemy attacks before they happen so you can avoid them.  Over the course of the game, you will also spend quite a bit of time.  We’re looking at 30-40 hours, at least.  So, it’s a pretty long trek for a handheld RPG.

Controls

The controls in this game are plentiful.  There are features for every button, including every new button included on the New 3DS.  Both Z buttons and the C Stick are used.  ZL is used to swap menus on the touch screen and ZR brings up the full map.  Finally, the C Stick is used to move the camera.

Moving around is done with the Circle Pad and the D-Pad is used for navigating both the customization and battle menus.  The L and R triggers will let you lock onto a nearby enemy and open the menu that allows you to initiate combat.  Then the face buttons.  A and B are used in menus, but B is also used for quick-time events in combat.  X and Y and used for other features, like pulling up menus while roaming the field.

All in all, it’s a good control scheme, and the first to “officially” begin the twin-stick feel with the C Stick as a camera control.  (Although many previous titles have utilized this, like Kingdom Hearts 3D and Resident Evil: Revelations).

Presentation

Xeno Pres

Visually, the game doesn’t look bad, but I won’t say that it looks fantastic, either.  It’s a huge game, so visual downgrade was pretty much a given.  I would put the visual level of Xenoblade 3D around mid-tier PSP graphics.  There’s also a bit of blur on the character portraits.  Whether that is because my unit is an XL or not, I’m not sure.  There’s some detail, but honestly, I was expecting it to look better than it does.

The actual game engine runs quite well.  The physics engine is nice, for you can see hair and weapons falling and swaying back and forth as you run.  So there’s kudos for that, and the game runs pretty well.  There are some slight frame drops from time to time, but negligible.

Summary

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is a showing that the 3DS can handle huge RPGs.  Although the visuals aren’t quite up to the level I was hoping for, it’s definitely a must-buy for RPG fans.  If you like the Xeno series or RPGs, you surely won’t be disappointed. 

9/10

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