Dwarfed by the scale of the world that surrounds you, 2011’s Xenoblade Chronicles had defied expectation to become a landmark technical accomplishment on Wii. As other consoles prepared players to hunt dragons across Skyrim’s snowy plains, Monolith Soft placed us in a world in which warrior machines threaten the existence of races inhabiting the rusty hulks of titans left dormant Eons ago – the Bionis, and the Mechonis.
Now awaiting to be discovered by a new audience as a New Nintendo 3DS exclusive, Monster Games have carefully created a faithful port in Xenoblade Chronicles 3D – a welcome return for one of last generation’s most stirring and innovative additions to the genre.
We pick up this sweeping sci-fi tale a year in the past, with players witnessing the Mechon’s brutal assault on the Homs – hell-bent on slaying every man, woman and child that crossed their path. It is the heroic Dunban that turns the tide, wielding the Monado – a legendary sword that mercilessly fells their armour clad invaders. His body ravaged by the blade’s energy, one final attack allowed him to obliterate all remaining Mechon in a torrent of light. Although their victory was short lived.
Back in the present day, a new story begins with wide-eyed Shulk and his oldest friend Reyn. A rather peaceful opening setting your adventure in motion, before the Mechon launch a surprise attack on Colony 9 that lays waste to much of their hometown. When the Monado repeatedly overwhelm’s Dunban in his weakened state, Shulk wields the sword to which he discovers he is unexpectedly attuned to – unlocking the power of foresight, an ability that lets him see future events and an enemy’s fatal attacks in advance.
Unravelling the mysteries surrounding the Monado largely spurs your quest onward, which otherwise sees Shulk, and friends rallied to his cause, on a revenge mission in taking the fight back to the Mechon. That quest will see you journey across the Bionis, the hulk’s expanse awaiting exploration as you trek across the sizeable regions that divide it. Environmental design is key to much of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D’s wonder, open landscapes filled with creatures both towering and small that breath life into your adventure.
Player freedom will allow you to approach the game however you wish. While it is entirely possible to progress through chunks of story events at a time, you will inevitably need to begin completing the countless side quests that fill your log. Whether hunting specified enemies, collecting resources or delivering items, these are mostly standard fare for the genre, with tackling them becoming a necessity for their experience, items and monetary rewards. By Monolith Soft’s own admission, the log can begin to feel clogged and many may eventually turn to Google for welcome direction. But a smart decision that saves time sees the quest rewards immediately delivered upon completion, no longer making you return to whomever raised the initial request.
Your pursuit of any available goal is similarly encouraged by the ease in which you can fast travel between Landmarks, locations awaiting discovery in every area that reward you with additional experience. That there are multiple landmarks in each region only expedites your questing, and, while already useful on Wii, comes into its own with the shorter play session traditionally associated with playing on a portable handheld.
As with any RPG the battle system is integral to the experience, and Xenoblade Chronicles 3D doesn’t disappoint. Enemies roam the landscapes that you scurry across, and are steadily levelled to help you strengthen your party from start to finish. You’re free to engage as necessary, and, while you are entirely free to run past, it is easy to evaluate your odds of defeating them. Enemy levels are displayed once highlighted, Monolith Soft placing some insurmountable creatures in early areas to strike fear into your underpowered party. These displays are colour coded to present your chances of success, ranging from Easy (Grey) through to Danger (Red), and certain enemies have sensory triggers that see them attack you on sight or hear your nearby footsteps.
That in itself will keep you on your guard, but any battle scenario will see your chosen party of three begin their dance of death with any foes entering the fray. You’re only ever in control of one character, with your AI controlled party members sharing the burden of securing victory. Auto-attack sees you steadily slash away at your targeted enemy’s health, but a displayed Battle Palette will let you select any Arts, Talent Arts and, for Shulk, Monado powers that can sway the battle in your favour. Whether dealing extra damage, casting buffs, inflicting status effects or health recovery, characters steadily learn more throughout the course of the game, and each can themselves be permanently levelled by spending any earned AP.
Enemies can be made vulnerable by using certain Arts to in turn inflict Break, before exposing them with Topple, and then Daze to slow their recovery. This is a three-pronged recipe for success that will let you deal extra damage, and the party AI is reliant enough to help out with such chain as necessary.
The Monado is not only integral to the game’s storyline, but equally in combat. Shulk can forsee any devastating attacks and warn his companions, directing them to defend or heal to help avert being obliterated. The legendary sword also hides its own powers, be that dealing a mighty strike, allowing your party to damage Mechon, or removing auras that enemy’s may activate. New powers unlock as you progress through the storyline, presenting new situations to overcome in battle.
Battles continue to deepen with aggro taken into account, with monsters targeting whichever party member poses the greatest threat to them. Whereas your party’s tension is measured, success raising their spirits to score more critical hits and charge the Party Gauge – three visible blue bars. These are vital, one bar being required to revive an incapacitated party member, while expending all three will let you unleash a chain attack that lets you temporarily directly unleash each character’s Arts in turn.
Falling in battle is never a concern either, with players transported to the nearest landmark that they recently passed. This lets you re-evaluate your strategy, or grind your party’s level upward to increase your chances. Weapons and armour can be collected or purchased to improve each character’s stats, while changing their appearance. Whereas Gems can be installed to grant additional stat boosts, with a crafting system letting you construct them anew.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D packs plenty of content to while away the hours, although there’s understandably been some restrictions in Monster Games successfully porting it to the New Nintendo 3DS hardware. The Japanese voice over being cut came as a disappointment, leaving you with the overenthusiastic English cast being the only choice. It isn’t filled with poor performances – Doctor Who’s Jenna Coleman voicing Melia Antiqua – but the localised script is cringeworthy in places, predominantly with Shulk’s now infamous “I’m really feeling it!” battle cries.
Everything else performs admirably, although in denser environments such as Makna Forest there’s notable object pop-in as the hardware tries to keep up with loading assets. Graphical quality has been partly reduced in comparison to Wii but, in large part, this means that draw distances are unaffected – with players sure to be impressed at the vast world displayed before them. It is stereoscopic 3D that impresses most, enhanced by the revised hardware’s “super-stable 3D,” that helps heighten the sense of immersion. Whereas the touch screen’s secondary display is used to declutter the HUD, and the C-Stick lends sufficient control over the in-game camera’s direction.
The New Nintendo 3DS version is treated to an exclusive addition in Collection Mode, letting you trade tokens earned through StreetPass, Play Coins or scanning the Shulk amiibo to unlock 3D models to view or the game’s sumptuous soundtrack – which can be listened to even when your handheld’s closed, if you use headphones. The game’s soundtrack in itself is remarkably exquisite, pooling the expertise of Yoko Shimomura, ACE+, Manami Kiyota and Yasunori Mitsuda to pen rousing and serene melodies in equal measure.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D delivers a welcome chance to experience a game, whether for the first time or as a repeated journey, that undeniably helped to redefine the Japanese RPG genre. Whether to explore the world, experience its gripping storyline, revel in battle or all of the above, it’s a reminder of a game that will forever stand the test of time.