Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

In 2005, development started on a new title revealed at E3 2009 as Monado: The Beginning of the World, even before the release of the console on which it would appear initially, the Nintendo Wii. The following year, the title received a new moniker, Xenoblade, in honor of Tetsuya Takahashi, creator of the Xeno series, and it saw its Japanese release in 2010. Due to the lack of localization announcements, a campaign called Operation Rainfall commenced to get the game an official English translation and release, the game ultimately reaching North Americans in 2012. Years later, the title would receive a port to the recent New Nintendo 3DS Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, being its very first (and only) game thus far, which provides an all-around solid experience.

Xenoblade features a battle system fusing turn-based and real-time elements, the player controlling one character of an active party of up to three characters, and able to initiate battles by coming close to visible enemies in the game’s vast fields and dungeons. Each character, alongside their standard auto-attacks, can bring up to eight skills into battle, each having a cooldown period after use, in addition to an innate ability, such as protagonist Shulk’s special abilities with the legendary sword Monado, one of which he can only use at a time, having to endure a cooldown period before having access to its powers again. Sometimes the player gets a forecast if an enemy is to execute a powerful ability, in which instance they can alert an ally within an allotted intervention so that they receive a free use of one of their skills, with potential changes such as the enemy’s target.

Killing enemies nets all characters experience, AP to empower abilities (with special books bought or acquired from enemies required for intermediate and advanced levels), and points towards their three individual skill branches that provide innate effects such as reduced cooldown time for healing abilities; fortunately, even characters that die in battle still receive these rewards. In the instance of a character death, the controlled character can approach the body of the fallen ally and revive them with some HP, though it’s always a crapshoot as to when this feature becomes available. If all active characters die, or if the controlled character dies and an ally doesn’t revive him or her, then the game takes players back to the last visited monument, with no penalty.

As the player’s characters attack the enemy, a gauge builds up that ultimately allows them to execute a combination attack with their skills, which ends either when the last character acts or the player fails to press a button at the right time, again a crapshoot as to when exactly allies will act more than once. There’s also a system where the player can fuse gems to insert into equipment slots, though even with high-level gems, many bosses and the endgame, which can last several hours, can be tough, with no ability to back out to grind or save during that time. One character, however, can acquire a skill allowing him to “steal” experience points from the enemy at occasional intervals for all allies, so the player can technically grind even in the last few battles. The battle system works well overall, despite a few things not explained very well.

The interface in Xenoblade is ideal, with a clear objective at most points on how to advance the main storyline, maps for each area, the ability to teleport between visited monuments across the vast world, a save-anywhere (in most cases) feature, and easy shopping, with the only real issues being the inability to back out of the mentioned endgame, and that the game, when the player compares equipment they which to change for an ally, only shows stats afterward instead of showing current equipment stats alongside prospective stats. There’s also the poor direction on how to complete many sidequests offered by NPCs, and limited inventory space for specific item types. Ultimately, the game interfaces well with the player, with only a few aspects that leave room for improvement.

The story is one of the game’s high points, with a likeable cast of characters and original setting, with the ability to unlock special developing conversations depending upon the player’s active party, and an ending that makes the potential suffering of the final point of no return very much worth it. The translation is largely free of error, although there are some unusual and in some cases asinine name choices for characters, such as “Dickson.” Even so, the narrative very much helps the game far more than hurts.

The aurals are also solid, with an excellent soundtrack with occasional day/night remixes, and top-notch voice acting with most characters seeming to have Australian accents. There are some rare silent parts, but the audio is very much a highlight.

If there’s a main weak point of Xenoblade, it’s definitely the graphics, which, despite the game’s disposition as a “New” Nintendo 3DS title, could have definitely used more polish, given the blurry and pixilated texturing job on environments and character models when seen close-up, and somewhat lackluster utilization of the system’s three-dimensional capabilities. They still look decent, however, and are by no means a turnoff.

Finally, even with a straightforward playthrough, the game takes quite a while to beat, with this reviewer, for instance, clocking in at around seventy hours, with only a few sidequests completed, and reason to come back for more with a New Game+.

Overall, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is, for the most part, a solid initial offering for New Nintendo 3DS owners, what with its solid battle system, excellent control, solid story and translation, pleasant soundtrack and voice acting, and good graphics. It does have some strikes against it, however, such as the somewhat-frustrating endgame, some poorly-explained mechanics and sidequests, limited inventory, and that the visuals could have used more polish, but those that can look beyond those things will likely enjoy this port. Is it worth getting a New Nintendo 3DS for? Given its generous length, perhaps, since players would likely get a massive bang out of their gaming buck.

The Good:
+Solid battle system mixing turn-based and real-time elements.
+Great control with save-anywhere (most of the time) feature.
+Excellent story and localization.
+Superb soundtrack and voicework.
+Decent graphics.
+Plenty replay value.

The Bad:
-A few gameplay mechanics not explained well.
-Annoying endgame.
-Poor direction on many sidequests.
-Limited inventory space on certain item types.
-Visuals could have used more polish.
-Somewhat overstays its welcome.

The Bottom Line:
A great start to New Nintendo 3DS games.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: New Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 10/10
Localization: 9/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 60-80+ Hours

Overall: 9/10

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