It’s springtime! That means new AAA releases and new remakes of older games. We’ve got GTA5 on PC, for instance, and now there’s Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. This is the first game that’s available solely for the New Nintendo 3DS XL handheld, so that’s unique in and of itself, but what’s the actual game like?
Well, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is a fairly standard port of the original hard-to-find and bona fide cult classic that originally debuted on the Wii back in 2012 (and even earlier, 2010, in its native Japan). Apart from the miniaturization it mostly plays the same, mostly looks the same, sounds mostly the same, so it must be a duck…er, mostly the same. As before, the game follows the journey of precocious lightsaber-wielding youth Shulk and his friends to save the world of the Bionis from the monstrous mechanical Mechon.
If you haven’t played Xenoblade Chronicles (and unless you’re hyper-dedicated, that’s very likely), the closest comparison would be something like Final Fantasy XII. The combat system is reminiscent of an MMORPG thanks to automatic attacks and cooldowns attached to most actions, as well as an aggro management system that would seem right at home in World of Warcraft. Xenoblade mixes things up with a focus on positioning and timing; hero Shulk has an entire set of abilities revolving around these concepts and it’s pretty clear you’re meant to use him throughout the game. Certain skills do bonus damage when performed from behind an enemy or to the side, while others offer bonuses when performed directly after certain skills performed by party members.
Thanks to the power of the mystic Monado blade – an ancient lightsaber with a mysterious past – Shulk also possesses the gift of precognition. This has several story ramifications, of course, and it also affects combat. When a boss (and, later, even a regular enemy) is readying a dangerous attack, you’re given advance warning via a vision of the future showing the attack and its lethal results. You’re then able to take action to change the future and save yourself. This is largely used as a means of ramping up the game’s difficulty by giving more dangerous attacks to the foes and forcing you to deal with them, which is certainly more interesting than just bumping up everything’s stats.
Other characters have their own gimmicks as well. Healer and sniper Sharla uses a sort of reverse-cooldown system where her skills heat up her rifle, which needs to be cooled after a certain point; another unique example is the party’s mage, Melia, whose skills serve dual purposes as buffs and attacks. Each character is unique and the team as a whole offers a diverse playstyle.
Outside of combat, Xenoblade Chronicles offers plenty to do. There’s hours and hours of sidequests and such available. Not all of them are gripping adventures – mostly you’re killing ten rats and collecting five bear asses – but the content is there if you want it. The plot alone will run you about 30-40 hours, so you’re not going to lack for JRPG action.
Of course, none of this is any different from the original title. What does Xenoblade Chronicles 3D change? Well…it’s portable now, so that’s nice. Everything looks kind of muddy and smeared, but that was the case on the Wii to some extent as well. The soundtrack, as always, is absolutely amazing and remains one of the best in years. There’s now a map on the bottom screen, which is actually pretty handy, and the remake also offers a Collection Mode allowing you to listen to music and view 3D models. This works with the Shulk Amiibo…but you probably don’t have one of those since that’s one of the rare ones, so don’t get too excited there.
Still, despite being largely unchanged and a bit unsuited to its new format, Xenoblade Chronicles remains a classic JRPG that’s one of the high points of the genre as a whole. if you don’t have a copy on the Wii – and that’s certainly possible, as it’s one of the less common games for that console – then you owe it to yourself to pick up Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. If you do, the choice is less obvious, but another chance to visit the Bionis and Mechonis is never a bad thing.
Again, just to reiterate: this game ONLY works with the New 3DS XL, so if you’ve only got an original 3DS, 3DS XL or 2DS, this adventure isn’t going to happen. Unless you’re planning on upgrading to the latest (and greatest) 3DS hardware it might be better to dust off the old Wii and track down the original game. Keep that in mind before buying!