Just as watching a film at the cinema offers a different experience from that of watching at home, playing on a handheld is a different proposition than playing on a television. The fact is, certain approaches fit one form of play better than another. It may sound obvious, but this is a reality of consumption often overlooked by those with power over game design.
Screen size is the primary factor dictating which features do and don’t work across handhelds and console-based games. It’s this, amid all of its splendid and eventual intrigue that the classic RPG Xenoblade Chronicles 3D has either failed to understand or simply not tackled for fear of altering what made its original incarnation so great. While it remains the remarkable game that it was when it was first released on the Wii in 2011, the reduced screen size Xenoblade Chronicles 3D has been squeezed on to does sour the experience.
The sense of scale generated by the game’s imposingly large environments has been retained, as has the wider visual flair and depth of battles. Similarly, character models when viewed up close are surprisingly expressive given the limited colors and lines used to draw them. However, it’s the little details that have suffered from the transition from the large to small screen.
Icons indicating the availability of a new quest or the presence of a shopkeeper, for instance, alongside the directional area pointing you to your next objective are far from clear and easy to miss amongst the extensive buffet of other imagery typically filling the screen. The latter can be especially confusing at times, forcing you to slow down your exploration efforts in order to perform constant references of the full map.
Everything feels a little cramped and, as a result, messy. Simple visual cues that should be easily digestible at a glance take too long to figure out, reducing the simplicity of interaction that allowed the Wii original to stretch its wings and present its more complex nuances with precision and clarity.
The New 3DS’ 3D effect doesn’t help either, further complicating the issue of space by overloading the visual impact. It’s most noticeable when trying to identify enemies at a distant that are painted a similar shade to their environment. While the 3D is gorgeous during cut-scenes and moments not requiring much (or any) interaction, it gets in the way when the action picks up. Having to constantly turn it on and off is a minor problem given the New 3DS’ positioning of the 3D slider, but it remains a nuisance.
That’s New 3DS with a capital ‘n’ by design, because Xenoblade Chronicles 3DS only works on Nintendo’s latest handheld iteration. Yes, if you have an older model you will have to pull out your wallet and part with your cash. It’s the first game to require the new model by default and, as such, much is riding on its success–particularly the overriding consumer view of the hardware.
It’s a shame, then, that more care hasn’t been given to the macro details; if it wasn’t for those it would be tempting to award this experience something approaching top marks. In all other areas this is an RPG that delivers the same extraordinary experience it did four years ago. Such was the originality of its ideas back then that today it makes the majority of its younger genre peers look positively archaic by comparison.
The real-time combat system shines especially bright, offering a deceptively easy to learn set of rules that are continually enriched and diversified as you’re drawn further into the plot and up the character levels. For instance, attacking from behind can cause extra damage, while attacking from the side can lower physical defense. Later you can chain character-specific moves between all three characters, adding more depth to already intricate combat. By opening the door to new tactical avenues so frequently, and providing a wide range of enemies to test them against, there’s rarely an area or period of play in which battles feel stale or repetitive.
Considering the length of the game, some 70 hours or more, this should be considered a towering achievement. It’s a shame that the visual restrictions do inhibit some of the combat’s appeal in comparison to the Wii edition, but it’s worth sticking with it to explore and appreciate the varied action during skirmishes. It’s also worth checking out Xenoblade’s many side quests, which–thanks to some deep subplots and character exploration–are far more interesting than the run-of-the-mill fetch quests you’d find in lesser RPGs.
Similar time and effort has gone into the narrative, a tale of giant titans and warring colonies that’s rich and energetically presented thanks to a skilfully orchestrated English-language localization effort. While the voiceover work is most certainly pointed towards the sillier and more childlike end of the acting spectrum, the charm with which it has been carried out makes it difficult not to enjoy.
The style of acting provides an accurate barometer for the wider experience as whole; Xenoblade Chronicles is so unlike what most other Japanese RPGs have attempted over the past decade or so. Dialogue and character reactions rarely fall foul of the stifling conventional cliches that can plague even the most revered games in this genre, mirroring the degree to which you’re pleasantly surprised by the scale of the world and the combat. Xenoblade might have been crammed into a smaller space, but that has certainly not diminished the well-rounded and varied characterization of its cast.
While it’s an inferior proposition to its initial release in 2011, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D remains superior to the majority of RPGs. The move to 3DS has harmed the act of playing, but if you can look past the clunky signage and questionable 3D then you’ll find a game that remains an amazing high point for the genre, one that’ll absorb you right up to its glorious finale.