Thursday 16 April 2015

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

I can’t say I’ve played many games in the Xeno RPG series. I never played the Xenosaga trilogy as, to be pretty honest, they looked a bit crap. From lifeless corpse-like character faces to rather bland level design, the Xenosaga trilogy looked like around 60% of the Playstation 2’s typical RPG stockpile. Yes, the Playstation 2 had some great RPGs (be sure to check out those in one of my previous PS2 RPG article) but none of them were Xenosaga! Still though, I can’t completely rag on the entire series as back in 1998 I played Xenogears, the game that kicked off the Xeno franchise and a game I easily pumped around 70 hours into. Back in 2011 I added onto my knowledge of the Xeno series with Xenoblade Chronicles, a positively incredibly title on the Wii that blew me away. Four years after its release the game has finally been ported to Nintendo’s latest handheld. However, does the game suffer from the expected scaling back that happens when downgrading to inferior hardware?

 Originally developed by Monolith Soft, and ported onto the New Nintendo 3DS by Monster Games, and out now comes Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, a largely perfect port of the excellent Wii title. First off, please be aware that this game won’t work on a regular Nintendo 3DS. Instead the game can only be played on the New Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo’s slight update of the little handheld. It sucks, I know, but just keep it in mind! Anyway, the plot of Xenoblade 3D is excellent, and basis itself on a really cool concept. Basically, long before the existence of life as our heroes know it, two giants came into being and fought. Upon both landing a fatal attack upon one another they were frozen in time. Their bodies remained locked in combat for an incredibly long time, which was ultimately long enough for new life to grow on them. This new life varied depending on which giant it evolved on. On one hand you have organic life (known as Homs), while on the other you have mechanical life (known as Machina). These smaller  lifeforms essentially continued the battle the two giants kicked off all of those years ago, and when Xenoblade 3D starts, it follows protagonist Shulk on his quest to take revenge on the Machina. It’s a plot packed full of surprises and twists, and is one that is not only wonderfully written but also very satisfying.

Xenoblade 3D is an open-world RPG, and as was the case with the original Wii version, exploring the world here is an utter joy. I remember before Skyrim was released Todd Howard (designer of the Elder Scrolls series), was quoted in saying, “See that mountain? You can climb it”. Ultimately that wasn’t entirely true with Skyrim, leading to Todd becoming a bit of a meme online. However, in Xenoblade 3D- mainly due to the game taking place on two giants surrounded by an endless ocean- a similar kind of quote could actually work here. The world here is bloody stunning, and despite the largely limited hardware it was originally developed for, let alone the step-down to the New Nintendo 3DS, the world is expansive, stunning in scope and never feels constricted. Whether you’re running around with your team simply looking for rare items (and adding to the in-game “Collectopedia”), on your way to completing one of the many side quests littered across the land, or hunting down some Machina, this is an open-world game done right. However, I have to admit that playing the game with the handhelds 3D mode is a bit crap. I know it’s one of the main features on the device, but it only helps highlight the visual downgrade Monster Games have given Xenoblade 3D. Without the 3D aspect of the game Xenoblade 3D is still fantastic.

Like every other RPG in existence, outside of exploring the world and chatting to its inhabitants, the other side of Xenoblade 3D lies on its combat system, and thankfully it’s great. Xenoblade 3D instantly stands out from other RPGs that have made it onto the 3DS, in the fact that battles aren’t random, but instead you need to run up to an enemy in order to kick off a confrontation. It’s a great little addition to gameplay, and lets the player decide when they want to fight, as opposed to forcing an unwanted battle upon them. The battle system plays out like a kind of offline MMO, and anyone who has played Final Fantasy XII will know exactly what they’re in for. But whereas MMO combat can be boring, unresponsive and generally have a feeling of the combat being out of the players control, Xenoblade 3D is entirely different. Auto attacks can be initiated during battle, and though your character will essentially focus on constantly dishing out a chosen attack, they’re never that powerful. If you’re looking to deal out massive damage, your best bet is to make use of a characters “Arts” attack. These special attacks vary from character to character, and as opposed to a typical MMO-like attack, they’re controlled manually. With a cool-down period on Arts attacks in order to avoid them being spammed and a whole slew of regular attacks at your disposal, this mash-up of both auto and manual attacks is excellently achieved. All of this leads to combat being insanely complex, which through character and weapon customization only gets more in-depth.

But it’s also in the little additions where Xenoblade 3D excels. For instance, there’s a fantastic gameplay mechanic embedded throughout the game that focuses on character relationships and perception of your team. Whereas the idea of character relationships was handled in a very ham-fisted way in Mass Effect 3, Xenoblade 3D does it right. Character relationships shift and alter depending on a whole number of choices you make, such as who you fight with and what missions you undertake. Boosting the relationship between certain characters also opens up new side quests and storylines, and can even affect how a certain town perceives your group. It’s a great idea that helps build upon the great cast of characters you’ll fight alongside of. Also, another cool concept in the game is the fact that Shulk can, for very brief periods, see into the future. This ability is used throughout the storyline in Xenoblade 3D, but you can also make use of it during battle. Though sometimes you’ll be looking into a future in which nothing out of the ordinary happens, you may also glimpse a future in which your party members are wiped out, ultimately giving you a heads up of what’s to come and allowing you to change it.

Overall Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is incredible. Despite its visual downgrade to the New Nintendo 3DS, the game doesn’t lose any of its magic. If you’ve never played the original game, I’d say you simply need to chose which one you’d prefer to play- the console version or the handheld version. Both are on par with each other, and though I’ll always enjoy the console version of anything, this port is masterfully done.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is a must-have and gets a 5/5.


Denis Murphy

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