If you’ve already experienced the Wii version of Xenoblade Chronicles, you don’t need me to tell you how great it is. An open-world RPG with a massive world to explore, satisfyingly fresh combat, and up to 100 hours of adventures to partake in, Monolift Soft’s masterpiece took the gaming world by storm in 2012, proving that the so-called “death” of the JRPG had been greatly exaggerated. It was also notoriously difficult to get hold of here in the United States, where Nintendo’s limited distribution strategy proved entirely unable to meet demand. Aftermarket prices skyrocketed, players cried foul, and many who couldn’t afford the high cost of entry resorted to piracy for a chance to play one of the greatest games of the seventh console generation. Now it’s been re-released as a New 3DS exclusive, and despite a significant graphical downgrade, it’s still every bit as amazing as it’s always been. If you don’t have it on Wii, get it for New 3DS. If you don’t have a New 3DS? Get one. It’s just that good.
In light of all this hyperbole, I’d be remiss not to mention that I never actually finished Xenoblade Chronicles on Wii. It came out during a period of exceptional change in my life, and by the time I’d actually gotten hold of a copy, just about the only time I could find for gaming was during my 4 hour daily Amtrak commute. Over the course of 3-4 months, I was only able to commit about 10 hours to the game, and eventually I stopped cold somewhere around the Colony 6 refugee camp. I know. I’m terrible.
Thank goodness for Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, because in spite of its grandeur, this is a game that I truly feel is best suited to an on-the-go lifestyle. There’s so much to do — from exploring the far reaches of the map while completing more than 400 side quests, to slaying 150+ unique monsters, to finding rare weapons and gear, to discovering the truth behind the Mechon invasion and the secrets of the legendary Monado sword — that the very thought of having to accomplish all of this in front of a TV makes me anxious. I’ve played Xenoblade Chronicles 3D in bed. On the roof. On the train. At the park. I’ve also played on the couch, grinding my party’s levels while my wife and I catch up on old TV seasons on Netflix. You get my drift. Xenoblade Chronicles is a game that’s perfectly suited to short-burst play sessions, and now that I can play it anywhere, there’s nothing stopping me from squeezing every last drop out of it.
And I’ve definitely been getting the most that I can out of it. For as much as I’ve enjoyed the main storyline — a conventional but exceptionally well-acted yarn about a ragtag group of heroes facing a life-threatening invasion of mechanical monsters with cockney accents — what I’ve truly loved about Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is just how engrossing it feels to explore the game’s massive world, even scrunched down to the New 3DS’s 400-pixel resolution screen. The first time I led my party out onto Gaur Plains, I had to stop to catch my breath. I’ve played a lot of amazing handheld games, but I wasn’t prepared for this. Few game worlds are as large or full of things to do as as Xenoblade’s, and having access to one of this scale on a device that goes everywhere with me… well, it boggles the mind.
Combat in Xenoblade Chronicles is another high point for me. It’s largely automatic; all you have to do to engage most enemies is approach them on the field, target them, and initiate the first attack. But it also requires some real strategy when facing off against higher-level enemies. For instance, some attacks are only effective from behind, or from the side, and it can be tricky to get an enemy to focus on one of your mates so you can get behind it. Some will target your party with one hit kills, which you can only avoid if you’re nimble enough with the game’s combat interface. Surprisingly, no effort was made to adapt this interface to the touch screen, which feels largely wasted on health bars and a minimap. But this is a minor concern; there’s no sense in fixing what wasn’t broken. Most importantly, the pacing is spot on. Combat is quick, simple, and to the point, and if you don’t feel like fighting right now, you don’t have to. Even when you die, you’re dropped right back into the action at the nearest check point, which encourages you to jump back in and try again. I’ve lost quite a few battles in Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, but I’ve never given up in frustration.
The HD generation might lift its collective schnoz at screen shots or trailers for Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, and it’s true that the graphics on this handheld port are demonstrably inferior to the 480p Wii version. Small details like clothing patterns and facial features are lost in a mess of pixels when the camera is zoomed out beyond the default view. Cut scenes and other close-up character shots look great overall, but they do reveal some low-res texture work—a necessary concession by co-developer Monster to get the game running at a steady clip on the handheld. None of this mattered to me once I got my hands on the game. Sure, some of Xenoblade Chronicles’ beauty was lost in the handheld translation, but it’s still one of the most imaginatively designed, stunningly realized digital worlds ever created.
We still have no idea if Nintendo’s planning to release any more New 3DS exclusives, or if the company introduced a mid-generation hardware refresh simply to sell a portable port of one of the greatest JRPGs ever made. Regardless, Xenoblade Chronicles is essential playing. This latest release, despite some minor concessions, sees an already great game finding a new home on a platform that’s an even better fit for the kind of dedication it demands from players. If you’re craving a deep, engrossing adventure unlike any you’ve ever played on a handheld before, you simply cannot ignore Xenoblade Chronicles 3D.
Unless you didn’t buy a New 3DS. In which case, what are you waiting for? It’s Reyn Time!
Invisible Gamer’s review of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is based both on final review code provided to us by Nintendo of America, and by the European eShop release, which we purchased on April 2nd. The reviewer played the American version on a New 3DS XL, and the European version on a New 3DS. He preferred the latter. The game launches in the U.S. on Friday, April 10th, 2015.