Review: Xenoblade Chronicles 3D - Now It's Reyn Time!
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
Action RPG, Japanese RPG
Review copy provided by the publisher
Bionis and Mechonis, the two great titans, appeared in this world as suddenly as a bubble bursting, locked in single combat with their very existence at stake.
The clash of of their monumental blades echoed wide across the waters, until the very air shook.
Eventually, both titans poured their all into one final strike and — in that moment — everything fell silent.
Eons passed and Homs (the humans who live on the remains of the Bionis) continued to fight in combat with their own existence at stake against the warrior machines Mechonis.
Their only hope was a legendary blade derived from Bionis called the Monado, which has felled the Mechonis ages before. The previous wielder, Dunban, obliterated the Mechon with the blade at the price of his arm.
Two years after that is where the story picks up with the brilliant young scientist Shulk, who is researching the Monado’s secrets. A routine trip to the nearby ruins turns deadly as the Mechonis emerge again and the Homs must struggle to survive once more.
The story is rightfully epic, with great pacing and very likeable characters. The drama isn’t overwrought as it balances some much needed lightheartedness into the darker sections — providing players with the kind of experience rarely found in many JRPGs today.
As deep as the epic story filled with twists and turns is the very world of Chronicles itself. This is a fully open world title featuring one of the most layered and alive worlds I’ve ever come across in a JRPG.
The environments contain a rich diversity of geography and type with near limitless boundaries, with lush and beautiful landscapes extending as far as the proverbial eye can see.
Players have full discretion on how to explore said world; you can choose to follow the plot strictly and save any exploration for endgame, you can deviate from the beaten path often and for long hours on constant quest-hunting and grinding or you can go with a more balanced approach.
There are a few quests here and there that must be completed within a certain plot-specific timeframe but those are clearly indicated with a symbol so you can finish those sidequests exclusively if so desired.
Not only are there near endless areas to explore at your leisure (much like an MMO you’re not forced to go directly to your goal) but each town, city and the like are filled with people that you can bond with, acquire missions from and even help develop relationships between each other.
This system is called the Affinity Chart and when you speak to a named resident in an area, a new entry is automatically inputted.
If you speak to another named person and they mention someone already registered, those two people will be linked together. Completely quests can also raise the affinity between two characters who otherwise aren’t very fond of each other.
In this way, players can actually foster and develop organic relationships between various NPCs as they learn more about them and their struggles, personalities, dreams, faults and more.
The Affinity Chart isn’t just exclusive to NPCs, however, as party members also have a certain affinity value with each other. In this case, it rises based on viewing specific Heart-to-Heart moments.
Not only can you raise affinity with people, but with the very towns and cities that you encounter on your journey.
By visited various landmarks in an area as well as completing quests, you increase affinity with it; new quests will be available as this value increases and the player will be able to trade more items with named NPCs.
Monsters further add to the world’s depth, as their designs not only fit the style but also convey a certain creativity and sense of wonder not often seen in games these days. And just like many MMOs type games, both low and high level monsters coexist in the same area.
There are even Unique Monsters that float around the world, which tend to be attached to a specific quest and are much stronger than the normal variety.
Not only does this lend a sort of authenticity to the world but adds incentive for the player to be aware of their surroundings at all times.
Of course, what would be the point of all this depth and monster variation without an equally deep and layered combat system?
Luckily for us, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D delivers that in spades with its MMO-inspired strategic combat system.
The premise is deceptively simple, you target an enemy with the right shoulder button which makes the “Battle Palette.” This displays regular attack (which initiates combat and starts the auto-attack) the Talent Art, and any battle-related Arts that the leader may know.
“Arts” are skills unique to each party member and can be strengthened further by leveling them. “Talent Arts” are a special skill exclusive to that character and combined with Arts, create a specific role that character must abide by during a fight.
For instance, Shulk’s role is balanced between damage dealer and healer, Reyn is a pure tank and Fiora is purely a damage dealer.
Shulk has a Talent Art called Turn Strike, which inflicts major damage and causes the status Break, leaving them vulnerable to other moves. He can also deal massive damage with the Art skills Back Slash and heal other party members with Light Heal.
Reyn’s Talent Art is Mad Taunt, which provokes monsters to attack him and draws aggro, much like any other tank in an MMORPG. This allows other allies to use their attacks and Arts while sustaining much lower amounts of damage.
He can also use Wild Down to inflict Topple on a monster suffering from Break, making him match very well with Shulk’s Turn Strike.
Fiora is the pure damage dealer of the group and it’s her job to inflict as much damage as possible without drawing aggro. Her Talent Art Butterfly Step is a four-hit combo dealing huge damage. She can also sneak behind enemies and use Power Smash.
Even her basic auto-attack is potent because she hits twice for nice damage each strike. However, using these moves builds up her aggro very quickly, meaning players need to time when they use it to put Fiora in as little danger as possible.
Not only do players need to master the basic strategy of inflicting Break, Topple and Daze on foes, but also the mechanic of chaining. When the “Party Gauge” is filled to three sections, party members can chain attacks to inflict major damage on enemies.
This is an excellent way to chain together moves to inflict various status ailments, as well as chain very damaging Arts and overwhelming the foe.
Even more strategy is added once Shulk receives the all-powerful Monado, which bestows more Arts onto him. These Arts, as well as the use of other Arts, are vital in fighting Mechonis as they cannot be felled by normal means.
The Party Gauge has other uses during battle as well. Normally if the party leader incapacitated (by either combat or too great a fall) you are sent back to the last Landmark you visited, but using one filled section will revive the leader and keep the battle going. A section can also be used to revive a fallen ally.
This may sound like a bit of an easy way out in terms of damage output and revivals, however, the game does have a failsafe to prevent any abuse of this system: you can only charge the Party Gauge during battle and while exploring it slowly declines.
Positioning is also a vital mechanic to keep in mind, because some skills deal more damage depending on that character’s position relative to the enemy. For instance, Shulk’s Back Slash deals more damage from behind
The feature Affinity, which was discussed outside of battle, also has bearings in battle. When a battle first occurs, the player can press the “B” at the right time to achieve “Battle Start Affinity,” which raises the party’s tension (this bestows positive buffs into allies).
Then there’s “Burst Affinity”; when a critical hit from a party member connects or an attack misses, by pressing “B” at the right time you can encourage that party member and increase Affinity between the two as well as fill the Party Gauge.
“Affinity Cries” are another mechanic, allowing the party leader to encourage or aid a comrade. You can Encourage dispirited allies and Help those suffering from Daze and Topple. This also increases Affinity between the two.
Your party members learn new skills through the “Skill Tree.” Each character possess three branches representing a character trait that grants a related stat bonus, and you can choose which branch to prioritize. Not only will that branches provide a stat bonus but also a set of skills that can be learned relating to that trait.
Skills are learned this way by collecting SP from battle, and skills are learned from top to bottom with lower skills requiring more SP. There are different colors and icons indicating skill type and general effect.
Arts can also be learned and leveled up. Both learning new Arts and strengthening previously acquired Arts cost AP. Strengthening Arts increases damage output/HP recovery, reduces cooldown time and augments any additional effects.
One of the most miraculous things about Chronicles is the staggering amount of complex mechanics woven into the battle system; yet learning said system still manages to be an equally intuitive and an all-around comprehensible experience. This is aided by the incredibly fluid and simple to use UI, making traveling through the various menus nearly seamless.
Quests are another feature that represent the UI’s fluidity extremely well; once a quest has been completed, the player is not required to painstakingly search for the NPC in question. Instead the Quest simply completes and you receive your reward on the spot. Great system, yeah?
To round things off, there’s also a Gem crafting system that adds more depth to character and stat customization. Two characters are chosen, a “Shooter” and an “Engineer,” in order to create a Gem from collectible crystals that bestows a special ability on whoever equips it.
Each character has a unique talent for both positions, which affects the quality of the final product. After a Gem is created, you simple set it to an empty equipment slot and the desired effect takes affect.
The process of porting Xenoblade Chronicles to the New 3DS was quite the challenge, as the brilliant development team behind Monolith Soft had to cram a huge, epic open world JRPG on the Wii into a single (and weaker) portable system.
The results are surprisingly splendid and the title runs smoothly with little to no noticeable frame-rate drops, even when using 3D.
Naturally graphics took a hit since the portable is a weaker system, especially in regards to the character models but overall the graphical results are still incredibly impressive.
Due to lack of hardware space, only the English voice acting option is available, unlike the dual audio choice in the original Wii title. As the English version was done with Nintendo Europe, the characters all speak in a variety of British accents.
Voice acting is shaky at best and line delivery seems to vary wildly between competent and “flatter than a pancake.” I will admit that after a while, the voices did grow on me and even transformed into something charming later down the line.
Controls translate quite well, especially since the New 3DS XL possess the full array of necessary buttons to mimic the Wii Pro Controller. One issue I did have, however, was with the camera.
While the C-stick in general works nicely in controlling camera movement, occasionally it will have trouble focusing near or behind the party leader and zoom in randomly. This is especially troublesome when fighting opponents in close quarters or in generally tight spaces and you end up losing sight of foes for a frightening moment.
This was not an issue back on the Wii, which means the translation from home console to portable made the camera more sensitive than normal.
Music in Chronicles is gorgeous with some truly amazing battle arrangements, including a choice few from Yoko Shimomura herself. As another excellent addition, the random battle theme will actually change depending on how well or poorly the party is faring.
The soundtrack outside of combat, such as in towns and dungeons, is equally as grand as the battle themes and you’ll most surely find yourself humming along a bit while exploring the lands.
I could go on and on about the intricacies and details of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, or how well the title holds up as an incredibly quality and polished MMO-styled JRPG. Minor hiccups aside, there’s so much greatness in this game to expound upon.
However, the only way to truly experience this breathtaking title is to experience it for yourself. And now with this New 3DS version, said experience has gotten a whole lot easier.