Today marks the release of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, a smaller-sized version of the 2012 JRPG that was originally made for the Wii.
The port—which is exclusive to the New 3DS—is a bit underwhelming. The interface is very clunky, and something about Xenoblade’s grandiose world makes it an ill fit for the 3DS’s small screens.
To sort through it all, I had a chat with Kotaku UK’s Keza MacDonald, who’s spent a whole bunch of hours with both versions of the game. Read on for our thoughts on Xenoblade 3D.
Jason Schreier: Xenoblade Chronicles! Oh, Xenoblade Chronicles. How you conflict me.
Today we’re here to talk about what some have called the best JRPG of the modern era, which just got ported to the New 3DS. Keza, you’ve been playing it, right?
Keza MacDonald: I have, although not quite as much as I’d have liked to. I finished it on Wii, and despite the fact that I literally just played all the way through Majora’s Mask again on 3DS with no complaints, I’m finding Xenoblade a bit of a tougher sell on the handheld. I’m not anti-remakes. I’m pro-remakes. But a game like this is tough to play on the 3DS. That said, I’m amazed it runs it at all.
Jason Schreier: Did you like it on Wii?
Keza MacDonald: Loved it. It was an excellent JRPG that came along at a time when we were all forgetting there could be excellent JRPGs. Did you feel the same?
Jason Schreier: hahaha
Keza MacDonald: Such a shock :)
Jason Schreier: I was tepid on it then, and after replaying for a few hours on 3DS I think now I hate it. The combat is boring, the characters are stale, and the world is pretty but full of sidequests that are meaningless at best, tedious at worst. Xenoblade’s only redeeming factor is the music — which is one hell of a redeeming factor, granted.
Keza MacDonald: I will grant you that it seems slightly more adolescent this time around, but I still love the combat and the world. I love the idea of civilisations emerging on the back of titanic dead robots. The mixture of science-fictiony circuit-veined caves and wide-open nature is still striking, though the smaller screen struggles to capture that sense of openness that really impressed me on Wii.
Jason Schreier: I am not sure what there is to love about the combat. You have no control over anything. All you do is watch your party members attack while smashing the A button to occasionally activate abilities.
Keza MacDonald: But there are so many strategic options! Especially once Shulk unlocks his seeing-the-future powers mid-battle and you find yourself stringing together crazy character combos to stop a huge robot from decapitating your mates. It’s turn-based, really, but it FEELS real-time, which is cool. I mean, chaining Talents... that shit is SATISFYING. You gotta admit it’s stylish, at least, right?
Jason Schreier: I didn’t think chain attacks were interesting or satisfying enough to make combat feel any less sluggish, but it’s definitely stylish, character faces aside—I love the world and one of the reasons I was able to spend 40+ hours playing was because I dug finding and exploring all the new places.
Keza MacDonald: Problem is, you can’t physically see much of that world on 3DS. I remember looking up at the sky on the Wii version and seeing a giant robot arm jutting out into space. That... doesn’t happen so much on 3DS. It hasn’t got the field of view. I also—predictably—really like the British voice-acting. It’s characterful. Makes such a change.
Jason Schreier: Yeah, the 3DS feels a bit restrictive, although at least the low resolution actually fits the screen here — playing Xenoblade Wii on a high-def TV was pretty brutal. So blurry!
Keza MacDonald: That is true. When I played Xenoblade on Wii I just wanted it to be on PS3. Now I want it to be on Wii U!
Jason Schreier: That’s what Xenoblade Chronicles X is for! So, OK, as you (and Kotaku readers) know, I’m a huge JRPG guy. But the main reason I play JRPGs is because they generally have great stories with really interesting characters. Xenoblade has Shulk, who has the personality of a twig.
Keza MacDonald: It’s less pompous and overwritten than many other JRPGs of its era, though—I remember being really disenfranchised with the likes of The Last Remnant and Final Fantasy XIII back then. Xenoblade felt like a breath of fresh air. But now, I’d kind of rather be playing the Suikodens on my Vita.
Jason Schreier: A good comparison is The Last Story, also for Wii, which actually gives you characters you want to spend time with and a love story that feels justified. Xenoblade has... Riki.
Keza MacDonald: Haha - yeah, I prefer The Last Story for, well, story, but Xenoblade for setting.
Jason Schreier: What’d you think of the sidequests?
Keza MacDonald: BORING. Really boring. Kill this, collect that, search for this, etc etc. I found I’d just randomly end up completing them whilst out exploring. At least you don’t have to return to the quest-giver to cash them in
Jason Schreier: So how, again, is this an excellent JRPG?
Keza MacDonald: It feels like a world instead of a series of corridors. It’s got heart. It’s unusual. And I love the combat. I just can’t get used to it on a small screen, because it rather reduces the world’s feeling of majesty. The sidequests give exploration almost an MMO feel - you end up checking off little tasks whilst you’re out looking for treasure or seeing if you can take down that level 43 ogre that smooshed you the last time you looked at it funny
It has a sense of freedom. Not that many JRPGs have that, I feel. What do you think has changed since you first played it to turn you off it? Is there just better competition, now?
Jason Schreier: Well, when Xenoblade first came to the US, it had been out in Europe/Japan for a while, and I’d seen people ranting and raving about how it was The Next Great JRPG. So as I played, I kept looking for reasons to like it—I wanted to give it as fair a chance as possible.
But in retrospect, I just can’t stand so many things about it, from the voice acting (apologies to you and the rest of the UK, but even British accents can’t make Shulk and crew any less wooden) to the way everything just feels so hollow and lifeless.
Keza MacDonald: I do know exactly one other person who didn’t like Xenoblade, so you’re not entirely alone. I do feel considerably less enthusiastic about it now than I did in 2012. I won’t be grabbing anyone by the lapels and screaming “YOU MUST PLAY THIS” this time around. I think it’s a great game that doesn’t quiiiiiite work on the New 3DS - I’m far more excited about Xenoblade Chronicles X, frankly
Jason Schreier: Yeah, I expected the New 3DS version to have a way better UI, too—but somehow it’s even worse than the Wii’s was.
Keza MacDonald: You can barely SEE it now.
Jason Schreier: Why is the map not on the bottom screen???
Keza MacDonald: And the relationship map is just incomprehensible... I’d forgotten all about the relationship system. I must have just ignored it last time, but then I’ve heard people claim that it’s one of Xeno’s most interesting features
Jason Schreier: Don’t you have to do all the menial sidequests to use it?
Keza MacDonald: That’s probably why.
Jason Schreier: So many better things one could do with 100 hours. The best way to enjoy Xenoblade is to just download the soundtrack.
Keza MacDonald: Xenoblade on 3DS isn’t a bad way to spend your time, but it’s also got Bravely Default, which works better on the system
Jason Schreier: Yeah, and Fire Emblem, and Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, and Shin Megami Tensei IV, and the Etrian Odysseys, and so many other better games.
Jason Schreier: Definitely not worth buying a New 3DS for Xenoblade, even if you LOVED it on Wii.
Keza MacDonald: I’d say not. If you’ve never played Xenoblade before... well, I’d still say get it on Wii. AND MONSTER HUNTER. ALWAYS MONSTER HUNTER.
Jason Schreier: Monster Hunter vs Xenoblade - which should people go with?
Keza MacDonald: Monster Hunter all the way. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is one of the best games you’ll play all year. Xenoblade is a slightly worse version of one of the best games you might have played in 2012.