Return To Bionis
Monolith Software is one of those underrated studios that only people with a deep love for a particular genre would know about. In the same way that movies and music enjoy their big releases that everyone knows and loves, games have Call of Duty, and even the RPG genre has flagships like Elder Scrolls and Final Fantasy, but then there’s Monolith, and even they don’t have the same clout, they’ve got it where it counts; they are distinct, daring and talented. Throughout the PS1 and 2 era their various “Xeno”-title games have walked their own path, and Xenoblade Chronicles did the same thing on the Wii last generation. Unfortunately, it came out during the twilight of that console, when the fad for motion games had already died off. As result, despite being one of the best JRPGs of the last generation, it didn’t get the attention it deserved. Now it’s back, but it’s not a remaster on the Wii U. Instead it’s the first big exclusive for Nintendo’s New 3DS. Unfortunately, it’s not the ambassador the fledgling hardware needs.
It’s A Port, Not A Remaster
The most important thing buyers need to know about Xenoblade is that unlike the flood of HD remasters we’ve been seeing on the Xbox One and PS4, this is not the same deal. This is a port from more powerful hardware to less powerful, similar to what PC gamers have seen for years when franchises downgrade themselves for consoles, such as The Witcher. The graphics aren’t better, in fact, they’re worse. There’s no significant new content or extra functionality to take advantage of power or added storage that wasn’t there before. Simply put, this is, in no way, an improvement over the original game, and graphically, is noticeable step backwards.
Having saiall that, this is STILL one of the best JRPGs in recent years, and now it’s available in portable format, which is a remarkable feat in itself. Monolith Software tells some of the most original stories in the JRPG genre, and their ambition always aims high, even if it never quite reaches its goal, a problem both Xenogears and the Xenosaga series suffered from. Xenoblade is considerably more successful in achieving its goals, with an engaging, turn-based/real-time hybrid combat system similar to the MMO-ish mechanics of predecessors like Final Fantasy XII. It’s got a likable cast, a good story, and an absolutely massive world that is breathtaking to explore on the modern, widescreen televisions of today.
And that’s where the problems come in with Xenoblade 3D.
This is the same fantastic JRPG experience it was on the Wii, with all its content intact, but it’s been noticeably downgraded by the move to even this more powerful version of the 3DS. There’s the previously mentioned graphics, which are blockier and less detailed in the effort to retain the massive scope of the game. The camera control leaves a lot to be desired as the new 3DS “nub” still doesn’t afford the same comfort or precision for camera movement as an old fashioned right analog stick. Even the 3D effect, which takes advantage of Nintendo’s new face tracking 3D merely reinforces how blocky the graphics are, and regularly gets confused with its face tracking, depending on the lighting conditions, breaking up its image in confusing fragments until it recovers. Since it generally makes the game appear worse than necessary, it’s recommended to simply shut this feature off entirely. There are a couple of new features here, such as using the Shulk Amibo figure to unlock content, and a jukebox feature for the soundtrack, but otherwise, this is the same game it was on the Wii.
As a game, Xenoblade is still one of the best JRPGs available in years, and on that front, any fan of the genre who’s never played it should buy it immediately if they own a New 3DS. As a port, however, it’s a less than stellar job, and people spoiled on improved remasters of old games are in for an unpleasant surprise. Buy this game for its unparalleled quality as a JRPG, not as a showpiece for what your New 3DS can do.