Xenoblade Chronicles 3D – First Impressions

Courtesy of the fruits of Operation Rainfall, Xenoblade Chronicles arrives on the 3ds in full form. Having missed the original wii title the first time around, I’m in the process of experiencing this grandiose RPG for the first time. How does it hold up, and what kind of experience does it provide on the new nintendo 3ds? Please be aware that spoilers for the first 3 or so hours of the game are contained here. You have been warned.

There are, admittedly, a shortage of JRPG’s for the 3ds (although the vita is bathing in them), so I was eager to get my hands on this highly regarded JRPG. My impressions about 4 hours into the game are overall favorable – the game boasts one of the largest open worlds I think we’ve ever seen on a handheld device before. The colony and the open world offer no load times – it’s just one enormous world to explore (Although a new map will still be loaded when entering a ‘dungeon’). Enough first impressions – on to the nitty gritty.

The story revolves around a struggling humanity facing the looming threat of Mechon – devious machines that for whatever reason are seeking to snub out mankind. Made entirely of metal, they cannot be easily damaged by normal weapons – only the Monado, a legendary weapon, has the ability to cleave them in two. Dunban, a hero of the older age, was the only one able to control the Monado and keep the Mechon at bay, successfully defeating them. A year later, humanity and the colony enjoy the peace Dunban has afforded them, although he has not bought them that peace for free – many of his comrades were killed and Dunban remains bedridden even a year later.

It is not long before we meet our hero Shulk, dedicated to understanding the Monado that no-one save the hero Dunban can wield. He is joined by Reyn, an old comrade who often accompanies him in his missions to recover scraps, and Fiora, the younger sister of Dunban who cares for him. It is not long before the Mechon see a mysterious resurgence and a Mechon with a Metal Face appears, killing most of the colony and murdering Fiora. Shulk watches on in horror, grips the Monado, and manages to make use of its power against his metal foes. He dedicates his life to revenge – an interesting character flaw in contrast to his peaceful, resourceful demeanor seen earlier in the game.

That extends about as far as I’ve gotten in the game thus far. So what is the gameplay like? Battles are interesting – those familiar with the battle style of FFXII will feel right at home. Your character auto attacks when in range and can perform several Arts. You have the ability to use a chain attack too, when party morale is high enough (measured by a simple bar in the top left hand corner of the screen) – this consists of the ability to execute three or more commands in a row with your whole party in tow; very useful and even required for the first encounter with metal face.

Tension cuts high – Everything leading up to Fiora’s untimely and unexpected demise was tense and powerful. Something to consider is that Fiora had a full set of skills and attributes to learn. Typically when a character is to be ‘killed off’, their character traits suddenly die off after level 10 or so (Nei from Phantasy Star 2 being one of the earliest notable examples). Kudos, monolith soft. I certainly wasn’t expecting such a gutsy move.

Exploration is enjoyable – sprawling but not confusing. The world is doubtlessly huge but a quest marker ensures you won’t get lost or lose track of your objective. This is welcome as I hate wild, aimless searching for the next “story point”.

The game looks beautiful. It’s easy to see that it takes advantage of the 256 Mb of RAM and upgraded processor afforded by the new 3ds. That said, would it kill them to add some simple anti-aliasing? This was present even in PSP games from last generation – certainly it’s not too much to ask!

Music is the orchestrated wonder you might have expected – every booming theme is grandiose in scale, accurately representing the unbridled enthusiasm the game holds for its own tale.

The voices I wasn’t too keen on initially – I was hoping there was an option for the original japanese voices, but unfortunately this was only present in the wii version. I must say they grew on me as time went on; it’s certainly a different kind of experience but they’re certainly not bad. If nothing else I’m grateful that they speak quickly – some voice actors have a tendency to speak very slowly.

That’s about all I’ve got for now! It’s a promising game so far. For a classic JRPG experience on the 3ds, you can’t go wrong.

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