Xenoblade Chronicles 3D will, in all likelihood, be the biggest game to grace the New Nintendo 3DS. We're not just talking about its demands on a micro-SDHC card's space, but a very literal assessment of its world. It's daunting in its scope, meaning we assess the promise of Wii U title Xenoblade Chronicles X having a world five times bigger as both exciting and intimidating. This port of the Wii title appears to be a marvel on the New Nintendo 3DS, too, allaying our early fears after the first trailer - last year - showed some wonky framerate issues. The final result, so far, is shaping up rather well.
We previously gave this title a spin at a preview event for our first impressions, but your humble writer has now been able to settle in for a lengthy initial sitting in his stately home or, to be more accurate, small house with a cup of coffee to hand. The initial feeling is that it's rather peculiar playing this title on a portable - especially the smaller iteration of the New system - and that's the focus here: how well does this game fit the New Nintendo 3DS?
To give some context, we've rapidly rattled through around 4 hours of gameplay - with this writer being familiar with the title after reviewing it on Wii - and played through the opening segments, messed about to complete most of the early side-quests and reached that scene in a major battle. We're not going to spoil it, but those that played this on Wii and remember the first "no way" moment should know what we're referencing. As a result we've seen most of what there is to see in the first areas - Colony 9 and the Tephra Cave - and have put the camera and performance to work.
Overall, it's rather impressive. As per the Wii title there's a fuzziness to the visuals - they're appealing in terms of stylistic design, but are low-resolution to accommodate limitations of the hardware. Let's not forget that the Wii wasn't a powerhouse, so while it could produce attractive graphics in certain genres, a large open-world experience required compromise. We're fans of the look, all told, but its transition to smaller screens is somewhat mixed.
On the one hand Monster Games - which previously ported Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D - has done an outstanding job in optimising the game for portable hardware. So far, even when taking in an elevated landscape view and panning the camera, the framerate has remained solid - in battles, too, the experience holds up. It's true that with the real-time battle system - in which you apply arts and moves - you're primarily managing resources in the form of selecting icons, but we're yet to feel hindered by performance. That was a fear based on the earliest footage, but the end result is looking positive.
In fact, the overall impression is that the New Nintendo 3DS is pretty comfortable running the game, even if the realities under the hood are that it's whirring away like Reyn's War Swing attack. Transitions to day and night are attractive, too, and there's no loss of scale or obnoxious fog effects limiting your perception of the horizon. It pretty much looks exactly as it did on Wii.
Monster Games has shown sensitivity to the limited real estate on offer, too - party icons (showing health and level) have been moved to the bottom screen along with a map, de-cluttering the top screen a little. When battling, however, arts and buffs are still at the bottom of the top screen; the text descriptions in this area are crisp and perfectly accessible, but we certainly felt ourselves squinting at times.
That brings us to a key assessment, early on. While this port is impressive and running like a charm, at times we yearn for the old TV view. When a landscape and environment are such a significant size it can feel a little cramped on a small screen, and there's certainly that sense here. Internally we've discussed whether this is an experiment for the future - Nintendo's spoken about unifying platforms in some way to reduce its development workload and be more efficient; if in the future Nintendo has a platform functional as both a portable and a console played on the TV, this may be a tentative look to see how a game on this scale feels on a handheld device. Our feeling, so far, is that it works - just about.
It's more an early observation than a criticism, and from a fairly objective stance we have great praise for this port so far. Pop a pair of headphones in and this becomes as immersive as any home console game you'd care to name, and regular checkpointing and the ability to save in up to three slots helps. The C-Stick works well with the camera - though we did seem to mess up its calibration at one point, prompting a restart - and the 3D effect is pleasant and doesn't cause a drop in framerate. It seems almost peculiar, in a very good way, to be playing such a slick version of Xenoblade Chronicles on a Nintendo portable.
We do have one other observation, and sadly it's not a positive. The Japanese dub, included in the Wii version, is posted missing; as a result we're left with the Southern England voice cast of cockneys and other accents, which are serviceable but underwhelming. The voice acting is rather clunky at times, and the repeated babbling of all characters - especially Reyn - in battles can be a minor irritation. It eventually becomes background noise, but we miss the Japanese option.
In any case, we're keen to tackle this enormous adventure on the New Nintendo 3DS; it's not a game we'd have predicted would arrive on a Nintendo portable, but we're pleased to say that it looks like a solid fit so far.
In addition to Tom's written preview, our video man Alex has rustled up some video impressions.