Xenoblade Chronicles has always felt too ambitious for Nintendo platforms. Ever since the first game debuted for the Wii back in 2010, the series’ massive open worlds and bold approach to narrative have been hamstrung by technical limitations. To steal an iconic phrase from Shulk to describe the situation – ‘I’m really feeling it’.
It’s no big surprise. Nintendo’s consoles have always fallen behind the competition in terms of technical achievement, often receiving lacklustre ports fraught with compromise that aren’t worth playing unless you’ve no other option. Yet this rarely translates to first-party efforts, where games expertly crafted to work on the hardware with unrivalled optimisation.
Of course there are some exceptions with titles like Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Hyrule Warriors: Age Of Calamity chugging along awkwardly, but for the most part exclusives on the platform run beautifully and look even better. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 sadly belongs with Fire Emblem and Hyrule Warriors, as do all of its predecessors when it comes to uneven visuals and performance. The art design is almost unparalleled, with Monolith Soft clearly opting for scale instead of stability to give players an unrestricted world to explore. But the Nintendo Switch doesn’t feel worthy of it.
While I’m yet to receive the day-one patch ahead of the full review embargo, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 feels like it is pushing the Nintendo Switch as far as it can possibly go without buckling under the weight of what the JRPG is trying to achieve. This game is blurry as fuck, with distant environments often reduced to a fraction of their full majesty as the camera points miles towards the horizon in a way that is truly impressive, but you can’t help but wish this world wasn’t holding itself back from greatness because of the platform it calls home.
The same can be said for character models, with clothing and facial features often reduced in detail amidst exploration so the game’s performance doesn’t suffer more than it already is. NPCs, monsters, towns, and other features are so varied and beautiful to behold, but too often the Switch reduces the resolution down to a pittance to accommodate the number of things on screen at any given moment. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 did a similar thing, often subject to awkward bouts of pop-in or weird scenic transitions that simply felt awkward. Its sequel is sadly no different, even if the overall experience is a smidge more refined.
Much like previous games, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is best played in portable mode because blowing this game up onto a bigger display intended for 4K content only serves to highlight its many inconsistencies. The resolution drops even lower and the performance struggles even more so, with battles amidst the open world not being too pleasant to watch unfold. It’s a rare switcheroo for the platform, given docked mode often improves games and portable play nearly almost comes with clear drawbacks. It’s a shame, because I want to play a game like this that will take up dozens of hours on the big screen, not curled up in bed getting cramp in my hands during massive cutscenes and tense boss encounters. Yet here I am, using the kickstand on my bed at 2AM and hoping the cats don’t try to knock it over.
Whenever a new game in this series is revealed I can’t help but think what it would be like on a platform that would give Monolith Soft the freedom to push itself to the moon. Imagine Xenoblade Chronicles 3 on the PS5 in 4K at 60fps, complete with additional bells and whistles that provide environments and characters with even more detail. The Nintendo Switch OLED didn’t provide the hardware improvements many of us were hoping for, so now we’re stuck playing brilliant games through imperfect means until the inevitable upgrade comes along. After more than five years on the market, the hybrid console is clearly outdated and developers deserve to have a platform that can do more and doesn’t hold them back at every turn. I’ll never underestimate the Switch, but I’m also growing really tired of it.
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