Since its acquisition in 2007, Monolith Soft has become one of Nintendo’s most prolific development partners through both its assistance on proprietary projects and, more importantly, its work on Xenoblade Chronicles. This large-scale RPG series has become one of Nintendo’s key pillars in the RPG space and for good reason – its robust technical underpinnings, gorgeous vistas and powerful storbytelling all work in tandem to create something… unforgettable and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is no exception.
With its new cast of characters, improved technology and outstanding soundtrack, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 builds on the experience the team has gained since its inception and comprehensively addresses a key weakness in the latest entry. the series: image quality. By targeting high-end visuals, something to give away, the resolution taking a big hit. Dynamic pixel counts of up to 540p docked and 360p in mobile mode have been toned down via a relatively simple spatial upscaler, coupled with intrusive sharpening. Xenoblade 3, however, represents a colossal leap forward in this regard. Monolith has both improved overall visual quality while dramatically improving image quality, thanks to what looks like a temporal super-resolution solution, bringing those lower pixel counts to passable 1080p when rendered is docked and 720p in portable playback.
The downside to this solution is that with rapid movement a visible break can occur revealing the lower resolution nature of the image, but in most cases the image quality is noticeably sharper than everything you’ll see in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – and the implementation is particularly impressive in handheld mode, delivering one of the sharpest visuals of any high-end title we’ve seen on Switch – far from the very blurry Xenoblade 2. Yes, the resolution slips to equally low levels, but what you see through the eye is noticeably sharper, that’s what matters.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 gets the full DF video review treatment, with John Linneman on conn.
The inclusion of this technique also raises questions regarding the upcoming sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – as far as we know Monolith Soft provided technical support to Nintendo for this game and this may explain why the most recent trailer exhibited such crisp image quality, exceeding our expectations. Could the solution used for Xenoblade Chronicles 3 also be deployed in the next Zelda title? We will have to wait and see. That said, this solution to anti-aliasing isn’t without its flaws – look closely and you might notice subtle image distortion during motion but, honestly, it’s still a vastly superior approach to anti-aliasing. -aliasing alongside any previous Xenoblade game, especially for portable gamers.
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Of course, there is more to this game than the quality of its presentation and I was also impressed with how the characters and the world rendered. Xenoblade 3 aims to emulate an anime-style aesthetic while retaining the inherent depth of three-dimensional rendering. Eyes, hair, and facial features are all showcased using smart visual features to achieve the desired look. The rendering of the eyes is an interesting showcase – from the front you’ll see a typical 2D anime look, but looking in profile it’s clear that the eyes are curved, flecks of light reflecting off their surfaces. Character movement is also improved, with more realistically proportioned characters and inverse kinematic calculations ensuring that the position of the feet adapts to the undulation of the ground, instead of cutting it as sometimes seen in the entries of previous series. The animation also more closely matches camera speed, eliminating that feeling of gliding over the world – a problem with the first Xenoblade game.
I was also impressed with the animation of the cutscene. Xenoblade 2 has always been impressive in this regard, but the scope and scale of the footage in this new game surpasses anything Monolith has done in previous titles, especially when compared to the first entry in the series. While typical dialogue sequences are kept relatively simplistic, key story moments are depicted with stylishly directed sequences that mostly take place in real time. I was also impressed with seeing per-object motion blur in cutscenes and gameplay – yes, it’s relatively low resolution with visible specks and pixelation, but it does a great job of accentuating fast-paced animation .
With resolution dropping down to 360p in mobile mode, the older Xenoblade Chronicles 2 had real image quality issues. A time-scaling solution for the sequel is a real game-changer for handheld gaming.
Beyond the characters, the environmental rendering is also generally of high quality but with constraints. Clearly we’re looking at the latest iteration of the engine originally designed for Xenoblade X on Wii U – this new game features many of the same design choices – but improvements have been made along the way. The world is divided into multiple regions divided by loading screens, but each of these regions is large in scale, giving the game a seamless layout. You can fast travel between areas you’ve already visited and there’s a surprising amount of variety. You’ll explore grassy plains, scorching deserts, damp caverns, and more as you progress through the game.
If we skim through the composition of the world, the first key element to note is the sky above which combines a beautifully textured celestial dome with a procedural cloud system that changes with weather conditions. These clouds are rendered at a lower resolution, quarter resolution if I had to hazard a guess, but the soft nature ensures the effect is convincing in most cases. Xenoblade 3 has a full-time system like previous games, but the shadows are static and don’t adjust based on the position of the sun. This saves on performance, but the world feels slightly less dynamic than other large-scale games – a compromise seen on previous series entries.
The world itself is beautifully represented with long view distances, reasonably crisp texture work, and beautiful art design, but it’s clear that many of the same limitations remain in effect from previous Xenoblade games. LOD pop-in is a key aspect in rendering an open world environment. It is simply not possible or even desirable to display all objects in detail when they occupy only a few pixels away. However, a smooth transition between lower and higher detail levels is essential and Xenoblade 3 is mixed in this respect.
The visual quality of this game is superb given the limitations of the Switch. This is an engine-driven cinematic shot, not pre-rendered video (although they are also used in some places). Note the motion blur per object.
Overall the terrain manages to feel solid but you will spot some rock formations, trees and fields of grass that will appear as you explore, but I still think they handled this better compared to the two latest games. It’s less jarring overall – In Xenoblade Definitive Edition, for example, there’s a sharp line between where the foliage is drawn and where it isn’t – that line stays in Xenoblade 3 but the effect is more gradual with sparse foliage presented along the outer edge smoothly blending in with the thicker fields near the player.
Despite these criticisms, I think the world is a sight to behold – Monolith continues to excel in its very specific niche – i.e. creating large open world environments that are beautiful to explore yet capable of functioning on less powerful gaming platforms. These flaws would be less forgivable on a more powerful box, but given the limitations of the Switch, the studio has done a remarkable job here.
Performance is generally good, but far from perfect. By default, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 aims to deliver a capped frame rate of 30fps, much like previous entries. It features decent frame pacing and feels smooth when running at its peak. That said, while playing the game, I found that performance varies depending on the complexity of the environment and the size of the encounters. Typically, simple environments meet the target performance level, even when returning with a larger party later in the game.
Monolith Soft is aiming for a 30fps cap and that’s the playback for much of the game. However, larger groups, more complex environments, and combat effects can combine to drop performance in certain scenarios. .
However, as I progressed, certain areas seemed to experience a greater impact on performance, which becomes more evident during combat. This may be due to the large number of visible party members participating in battle, combined with the complexity of the environment, but either way the impact on fluidity is palpable. Whether this is a problem for you will depend on your tolerance for performance issues – it has minimal impact on actual gameplay given the nature of its menu and shortcut-focused design, but it may distract many users.
On the audio side, I’m impressed with Monolith Soft’s efforts. Sounds are still hit or miss on the Switch, with many games offering nothing more than 2.0 stereo output when docked, but I’m happy to report that Xenoblade 3 actually supports full 5.1 surround sound . The rear channels are heavily utilized and the game’s soundscape is fantastic. It also includes English and Japanese language options to suit different preferences, but it’s the musical score that really seals the deal. With a selection of musicians, including the always delicious Yasunori Mitsuda, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 offers a wide selection of tracks that really get you into the game.
Between the presentation, music, storytelling, and gameplay refinements, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 really won me over and it’s on its way to becoming my favorite entry in the series. The only real complaint I could have about this is the prevalence of tutorials over the first dozen hours – it’s not as seamless as Xenoblade 2 but I’m still not a huge fan of that inclusion. Nonetheless, given how good this title is across the board in terms of gameplay, technology, and presentation, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 comes highly recommended.
Article source https://www.eurogamer.net/digitalfoundry-2022-xenoblade-chronicles-3-nintendo-switch-tech-review