launches today on Nintendo 3DS XL (the first game that ), and we were able to send a few questions over to the game’s developers in Japan. Check out the Q&A below that covers Xenoblade’s original launch on Wii, what it took to bring the game to a portable device, and a few details about the upcoming Wii U-exclusive .
Answers were provided by Testuya Takahashi (the head of developer Monolith Soft), representatives from Monster Games (the company that worked on the 3DS port), and representatives from Nintendo SPD (an internal Nintendo developer that is lending support to Monolith).
GameSpot: The original Xenoblade Chronicles took a long time to come out in the West. Did Monolith originally intend to release the game worldwide, or was this going to be a Japan-only game?
Takahashi: This is just my personal point of view, but I think it’s pretty difficult to think about markets or potential acceptance levels in a nation outside your own, with different people, different cultures and different histories — someplace you’ve never even lived in. Even if you try to consider it, it’s a matter of fact that you won’t be able to understand all of the factors completely, and if you provide a game based on that kind of armchair thinking, you’ll always wind up off the mark.
However, we are also all human beings, all living creatures, and we must all have some common points of contact or things we can all empathize with. Thus, from the time we worked on the Japanese version, we planned out the game’s specs with the idea that it would be sold overseas, picking up those common points one at a time so we could reply to the demand.
What is it that you think made Xenoblade Chronicles such a critical and commercial success here in the US?
Takahashi: I think it all comes down to “empathy.” As I wrote above, it may not be impossible for Japanese people to understand what people in the West feel and like, but it does take a fair amount of time. Empathy, however, is something we can all recognize. Those of us in Japan can be moved by, and can empathize with, things like Hollywood films, dramas and novels written by Western authors. I personally love the TV dramas I watched as a kid, like Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, and Starsky & Hutch; I looked forward to seeing them broadcast every week.
Even if we remastered it for Wii U, my concern was that people like that would still avoid playing it.
The things that we’re moved by, the points that we can empathize with, are the same. So we decided it’d be fine if we just made something we could honestly be moved by and find fun; there was no need to fiddle around too much thinking about what we would need to achieve success outside Japan. That was a philosophy we took pains not to stray from as we proceeded with development.
What drove the decision to bring Xenoblade Chronicles to 3DS instead of a remaster on Wii U (like )?
Nintendo SPD: Xenoblade Chronicles features a ton of depth and volume, something that earned it a lot of high praise from the people who played the Wii release. I think a lot of people began to take an interest in this game after hearing all of that praise, too. However, it’s not unheard of for this game to take around 100 hours just to complete it normally, so even if people take an interest, I think some of them would give up the idea of playing it, thinking to themselves: “No way do I have the free time to sit in front of a TV and play this game for 100 hours.”
Even if we remastered it for Wii U, my concern was that people like that would still avoid playing it. Remaking it for a portable system, however, will let them play it whenever they like, at home or outside, and we thought that would lead to more people trying it out. We considered making it for the original Nintendo 3DS at first, but if we wanted to achieve nearly the same quality as you saw on the original Wii version, the New Nintendo 3DS XL became all but required.
Would it have been possible to run this on the regular 3DS? If no, what did the New 3DS open up?
Monster Games: We initially tried to get the game to run on the regular Nintendo 3DS system. After months of work, we realized that the game was too big and would perform too slowly. At this point we learned about New Nintendo 3DS XL hardware and were excited to learn about the faster CPU and extra RAM. This immediately made the project seem possible, so we continued working on the conversion.
The team had to rebuild all the graphical assets while making sure it still looked as good as the original game.
Even with the system’s extra capabilities, it was still a challenging project and we spent many months working on optimizations. Given how hard it was to convert the game for New Nintendo 3DS XL hardware, we can easily imagine that the port to the regular Nintendo 3DS hardware would have ended up far from the quality game play that the original Wii version had even if we had given it our all.
Were there any particular technological or UI hurdles to bringing the game to 3DS?
Monster Games: The biggest technical hurdle when porting between Wii and New Nintendo 3DS XL is that the two systems have very different capabilities. All these differences kept the project from being a simple port. Every part of the game had to be reworked to account for the capabilities of New Nintendo 3DS XL hardware. For example, New Nintendo 3DS XL has a different GPU architecture, so none of the art assets could be directly used. The team had to rebuild all the graphical assets while making sure it still looked as good as the original game. Each world was carefully optimized by the art staff and we needed to invent new techniques to render the large scenes where the player can see far into the distance. It wasn’t until late in the project that we finally were able to make sure the frame rate was good everywhere.
Regarding the UI design, our big challenge was to maintain the look and feel of the original game, while taking advantage of the dual screens. There are hundreds of screens in the game and the design had to work for many languages. The design team spent over a month mocking up various UI designs until we got one that seemed to work well. Once we converted the screens to run on New Nintendo 3DS XL, we brushed up the artwork to fit the small screens and fine-tuned the placement of the elements. Given the number of screens and languages, this process took a long time and we were working on improving and fine-tuning details all the way to the end of the project.
Without revealing any spoilers, what can fans of Xenoblade Chronicles look forward to when the franchise comes to Wii U? Will it feel familiar for returning fans, or will it be a departure from what was put together in Chronicles?
Takahashi: I think Xenoblade Chronicles X will have a different play feel from the first Xenoblade Chronicles game. Xenoblade Chronicles is a pretty linear game, but Xenoblade Chronicles X is non-linear, and I think a lot of the gameplay will depend on that.
Xenoblade Chroniclesâ€™ core thrust is centered around its story, but Xenoblade Chronicles X is shaping up to be a game with more focus placed on action elements that take advantage of the open world instead of the story aspects. However, both games will retain a common feel based on the core elements that serve as the foundation for the series. It may feel different to play, but itâ€™ll provide a new way of having fun within the same Xenoblade series.