Video Game Review: Xenoblade Chronicles
Release Date: April 6, 2012
by Eric Deters
Published: May 23, 2012
I should mention up front that I haven’t completed “Xenoblade Chronicles” at the time of this writing. In fact, even after nearly 40 hours of play time, I’m fairly certain I’m not even halfway through. That should give you an idea of how massive this game is. The more surprising part is that most of those 40 hours were
racked up within the first three or four weeks of the game being out, which kind of illustrates its addictiveness. After months and months of protest on the part of hopeful JRPG fans, Nintendo of America finally made the decision to bring “Xenoblade” across the sea, and I believe Wii owners are all the better for it. It’s an undeniably massive and wide-open game that translates the timeless and wonderful qualities of old-school Japanese role-playing games while tossing out the antiquated ones in favor of additions that bring the genre forward in this wonderful reinvigoration of what many believe to be a dying genre. It’s a charming, challenging, and engaging game with enough content to keep players content for months.
“Xenoblade” starts at the very beginning showing two massive robots, Bionis and Mechonis dueling in what seems to be a non-descript ocean. The titans fight for eternity (though we don’t get to watch it all), and with their final strikes kill each other and “deactivate.” The game then picks up an untold number of years later and follows Shulk, a resident of the valley town Colony 9. Colony 9, it would seem, rests at the KNEE of Bionis. After the typical RPG story set-up in the early hours, the adventure begins in earnest, where Shulk and his friends Reyn and Fiora vow to defeat the evil Mechon, the robotic beings that are the primary inhabitants of Mechonis, that threatened to destroy his home town. The only weapon capable of destroying Mechon is called the Monado, a sword with way too much backstory for me to get into here. Suffice it to say that Shulk can’t
wield the Monado at first, and soon after, due to some strange circumstances, can. It’s more engaging in the actual game, believe me. When Shulk and company finally head out of Colony 9 to reach Colony 6 and other settlements along the way, they travel upwards along the Bionis’ body. That’s when you know that this game means business. Remember that 40 hours I was talking about before? That didn’t even get me to Bionis’ head, the destination for the first half of the game. Considering our goal is to thoroughly wipe out the Mechons, I can safely assume that our heroes will travel to Mechonis at some point and continue to adventure there. So, basically, the game is massive, and the story becomes even more enthralling as you go along and gather party members, such as a shamed Pokemon-looking thing named Rikki, the former hero of Colony 9, Dunban, and a refugee from Colony 6, Sharla. The characters aren’t exactly deep, but they’re charming and sympathetic, and the voice-acting (which hasn’t been redone for American audiences; we get the excellent British performances) really helps give each character a distinct personality.
The battle system is where “Xenoblade” really deviates the most from other JRPG games and franchises. Combat is ostensibly real-time, with the player being able to control a single character of their choosing around the battle field, which is the world that the player actually explores in game (as in, there are no “arenas” that the player is teleported to when they come in contact with a monster or enemy). The player, once combat has been initiated, can choose from a selection of skills on an action bar at the bottom of the screen, all of which have different effects on the enemies (some even depend on the player’s placement in relation to the enemy), such as extra damage from backstabs, bleed, slow, and stun effects, and more. The two primary mechanics revolve around the party dynamics and the Monado. The best way to kill enemies is to apply Break, and then Topple. The best way to do this, unless you are at a point where your character has Break and Topple abilities, is to have your party members apply one or the other. Break readies the enemy to be toppled, which, in turn, increases damage taken by the enemy and also prevents them from attacking. Topple is also the only way to let allies do damage to Mechon without wielding the Monado, which only Shulk can do. Speaking of the Monado, after Shulk obtains it, a new option opens for him on his action bar. Through story events, Shulk learns advanced Monado techniques and spells that can buff his allies or damage/ail his enemies, such as an area of effect attack, imbuing party weapons with the brief ability to damage Mechon, shielding a particular team mate, and so on. This, along with Break, Topple, and letting the player control any character in combat gives the player a wealth of options in tackling encounters throughout their journeys on Bionis and Mechonis.
Outside of combat, exploring the world of “Xenoblade” is straightforward, yet also a step in the right direction. Modern JRPGs (infamously,
"Final Fantasy XIII," and to some extent, "XIII-2") set the player on an incredibly linear path with next to no deviation whatsoever. It was particularly apparent and somewhat insulting when your mini-map in those games involved a straight line and your marker. “Xenoblade Chronicles” bucks this trend admirably, allowing the player to explore enormous landscapes with all sorts of secrets in every nook and cranny. Even the starting town, Colony 9, has multiple checkpoints for teleportation (which aids in exploration, since after you’ve discovered something, you don’t necessarily need to walk all the way back whenever you need to go there) and miles of terrain and beach all around. The zones Shulk explores grow progressively larger as he travels through Bionis, and there is an abundance of quests and side objectives in each area. The only problem with exploring is not being able to truly appreciate this world due to the limited processing capabilities of the Wii. Granted, the game looks fine for having so much content, but it could simply be so much more. What we get here is merely a tantalizing taste of the visual excellence that would come of this art had the game been made for another console. The music, however, takes the cake as the most memorable part of the game’s aesthetics. The unique songs for each region are sublime for exploration and perhaps even better when listened to outside the context of the game, the regular battle music gets the blood pumping and the tensions high, and the boss themes are simply outstanding. I need to find some place to purchase the soundtrack because it is seriously that good.
It would seem that the effort of fans to bring “Xenoblade Chronicles” overseas was entirely worth it. Hopefully, it marks a point where JRPGs began to break off from their roots and begin innovating in even more ways
than this excellent title does. I can’t wait to finish my journey with Shulk and friends, and I have a feeling that the latter half of this game will be just as good as the former.