Xenoblade Chronicles has been out in Japan for over a year now, and there’s been a huge effort from fans to get it released in North America. Nevertheless, it will be landing in Europe and Australia as early as next month, and I managed to get a sneak peek at this quirky RPG this week.
The key to any RPG is an interesting setting, and Xenoblade paints a magnificent picture of a unique world. The lore follows that the first two living creatures in existence were dueling titans, who defeated each other in battle. The fallen titans went on to form two continents, the residents of which have been warring for eons. Players must make their way from a village somewhere on the lower leg of one titan, Bionis, to defeat the opposing Mechon armies. The visuals are fantastic, squeezing every drop of power out of the Wii’s hardware. The environments convey a sense of freedom and sheer scope; the fact that you can see parts of the titans in the distance helps keep you oriented, not to mention adding unique elements to the vistas before you.
Interestingly, the localized version allows players to choose an English language speech or the original Japanese audio with English subtitles, perfect for purists of JRPGs.
Gameplay wise, Xenoblade is very similar to the standard RPG format, but has a few unique characteristics, along with the creative setting, that help it stand out. Combat plays out in real-time, with attacks regulated according to how long it takes to perform each. Normal attacks can be spammed, but specials can only be activated at certain intervals. Damage bonuses can be earned by attacking different parts of an enemy, or by moving your character around them. Some attacks deal more damage or can only be used from beside or behind an enemy.
A more pronounced twist on the formula comes in the form of the Vision mechanic. According to the legends in game, the main character Shulk has the ability to foresee events, and apparently it crops up a few times throughout the game’s main story. In battle, the Vision mechanic means that periodically, a short vision will flash up, depicting a currently engaged enemy performing a powerful attack on a party member. A timer then lets you know how long you have until that event transpires, and it’s up to the player whether or not they intercept it. Pre-emptively attacking the enemy, or using defensive abilities on the targeted party member, are possible courses of action.
Random encounters are a staple of the RPG genre, but can become very annoying after a while. Xenoblade goes a long way towards fixing this by making these encounters visible before you engage the opponents. Players can see wild creatures milling around, with icons floating above their heads to indicate how they would detect the player’s presence, and how they would react. Some will attack on sight, others will not engage the player in combat unless provoked. Some may be blind, but will hear the player, requiring different stealth tactics to avoid. I personally love this feature, and hope it becomes a standard mechanic for RPGs.
There’s already a large fanbase anticipating Xenoblade’s release outside Japan, and it looks like they will not be disappointed. Even people like me, who aren’t huge RPG players, should get a kick out of this.