Platform: Wii (Reviewed)
Developer: Monolith Soft
Release Date: September 1, 2011 (AU), August 19, 2011(EU)
Since Final Fantasy XII, the idea of combat in real-time has become a popular trend in the JRPG genre, but many titles have struggled to find their feet with this style of play. Xenoblade Chronicles is the game hardcore RPG fans have being praying for. It surpasses expectations and breaks boundaries and traditions, creating one of the deepest and innovative RPG’s of the decade. With 70+ hours of gameplay, a massive world to explore, entertaining storyline, epic soundtrack and an incredably detailed combat system, Xenoblade Chronicles is a must have for fans of Japanese Role-Playing Games, and stands as yet another reason to be proud owner of a Nintendo Wii.
The story which ties this epic adventure together is a unique and interesting one that is executed wonderfully, although it isn’t perfect. The opening cinematic for starters isn’t all that engaging, showing a slow-paced, boring battle between two titans, although this does set up for an interesting origin of the tale which makes up for this. These two titans kill each other and over time forests and life develop on their corpses, creating the luscious worlds of Bionis and Mechonis. These worlds are home to exactly to what they sound like-the Homs, biological human-like beings and the Mechon, Mecha/robot type beings. These worlds are still at war but this time it’s the beings of each planet rather than the titans. The game begins as a prologue, throwing you straight into an intense war with fast-paced, exciting, action-packed cut scenes that make a great start to the game, showing you what you’re in for. After this, your taken a year into the future where the story truly begins, introducing Colony 9 and setting you off on a great adventure as Shulk, a researcher of the Monado-a powerful yet mysterious weapon that is the key to victory against the Mechon.
What truly shines with the story of Xenoblade Chronicles however is not the story itself but rather the execution of telling it. Dialogue is believable, and cut scenes are numerous and very entertaining. A huge emphasis is placed on character development and with every cut scene you feel yourself becoming more and more connected with the cast and you can see the bonds of friendship grow between the members of the party. While the first few hours are action-packed and exciting, the developers were not afraid to unravel the story slowly and establish the world and characters firmly before sending them off on a huge adventure. This works well as it doesn’t feel slow-paced but also doesn’t feel rushed, and builds a strong foundation between the characters. Direction in cut scenes is great as well, which is a nice addition since there is a lot of them.
Xenoblade Chronicles is a blast to play. While it does stay true to many traditions of the RPG genre, it has many innovative features that excel in creativity that can appear overwhelming at first, as there is a lot to learn and has a quite bit of a learning curve, but this is taught in brief, easy-to-understand and yet informative tutorials, and all adds to the impressively deep combat system. This is one game that truly caters to the hardcore JRPG fan. While the game may contain overwhelming large amounts of menus covering the screen, Xenoblade will still be appealing to many as the gameplay is quite fast and action-packed. Unlike many games of the genre, instead of a waiting for your turn to attack in real-time, each skill known as Arts have their own individual cool-down time. This means you can be constantly attacking, using a specific skill while waiting for the next to be available, really speeding up combat, keeping it fast and fun. This doesn’t mean it’s a button-masher though, as particular attacks must be used at certain angles to achieve their full potential. Also the more damage a party member takes drastically changes their ability to connect and evade attacks, adding an extra layer of strategy into combat. Various other techniques come into play as well such as issuing a break into a topple when fighting Mechon, luring monsters into safe areas for fighting and the Aggro system that is based on the feelings of your enemies that effects on which party member they will want to attack among others, further deepening this unique combat system.
There are two main innovative elements Xenoblade places a focus on in combat. The first of which is the Affinity system-the bond of friendship between party members that improves the teamwork of the party in combat. During battle players can issue out a battle cry as well as words of encouragement, revive, and help fallen and struggling members to earn and use Affinity points simply by pressing the B button at a certain time. Various other techniques earn Affinity as well such using an Art from the right angle and gaining a critical hit to earn a Affinity Bust. Earning Affinity builds up a meter that will allow players to issue a chain-attack and pull off devastating combos that really give an upper hand and can quickly turn the tide of a battle, so earning the abilty to do these from gaining Affinity is really important. The second main focus of fighting is using the Monado to see future fatal and deadly attacks, and preventing them from happening by warning allies and trying to change the result of the vision. Doing so earns the party Affinity as well, and it’s nice to see these visions of the future coming into gameplay as well and isn’t just a cheesy plot device.
These elements also come into the exploration element of the game, as the Affinity Chart means not only can you level up your players for battle, but you can level up their Affinity as well, providing a whole new level of depth to leveling up. In particular sections of the game, players will find areas where they can initiate heart-to-heart talks, which helps level up the parties Affinity. Affinity can also be leveled up by simply talking to non-player characters, many of which are named which adds an extra reason to talk to townsfolk, which is a nice addition to the game. Furthermore, visions of the future also occur in exploration, as sometimes you may stumble upon an item you’ll need to collect for a later side quest, and so a future vision will take place encouraging you to collect it even before your even needed to, adding another element to the side quests to the game, of which there are plenty, and lengthen the game’s lifespan without making it seem ike its too artificially stretched.
As for the rest of exploration, this is mostly a low point of the game as the camera can be frustrating and unhelpful at times, and the party does seem a little odd at times as they do seem to move unnaturally fast and party members seem to randomly pop in and out on occasions. However, it is still enjoyable as there are plenty of items to collect and equipment to buy and trade, monsters vary levels and mixes things up, but if your ever at level 15 and are killed by a level 70-something monster, Xenoblade is very forgiving and will let you respawn at the last visited landmark, of which there are very common. Visiting a landmark also gives you XP which is a nice addition. Another prime example of how forgiving Xendoblade is the fact that the party will automatically heal itself after a battle-no need for potions! You can also skip travelling certain areas via the map to speed up exploration, which is very welcome as well. In case you can’t tell by now, there is so much depth to Xenoblade Chronicles that it’s really hard to describe without rambling, but it doesn’t ever feel overwhelming, instead it feels very natural and flows nicely, which is a true testament to how great this game really is.
The main problem with Xenoblade Chronicles unfortunately are with its graphics, but it’s not even that big of a deal. The game still looks good and environments are big and beautiful, but they could’ve benefited from being presented in HD, and textures can look quite bad in some cases, edges can often look rough and sometimes graphics can appear pretty blurred. Furthermore, animations can appear very stiff at times, and voices are not lip synced with the character models which is a shame. While it’s easy to point the finger at the console itself, there are plenty of nicer looking Wii games out there so it seems unfair to blame the Nintendo Wii for this. Strangely, one of the worst graphical moments of the game is within the prologue, with the environments’ textures looking quite unappealing, which is an odd thing to see as it should be trying to hook in the players. After this short prologue though, the game does begin to look much nicer. On the plus side however, environments are beautifully done and are huge, creating a wonderful sense of freedom emphasising the sense of exploration and adventure with style and grace.
The music of Xendoblade on the other hand is simply amazing and a delight to listen to, and Australian gamers are treated with a promotional 12-track cd featuring the best themes from the game. The game features a variety of genres, blending orchestral, rock and electronic music that mix well smoothly and effectively. Every environment in the game has you completely absorbed, and a lot of that is due to this soundtrack that truly shines as a standout element of the game. The main theme is particularly great, the general combat theme has a really energetic guitar lead that heightens the experience of the action-packed battle system and the game concludes with a beautiful and emotive song with female vocals. The English localization complements this entertaining soundtrack with some really great voice acting and dialogue as well. The really thick English accents are a refreshing change from the general American voices players are generally used to in video games, and the dialogue is believable and the battle cries never sound cheesy but rather encouraging, further amplifying the fun of combat. The only problem real fault with the audio is that the voices are unfortunately not synced with lip movement, but it isn’t always that plainly obvious and it doesn’t interfere with the storytelling at all thankfully.
Xenoblade Chronicles is such a deep game, there’s just way too many things to mention in this review! The best part about it is that it never feels too overwhelming, and even though its very detailed, it has that seldom seen element of gaming that involves a huge amount of strategy yet still keeps everything action-packed, fast-paced and exciting. The soundtrack and voice acting is beyond impressive and really helps in amplifiing the experience, and is filled with unique ideas that feel really natural and fun. The biggest flaw of the game is that it’s graphics do seem a little dated, but Xenoblade Chronicles will amaze you with it’s attention to detail so often you won’t have time to even notice it. I honestly can’t remember the last time I enjoyed an RPG this much, and I doubt I’ll play one again for quite sometime. It’s a shame Nintendo currently has no plans to release this in North America, hopefully they decide otherwise in the near future.
- Excellent story with great pacing
- Superb voice acting
- Awesome Fast-Paced Combat That’s Insanely Deep
- 70+ Hours of Gameplay
- Incredible Soundtrack
- Cool Affinity System
- Beautiful, Huge, Luscious Environments
- One Of The Most Innovative And Unique RPG Games To Be Published in Quite Some Time
- Graphics Arn’t Bad, but the Wii Is Capable of Much, Much More
- Camera Can Be Awkward and Frustrating Sometimes