A massive and highly ambitious game that is truly stunning in many ways!
It is sometimes said that the best games on a system appear at the end of its lifespan. Developers have had several years to get to know the hardware, which results in high-quality games. In the case of the Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles is an example of a game that could back up that claim. On a system that is often criticized for lacking a substantial hardcore library, Xenoblade Chronicles delivers an unusually ambitious hardcore experience that is among the best titles on any system of its generation.
The JRPG genre is suffering in recent years. Gamers demand innovations in a genre that has become littered with cliches. Along comes Xenoblade Chronicles, a game that not only takes some JRPG conventions, but also greatly expands upon them, making for a surprisingly fresh gaming experience, without ruining the classic JRPG feel.
The most unusual thing about this game is its setting. Xenoblade takes place on the dead corpses of two ancient titans: the Bionis and the Mechonis. The Bionis is the god of organic life, and is such littered with grassy plains, forests, animals and intelligent life. The Mechonis, on the other hand, is a being that represents the power of technology and is therefor populated by the Mechon, a robotic people. The Mechon wage war with the peoples of the Bionis.
Amidst this conflict we find Shulk, the protagonist of the game. Shulk researches the strange features of the Monado, an ancient sword, which is the only weapon that can effectively damage the metal-clad Mechon. And, guess what, Shulk ends up being the heir to the Monado and quickly finds himself on a quest to avenge a friend killed by the Mechon. The Monado will be an indispensable weapon in Shulk's quest.
This quest takes the player to a world that is so massive and so full of things to do, it needs to be seen to be believed. This is, as far as I know, the largest game world on the Wii by far. Not only is it huge, it is also a visual blast, both from a technical and artistic standpoint. Spectacular views from afar of valleys, cities and mountains are everywhere. From the bustling streets of Colony 9 to the vast expanse of Gaur Plain and from thick trees of Makna Forest to the mechanical views of the Mechnonis, it's all extremely well designed, enormously expansive and full of atmosphere and variation. Xenoblade is easily one of the Wii's best looking games. While it may have looked better on PS3 or Xbox 360, it compensates for the shortcomings of the system it is on with its amazing art direction.
The game world is inhabited by many creatures to battle. There are no random fights, but some monsters may attack if you get close. Others need to be attacked or lured towards you to engage in a fight. The battles themselves are pretty deep. The characters automatically use attacks, but more damage can be done with special attacks executed from the battle menu. If you build up enough power, you can execute a chain attack, allowing you to combine attacks from different characters. While you normally only control your lead character, these chain attack events allow you to pick an attack for all three on-screen heroes. For example, if one attack inflicts the 'Break' status, it can be followed by a move that inflicts 'Topple', and then followed by an attack inducing 'Daze' allowing you to more damage.
Another important feature is 'affinity'. This indicates how much characters trust each other and comes into play during battles, making it easier for you to execute powerful attacks, as well as in other situations involving NPC's and quests. Furthermore, certain skills can be linked, making their effects usable for more characters than just the user. These linked skills are also powered up by a good affinity level between the characters involved.
The Monado is full of cool powers, but the most significant one is the power to see into the near future. This allows for a fun and unusual gameplay mechanic. Because Shulk can see into the future, he can foresee attacks before they happen and prevent them from happening. This is one of the coolest features of the game and really makes it feel unique.
Besides the main quest, the game holds much more secrets for the player to discover as well as many side-quests to complete and achievements to meet. While the main quest alone packs a good fifty hours or so, completing everything this massive game has to offer will take you at least a hundred. The pacing in the game is always relaxed, and if you don't feel like playing the main quest, you can easily skip to areas previously visited via the map screen and go do some quests, or just enjoy exploring the massive game world.
The characters are very customizable, with a lot of armour to equip, weapons to choose from and power-boosting gems to craft, all of which are reflected both in-game as well as in one of the many cutscenes.
The musical score is among the best on the Wii. The beautiful orchestrated soundtrack perfectly captures every area of the game and greatly adds to the overall epic feel of the game. The characters themselves have cool British accents, all of which are fitting their design and personality. Original Japanese voices can be turned on as well, which is a nice touch. Both settings feature subtitles in English.
The characters are rather cliche. Shulk, for example, is the stereotype of a JRPG protagonist: orphaned, blonde hair, slightly androgynous, torn by trauma and carrying a huge sword. And it does not stop there. Particularly Reyn, Shulk's best buddy, is the classic bold and brash guy with big muscles, a short temper but also a heart of gold. It's not that the characters are not likable, they just feel familiar to the JRPG fan.
While the game is stunning from a distance, the textures and characters look a little blurry up close and there are some rough edges revealed. If there is a lot going on during a battle with multiple enemies on-screen, some slowdown might occur. Thankfully, this is rare.
The lines the characters shout during battles are repeated a little too often. After a while you heard all of them. Their cheesiness, which is charming only for a while, doesn't help either.
The Bottom Line
A major achievement in both scale, visuals, artistic direction, music and gameplay innovations. This is the best JRPG of the past few years, and a title not to be missed by any Wii owner. Xenoblade Chronicles is proof that an ambitious and innovative hardcore experience can find its home on the Wii, even though the system is in its later years.
by Rensch (203) on August 30th, 2011