Xenoblade Chronicles has been on the radar of JRPG aficionados and Wii owners for quite some time now and is probably one of the most anticipated Wii titles of this gen. Is it even possible for it to live up to the massive amount of hype surrounding its NA localization? Going into this review, I promised myself I wouldn’t jump on the “greatest JRPG of this gen/of all time” bandwagon but, after playing through the game, I have to break that promise.
Xenoblade starts out like any other JRPG would. Shulk, a young orphaned boy, sets out for revenge after his town is ravaged by the Mechons, the game’s villains. Along the way he picks up the Monado, a mysterious sword that allows the wielder to see into the future, and he is swept up into an adventure he wasn’t expecting. The Monadao’s ability makes for some fantastic moments in the game as Shulk has to constantly deal with the fact that he can’t save everyone despite knowing the future. Xenoblade is full of touching moments and twists that you simply won’t see coming.
The rest of the cast is full of your typical archetypes as well including Dunban, the aging mentor, Reyn, the dimwitted brute with a heart, and Sharla, the kind hearted mother/healer. Xenoblade also features the stereotypical “annoying mascot” archetype in the way of Riki the “Heropon”, but with a small twist – he’s not annoying and he’s a total badass.
The overall presentation and visual style is the first thing that will catch your attention. First things first, yes, this game is on the Wii and, yes, it would definitely look better if it were on an HD console. However, despite the graphical limitations of the console, Xenoblade is a stunning looking game and pushes the Wii to its limits; Monolithsoft should be given props for what they’ve accomplished. If there’s anything negative to be said the game’s presentation, it’s the characters blank faces. Their expressions just never match up with the dialogue.
As for the setting, unlike most games that take place on a planet of some kind, Xenoblade takes place on the dead bodies of two giant robot gods. The organic beings inhabit Bionis while the Mechon inhabit Mechonis. Whenever you’re traveling and look up at the sky, you’ll see the limbs of the mechanical beings. What this adds up to is a game that makes up for its technical limitations with a distinct visual style.
The game’s musical score is absolutely phenomenal. Created by four composers, Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger/Cross and the Xenosaga Trilogy), Yoko Shimomura (Street Fighter and Super Mario RPG), Manami Kiyota, and Ace+, Xenoblade features a wide variety of music ranging from emotional piano pieces to guitar heavy battle tracks.
The voice work is spot on for the most part and every voice actor is able to nail their character’s emotions perfectly. The only sour spot for the voice work is one of the main villains who sounds like a bad Nicholas Cage attempting a cockney pirate accent. As funny as that sounds, the villain gets irritating very quickly. For the purists out there, Monolithsoft also included the original Japanese voiceovers.
Xenoblade’s gameplay also feels innovative and refreshing. The combat takes place entirely on the open world with no battle transitions and feels like a tactical MMO. You initiate battle by targeting an enemy and simply moving into attack range, and you control one character while the other two members are AI controlled. Once in combat, your characters will continuously auto attack while you choose different spells and abilities to use.
As battles progress, a party gauge will slowly fill up, which can then be used in a variety of ways. You can use up filled bars to help a teammate recover from status effects such as topple and daze, or completely deplete the gauge to unleash a chain attack. A chain attack will pause time and refresh the cool down on all of your abilities. From this point, you go from character to character to use abilities in combination with each other. You can either chain status effects such as breaking an enemy, then toppling and dazing them or you can use the same types of attacks, such as chaining physical abilities, which builds up a chain gauge. As the chain gauge fills up, any ability of the same type will be grow in power.
The Monado also comes into play during battles, as there will be times when you see enemy attacks before they actually happen. When this happens, you have a short period to use your own abilities to prepare, or you can “warn” a teammate which gives you control of their abilities. Not only does this ingeniously combine story and gameplay but it adds a nice tactical element to the already great combat system.
The game also includes a simple but complex talent tree system that allows you to fine tune characters for combat. Each character has three different trees to choose from that will focus their attributes and skills on certain roles such as healing or tanking and you switch between these specializations on the fly. Going along with this, each character gradually gains affinity coins as they level which allow them to skill link with other characters and utilize their talents. This allows for a level of customization simply not available to other games in the genre. There is also a simple gem crafting system that lets you create enhancement items to insert into your gear.
Xenoblade also features a wide variety of ways to customize your character’s gear. One of the very first things that caught my eye was that different gear is reflected on your character. This allows for some bizarre costume combinations, for example, by the end of the game, my healer was wearing silver full body plate armor, an orange bikini bottom and pink high heels. These changes are reflected in the cutscenes as well which makes for some humorous moments.
The questing system also deserves a mention as it’s a great example of how to do side quests correctly. Most games will require returning to the quest giver to complete a quest. In Xenoblade, however, when you finish the objectives of a quest, you will automatically complete it on the spot. In a massive game such as this that features thousands of side quests, it is great to not have to backtrack. There are a few quests that require backtracking to the quest giver, but the game’s fast travel system alleviates any frustrations this may cause. Every area of the game features multiple checkpoints that you can instantly warp to from any area. The biggest strength of the questing system is how the Monado’s foresight comes into play. If you pick up an item that is required for a quest you don’t currently have, the game will play a small cutscene that shows you when you’ll need it and the name of the quest giver; these items are then marked in your inventory to prevent you from accidentally selling them.
If you own a Wii and love JRPGs, you have no excuse not to play Xenoblade Chronicles. Not only does it deserve the massive praise that it has received but it also creates a new benchmark that future JRPGs will have to live up to. With a straight play through clocking in at a good 50-60 hours and with that time being easily doubled with the game’s ludicrous amount of side quests, you will most definitely get your money’s worth.
Xenoblade Chronicles manages to keep the core aspects of the genre alive, all while getting rid of the genre’s more pesky features such as save points and long pointless backtracking. While the game does have a few technical blemishes, I feel like the fault lies with being on a weaker console rather than it being the fault of the developer.
Xenoblade Chronicles was released on April 6th, 2012 exclusively for the Nintendo Wii.