Review by Archmonk Iga
"I am blown away. If you are a fan of ANY kind of RPG, then Xenoblade is among the best."
I was hesitant to write my review for Xenoblade because the game is so enormous that I would have almost too much to talk about. That's a lot of typing, folks! I should have more important things to do, right? Oh well, it doesn't matter to me. I knew I was going to enjoy Xenoblade, but I had no idea it would leech away 125 hours of my life without me even realizing it. And the day I finally said enough is enough was quite a bittersweet one. Xenoblade takes nearly all the RPG elements that us fans of the genre love, tweaks them just so, and integrates them beautifully into the gameplay. It all equates to one of the best RPG experiences that any of us will ever play.
If you have read about Xenoblade, then you are probably familiar with the background of its plot. Two dormant gods are locked in a frozen battle, and each one has become capable of supporting life. On the Bionis, we have biological life (plants and animals), while on the Mechonis we have mechanical life. It makes for a fascinating setting and some brilliant plot points, not to mention some unbelievable sights.
Our story stars a young man named Shulk. As far as protagonists go, I'd say he's quite satisfactory. Sure, he's the chosen one with a heart of gold but the naiveté of a child (not to mention a weird name)standard fare for many RPGs. Despite clichés, what we really want is a protagonist we care about. And we definitely do care about Shulk. He becomes the chosen wielder of the Monado, a mysterious sword that can foresee the future AND cut through anything EXCEPT living tissue. After a surprise attack by the Mechon in his hometown of Colony 9, Shulk realizes that the Monado may have many plans in store for him. There is much more to the story than that description of course. As a game with Xeno in its title, it will obviously get pretty damn heavy later in the game.
One of the most important parts of any RPG is in its cast. Xenoblade has a great number of characters, ranging in all races and personalities, many of whom will join Shulk on his mission. Reyn is my personal favorite, a hulking meathead with a slightly whiny attitude, whose lackadaisical personality makes him all the more charming. Fiora is a spirited and wise-beyond-her-years young lady who helps drive Shulk to make the best of himself. Dunban is a local legend who once yielded the Monado himself but has had to pay the price for it, in more ways than one. Sharla is a charitable refugee who has been struggling to make ends meet after her colony was destroyed and her boyfriend was taken from her (she's a total babe, too). Riki is of the Heropon of the nopon race (AKA he is super-adorable and cuddly), who is really only tagging along because he owes his village a debt. Melia is a shy young girl with a noble personality and powerful magical skills, who seems to overthink things and not express herself enough. These seven main characters are among the best playable casts in any RPG I have ever played, rivaled by the likes of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy X and the Xenosaga series. Even the villains have a strong personal effect on you in this grand battle between worlds.
Xenoblade's story is completely original, a joining of unique people, coming together in a battle between humankind and machinery, traveling across vast landscapes and architecture. As is the case with many JRPGs, there may be a corny line here and there, though to a much lesser extent than many others of the genre. Everything we witness is genuine and carries meaning, and we hope for nothing but the best for the citizens of Bionis.
If you'll let me, I would like to trash talk Nintendo a little bit. The Wii is a weak system that is a result of Nintendo not listening to what gamers love. On that note, let's talk about graphics!
Xenoblade's visuals are among the best the Wii has seen, but because it is a Wii exclusive, we are stuck wondering what this beautiful game would have looked like on the PS3 or 360. Admittedly, if you play this in HD, it looks FAR better.
But since it's stuck as a Wii game, let's judge it that way. Solid (though aged) character design is marred slightly by some strange collision detection and some AWFUL outfits that change depending on your equipment. Monster designs are unique and varied, both in enemy type and sizes. You can fight a bizarre velociraptor-like monster one minute, a tortoise the size of the Taj Mahal the next. One of the best parts of Xenoblade, however, is its scale. You can see a gigantic waterfall in the far distance, and then you can swim into it if you want. These areas are enormous, they look brilliant, and they are absolutely freeing. You can go ANYWHERE you want to in Xenoblade, no matter how far away it may look. The eerie glow of Satorl Marsh at night, the view of the Bionis' arm on Distant Fingertip, the yellow streaks of light reaching toward the sky on Valak Mountain this game is a visual masterpiece based on its landscapes alone. I say again though it's a shame it's on the Wii, eh?
Composed by the same crew behind games such as Kingdom Hearts, Chrono Cross and Parasite Eve, Xenoblade's soundtrack is expectedly excellent. Most locations have separate tracks for nighttime and daytime, and all the tracks are composed with a full orchestra or band. There are also some beautiful piano tracks, such as Fallen Arm during the daytime. It's a good thing the music in Xenoblade is so good, because you spend a LOT of time listening to it.
The English voice acting is done by a diverse cast with varying accents. Aside from the perfect fits between characters and voices, the great diversity in their accents brings us that much closer to the cast. It makes Bionis feel that much more alive.
The reason Xenoblade is such a classic is because it takes elements from Western RPGs and elements from Japanese RPGs and integrates them together perfectly, weeding out the annoying parts of both genres at the same time. Will I go over everything Xenoblade has to offer? I don't know. I might. But there's a LOT of content in Xenoblade, so please respect these ol' typing fingers regardless.
If you played Final Fantasy XII then adapting to Xenoblade's combat will be easier than for those who have not. Combat takes place in real time, though the music changes to let you know that battle has started. Two characters are controlled by AI while you control one character of your choosing. The wonderful variety in each character makes playing and strategizing with your three-person-teams extremely fun. Do you like to play offensively? Shulk or Dunban are the best choices. Going to fight a tough battle against a heavy-hitter? Bring Sharla in to keep everyone healthy while the defender Reyn takes the hard blows and Melia supports with her elemental buffs. And while AI is questionable with some characters, if you strategize right then you will always be able to come out on top. There is much more to the combat than dealing hits and taking hits, such as building tension, focusing aggro (basically, the enemies' aggression towards a certain character), battle chains, and encouragement. But it's best if you learn the ropes yourself, because once everything is understood the battle system becomes one of the most fluid you will ever see in an RPG.
Bionis is bigger than you may think at first, so there a lot of sights to see and people to talk to. Many of these people will give you quests and let me tell you, there are nearly 500 of them. You aren't required to do most of them, but a lot of the time they are more than worth it. Many of them are fetch quests or monster hunting quests, but again, you don't need to do them. In fact, you'll probably make it out okay if you only do a few of them. That is one of the few problems with Xenoblade, in a way: if you are one who feels obligated to do every single quest that is given out to you, then the main storyline may become way too easy. There are SO many quests and they tend to grant you a boatload of experience points, so it can get to the point where you are way more powerful than everyone else. Pace yourself on the quests, otherwise the game will be way too easy for you.
There is a lot more to talk about with Xenoblade, but I think it's in your best interest if I keep it brief. I could talk about building area affinity by helping the people you meet, altering the items they offer when trading and opening up new storylines. I could also talk about party affinity, where battling beside each other and participating in Heart-to-Hearts (similar to Star Ocean's Private Actions) bring them closer together and more cohesive as a team. I could talk about Gem Crafting and equipment, where you can create and add unique bonus stats to all your characters. I could talk about the Skills that characters learn, how they can share them with each other and how they can improve your battle strategies. I could talk about Skip Travel or the ability to save anywhere, excellent gameplay elements mainly found in WRPGs. I could even get into the Achievements, which the creators put in to test how committed we truly are to the game (and also because the Wii doesn't have an achievement system ). But the best thing to do is leave those short descriptions as they are and let you learn all the nitty-gritty for yourself.
When I think about it, Xenoblade really does not offer anything completely original in its gameplay. Rather, it takes the good aspects of RPGs and fits them perfectly into itself, giving the player almost complete freedom. Final Fantasy XIII led Lightning and company along a straight path. Mass Effect 2 gives Commander Shepherd the entire universe to explore with very little direction. Xenoblade gives Shulk a unique world with endless possibilities and a definitive end goal in mind. It really is the best of both worlds.
I have clocked in nearly 130 hours, and I still have at least 50 hours' worth of work left to do if I want to. Xenoblade can take 50 hours for the main game alone, but with the all the quests, optional bosses, affinity-building, and exploring you will be doing, you can possibly add on a couple hundred more. The only other type of game that could do this to a person is an MMORPG. Fallout and Elder Scrolls may come close, but even they can be all wrapped up in far less time than Xenoblade. The game is as long as you want it to be, and no matter how much time you put into it, you will have one hell of a ride. There is also a New Game+ option, though sadly your completed quests and area affinities do not carry over.
REPLAY VALUE: 10/10
I know what you're thinking, and the answer is yes: I do in fact have a giant erection for Xenoblade. It stayed there all 125+ hours I've spent with it. I'm probably forgetting something I really wanted to tell you (like how the game goes straight to the title screen without any "developed by" or "published by" screens to wait through... or how it's Reyn Time, baby) , but at this point I think my words speak for themselves. If you have access to Xenoblade, you would be missing out should you pass it up. If you live in the States, then import it and give NoA a hearty middle finger. It is astonishing that this game saw such a limited release. Nonetheless, Xenoblade has become the RPG classic of this generation. I haven't loved an RPG this much in over ten years, and that is saying something. Mass Effect, Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Final Fantasy, Tales they are all classics in their own ways. But Xenoblade stands on its own, in the form of two dead Gods eternally locked in battle.
Thanks for reading =)
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/08/11, Updated 11/14/11
Game Release: Xenoblade Chronicles (EU, 08/19/11)
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