Review by astroisawesome
"9.5, a beautiful and unique experience, import it if you have to"
Xenoblade is an extremely ambitious RPG, as you should expect from any game with "Xeno" in the title and therefore I cannot talk about everything that NEEDS to be said about this game but will try to hit what I think is important:
Normally I wouldn't base any review on the world itself that was created for the game but in this case, it makes this game the unique gem that it is. Everything takes place on these two giant "gods". The shear variety of places you will go through in the process of completing the game is amazing. And some of the areas are so gigantic its intimidating at times. You will spend hours just trying to explore some of the areas. Luckily, the developers of this game realized how much of a pain it would be to have to constantly travel back and forth through these places (since they are so big) and made waypoints that you can warp to at almost any time once you've been there.
I am a believer that the focus people have put on graphics in games of this generation has really hurt the quality of the games themselves. With that said, the graphics in this game are great, especially in the world itself. Sometimes you'll be standing on the edge of a cliff and be staring out at the clouds off in the distance or a distant mountain peak that you can travel to. Or it will be night time and you'll look up and see the stars above. Or a flash of lightening will light up the other god across the way. The graphics here are not the best that's ever been created but they get the job done and they do it with style. More importantly than being the sharpest or most realistic, they focus on the right places in bringing the world to life. Occasionally you will stop and stare in awe. And another thing that I was happy to see was that the characters themselves reflect changes in the appearance with the equipment you put on them.
Reading the other reviews, I really didn't expect much from the story in this game but I was pleasantly surprised. Without giving much away, the story is focused on the entire world created on these two giant "gods". It starts as a story of revenge then turns into a story of friendship, love and understanding the nature of life and free will. Unlike in previous "Xeno" games, the team at Monolith have focused less on the religious aspects and more on the gods themselves, what makes them a god. "Can you change fate?" is a question that is put forth often in this game.
The way the game is designed means that the story comes slowly. It is not a text heavy experience like previous games with "Xeno" in the title. The world is very open-ended and that means that you can play literally for hours without progressing the story. The characters themselves drive the game and with the exception of only one of the main playable characters (-Riki-), I loved every one of them. And unlike recent JRPGs, they aren't ridiculous Japanese pop characters (except Riki) that no one outside of Japan can relate to without feeling ridiculous . It's great to see that someone still knows how to create great characters because honestly the last time I cared at all about the characters in a video game was the last Xenosaga game. When I was finished with the game, I was sad that it meant I had to say goodbye. This game is an emotional experience.
The sound effects are good, appropriate when they need to be. Playing the European import, I left the voices in Japanese and read the subtitles. The translation itself is not the best and I was glad I didn't end up using the European voice acting for that reason. There is a lot of banter that goes on during battles beyond the usual grunting and yelling that I thought really helped add to the excitement of some of the battles.
The music was done by multiple composers, including the legendary Yasunori Mitsuda. The majority of the battle themes are nothing special, although some of the later ones are quite good. I really felt like the music got better as the game went. There are a few songs that made me cringe when I heard them (a little too J-popish). But still, hidden throughout the game are some amazingly beautiful songs. Some areas in the game have two themes depending on whether it's night or day which I thought was a great touch. The only thing that holds me back from saying this has one of the best soundtracks ever is the fact that the majority of the songs that you end up hearing over and over again are not the best ones. I had to go back and re-listen to the OST to really remember how great some of the songs from this game are.
This is both one of the high points and the low points of this title. I personally love the battle style, it allows you to control your character almost as much as you would in a traditional turn based RPG but with more action. The problem it has comes from the fact that you can't really control the other characters, you gotta hope that they perform as you want them to. Occasionally they will do something really stupid like fall off a cliff in the middle of a battle or stand in something poisonous and kill themselves. And you can't guarantee that they will use the abilities you want them to when you want them to. The system has a break/topple system that's mildly useful, while the combination system it also has is much more useful. Your main character also receives visions in battles of things that are about to happen that might kill you. This is at times useful but it's mostly annoying, especially against some of the later bosses that are constantly using these moves forcing you to watch an animation over and over again.
Some other interesting gameplay features in Xenoblade are the gem crafting ability and the affinity chart. Crafting gems allows you to create bonuses that can be applied to weapons and armor (similar to the materia system in FF7). The affinity system is basically a rating on how much characters like each other (including NPCs). It finds its way into battles depending on how you perform and outside of battles in scripted scenes called Heart-to-hearts where you get a chance to learn more about the characters and their personalities (if you want to). To me it made the characters seem more realistic and emotional.
The point I'm sure most people hate about this game is the side quests. You can beat this game without doing them, there's nothing forcing you to do them. But the rewards of doing them are often too tantalizing. I am not normally a completionist but I found myself spending a lot of time on some of the quests (took me about 80 hours to beat the game and only 30 or so of that was doing things that were necessary to the story). The worst quests involve a lot of fetching things or searching for something to randomly appear (very very annoying). Without a FAQ to help, it would almost be impossible to do a lot of the quests. This is also the first RPG I've played where the camera was an issue and I hated that.
This is a beautiful game. In a time where developers are cashing in on recycled sequels and putting almost no innovation into their games, something like this comes out that is so painfully original and doesn't get the praise it deserves. It is almost a ode to RPGs in general, it takes what little has been good about recent RPGs and makes it better. It takes what is good about previous old school RPGs and uses that too. The amount of thought and love that has been put into this game shows through in everything it has. With some expansion of the story and some tweaks to the game play, this would be a contender for the best game ever created.
It took me almost 80 hours to complete (I've never spent that much time on a game before) and I'm thinking that I want to play it all again someday. That to me says it all. The crime is that the game may never be played by a good majority of the people who would love it.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/29/11
Game Release: Xenoblade Chronicles (EU, 08/19/11)
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