Review by XenoManx
"An awesome game with some major flaws"
I had decided that I would hold off on writing this review until I finished the game, which translated to about 130 hours of gameplay over the course of about 2 months, making this one of the longest games I have ever played. That I bothered to play the game to the end shows that I really liked the game, however It had many flaws that really should have been caught in the design, or at least testing, of this game.
Graphics: Beautiful visuals, horrible menus
On the plus side, I really liked the way the game looked but I was not amazed. This would have been very impressive 10 years ago but nowadays I expect any console game to have beautiful graphics. On the minus side, this game has some horribly tiny font for all on screen text, and I was constantly squinting trying to read item names and subtitles like the last line of an eye exam, even on my big screen TV. The dots on the on screen radar were also so tiny that they were hard to make out. Perhaps this game would work better on a 60" HDTV, but I am not about to buy one to find out.
The game was filled with plenty of catchy tunes that changed for each area from day to night, and in battle based on the difficulty of the enemy. Not the best music of any game I've ever played but I have no real complaints. The voice acting is alright, notwithstanding the bad accents and repetitive one liners.
Gameplay: Fun, but full of flaws
The entire game had a faux MMO feel similar to Final Fantasy XII, where all characters/ enemies auto attack at a constant rate when targets are in range. Each character can have up to 8 abilities they can use at any point, but each ability must cool down for a certain amount of time before it can be reused. The player has direct control over one character (which one can be changed between battles) while up to 2 other characters act on their own. Time between battles is spent exploring a massive world (I really loved these maps, not at all redundant with a natural feel while still having plenty of hidden nooks and crannies) and by completing quests for various NPCs. This is mixed in many innovative features such as being able to see the future. All in all it seems like a decent play experience, but there are many MAJOR quirks that bothered me a lot: all of which are listed below:
1) Stupid AI: The main character will do what you want but the other 2 will always be very bad at doing their jobs. Case in point, one memorable monster that I fought liked to start every battle by setting my entire party on fire (gradual hp loss, like poison). My healer, when controlled by AI would continuously try to heal the injuries rather than take the time to remove the 'on fire' debuff. I could remedy this situation by controlling the healer character, but then my buff/debuff characters would just use their normal attacks, which didn't work on this particular monster. I have played other games with the paradigm of control one character directly the others indirectly (FFXII, Kingdom Hearts, Namco's Tales, even old games like Secret of Mana) and none of them were this bad, I could always either give instructions to the party or configure them to use certain strategies before hand.
2) Level madness: This game has the be the most level obsessed JRPG I've played in many years (Maybe since Tactics Ogre). When fighting a monster more than 5 levels below you you get less than a tenth of what you would have gotten when fighting them as equals, and they wont even attack you either. Fighting monsters slightly above your level can result in massive experience, but when none are available expect to level very slowly. This makes sense as they want you to keep challenging yourself I guess, but it gets annoying when your only options are enemies that can't hurt you and enemies you can't hope to beat. The difficulty in fighting enemies goes up dramatically with just a few levels, even at very high levels. Case in point: a level 80 monster may be all but unbeatable 75, a challenge at 80, and an easy win at 85 regardless of equipment or tactics. With an advantage of 10 or more levels even the final boss can be quickly beaten without looking at the screen or touching the controls.
3) Lame quests: With a few exceptions all quests follow the very formulaic combination of 'find and talk to an NPC with name X', 'Find and kill X of monster X', and 'collect X of item X'. While it is not quite as repetitive as farming the same monster repeatedly for items and experience, it gets even worse when you are offered no clue whatsoever where to find X, which is often a rare spawn that can only be found between 2 statues half the world away and only between the hours of 4 and 5 am. I really don't think anybody could complete half these without the help of a wiki.
4) Bad instructions: The in game instructions, in addition to being very hard to read, really don't accurately describe how a lot of the games features work. Only through trial and error did I figure out a lot of counter intuitive things, and I still have no idea how many tension points are needed for high tension or what paralysis actually does or what the icons next to items mean, to name a few.
5) Bad menus: I already mentioned that the text is too small. Additionally there is a bit of load time between each and every page on the menu. The rest of the actual game has no load time problems whatsoever but just opening a menu causes lag. Furthermore, the menus are all horrible to navigate, It is really hard to find the item you are looking for in any of the inventory menu's because you can't sort items by their name.
6) Too many items: While there is a lot of space in your inventory, it will quickly be overrun by literally hundreds of useless items, and if you throw some of them away to make room you will find yourself needing one obscure item 20 hours later and searching all over for the one rare, low level enemy that might drop it.
7) Other random quirks: If you kill a flying monster, sometimes it will drop treasure that lands on top of an obstacle that you can walk right up to it but never be able to open it. Occasionally characters will get stuck on large monsters during battle and if you get pushed into a corner during a fight the camera angle becomes useless. Being able to jump but not high enough to make it over a simple guardrail, you will have to go around. Only allowed 3 save files. And finally, why make a Wii exclusive without using the motion controller?
Really the only reason anybody would play a Xeno titled game. It probably should have been a novel instead of a game. A cast of great characters in an engrossing world with awesome cutscenes and a great story (sidequests notwithstanding), but I don't want to give any spoilers. Maybe not quite as awesome as the previous Xeno titles, but still the best story of any game I've played in a year or two.
Replay Value: Maybe later
After finishing the game you get the option to start a new game with previous levels and items. But first I had to select 30 of each type of item and equipment that I would get to keep, seriously? Honestly after 130 hours of play I think I will go on to another game first, but I might come back to play this again, If only to see all the cutscenes again and see anything I might not have noticed the first time around.
All in all a great game with some serious flaws. Well worth the time and money I spent on it, but far from the greatest game ever.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/26/12
Game Release: Xenoblade Chronicles (US, 04/06/12)
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