Review by RBYAlwaysWins
"The Wii's final triumph. A review after playing Xenoblade for over 150 hours."
In a generation where quality games for the Wii outside of the big first party titles are few and far between, Xenoblade is a diamond amongst the rough. The remarkable time and care spent polishing the game shows, and Xenoblade raises the bar high for future JRPGs in the years to come. Like many games for the Wii it is humbling to wonder what Xenoblade might of looked like on a console with more graphical oomph, but its attention to detail and artistic direction rivals that of any high definition game. Gamers can take solitude in the fact that if it were a high definition title, the incredible scope and magnificence of the game probably wouldn't be there. Add to this one of the battle systems ever implemented in an RPG, and Xenoblade truly does not disappoint.
The story of Xenoblade is typical of what you'd expect from a JRPG epic. Without spoiling anything, it's a classic 'boy meets sword and goes on a grand adventure to save the world' affair. Its been done a hundred times, but that's not to say that Xenoblade doesn't tell it well. You take control of Shulk from Colony 9, along with numerous other characters you'll meet along the way. Perhaps the most interesting part of Xenoblade's story is the world in which Shulk and his friends exist. All towns and landscapes exist upon two gigantic titans - the Bionis and the Mechonis - which are locked in an eternal slumber after a timeless battle. When you travel around the Xenoblade world, many locations are actually named after their functional positions on the two titans, such as the Bionis Leg, Mechonis Field, and Sword Valley (literally a giant sword!). This adds an interesting element to exploring the already beautiful world in front of you.
Overall, the story is good but it's not gripping to the point where you're progressing only to find out what happens next. Compared to the combat, free roaming world, side quests galore and endless customisation options the story isn't the games major selling point. Don't see this as a put off though; character interaction can be cheesy at times, but seeing the entire world develop as the game progresses is pretty epic to say the least. There are a lot of deep and interesting themes explored throughout, especially as you reach the games conclusion, and there are enough plot twists that will (hopefully) keep you guessing.
Gameplay (Exploration) (10/10)
Exploration is a facet where Xenoblade really shines. After a short prologue you start the game in control of Shulk and Reyn and make your way around the area of Colony 9. When you stumble across a new location or landmark, it is automatically recorded on the world map. With this you can quickly teleport to any landmark you have previously visited, which is invaluable when completing quests or generally back tracking. You also receive experience for discovering a new landmark, which encourages players to take the time to explore everything you can. Upon visiting every location and landmark, the entire map becomes visible which makes it look complete.
One of the most interesting things about the Xenoblade world is the ecosystem of monsters that exist inside it. In the first area alone, you'll be able to find daunting level 70-80 monsters which will down you in one hit (you start at level 1!). This gives exploration a much needed element of danger (although death has no consequences other than returning you to the last landmark you visited, so explore on!) and the ability to test your skills against monsters that are much stronger than your party. Overcoming a stronger foe is very rewarding, especially when you execute your chosen battle strategy!
While exploring Colony 9 you'll soon realise just how massive it is for a starting town, however this is just the tip of the Xenoblade iceberg. After playing through the entire game, many towns and areas will make Colony 9 feel tiny by comparison. Part of the fun in exploring is completing your Collectapedia, which you can place new collectables into upon finding them. Completing a row of collectables rewards you with a new gem or piece of equipment which serves to strengthen your party in battle.
Xenoblade has been notorious in discussions for the huge amount of side quests available which add a huge amount of time onto the game if you're willing to complete them all. Upon moving on to a new area, you generally receive a bunch of new quests which require you to slay a certain number of monsters, collect several materials (loot dropped by monsters), or gather collectables (blue orbs on the ground). The sheer amount of side quests to complete can be quite daunting to payers, but none of these quests are actually required to complete the game (you only need to complete certain Story quests which are generally very easy). The quests are there purely to give players extra incentives to explore the world and discover new things. Completing quests can also unlock new skill trees (more on this later) as well as raise affinity between your party and other NPCs.
Xenoblade uses an affinity system which ties in heavily with side quests and NPCs. Every time you complete a quest or talk to a new NPC, the affinity between your party and the town increases. Affinity grows on a scale of 1-5 stars for each area and affects numerous things such as quest available and items an NPC will trade with you. These elements all intertwine in a way that improving one allows you to improve the other.
Gameplay (Battle System) (10/10)
The battle system implemented is probably one of the most engaging and variable experiences I've seen in a JRPG. It is difficult to describe, but it blends elements of MMORPGs and traditional console RPGs in an interesting way. Battles take place on the same environment that you travel on, so you will be fighting in all sorts of locations and can often use the terrain to your advantage (i.e. trapping several enemies in a gap and picking them off one by one). You fight with up to three characters at once however you control just one. The AI is very good for most characters, however you'll sometimes want control over a certain character to best influence the flow of battle. Moving close enough to an enemy will cause your character to auto attack, and you can select from a range of arts (special moves) which have a range of effects. Every art has different battle properties, such as dealing twice as much damage if used from behind, or reducing your enemies physical defence if used in a series of arts. It may seem complex at first but once you grasp the gist of it you'll be firing off complex sequences in no time!
One of the interesting parts of battles is the game's system of Break, Topple and Daze. Certain arts cause these moves as side effects, however they will only trigger if used in the correct order. Break has no real effect, while Topple and Daze will prevent the enemy from fighting back for a small period of time. Topple and Daze can be 'stacked' in order to keep an enemy locked in a perpetual state of helplessness. Some enemies such as the Mechon can not be damaged unless they're in a state of Topple/Daze.
Another fun part of battles are initiating Chain Attacks, which basically pause the battle and allow your party to initiate a sequence of attacks. Chain attacks are an integral part of winning tough battles, because many enemies can only be Toppled from a chain attack. You can also inflict massive damage on your opponents by linking together arts of the same colour (namely red arts), and the longer the chain the greater the damage multiplier. Many monsters possess unique traits that will sometimes require you to reshuffle your entire party just to win, which speaks lengths about the deepness of the gameplay. Every character you'll receive possesses unique traits and can be played in multiple ways, giving you endless party combinations to try out in battle!
Probably the most unique features of battles is Shulk's ability to receive visions of incoming enemy attacks, and thus change the future. You're usually informed of very powerful talent arts or strong physical/ether attacks, allowing you to take appropriate action to control the situation (or be destroyed in the process!).
Xenoblade boasts an incredibly deep and complicated customisation system. With literally hundreds of gems, equipment, skills and arts to customise a character with, you will find yourself spending hours constantly testing and upgrading new things you find. Each type of armour and weapon also has a unique look which is a nice touch. The ridiculous amount of customisation available may not appeal to all, but thankfully it is not necessary to constantly upgrade your gear all the time. A smart use of arts seem to play a much larger part of success in battle, so you can steamroll through the game until the enemies seem too strong, and occasionally upgrade along the way. I however had a lot of fun being able to constantly customise and alter my character's abilities and appearance.
These incredible customisation options however, bring with it a few minor flaws. Navigating the many menus can be tedious at first, and you will soon find yourself accumulating countless pieces of old weapons, armour and other junk. Once you get a hang of it, and learn to quickly sort your items, it is not as bad as is may initially seem. You can arrange items by sale price, weight, type and all other things in a useful manner. Perhaps the biggest fault with the menu is that when browsing through your armour/weapon collection, there is no menu directly comparing your current equipments stats to a weapon in your inventory. The menu does show how your stats will change upon equipping new armour, however it doesn't take into account the effects of already equipped gems. Additionally, it is confusing at first that gems remain on armour and weapons even after unequipping them, but this is a minor gripe as it is quite easy to remove and reattach them.
Along with experience, you receive art (AP) and skill (SP) points upon defeating a monster or discovering a new landmark. These points can be spent to upgrade the effectiveness of your arts and unlock new skills. Fortunately you don't really need to worry too much about managing AP wisely because the game provides a fair chunk to experiment with different set ups, and its not until you're very far into the game that you can maximise your arts levels. Similarly, gathering SP and unlocking new skills becomes an important part of the game as you progress further and further. You can also link skills between characters to change how they play (i.e. linking a skill which allows you to equip 'Heavy' equipment onto a 'Light' character to improve their defensive capabilities). The different set ups you'll need to defeat difficult boss fights and unique enemies makes for a very enjoyable experience.
The graphics in Xenoblade are easily among the best of the Wii, however it is the detailed landscapes and settings - not pure graphical power - that makes the game truly beautiful. Some places like Eryth Sea at sunset and Valak Mountain at night will truly take your breath away. There are many memorable moments in terms of vision, such as emerging from Tephra Cave to see the Mechonis for the first time that will stick with you for a long time. In all honesty, the graphics really have to be experienced for yourself and appreciated for the Wii's shortcomings.
Music and Sound (10/10)
The scores for Xenoblade are outstanding and truly exceeded any expectations I had. Even the title screen music is amazing, and I've often found myself listening to it on repeat. The british voice acting is a breath of fresh air, however you can choose to play the game with the original japanese voice actors should you desire.
Replay Value (10/10)
It's easy to clock over 100 hours in a single play through, and once you open up New Game+ and attempt to complete "everything" you could be looking at around 200 hours.
Xenoblade not only ranks among the best JRPGs of recent times, but can proudly stand with some of the best games ever created. It is an experience you will soon not forget.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/05/12
Game Release: Xenoblade Chronicles (AU, 09/01/11)
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