Review by Fabled_Legend
Xenoblade, a rpg you may regret not playing
Xenoblade, a game made by Monolithsoft, heavily published for western release by Nintendo, at this time of review, breaking a drought of RPG's for the European Wii. This game marks one of the many games to come that would previously never be published on European shores, yet, unfavourably it also marks that this game not to be released in America at the same time due to Nintendo of American's decision, which never-before it mattered in the past with JRPG's which remains a oddity. This paragraph should explain a bit of why the game is most commonly heard.
Firstly the name, Xenoblade,is often in confusion to be linked with Xenosaga/Xenogears, while it is half of the story, few of the crew worked on those releases for the Playstation, Xeno name-line was a honor of continuation to the crew, and the game remains true to the name, there are robots and you will be seeing alot of them. However, game-play is entirely different, all with new world and new cast so there is no plot link to the saga series.
The story is fast paced and never lacks action, the beginning of the game you are shown two gigantic titans warring with each other until eventually both struck a final blow to each other bringing the battle to a deathly draw, eons later, thrust into a war one year prior to the present as the Colony's hero Dunban, wielder of the Monado. The Monado is a important tool throughout the game, it is the bane of the Mechon, a robot civilisation that attacks all living things, the Monado is the only weapon that can penetrate their armour with relative ease than man made crafts. Fast forward to the present, you control Shulk, the main protagonist, and find he is specifically gifted to wield the Monado, potentially unlocking its latent abilities, mainly the power to see a glimpse of the future, and thus set out to confront the Mechon. There are alot of character developments, and will find out theres more to the Mechon, bringing the story into deeper territory, much more than simple confrontation and revenge.
Obviously not HD, but close to HD. Scene's are breathtaking, almost close to reality, there is a major distance view spanning the entire area. What you see is a possibility to get there on foot, there are no invisible barriers, can virtually just walk off the edge if you like. Every blade of grass rustles as you run through them, the leaves of the trees moves, the ever moving flow of water, monsters and animals alike are done to detail, then theres the night and day system that can transform some areas into breathtaking wonders. Added with realism of the weather. There are also armour types that change the appearances of the characters, some are very detailed, but there are some that usually make your character a bit of a misfit.
Firstly you control Dunban at the start of the game, and are shown rather simple tutoritals about the basic's of combat, the game eases you into understanding the game without much complications. Most of the game is done exploring on foot, it gives a sense of distance of how big areas are, and you are rewarded for every time you discover landmarks in way of experience points for Character levels, Skills and Arts, it is entirely optional but you may find Unique Monsters and certain Collectibles not commonly found in other parts of the area (those big blue balls of light are commonly seen throughout the game, and are not only pieces for the Collectopia, but Quests as well). The game uses a clock method up to a period of 24hrs, this can change the landscape, type of monsters/Uniques and collectibles to be find either day or night, and is hangable, no need to sit idle for night or day to come, just access the clock, turn the hands to any time of your choice.
Once discovering landmarks, there is no need to distress about back tracking, you can simply skip travel to any of these landmarks via the area map, hassle free.
Biggest side-quest of the game is exploring cities, getting to know its residents, doing quests and covering the Affinity Chart (which shows what affection does each named Resident know another, i.e. Tea pals, best friends, don't like each other) most will have a quest on offer, others require you to getting to know them and finding out their affinities. Each Npc have two dialogues, have to talk twice to hear more from them, named NPC's can have up to 6 dialogues, but its usually limited to 4 most times, type of their dialogue varies upon time such as Npc who wake up in morning talk differently mid day. These Npc's brings the place alive, and make you feel more involved, eventually earning up to max of 5 stars within each colony, that leads to some of them trusting you to decide their future, affects trading as higher stars means potentially better loot on offer. Quests that gives two choices change the way NPC's responds,
Lastly the good thing is its entirely optional, can just continue onward towards the main story and not bother with the residents and quests at all. The game-play is big enough itself without sidetracking.
Combat is started by targeting a enemy and clicking the battle icon, the only difference is you either from a distance target and initiate to allow for a burst affinity (Pressing the button once it rounds to almost a complete circle or just in the circle) that increasings your characters tension, it plays a role by how well it affects accuracy and criticals, their faces range from looking down, low crit and high miss, to focused rage which gives higher accuracy and critical's or otherwise get attacked first. It almost follows a trinity rule of Tank, Damage Dealer, and Healer (although you can forgo that kind of method if you're confident with a Tank and 2 DDealers, or 3DD), the enemy attacks the one which has the most aggro, which is easily shown as a red circling the characters waistline.
The battle starts very basic, you are only in control of the character you gave leadership to, the rest is AI controlled, once you progress you eventually learn more Arts and Skills, battles will eventually become more intense and strategic, and able to perform chain attacks. Arts are timed, so using a art in combat will put it on cooldown, how long depends on its level, and are automatically refreshed after a victory/defeat or escape therefore not constrained to wait, HP is restored by using a healing ability in combat or automatically over time out of combat. While Characters can be revived in battle if theres one Party Gauge filled by running over them and pressing the corresponding button, if the character you're controlling dies, the AI will try to revive you if theres one Party Gauge slot remaining, if not, the party will be automatically defeated and be returned to the last Landmark. All progress is not lost fortunately, there is no Game over, so able to try again with a different approach. Some arts have status affects and the Monado's visions add depth to the combat system, giving rise to challenges on going about changing the future to avoid any party incapacitation, if successfully done, will rise the partys tension to the maximum.
Music for environments are wondrously on tune, are well suited for those areas, each has 2 soundtracks, that is different from night and day. The cut scenes uses the right tone of music, raging from build ups to adrenaline rushes. Voice acting is quite good for English, there is a Japanese VA should most not find the English not to their pleasing. The combat music isn't consistent throughout the game and changes more upbeat as you progress preventing it becoming tiresome.
Xenoblade isn't perfect, there are some annoyances that prevented it getting full marks.
Quests can be overwhelming, there are a total of over 400 quests and you will find to have about too many at once, most are mainly collecting items from certain monsters and slaying types of monsters. Sometimes you may find yourself lost in it, or frustratingly trying to get the right weather to forecast.
Lack of Control of AI Characters, you only have 3 commands, Come here (run to the leader), Focus, Engage at will (attack whatever in its sights). AI occasionally tend to stand in front of a Tank and find themselves in a line of fire of Cone attacks, are unaware of surroundings, near a poison swap, a cliff, and either stand in it taking damage or fall off. While AI can be smart to encourage you or free you from status affects, there are times you don't want one rushing to encourage a tank while the enemy is preparing a deadly AoE hit that only the tank can survive. And lastly, AI can tend to suddenly appear above you when climbing, possibly dislodge you off, not much of a problem but there is a area that can make them plummet to your doom.
Finding the entire population of named Npc's, guide-less, its a big task, the Colony/cities are huge, you may spent countless hours getting to know each and every one.. and only certain Npc's are found in Daytime and Night-time which means not once but twice to sweep the entire area. There is one city in the game that lacks a skip travel to a certain parts, and there are numerous Named npc's scattered too far to the point it takes at least 10mins to reach them, this may become quite frustrating when you have to go back and forth.
Facial Textures on some Cutscenes, they can be rather out of place, game tries to use a bit of realism drawn on the faces, and it does seem real most times, but often gives way when they move.
Lastly, armour types, don't really sit well for most characters, some helms really don't bode well even if you got a set piece.
Things to know
Doing all quests soon as you can access them can overlevel you by a margin, to the point you'll be usually close to or 5 levels above monsters for current areas you just entered. If the type to prefer the game remain challenging, its best to keep the quests for New Game +, yes, you read right, New Game + allows to retain all levels, arts, skills, and items to be carried over. Not carried over are quests, affinities (minus party affinity).
Theres still re-playability to be had even if done all quests on the first play-through, you can choose alternative futures for NPC's and see how things turn out.
Has a Achievement/Trial system, Xbox360& PS3 owners may recgonise it, its where you take on game challenges such as slaying 100000 monsters.
Given the game a 9/10 out of honestly, there are some quirks I may have forgotten, but 170hrs for first playthrough, all quests done, collected some armour sets to my liking, and found this game to be the most enjoyable I ever had in a long time, I honestly can't remember how long I ever felt compelled to sit for long hours unhealthily addicted. This just proves to me this is a RPG that should be at least tried.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Xenoblade Chronicles (EU, 08/19/11)
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