Review by cheeseyrox2

"A Titanic RPG for Every Gamer"

Xenoblade, MonolithSoft's console RPG epic, released on the Wii in 2010 in Japan. After much fanfare, Xenoblade Chronicles was released in North America on April 6, 2012. Hearing about all the hype behind this release, I decided to check it out. Does Xenoblade live up to the hype? Read and find out.

Story: As a general overview, the game's story centers on the conflict between the game's two titans: the Bionis and the Mechonis. As the game's prologue describes, the gods fought until both of them became massive corpses. The protagonist, Shulk, and his companions, are living beings that grow up within the body of Bionis. Even though both of the gods are dead, the conflict still lives on. The Mechon, robots from Mechonis, invade Colony 9, which is the game's starting city. The protagonists are aided by the Monado: a mysterious sword that has the power to unravel future events. Although the story seems farfetched and complicated, the game's story ends up making sense. And that's what surprised me the most. If you're looking for a plot that is on the same level with some of the classic Final Fantasy titles, your expectations will be exceeded. Xenoblade's story is dynamic, evolving from a typical revenge plot to a grand ordeal with the focus on determinism. I thought the pacing and general progression of the plot was stellar. The game has more than 10 hours of cutscenes, but it never feels like you're playing an interactive movie. The cutscenes are generally fabulous, with the perfect combination of drama, intensity, and emotion. The game's story is written by Tetsuya Takahashi, the mastermind behind Xenogears and Xenosaga. As expected of Takahashi, the story eventually becomes rich with science fiction and even some religious references. More and more layers of mystery are added on until everything comes together during the climax. And when it does, Xenoblade is simply amazing. The ending was shocking and extremely satisfying, which is great for any epic RPG plot. Most of all, the game's story gets exponentially more engrossing as you play through the game. That's a testament to the strength of the writing. The story kept me guessing about the mysteries behind the game's lore, and it's safe to say that I failed to predict most of the twists. 10/10

World/Setting: This is where Xenoblade excelled the most, along with music. The world is incredible. Bionis makes for an unmatched setting. In Xenoblade, you are literally walking on gods. The variety of the settings is great as well. The maps are huge. The size of the world is comparable to western RPGs the likes of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It's easily the biggest world I've seen in a Japanese role-playing game. I won't ever forget places like the Bionis' Leg and Eryth Sea. The scope of this game is unparalleled to anything I've experienced in gaming. Xenoblade's open world is very rare for eastern RPGs, but is a pleasant surprise. Ultimately, the setting ends up being the single most impressive aspect of the game. 10/10

Music: Xenoblade has a brilliant soundtrack. The variety is spectacular. Every cutscene track tells a story. It is essentially as close to perfection in a video game soundtrack as you can get. Sure, there are some cave themes or some dungeon themes that aren't as special, but the awesome tracks make up for it so well. More than half of the soundtrack is blissful to the ears. All the credit goes to Xenoblade's talented group of six musicians. Yoko Shimomura, the group ACE+, Manami Kiyota, and Yasunori MItsuda together made Xenoblade's music amazing. From battle tracks like “You Will Know Our Names” to sweeping pieces like “Gaur Plain”, the soundtrack has it all. You will be hard pressed to find a better soundtrack in a video game. Simply unforgettable. 10/10

Characters: This is where the game falls short slightly. I personally loved the characters, but I can't say that this game has the strongest cast of characters. In fact, I thought they were slightly awkward and weird in the beginning. They don't have fascinating backstories and don't develop as well as some characters that you would see from the Tales series. But what I like is that as the story evolved, the characters evolved too. Shulk isn't the type of protagonist one would admire, but certainly isn't the type of protagonist one would hate (other than a scene or two). He's a total nerd, which is actually a fresh change of pace. As for the other characters, I liked a lot of them more than Shulk, but I think that one of the character's subplots ended up having wasted potential. That's a shame, as she had a lot of political drama dedicated to her near the midway point of the game. Providing some character interaction, the game has Heart-to-Hearts—scenes where certain characters have conversations with one another in set areas of the game. The Heart-to-Hearts are no skits like those found in the Tales series, but they were pretty fun to play through just to see the multiple scenarios that come from them and such. There are over 60 Heart-to-Hearts for your enjoyment. While a lot of them are disappointingly insignificant and there are definitely some missed opportunities in this department, Xenoblade succeeds in having likable and relatable characters. The cast seems real and down-to-earth, which is always crucial for any story. The characters grow on you, and are likable mostly by their reactions to story events. 8/10

Graphics: Xenoblade's art direction is stellar. I was pretty impressed with the artwork in the artbook that came with my preorder. The environments feel lush and vibrant and truly special. From the rock formations of Bionis' Leg to the fingers of Mechonis on the Fallen Arm, Xenoblade has some truly enthralling vistas. That being said, such a huge game couldn't have been made without some compromises--especially on the Wii. The character models took a bit of a hit, as did some textures. From a technical standpoint, it's easy to say the game is graphically dated by more than a whole console generation. That being said, the environments are gorgeous. I simply forgot about all of the game's graphical imperfections and shortcomings when I traveled through Bionis' Leg and the last area of the game. The art direction is generally very impressive throughout. The art direction is the best it gets, but the technical level is not near the best on Wii. 8.5/10

Gameplay: Finally, the gameplay. In a word, Xenoblade's gameplay is deep. Xenoblade's depth is astounding. It plays like a mixture between western RPGs and traditional RPGs. It can be best described as a single-player MMORPG. The execution, thankfully, is better than what that sounds. The core of the mechanics remains faithful to traditional Japanese style role-playing games: you obtain equipment, you form a small team with every character having specialized roles, and you develop abilities and skills that represent the evolution of your strength. Xenoblade takes several gameplay mechanics from western RPGs as well: a main focus is exploring huge environments, after all. In addition, the game includes an extremely handy fast-travel system that allows you to warp to any discovered landmark in the game world with minimal loading times. There are over 400 quests, and even though most of these quests ask for mundane tasks, Xenoblade streamlines the MMORPG-esque questing experience quite well. This is mostly attributed to the fact that you don't have to return to several of the quest-givers after you have completed their quests, and the fast-travel system makes questing much more convenient. Quests usually ask you to fight some monsters or collect some materials. Questing is essential for raising affinity between party members and areas of the world, which is important for gem crafting and trading with NPCs. The game has one large affinity chart, where all named NPCs and their relationships are placed. It's quite interesting to see how far the chart develops as you partake in quests. The game sufficiently rewards for exploration, which is great because exploration is one of the biggest appeals of the game. Tons of achievements are in the game, and the game rewards you by giving experience points for accomplishing them.

The battle system was something I enjoyed a lot too. The battle system may seem simple at first, but like the story, it is deceptively complex and rewarding. You control one character in a party of three out of a pool of seven characters. When you see a monster, you can choose to target it and engage it in battle. When in range, the character you control performs auto-attacks. Special moves, known as Arts, are used via a cooldown system. As you level up Arts, cooldown times shorten and they become more potent. Also, there is a skill system. Each character starts with three skill trees that contain multiple skills, which are unlocked by gathering skill points from questing and fighting. You can link skills with other party members as long as you have enough affinity coins, which are earned from leveling up and fighting special Unique Monsters. An essential aspect revolves around gems—you can place gems obtained from questing or from crafting into your equipment, which can dramatically change the outcome of battles. What is pretty remarkable about Xenoblade is the balance of the party members. Even though some characters are definitely overpowered, every party combination is viable, provided that you make the right arrangements regarding Arts and gems. Generally speaking, the AI of your party members works well most of the time. I ended up liking every character in battle. The most unique aspect of Xenoblade's battle system revolves around visions from the future. Derived from the game's theme of shaping the future, the Monado does have visions of future attacks from enemies. When visions occur, a vision tag will appear, stating the amount of damage the attack will do and the amount of time left until the enemy unleashes the attack. You can break these vision tags by performing certain arts, or inflicting certain statuses on the monster. Ultimately, Xenoblade is not really challenging if you do most of the quests. In fact, if you do most of the quests, you will be overleveled and will find the main story bosses to be very easy on the whole. However, the game has five optional secret bosses that are over the level cap of level 99 and they require hardcore strategy and strong set-ups. In conclusion, Xenoblade's gameplay is flooded with a lot of different mechanics and ideas. Most of these mechanics are executed perfectly, although a good amount of the quests lacked substance. Still, Xenoblade is a game with a massive amount of content. If you're rushing through the game's story, you will finish with 50 hours of gameplay. For 100% completion, this game requires upwards of 150 hours. My 100% file clocked in at 185 hours. There was never an hour, from start to finish, where I disliked Xenoblade's gameplay. All in all, Xenoblade excels in the gameplay department as well. 9.5/10

Overall: Xenoblade absolutely lives up to the hype. I can't believe that Nintendo of America was hesitant about localizing this game. It's a shame that one of the best games I've ever played ended up being a limited release—a GameStop exclusive. Those complaints aside and on to the actual game, Xenoblade is incredible and it's a game everyone should play. In my opinion, you really have to try hard to hate this one. From its epic setting to its excellent cutscenes to its gorgeous music to its deep and rewarding gameplay...Xenoblade is fantastic. It's not perfect, because nothing is, but it's really close, and without a doubt one of my favorite games ever. 10/10

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 11/27/12

Game Release: Xenoblade Chronicles (US, 04/06/12)

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