N+ Review: Xenoblade Chronicles
By Dustin WilsonKhadgar. Sunday, September 18, 2011 5:28:06 PM
Xenoblade is a role playing game released on a Nintendo TV-based console that isn't the Super Nintendo. If that's not an odd sentence to read then the next one's going to be a shocker. It's developed by Nintendo as well -- or more accurately a subsidiary of them. The big question is, though, can it live up to Nintendo's usual standards? Most definitely.
History & Development
The game is developed by Monolith Soft, a subsidiary of Nintendo that many on this side of the pond have never heard of. If you have you'd know them from the abysmal games they've made in the past such as the Xenosaga series while they were a subsidiary of Namco. Their history actually begins with Xenogears, an RPG game released in 1998 by SquareSoft (now SquareEnix) and in the author's opinion the best RPG released on the PlayStation console (and one of the best of all time as well). After the same team's development of Chrono Cross, many of the members of that team transferred to Monolith Soft. Chrono Cross was the sequel to what many people consider to be the best RPG game and one of the best games of any genre ever developed, Chrono Trigger, and is generally considered by fans of Chrono Trigger as being an absolutely disappointing game; in fact the game's only saving grace is its soundtrack composed by Yasunori Mitsuda which is of such high caliber that it wouldn't be felt out of place being compared to masterpieces of Beethoven and Mozart. The soundtrack alone can't make a game, and unfortunately the gameplay and the storytelling in the game were subpar; the people behind Monolith Soft have made terrible games ever since... until now.
Xenoblade was first announced during E3 2009 with a trailer using the title Monado: Beginning of the World. The name was apparently changed to Xenoblade to honor Tetsuya Takahashi, the founder of Monolith Soft, because of his devotion to the Xeno series. After Monolith Soft had done a really good job of destroying the series it would seem to be a terrible choice of name, but it's definitely a better name than the working title as it rolls off the tongue. When released in Europe NOE decided it needed Chronicles added to the name. I'm not going to try to apply any sort of logic to the name change as it's beyond stupid to change a perfectly good and simple game's name. I've been referring to the game simply as Xenoblade, and I'll continue to do so; it'll save 10 bytes of wasted space every time I need to type out the title.
Nintendo of America is refusing to publish this game in North America despite Monolith Soft's desire to, and in doing so has created a lot of negative press for Nintendo and the creation of Operation Rainfall, a fan run campaign with the intent of persuading NOA to release this game and two others. The most the campaign has been able to do is generate such negative press for Nintendo that they responded on Facebook with what amounted to PR speak for "fuck off". There has been good to come out of NOA's refusal to release this game: NOE's been given the chance to localize an epic scale game itself. Their localization of this game is among the best I've ever seen on any Japanese language game. While the user is able to choose the Japanese voices the English voice acting is quite well done and was given care that very few games ever are given.
Despite having a very small stock of the game on initial release in Europe the game debuted seventh on the UK game charts, second on the Wii charts. It's sold extremely well despite the general public's aversion to Wii games as of late and of the relative collapse of the Japanese RPG gaming market in 2006.
Many of you will now ask then how can an American be reviewing this game? I've purchased and have imported the game, and I've been playing it on a Wii with hacked firmware. I have hacked my Wii for the sole purpose of playing this game and will gladly repurchase the North American version of the game if NOA ever decides to get its head out of its ass.
A very long time ago the entire world was nothing more than an ocean until two gigantic beings, Bionis and Mechonis, battled on the planet. Their battle lasted for eons until one day they died while still in the midst of battle. Seemingly millions of years passed, and life came to be on what was once Bionis. Eventually intelligent life evolved in the form of Homs, Nopon, and High Entia; civilizations have been established. Centuries of nearly peaceful existence was interrupted when Mechon, sentient machines from the lifeless remains of Mechonis invaded. The war culminated in the Battle of Sword Valley when the hero Dunban lead the Homs to victory wielding the legendary sword Monado, the only weapon capable of penetrating Mechon armor.
The game begins one year after the decisive battle, and the Mechon return in greater numbers and power attacking a small colony at the foot of Bionis. With Dunban seriously wounded from the battle and still recovering from dilapidating injuries inflicted upon him by the Monado itself, he is incapable of effectively brandishing the legendary sword to protect his home. Shulk a young researcher picks up the sword in desperation and finds himself worthy of its power. With the sword's giving Shulk clairvoyant abilities, he was able to aid his friends in fending off the invasion. He and his closest friend Reyn set off after the battle to avenge those who lost their lives in the attack.
The game can be played with the wiimote and nunchuk, but it's suggested to play the game with the classic controller. I will also suggest it as playing the game the other way is frustrating and quite unlike what is the ideal input method for playing an RPG game. I personally like to play RPG games as a means for relaxation. I don't want to be flailing my arms around. While it can be seen as a negative to the game that it doesn't use any motion control it's definitely better off for not having it.
The game is beyond what is normally found in traditional Japanese RPG games. Xenoblade is extremely open ended; the player has the freedom to go where he/she wants whenever throughout the vast majority of the game unlike what is found in most RPG games (and most games period) of this generation where you're led in a single linear direction and told what to do at every conceivable opportunity. Players are encouraged to explore and are rewarded for doing so through experience and frequent jaw drops from how epically gorgeous the game is. Xenoblade contains static characters, meaning the player doesn't invent his own characters upon start of the game. However, customization of your characters is quite akin to what is found in many MMORPG games where the equipment the character equips determines the appearance of the character, a concept relatively unheard of in Japanese RPG games.
The world is absolutely enormous, and it takes place literally on a gigantic humanoid-like titan named Bionis. The characters begin their journey at the giant's feet and make their way to the top and beyond which makes for a very unique experience. If strictly on foot it would take hours to go from one end of the world to the other which makes this game's world the biggest the author's ever seen in a Japanese RPG game, and it is among the biggest he's seen in any game. To save the player from the immense amount of time that would need to be spent traveling there are things called "landmarks" which allow the player to jump from one spot to the other anywhere in the world he's been.
NPC's in the game are much like what players would find in western MMORPG games where many would have names and developed personalities. They also travel from one place to the other and are only available during certain times of the day or during certain conditions. The game has another time saving mechanism in that the user can set the clock himself not unlike the Sun Song on Link's ocarina in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. However, instead of just turning night into day the user in this game can specify the precise time of day.
Those same NPC's also provide the player with quests to perform which provide the player with improved gear, money, and experience. It also provides the player with what is deemed as "affinity" where the users reputation within a particular settlement or area goes up with every successful quest. That same affinity system applies to the members of the party and to the NPC's themselves. The affinity system is in fact the core of the game's mechanics and drives everything else in the game. This creates a very lifelike sense of social interaction that's not found in any other game.
The battle system is perhaps where the game shines the most. The battle system in the game is as open ended as the game's world itself is. It's quite a lot like Final Fantasy XII's system in that your enemies show up on the world's map, you're free to move about in the battle, and there's no turns to take. All actions have a cool down period. Xenoblade takes it much further and without the complexity of its gambit system. The game's techniques (called "arts" in the game) are able to be performed when the requirements are met for its usage. There are no magic points, and there are no recovery items. Health recovery is done purely through the use of arts. Some arts provide additional benefits when performed in a certain manner such as behind an opponent or on the side, and some arts are to be performed in succession. The player only controls the main character, and the other two in battle are mostly controlled by artificial intelligence. While in many RPG games this is a turn off in this game it works extremely well and makes absolute perfect sense because of the affinity system mentioned earlier. The higher the player's character's affinity is with another teammate the better the character's AI. Affinity also affects battle morale, and the morale itself plays a part in how the character performs. Morale can clearly be seen through the facial expressions of the characters' portraits. If the character has low morale they will make poor judgments and start acting erratically. It's the player's job to maintain morale by moving near the other character and encourage them just as you might would if you were really in a battle. Throughout the battle the character will be required to press b at a semi-precise moment as a means of encouragement. Throughout battle the characters themselves are yelling and talking amongst each other. When a character does something spectacular such as a last second dodge of an attack or a really well timed attack pressing b at the right moment would cause the party to encourage that character, boosting the character's affinity and morale. You're shown visually of a character's extremely high morale when flames start dancing behind their portraits. Additionally, when the chain gauge is filled the party members are able to perform chain attacks. The player is then able to choose in succession the attacks the characters perform without the enemies' being able to retaliate until the chain attack is finished. If morale is high amongst the members after the 3 attacks are up the player would then be able to do more than 3 by pressing b with an ever decreasing window of opportunity. The Monado itself adds even more dimensions to it, and discussing its many abilities would only add more to an already lengthy review and contain spoilers to the game's story. The game's battle system is perhaps one of the best designed battle systems the author's seen in any game.
The game's soundtrack is spectacular with tracks composed by Yoko Shimomura (probably most well known from Legend of Mana), Manami Kiyota, ACE+, and lastly Yasunori Mitsuda himself. It's among the best of any game of this generation and holds itself up well to many others. The beats of many tracks are catchy and range from classical music to electronic and rock and successfully is able to blend all those different genres into a single composition.
Unfortunately there's tons of more stuff to mention about Xenoblade, but alas time is short. This game is the best game I've played on the Wii, beating anything Nintendo itself has made for the console by a long shot. It's without a doubt the best RPG of its generation. It instills anger in me that Nintendo of America refuses to release this game to North America especially when it's one of the best games made for their console when they'll fill up shelves of game stores with games that would make ET: The Extra Terrestrial for the Atari 2600 seem like a masterpiece. Many games are reviewed as great games "for a Wii game". This game hands down beats out any RPG game (or any game called an RPG but really isn't that's sold these days) released for its competition, and should be placed amongst some of the best games ever made. It's that good.
Game: Xenoblade Chronicles
Developed By: Monolith Soft
Published By: Nintendo
Release Date: June 10, 2010 (JP), August 19, 2011 (EU), September 1, 2011 (AUS)
Rating: ACB: M, CERO: B, PEGI: 12
Supports WFC: No
N+ Immersive story that keeps you playing wanting more.
N+ Spectacular graphics that show the true power the Wii holds that no other game on the console has.
N+ Non-linear gameplay that rewards exploration.
N+ Plenty of side quests and things to keep you busy.
N+ Fantastic music that you'll find yourself humming when you're away from the game.
N- Game is controlled predominately by the classic controller alone.
N- Menus can be annoying at times, could do with remembering your last settings.
N- Minor bug with in-battle voices where infrequently characters' voices not present in the battle will accidentally be used in place of others.
JudgmeN+: 9.999999999999 out of 10