Hardcore games on the Wii have been few and far between lately. Despite Nintendo’s proclamations that their next system will focus on hardcore games before casual, it still took a massive online campaign to get the Big N to release Monolith’s epic JRPG, Xenoblade Chronicles, in the United States. Now that they have, was it worth the wait?
The story and setting of Xenoblade Chronicles is a unique one: long ago, two giant gods, the Bionis and the Mechonis, fought to the death. On their now-still bodies a world sprang up: organic life of various races on the Bionis and a race of robots on the Mechonis. Without warning, the robots, known as Machina, attack the human (or Homs) colonies on the Bionis, starting off a massive war. Our hero, Shulk, found an ancient weapon called the Monado, which allows him to hurt the Machina. He begins a quest to discover what is behind these attacks and to put a stop to the war once and for all.
The basic story of a young man and his friends trying to fight a war, explore the world and gain new friends while doing so isn’t very original. But the setting is and the world is an expansive one, allowing for plenty of exploration. Gamers turned off by Final Fantasy XIII’s narrow corridors will be delighted to find a few areas more vast than even the vaunted Archlyte Steppe of that game. The game has an innovative setting and the story, while familiar in certain ways, has enough twists and surprises that it kept me engaged throughout the entire journey. Sure, there were tons of exposition dropped at various times, but it all made enough sense that I found the ending to be a rousing climax and well earned by the story that came before it.
The battle system of Xenoblade has earned much praise from Western gamers and it’s easy to see why: it’s basically an MMO battle system in which you have tanks, DPS and healers. It even uses terms like aggro and such. The battles take place in real time and there are no random encounters. You see an enemy and its level and can choose to fight it or try to sneak past it. Some enemies won’t attack unless you do so first and others will attack on sight or sound. You only control one member of your party, but the AI does a decent job with the other two party members, although in boss battles, it is sometimes easier to take control of the healer and manage everyone’s health because the AI isn’t always up to the task. During battle, your characters will auto attack unless you pick an ability, which then has a refresh rate. Battles play out as such, using your abilities as needed and waiting for them refresh. It sounds rote, but it is pretty fun, with the added elements of positioning your character behind an enemy or to the side to inflict extra damage or status effects.
As you level up, you earn new abilities and can level them up through gaining experience and also the use of Art Books, which can be found by killing monsters and buying them in shops. The game gives you a good mix of characters, but only one is a true healer, so I tended to stick with a core group rather than try to branch out too much, which is a poor design flaw, in my eyes. One unique aspect is the ability to see the future. This is a major story element and it was nice to see it implemented in the battle system as well. Occasionally, Shulk will receive a vision of a devastating attack that an enemy is about to unleash. He can then change the future, by immunizing the target to the attack, increasing someone else’s aggro or reducing the target’s. It’s a fun system, but later in the game, it happens more and more frequently and can grow frustrating.
There are tons and tons of sidequests in this game, so many that after arriving at the second area, I decided not to go out of my way to complete any, as this would suddenly have become an 80+ hour game and I just don’t have time for that kind of thing anymore. Most of the quests are the usual run of the mill sort: gather this materal or kill this enemy, etc… Many of the quests offer you tangible rewards, such as other materials or gold, but not much in the way if experience, which is another reason I decided to forego them. There is also a village you can choose to rebuild and repopulate, usually by solving quests for people or gathering more materials. I messed with it a bit, but didn’t delve too deeply. Still, it’s a nice option if you are so inclined. Combine all this with a robust (If complex) crafting system and there is more than enough in Xenoblade Chronicles to justify however much money you spend purchasing it.
Also worthy of note is the sound. The music in the game was composed largely by Yasunori Matsuda, whose work you might recognize from Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. In case you weren’t aware, those are two of the best game soundtracks of all time and I am not overstating that even a bit. While not at as consistent as those two games, the music in Xenoblade is pretty phenomenal, with some true works of genius springing up throughout the course of the adventure (Check out this instant classic). To top it all off, the British voice cast adds a layer of gravitas to even the cheesiest dialogue. I honestly could listen to these actors recite some of the worst lines in game history and still find it pleasant. In fact, it should be mandated that all future JRPG’s have a British voice cast. I hope you are listening, Square Enix.
Xenoblade Chronicles does a lot to move the genre forward and it’s a ton of fun, as well. There is so much to do in the game that it might feel overwhelming, but it does a great job at easing you into the depths without holding your hand. I skipped most of the side quests in the interest of time and I still got more than my money’s worth. There simply is no reason not to try Xenoblade Chronicles if you are a fan of RPGs and are a Wii owner looking to dust the White Wonder off one more time.
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