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Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) artwork

Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) review

"If you like JRPGs and own a Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles is the game you’ve been waiting for."

If you like JRPGs and own a Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles is the game you’ve been waiting for.

In the distant past, two titans--the Bionis and the Mechonis--did battle on an endless ocean. After their fighting continued without interruption for an age, the battle finally came to an end when the combatants killed each other simultaneously. As the centuries passed, life began to appear and live and evolve on the corpse of the Bionis. After a time, the humanoid Homs who came to reside there were attacked by the robotic Mechon. Only one weapon is capable of damaging the Mechon: a sword called the Monado, which enables the user to see the future. After the colony where he lives is attacked, a Hom named Shulk and his friend Reyn set out to defeat the Mechon once and for all. While character motivations are pretty typical for a game like Xenoblade Chronicles, its setting is relatively unique and the mythos behind the world is interesting.

Given its appearance on Wii, rather than an HD console, Xenoblade Chronicles is a nice looking game. Character expressions are emotive, though a little weird thanks to their giant anime eyes. Armour actually affects character appearance, as in games like Dragon Quest IX. The environments showcase the game’s greatest visual accomplishments, however. Lush green fields and forests, glowing swamps, and clear blue oceans are breathtaking and feature lots of variety.

The music fits the game and avoids becoming too repetitive. You’re unlikely to start humming the soundtrack after playing, but the tunes establish good ambiance. The game uses the English voice track from the PAL release, meaning you might actually not immediately recognize the voice of every single character you come across. The vocal talent complements decent writing , with credible characters who usually avoid coming across as over-the-top.

Xenoblade Chronicles sports many strengths. It feels like a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy XII, what Final Fantasy XIII could have been if it hadn’t instead turned out to be almost the exact opposite of its predecessor. The massive world is full of places to explore, and you’re rewarded for doing so. Every time you find a new landmark or hidden area, you gain EXP. Battles take place seamlessly in the field and the environment occasionally plays a role in battle. It may be difficult to get behind a large monster on a narrow walkway, for instance, and fighting near a cliff can be hazardous both to your party members and whatever monster they’re fighting. If you want to do nothing but explore an area for hours, plenty of adventures await you.

Xenoblade Chronicles also features hundreds and hundreds of optional side quests. They don’t offer a lot of variety, since most of them simply order you to “Kill five of this type of monster” or “Collect three random items scattered around a nearby area,” but they fill another role besides simply giving you something to do: quest completion allows you to establish an affinity with a given area. Named NPCs are added to an affinity chart. As you complete side quests, you’ll learn more about those characters and their relationships with others. The locals will trust you more as a result, and you’ll be offered increasingly rewarding side quests. Later rewards for some of the more interesting side quests can be quite impressive.

The battle system itself is well-paced and complex enough to remain engaging, especially during boss fights. Moves often benefit from various special effects, but also feature cooldown times. Special moves may produce status effects or boost the amount of damage inflicted, depending on where they land. There’s also an “aggro” mechanic that can be used to draw enemy attention to specific characters in your party so that other characters take less damage and are better able to flank enemies and use a wider range of special attacks. Not only that, but there are special “talent” abilities that need to be charged by attacking enemies. They can be used less frequently than other moves but are generally more useful. Finally, team attacks allow all of your party members attack in quick succession and elemental combos can be chained together to great benefit.

Perhaps the most interesting facet of the battle system is the ability to predict the future. Sometimes you’ll have visions of attacks that haven’t happened yet, so you’ll know they’re coming and will be able to prepare. For example, if you know one of your characters will soon be hit by a physical combo and knocked out as a result, you can cast an evasion-raising buff on them and change the future. Unfortunately, you can’t instruct party members to use specific moves unless they’ve just had a vision or they are putting together a chain attack. Your crew is generally good at healing itself, but almost completely useless when it comes to handling status ailments. For instance, there’s a specific chain of status ailments that can be inflicted for maximum efficiency. Once an enemy is suffering from Break, it can be Toppled, and then Dazed, with Topple and Daze ailments preventing enemy action for a short time. No single character is capable of inflicting all three of those particular status ailments, which means you’ll need to coordinate a team effort to carry the enemy through that process, but computer-controlled characters often fail to take capitalize on the situation once foes have been Broken or Toppled. The battle system could be improved by the ability to issue commands to support members whenever you want, or at least it would be nice to have the ability to tweak behaviour in advance.

Despite such shortcomings, Xenoblade Chronicles was clearly designed to eliminate a number of typical JRPG annoyances. There’s almost no penalty for losing a battle. Defeated enemies respawn and damaged enemies heal, but you maintain all of your EXP and loot. You also respawn at the last landmark you visited, meaning you don’t have to worry about saving often (though it wouldn’t matter even if you did, since it’s possible to save almost anywhere and at any time). If you lose a boss battle, you respawn just outside of the arena, plus you won’t have to sit through the pre-battle story scenes a second time.

The expansive areas that are so much fun to explore also don’t serve as a nuisance when all you want to do is advance from one point to another. You can warp instantly to any landmark you’ve discovered in any area of the world at any time, story permitting. Quick travel is only infrequently disabled, and never for more than a short period of time. Another nice touch is that fulfilling the requirements for fetch quests usually ends those quest automatically, meaning you don’t have to manually deliver anything to the person who offered the quest. There are occasional exceptions, but those usually exist to help with world building. Items you need for eventual quests also are marked in your inventory so that you don’t accidentally sell them, and that sometimes even includes items for quests that you haven’t accepted yet. Quests are tracked in a handy list that can be checked outside of battle at any time, and a stopwatch icon lets you know if you are about to advance the plot in a manner that will prevent you from completing a quest. Helpfully, the time of day can also be changed instantly from the menu, without even stopping to load. Xenoblade Chronicles features many such features that hopefully will become the standard for future RPGs.

Unfortunately, the various conveniences mean that the few awkward, inconvenient portions of the game stand out more than they otherwise might. Certain quests will require you to fight rare monsters that randomly spawn in certain spots. The directions you must follow to reach these locations can be unclear, and you might not know if you’re in the right spot until the monster you’re looking for appears. Some such monsters appear rather infrequently, meaning you might save in one spot and reload your file more than a dozen times before the desired beast materializes. The need to reloading your save obviously doesn’t improve the game in any way. Monsters aren’t the only ones you’ll need to find, either; sometimes you’ll be looking for NPCs and the affinity chart will tell you when they might be active but not where to find them. Some towns are massive, so finding various people can take forever. There’s also the matter of the gem system. Some pieces of equipment can be augmented with gems to improve the wearer’s stats, but if you remove the equipment, the gems stay on the item. You have to manually remove the gems before removing the piece of equipment. Such inconveniences are enough to make you wait to change your equipment until things start getting really rough, or you’re about to fight a boss.

There’s not really anything else to say about the game that’s all that negative, however. Its positive attributes far outweigh the bad. Xenoblade Chronicles is an immersive RPG that will suck you into its massive world and keep you engaged as you complete scores of optional side quests and learn more about that intriguing world. If you like RPGs, you owe it to yourself to play Xenoblade Chronicles.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (May 03, 2012)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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zippdementia posted May 04, 2012:

Hmm... I don't know. I think I would desperately miss the game over screen.

Good review that told me everything I'd want to know about the game. I think I wouldn't like it but that doesn't mean I don't like the review; quite the opposite, in fact. Clarity and conveyance of a game's traits are KEY and you've nailed it.

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