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Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) artwork

Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) review

"One of the more immense and immersive JRPGs I've ever sunk 100+ hours into!"

I was thinking about starting out my review of Xenoblade Chronicles by proudly proclaiming it to be the game I wished Final Fantasy XII had been, but considering this one came out roughly four years after Square-Enix's massive RPG, I don't know that I'd be making any sort of brave statement with that utterance.

However, it is a good point to simply note that it is a very nice progression from how FF XII attempted to essentially combine the typical Japanese RPG with the more free-roaming style of Western RPGs. In fact, enough elements are similar between the two titles that one could be led to make the incorrect assumption that Tetsuya Takahashi broke off from Square to form Monolith Soft far more recently than he actually did. Both games feature vast and gorgeous worlds loaded with things to see and do, both have so many side-quests and optional bosses that conquering those can easily provide a more robust challenge than simply following the plot and both feature an active battle system where you can instigate combat by simply walking up to monsters and inputting combat commands with no need for the game to "swoosh" you into a battle screen.

After an effective intro scene that lets players know that there has been a long-standing conflict between humanity and the robotic Mechon, with a magical sword known as the Monado being the best hope for humans to emerge victorious, the game begins with you controlling a young man named Shulk in the creatively-named Colony 9, where he works as a scientist. After a bit of banter with pals Reyn and Fiora, the Mechon attack and Fiora winds up seemingly dead in an attempt to fend off the gigantic and sadistic leader of the attackers. During this assault, Shulk finds out he is capable of using the Monado -- no small feat, since the vast power the sword channels can have crippling effects on anyone it deems unworthy -- which sets him up as a guy who can possibly take the fate to the Mechon. He and Reyn leave Colony 9 to embark upon an epic quest which will likely eat over 100 hours of a gamer's time.

That time flies, though. I'll start up my Wii, look at the number of hours I've played this game and wonder just how that much time got expended. Xenoblade wastes no time in drawing you into its world. I mean, a person could, in theory, put a couple dozen hours into things before even leaving Colony 9 in order to take Tephra Cave to the Bionis' Leg section of the world, where they hope to find a second large Colony to gain support against the Mechon. Scattered throughout Colony 9 (a pretty large city by JRPG standards) are tons of people with a white exclamation mark above their heads. Talking to them gives your party side-quests, leading you all over the vast Colony 9 region to kill mass amounts of generic foes, find items and hunt down special Unique monsters. The more you do in a given area, the more popular you are amongst the populace, which unlocks more quests which results in larger and larger rewards.

Speaking of monsters, in FF XII, they essentially came in two forms. One kind always attacked you and the other kind was peaceful unless you either assaulted them or, in the case of elementals, cast magic in their presence. I preferred the way Xenoblade handles things. If you're a few levels higher than an opponent, they won't even try to fight you (unless they're a Unique) and you'll only get a tiny amount of experience for slaughtering them. Go up against a much more powerful foe and the rewards for victory will be great, but they'll also have a massive stat boost to illustrate their current superiority, which will likely lead to your quick demise. Oh, and as you progress through the game, you'll notice that there are powerhouses scattered throughout virtually every single one of its vast regions, keeping you on your toes as you look for opponents closer to your current level. Believe me, I learned that lesson quick. from when I initially figured I'd explore the entire Colony 9 area -- a task that got put on hold when a high-leveled fish took out Shulk with one hit. Apparently, 65-level differentials do not make for competitive fights…

There essentially are two ways gamers can play Xenoblade. If they do as many side-quests as possible, the experience they gain will place them a few levels up on most normal opposition, allowing them to cover large stretches of land without being forced into that many confrontations. Or they can ignore those fetch-quests and monster-killing expeditions and find themselves assaulted by virtually every critter they come across. Either way works; it's just a matter of whether you would rather spend your time entering fight after fight or wandering around looking for quest-givers and then doing their bidding.

Fighting is pretty fun, if you prefer that to helping townspeople. The ally A.I. is at least good enough that I didn't spend large portions time getting more and more annoyed by stupid decisions. As for you with Shulk (or whoever you decide to personally control), regular attacks are performed automatically, just like FF XII, and you can regular pick special attacks from a bar at the bottom of the screen. Using Shulk, you'll find that your placement on the screen is very important, as many of his special attacks are most effective when performed from a certain location. His best damage-dealer should be utilized from behind, while certain status ailments (such as "break" which often leads allies to knock them down for some uninterrupted damage-dealing) can be inflicted with certain side attacks. It's not the most complicated system out there, but it's pretty fun and is handled without the need to dig through menus, so battles are fast-paced and streamlined experiences. Adding to the experience is Shulk's ability, granted by the Monado, to see visions of the future -- generally shortly before a monster unleashes a lethal (or at least crippling) attack upon someone. Upon getting a vision, you'll have a brief amount of time to "change the future" by either killing the baddie, buffing its intended victim or warning a teammate so they can take action into their own hands.

On the other hand, one of the neatest things about this game is how it goes out of its way to make those side-quests less annoying than they could be. For a good percentage of them, you get automatically rewarded upon completion, so you don't always have to run back to the quest-giver. There are sub-screens which show every NPC you've met and what time of day they're available, as well as every quest you've received and its current status. You can change the time in-game at will in order to fulfill quest obligations which necessitate a particular time of day or type of weather. You also can save at nearly any time and, when you're killed, you simply are warped back to the nearest checkpoint with all experience and treasure intact. Some things, such as finding those accursed Rainbow Slugs to help rebuild a ruined town, are still going to be aggravating, but Monolith Soft did a great job of removing a lot of the tedium from these oft-mundane tasks games routinely have players perform. Imagine that: fetch quests actually being enjoyable instead of boring filler!

With the user-friendly nature of this game making a lot of things easier to accomplish, it allows players to more fully appreciate the world they've been tossed into. Xenoblade looks a lot better than I expected from a Wii game and also possesses a soundtrack that's more than up to the task of filling its role in a super-epic RPG. At times, the graphics and sound combine to create a purely magical experience. Just travel through Satori Marsh at night, watching the swamp gases create gorgeous graphical effects from the vegetation while a haunting melody softly plays in the background. Or, early in the game, don't. Satori is a place where the designers were especially cruel to sight-seers. During the day, things look and sound a good bit more bland, but with a couple exceptions, everything is easily killable at the level you'll likely be at when you first reach the place. At night, it's a deathtrap from Hell, with high-level foes seemingly everywhere -- the sort of place that makes a person happy they can change the time back to early morning at will.

Despite all the praise I have for this game, there still are a few annoyances which keep it one step below perfection. Some monsters are "blessed" with spike protection, allowing them to automatically counteract a certain amount of damage whenever you attack; at times being triggered by you doing intelligent things like using skills to knock them down. Against regular enemies, this is annoying; against Uniques, it can turn a decent challenge into battles so annoying I wanted no part of them. Enemies constantly drop all sorts of loot, forcing you to check your inventory for new equipment roughly as often as you would in a game like Diablo. Except you have many more characters to juggle here, so much time can easily be consumed upgrading everyone's stuff. Even with the handy chart showing where NPCs are located and when they're available, cities are so large that it can be tough to find them. Overall, regardless of how many user-friendly features this game has, it's extremely complex with certain aspects, such as gem crafting, I didn't even bother trying to learn.

Of course, when you consider that I still got through Xenoblade, it's easy to deduce that a player doesn't need to master every facet of this game, unless they perhaps want to defeat the most powerful optional Uniques. My advice is to simply not be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content is crammed into this disc and to just explore the game's world, learning its lore, fighting its monsters and helping its residents. This is one of those games where it's all about the journey, not the destination, and what a journey it is!


overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (December 28, 2015)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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