It’s taken a while, about 95 hours on the games clock, but I’ve finally managed to beat Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii and can safely say that other than Dark Souls it is far and away the best RPG of this console generation for me. Created by Monolith Soft and directed by Tetsuya Takahashi I was initially apprehensive about this game. Monolith Soft’s and Tetsuya Takahashi’s previous games included Xenogears and the Xenosaga series, games that I have a love/hate relationship with. I admired their ambition but some of the existential meandering and lack of clear focus in the gameplay or story meant that I never really enjoyed playing them all that much. Xenoblade dials things back to be a much more focused game and is all the better for it.
Xenoblade has one of the most original settings in any game. In the past two gigantic titans fought each other, the Bionis and the Mechonis. This fight ended as both Titans struck simultaneous death blows against each other and have remained locked in position since. The game takes place on the corpses of these Titans. Exploring Xenoblade's world is one of the most intriguing aspects of the game. Each area represents a part of the Bionis and each one is absolutely immense. The sheer scale of the environments is as breathtaking as the vistas you will stumble across. This game is absolutely gorgeous and I’m amazed that these environments are rendered with only very minimal pop up. Although there are some issues with textures looking very low res up close the art design more than makes up for it. It’s one of the best looking games this generation, going to show just far good art direction can go.
|Stepping on to the Bionis knee and seeing the Mechonis in the distance is just one of the games 'Wow' moments|
The story I found engaging. While starting off as simply a tale of revenge it quickly develops into something a lot more complex. It’s not totally devoid of the existential pondering of previous ‘Xeno’ games but what is there is told in moderation and never strays into the completely ridiculous, which was my problem with the ‘Xeno’ games. The cast of characters that journey with Shulk are excellent, all are memorable and likeable. It completely avoids the traditional cliché JRPG archetypes. For example the main character Shulk can see glimpses of the future due to his sword the Monado, a major plot point in the game. He can see the deaths of others but can’t always prevent these deaths occurring. In a lesser JRPG this would lead to some sort of over the top character breakdown. Shulk however is quite mature and accepts this, never spending overly long contemplating it. It’s refreshing to have a cast react in such a believable manner since it makes them a lot more relatable. A special mention should also go to the brilliant bunch of bad guys who are always entertaining when they showed up. These excellent characters are complimented by a wonderful British cast that provides some excellent voice acting work.
The battle system is probably the best I’ve played since Persona 4. Battles take place in real time and are heavily influenced by MMO games. Your characters will attack automatically when engaged with an enemy. It all seems very like FFXII which I found boring but there’s one big difference. While I found FFXII played itself once gambits were set up (I literally beat the game one handed since it was the only game I could play with a broken wrist at the time) there’s an awful lot of strategy involved in Xenoblade. Positioning and status effects play a big role. Shulk’s visions of the future also play a big role, allowing you to see upcoming enemy attacks and allowing you to interrupt or counter them. There’s a whole heap of other subsystems at play that I don’t want to bore you with but suffice to say that the battle system is complex but always enjoyable.
Xenoblade is a huge game and the 95 hours I spent on it were really only scratching the surface. There’s a massive amount of sidequests to complete, a little too much if you ask me. If you are playing the game just to see the story like I was you can just take as many of the sidequests as you can. You’ll end up completing most of them just wandering about exploring the gorgeous landscapes and will allow you to level quicker. I heard some people complaining about having to grind for some bosses in the game but I never had a problem and as long as you take your time exploring you shouldn’t either. It’s a long game but the ending is hugely satisfying. The soundtrack as well is probably the best videogame soundtrack since Nier. Coming out at the tail end of the Wii’s life when the system is all but dead means that Xenoblade probably won’t get the sales it deserves. If you own a Wii and like RPGs you really have to experience this wonderful game.