Xenoblade Chronicles Review
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On 04/27/2012 at 12:15 PM by Angelo Grant
A truly rewarding experience
Highly recommended for any Wii owner that enjoys RPGs
These days, same old same old just does not cut it. When an RPG from Japan comes around that promises to be different, the modern gamer is understandably cynical. Thankfully, with a unique world, a fresh take on in game relationships, and an excellent use of in game rewards to encourage the player, Xenoblade Chronicles delivers the refreshing changes and modernizations many of us have been looking for.
As in any game, players need a goal to accomplish, a threshold to cross, a bar to fill, and some reward to justify doing what they are doing. Xenoblade simply showers the player with a myriad of both simple and intricate systems loaded with goals, accomplishments, and incentives. Progress notifications appear at a clip I’ve never personally experienced in an RPG before. Almost every action you take results in some increase of some stat toward some goal or reward, and the only time the game feels weak is when something interrupts this steady flow of accomplishments.
Launching an assault in Xenoblade feels very much like it does in MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, but with a shot of adrenaline. While my experience with MMOs is somewhat limited, I can say that the brawls in Xenoblade feel tighter, faster, and more responsive. In another call to the genre’s online cousin, each character has a hotkey bar, here called a battle palette, which you can customize outside of combat to suit your needs. Each attack (earned automatically as characters level) has a cool down period, keeping you from spamming attacks, and agro is drawn based on your actions in battle. It isn’t too much of a stretch to say this is a refinement of Final Fantasy XII’s combat system, except it gives the player far more control over their individual actions, and does so at a faster clip.
The AI (you only control the lead character, which you can change) does a good job of remaining competent, and troublesome situations are actually telegraphed to you via visions, which work in tandem with the story. Before an enemy unleashes a special move, or does something that ends the life of one of your party members, the screen will flash to a colorless cinematic showing you what’s going to happen. It gives you an opportunity to warn your AI companion to prepare them for what’s coming, or cast a buff that may negate the attack.
The floodgates really open when you get your hands on a controller though. Selecting the icon to launch an attack brings up a very simple quick time event. Timing it properly gets you an advantage. Further advantages come in a similar fashion in the midst of combat, where you can encourage your teammates and boost their affinity with each other, as well as temporarily bolster their statistics for that particular encounter.
There is a temporary impediment to experiencing this system in its full glory. At first, it’s rather confusing to remember which icon on the battle palette leads to the attack you want, and while descriptions are provided when the icons are highlighted, the clock never stops ticking. This gets more confusing when using the Monado blade, as the weapon has its own sub menu which consists entirely of linguistic characters in a foreign language. It becomes second nature eventually, and as mentioned earlier, the menu can be customized to your liking, but it can be a little daunting when you first pick it up.
Xenoblade is gorgeous from the instant you fire it up. The first thing that will appear is a title screen with the titular sword displayed, apparently abandoned and embedded in the ground ala Final Fantasy VII, with a prompt to press any button. I strongly advise against doing so right away, as you will miss some of the most amazing music you’ve ever heard. Xenoblade features the music of Yoko Shimomura and Yasunori Mitsuda, and both have clearly brought their A-game.
Exploration is also heavily rewarded, and not just by viewing the breathtaking scenery. Discoveries of new locations give you experience and sometimes generate landmarks on your maps that you can select to travel to at will. In addition to this, each area has its own unique score, and these themes change based on the time of day. Daytime themes are appropriately upbeat and energetic, while night time brings on more melancholy tones with an air of mystery. It’s so good in fact, that my wife frequently mutes the game she’s playing to listen to the Xenoblade score. The last time she did that, I was playing Nier. In that respect, discovering the game's themes and vistas is an additional reward in itself.
The day and night cycle is a neat feature. A clock is featured surrounding the world map on your HUD indicating the time of day in the game world, and the environment cycles appropriately from sunrise to sunset. Different monsters will appear on the landscape based on not only this, but the weather as well. This could have caused problems if you picked up a quest to take out a nocturnal enemy and started at daybreak, but you can change the in-game time on the fly.
Quests are typical, but plentiful and also baited with a plethora of rewards. The tried and true Kill X trash mobs, Eliminate named monster Y, and find item Z objectives are all there, but they can be accomplished with little getting in your way. A majority of the quests will resolve themselves while you roam the area filling out your map and completing other direct objectives. Additionally, quite a few of the quests don’t require you to check back in with the requestor, and simply drop the reward directly into your inventory.
There is another type of item finding quest, however, that was a little annoying. While exploring, you’ll encounter glowing blue spheres on the ground, and picking them up will give you a random item that can only be gathered this way. These items can be used to fill up your “Collectopedia” which will grant you a reward each time a category or area is completely documented, and some NPCs will ask for them in quests.
This isn’t a problem when it's flowing along with your natural play of the game, but it can really put a stopper into the steady stream of rewards if it doesn’t go quite right. Too often I’ve had to run through a location multiple times because the needed pickup simply would not generate. I appreciate that they tried to do something different than the standard quest types mentioned earlier, but I came here to kill mobs and grab loot, not to chase dots like Pac-man. It’s not a deal breaking issue, but for the OCD players who want to do everything like myself, it can certainly be an occasional irritant.
Another hard stop is caused by the interface. It can take a frustratingly long time to number crunch equipment stats and make sure your characters have a good load out due to poor menu structure. It can take even longer if you’re trying to figure out what you want to sell to clear out space in your inventory, since the only way to truly evaluate your equipment against what the vendor is offering is to remove all slotted gems first. It takes quite a bit of time, and ends up breaking the steady clip of objectives with unnecessary monotony.
These gems are Xenoblade’s simplified adaptation of the classic Final Fantasy VII Materia system. They can be fitted to slots on equipment to add stats and effects. It’s not the crux of the game, and as such is relatively simple. Those wishing to invest further in the system can spend time crafting their own gems using items acquired by mining and harvesting enemy drops. The process is somewhat time consuming, but unlike other distractions, this one is completely optional, and the game is very upfront about that. In my own experience, I never felt the need to delve too deeply into gem crafting, as the gems I got from Collectopedia completion and quest rewards were more than sufficient.
The story is of the typical “save the world” variety, but with some interesting twists, such as the world being the cadavers of two monolithic beings that have slain each other. As with the other systems in the game, there are points of genius that are sometimes offset by strange distractions. One example would be some of the women’s outfits. All the action takes place in the same game engine, including the cut scenes. Since the best item for a female party member at the time happened to be bikini armor, that’s what she was clad in when an event that was intended to be very dramatic took place, leading it to be unintentionally comical. Again, nothing horrible, and considering the game’s Japanese origins, such content is almost expected these days, but that doesn’t make it tasteful to the western palette.
There’s so much more this game offers. There’s a tree menu leveling system that constantly and automatically unlocks new bonuses based on which tree is equipped while your characters gain experience, there are bonus points that can be spent to level up individual skills, there’s a town you can rebuild, affinity to manage between your overall party and the various settlements you encounter, affinity coins you can earn which allow you to borrow abilities from other characters, relationships you can map and develop between NPCs... the list is almost never ending, and results in your effort almost always paying off in some way. While it’s not perfect, it comes very close, and is a dramatic step up over similar games like Magnacarta 2. If you own a Wii, and you enjoy RPGs at all, pick this one up. You’ll be aptly rewarded.