When a new generation of consoles comes around, we expect them to take over for the old. This has happened recently to the Wii, and yet the system also got something fairly unique in the form of a very hefty RPG to send it off. After 95 hours of game-time with it, it’s time to talk about it, and sendoffs don’t get much better then this.
Story: One year ago, Dunban was a war hero. In a war against the invading Mechon, he was the reason Colony 9 survived. Wielding the Monado, a technological sword of unknown origins, he and his friends formed the spearhead to break off the attack on their home. For reasons as unknown as those origins, he was the only one who could control it, and even then it cost him physically every time he did. But when he and his friends gave their all for those at home, they won the day.
It is now a year later, and Dunban has paid the price, resting in bed since that final battle and cared for by his younger sister Fiora. She, meanwhile has been getting close to a young boy who’s ties to the ancient blade go far beyond simply being the main scientist studying it, for when the mechon return, it’s Shulk’s turn to wield the blade on behalf of everyone. Why can he also wield the blade? Why is it incapable of hurting his fellow homs? And why does it not tax him like it did Dunban?
All these questions and more will be revealed as the plot evolves from a story about chasing down the lead mechon of this new attack in the name of revenge, to one of discovery about the land, the titan it exists on, their combined history, the monado itself, and the fate of both Shulk’s world and that of those living on the other titan connected only by their giant swords frozen in time in an eternal clash.
The game does a great job with the flow of the story, keeping everything moving just right. Every element in the plot has a point and a place in the big scheme of the game, and that scheme just keeps expanding as the game goes on. And yet it does so at a comfortable pace, never leaving you feeling overwhelmed with the scope as it goes from simple and direct to enveloping everything in the game. Add this to an almost complete final picture of how everything turns out at the end, and I have to say this is possibly one of the best told stories I have seen in any game in a long time.
Graphics: Art style is often more important then pure horsepower, and Xenoblade Chronicles pushes both. The Wii is no powerhouse, but Monolith Software has pushed the system to the absolute limit, producing epic landscapes both in scale and beauty… and this is not just for once-in-a-while scenes. Most of the game will absolutely wow you with this scope.
Getting closer, the environment remains absolutely gorgeous. From the flowing plains to the epic-sized factories, you will almost never be stuck with an ugly world to work on. I have to say almost because sometimes cave walls can appear notably pixelated, making the few underground maps in the game stand out from the rest for the wrong reason.
Your characters themselves are a little bit of a mixed bag. Every piece of armor you put on them has it’s own look and is expertly assembled to never let the total outfit look like the patchwork it could actually be. And to further impress, it does all this while still being detailed exceptionally well, especially for the power available to the developers on this console. However, the faces for these characters themselves leave a little more to be desired. They are generally simplistic looking, going for an anime-esque look that works well enough, but when you see them up close, you can see the eyes are relatively low-resolution. Still these faces will also stand out for the sheer amount of emotion they display compared to just about every game out there. They still deliver.
However, I do have to complain about the general models used. Overall I was not expecting the most detailed use of polygons since this game is on the Wii. It seems to me, however that considering the detail that cloaks this game in general, they skimped out when working with hands. As a result it seems like everyone has very square fingers and hands that really stand out during the many cutscenes. They tend to remind me most strongly of the kind of graphics we expected from games like Half-Life. The Wii is no powerhouse, but I would have liked to have seen this get more love. But still, if this is my biggest complaint, clearly they did a damn good job.
Sound: This is one of those games where the music overall will fade to the background, but it seems to be designed to do so. And while this isn’t a huge compliment, it also means the music during combat and special moments sticks out dramatically. You will get a sense of how your battle is going before you even see the visual queues based on the tones of metal coursing through it. As you hack and slash your way through the hoards of monsters that populate this game, you will hear the approaching triumph pumping through the music as you are ripping everything apart or the desperation if you are finding yourself on your ass more often then not. But the most shocking is towards the end at moments when the complete lack of ambient music just floors you and focuses you in on just how important the events about to happen really are. It is the ultimate “shit just got real” audio moment.
The voices are also not something to complain about, as the actors deliver their parts remarkably well. However, I do not believe there is anyone who stands out in their delivery, and most of the lines are worth delivering well. I have to say most because from time to time, you get one that makes you do a double-take. One of the bosses in particular is forced to deliver one of the single most overly dramatic and yet non-sensical lines I have heard in a long time (seriously, it’s another “Over 9000!” joke waiting to happen), and yet he delivers it with enough of a performance that you have to think about it before the insanity really becomes noticeable.
Sadly, not every line is voiced, however. Voices only are used for cutscenes to the main quests and audible clues in combat to let you know when you should probably doublecheck the health of your team. You will hear a lot due to the length of the game, but you will also notice how much you don’t hear.
Gameplay: Xenoblade Chronicles is a hybrid game between classic and action RPG. You will spend the majority of the game running around and exploring the world while entering combat with the enemies you find strewn about the maps and dungeons that make it up.
Combat itself is rather unique in that you will only control one of your three characters, moving around to keep yourself aimed at and in range to use your attacks while using the same tactics to try to keep the monsters from getting the same advantages on you. This is all done in real time and without any kind of grid being involved. In addition, you are not limited to only attacking when your time to do so comes up. Instead you will auto-attack at regular intervals when you are in range while each of your individual abilities can be used as you see fit, provided they are not in cooldown. In this way, you will have to learn your own feel of timing rather then getting into the flow of the game.
Adding further depth to this, you will also have a super-ability which is unique to each character and depending on who you choose to control, this will completely change how you have to play. For example, your main character Shulk has the Monado as his core power, but he has to charge it up in combat before it becomes available. Once this is done, selecting it brings up a menu of all the abilities the Monado has gained so far in the game and you will get to select one. These abilities vary from enchanting your allies so their can attack mechon enemies and do more then 1 point of damage, to putting up a shield around your allies to flatout unloading the power of the Manado on your opponent.
Meanwhile on the reverse side of the spectrum the real magic user you will gain in time does not have an auto-attack at all, and most of her abilities summon ether orbs that float over her head to be flung at the enemy as a magic attack spell when you choose her special ability and completely changing how you have to play when controlling her. And with five other characters ultimately joining your party, the combinations and styles of play available to you are truly deep and varied.
In addition to this, fans of the genre will probably also notice that combat is missing the ability to use any kind of potions or items. These are actually missing from the entire game by design. Since the healing and buffs usually found in such items are now only in the abilities of the characters, choosing your combat party, both for you and the two the AI will control with you becomes all the more important in the strategy you select. This both deepens the gameplay down to the choices you make before you begin as well as speeds up the game in removing the requirement to gear up before any major event.
And at the same time, no mistake is ever truly fatal, for death will not cost you more then the time it takes to put your team back at the last marker on your map. Although that is a good thing, considering there are a few points in the game where the difficulty jumps without warning, specifically towards the end.
Outside of combat, your exploration will also lead you to discover towns, shops, and various places where you will gather quests, buy and sell items, craft gems, and various other tasks that will be revealed. But with so much to do, you will still not find yourself overwhelmed, for the game does a great job of introducing all your options to you slowly and with full tutorial explanations, beginning with your first combat during the final battle of the war one year prior to explain the flow of the system. This game has mastered the art of holding your hand to show you how to play, but letting you make your own choices once it has shown you what they mean.
Bugs: Overall this game runs without an actual issue… However, it does prove just how much it pushes the hardware, as slowdowns are relatively common.
Overall: I can say it no more directly, Xenoblade Chronicles is one hell of a game and easily the best RPG I’ve played in years. The Wii effectively ended it’s run last year as the WiiU came out, but when it comes time for a system to end, I can’t think of a better last hurrah then this game. If you are lucky enough to find this game at a reasonable price, you really shouldn’t pass it up.
out of 10
Source: Sadly, this game is not readily available. It was originally sold only at Gamestop and last time I looked, it was sold out (new or used) across the USA. The best chance you have to find this game by sites like Half.com.