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Xenoblade Chronicles – Wii

Xenoblade Chronicles – Wii

Xenoblade box artPlatform: Wii

Developer: Monolift Soft

Publisher: Nintendo

Release Date (NA): April 6th, 2012

Genre: Role-Playing Game

Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10

Reviewed by Cloud3514

There are very few games that make me rethink gaming as an art form and there are even fewer games that I can call must-plays. After playing Xenoblade Chronicles for the first few hours, I knew I had a gem on my hands. Having put almost 50 hours into it and barely even scratching the surface of the game’s depth, I realize that gem is one of the best games I have ever played and by far my game of the 7th console generation.

Long ago, the world was only an endless sea until two great titans came into existence: the Bionis and the Mechonis. The titans clashed in a never ending battle until a final blow ended their conflict in a stalemate. Eons later, life evolved on both titans, biological life on Bionis and the mysterious mechanical life forms from Mechonis known as the Mechon.

At a place known as Sword Valley, the hero Dunban used the mysterious and powerful weapon known as the Monado to finally drive the Mechon from Bionis and let the Homs of Bionis live in peace. Or at least, until the Mechon return and drive a young man named Shulk to take up the Monado and take revenge for those the Mechon have killed.

The shortest way to describe Xenoblade as a whole is actually very simple: epic. Everything in this game comes together to make it such. The graphics and aesthetics are gorgeous, the music is brilliant, and the story is the best I’ve seen in years.  With complex villains and heroes with a strong personal connection to what’s going on, and a combat system that evokes all of the greatness of the PS1’s golden age of JRPGs, it also feels as fresh and exciting as well as managing to cut out just about all of the negative aspects. I truly cannot find much of anything to complain about with this game. Even the few complaints I do have are more than made up for.

xenoblade screen shot 7

Graphically, the Wii is pushed to its limits and it shows. While it may not be as pretty on a technical level as it would have been on the PS3 or Xbox 360 and has the occasional framerate dip, it still manages to be one of the best looking games I’ve ever played. The environment’s draw distance is phenomenal and it gives the feeling of being in this world.

But on an artistic level, this game shines. The Bionis is gorgeous and is an art piece in its own right. The character designs are exotic enough to fit in the fantasy world, but familiar enough to not seem too far out. The only area that doesn’t stick out is the Valak Mountain, which feels like a generic snowy mountain area. It’s impressive that that is the only part of the game that doesn’t particularly stick out. Even the plains area of the Bionis’ Leg stands out as particularly beautiful.

Every area in the game is a set piece. From the humble Colony 9 that half of the party calls home to the glorious High Entia city of Alcamoth to the strange fantasy industrial looking Sword Valley, everywhere in the game has absolutely wondrous scenery. The first moment Shulk and Reyn step out of Tephra Cave on the Bionis’ Knee to see the Mechonis’ ominous and imposing lifeless form standing over them is so absolutely breathtaking that it was the first moment that I knew there was something special about this game.

This is where the game begins. And yes, you can go to the spots on the other side of the lake.

This is where the game begins. And yes, you can go to the spots on the other side of the lake.

Though the start of the game doesn’t do much to sell it, being largely character building for three party members, Shulk, Reyn and Dunban, the storyline is huge. It’s a world-sprawling epic that starts at the bottom of the Bionis’ calf, goes straight to its head and beyond. It starts off as a simple tale of revenge with most of the party joining for that reason, but has so many amazing twists and turns with masterful foreshadowing that makes even the anticipated plot twists satisfying.

It takes what could have been a cliché and boring plot and builds it into a brilliant tale of loss, fate and humanity.

The characters are wonderful, as well. Shulk, being an intelligent and scientific young man is a great change of pace from the obnoxious idiot teenagers that plague the JRPG genre, while Dunban takes the stoic badass archetype and builds it into a sympathetic brother suffering from the loss of his sister and the likely irreversible damage the Monado did to his right arm.

The worst characters in the game are Reyn, whose role in the story is mutual friend of Shulk and Fiora, Shulk’s love interest, and Riki the Heropon (he’s a Nopon, which are small, round creatures with funny speech patterns), who is forced to join the party by his village’s chief. While the rest of the party is more personally invested in the story, Reyn and Riki are charming in their own ways and don’t take away from the game in any significant way.

Xenoblade Screen shot 5

The voice acting can be best described as extremely British. For cost saving reasons, Nintendo didn’t bother redubbing the game with American actors for the North American release. I’m perfectly OK with this and it’s not just because Jenna Coleman (best known as Doctor Who’s Clara Oswald) plays Melia. The dub has a hard to describe charm. The abundance of British accents adds a surprising amount of flavor to the acting and the world.

On top of that, the actors all put forth great performances. It takes a bit of getting used to all of the British accents, but all of the characters are believable in their roles.

The acting does get a bit cheesy from time to time, though. Luckily, it’s not in any of the tense moments in the story, but in combat, the party will shout support to each other. It adds flavor, but some of the lines are just silly. It’s particularly awkward when you get the post-battle clip where Reyn tries to impress Sharla, a gun wielding healer character.

Six composers are credited on the game, the absolutely fantastic Yoko Shimomura, Ace+ (Chico Yamanaka, Tomori Kudo and Kenji Hiramatsu), who were recommended by Dog Ear Records, Nobuo Uematsu’s label, Manami Kiyota and Yasunori Mitsuda, who is credited with the epilogue track.

It is one of the best soundtracks in any JRPG I have played. It’s an eclectic mix of hard rock and sweeping orchestral tracks. It pumps you up for the action, flavors the various locals and adds to the story’s more emotional moments. The music fits the action perfectly. It shifts depending on how you’re doing in battle, going from triumphant when doing well to imposing when battles are not going in the party’s favor, while the music can fill you with dread or righteous fury to fit the story.

Xenoblade Screen shot 4

But none of this matters without great gameplay and it’s great to say that the gameplay is equally fantastic.

Where most JRPGs are closed and linear, Xenoblade is a semi-open world game. If you can see it, you can explore it. It rewards exploration with experience and achievements, which also reward the player with experience. All of the areas in the game are huge with numerous branching paths that are just begging to be explored. It’s a blast to just wander around and see what there is to see as the quests don’t send you out to most of the world. There is so much to see and do that it is not just conceivable, but very likely to take hours off the beaten path just to explore.

Along with the exploration, there are truckloads of side quests. They don’t have a whole lot of variety, but half of them will be done just by proceeding on the storyline, so it’s easy to not notice this. Usually they involve gathering certain items, killing X number of Y enemy or hunting a unique monster, which is usually around the strength of a boss.

The combat system is awesome. It is a real-time system that plays somewhat like an MMORPG with auto-attacks and characters that fit certain roles like tank, damage and healing, but streamlined for a singleplayer experience. Each character has access to eight “Arts” at a time plus a central “Talent Art.” The Talent Art is prepared through different means. Dunban’s Talent Art fills 5% for every auto-attack, for instance. The Talent Art isn’t always an attack, Sharla, for instance, uses her Talent Art to vent heat off her gun to be able to continue to use other Arts.

Xenoblade screen shot 8

Shulk’s Talent Art, Acivate Monado, gives him access to a second palette of Arts, Monado Arts. These are actually an important game mechanic. When an enemy uses an Art, the Monado will give Shulk a vision. The vision tells you what kind of Art it is, who it is going to target, how much damage it will do (with a skull icon to indicate lethal damage) and how long until the Art is used. There are Monado Arts intended to defend against enemy Arts. It can be a pretty tense moment to need to block an enemy Art, but also have to wait for Shulk to auto-attack enough to fill the Talent Art gauge. It might sound like it reduces the combat to luck based, but the combat is largely about balance.

There is focus on balancing your controlled character’s strengths with their weaknesses For example, Dunban is a tank that relies on agility and evasion, but has low defense and HP and Shulk does a lot of damage, but has low defense and draws a lot of aggro. The Monado Arts are all about balancing their use and timing as they’re needed.

There are also Chain Attacks, which use a bar in the top left corner of the screen. It’s tied to a stat called “tension,” which determines how well the party is fighting. High tension increases agility and critical attack rate, while low tension decreases accuracy. There are a variety of uses for the chain attack bar, but mostly it will be used to revive fallen party members and execute Chain Attacks. It can also be used after Shulk receives a vision, allowing the player to choose another party member’s next Art, which allows for other options to deal with enemy Arts, but this is generally only useful when Monado Arts aren’t ready or Shulk isn’t the controlled party member.

Chain Attacks are exactly as they say, they are a chain of Arts that, when the same type of Art is used repeatedly, multiplies the amount of damage. The higher the party’s tension, the longer the Chain Attack can go on for.

Xenoblade screenshot 3

The combat is a blast. It’s tense, exciting and extremely well executed. The only negative thing I can really say about it is that the AI has issues sometimes. For instance, Sharla doesn’t seem to know when to vent her gun and Dunban doesn’t like to use his Art that pulls aggro off other characters.

Beyond the combat, the side quests are usually tied to the party’s “Affinity,” which is basically a complex system of reputation and relationships of the party and the game’s many NPCs. While the Affinity system adds a lot of depth to the game and gives excellent motivation to do side quests, the story proceeds the same way regardless. However, building up Affinity between party members (it grows in combat and in conversations with NPCs, giving the player a reason to regularly rotate their party, as well as by gifting items to other characters) gives access to “Heart-to-Hearts,” short cutscenes that show the party interacting with each other. It’s an excellent way to develop the characters and really helps bring them to life.

The biggest problem Xenoblade has is that it can be frustrating to play with the Wii Remote/Nunchuck. If possible, play this game with a Classic Controller. While it is perfectly playable and enjoyable with the Wii Remote/Nunchuck, camera controls are dreadful without the second analogue stick and impossible to do at the same time as selecting Arts as the Wii Remote puts camera controls on the d-pad. Not to mention that it’s awkward to navigate the Arts palette and use the A button at the same time. This game is very obviously meant to be played on the Classic Controller, so much so that I actually spent a few days trying to track one down when I first sat down with the game.

There are very few games that I would call a must play. Xenoblade Chronicles is one of those lucky few. It was one of the last big name releases on the Wii and it, along with The Last Story was one hell of a way for the console to close. I cannot stop raving about this game. It is not just a must-play title, but, by far, the best game on the Wii. I can only hope that Xenoblade Chronicles X manages to find a way to match the original. And to think we almost never saw this game in North America.

Xenoblade Screen shot 6

Xenoblade Chronicles is also slated for a release on the Nintendo 3DS and Xenoblade Chronicles X is set for a 2015 release on the Wii U.

Written by Nerd Bacon

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4 Comments

  1. One of the greatest RPG’s no one has ever heard of. Shulk is going to be Smash Bros. character now too! With him and fire emblem characters being thrown in the mix, I might become a hermit upon it’s debut. Great review by the way and an excellent choice.

     
  2. I hadn’t ever heard of this before, but now it’s definitely on my radar. Looks like it’s gonna be one of those rare Wii games that’s actually gained value during its short tenure.

     
    • If you’re lucky, you might be able to grab it at your local GameStop for $50. If you’re not lucky, the cheapest you’re going to find it for is over $70. There are… other means to play it, but we don’t talk about those.

       
  3. FANTASTIC REVIEW!!!! I’m seriously kicking myself for letting this gem sit on my shelf un-played since 2012..

     

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