Xenoblade Chronicles Review
Kingdoms and colonies living off of the bodies of dead gods, a hero with the power to predict and alter the future, and a mechanical race menacing organic life: these are the foundations of Monolith Soft’s latest title for the Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles. This sweeping, operatic sci-fi adventure shares many similarities with one of Monolith’s earlier series, Xenosaga, as well as Squaresoft’s (now Square Enix’s) Xenogears, which makes perfect sense, considering many members of Monolith worked on the project. That said, neither of them compare to Xenoblade, which seems to be the perfect distillation of the formula that Monolith has been trying to capture for years.
Long ago, two gods, Mechonis and Bionis, fought each other to a standstill. Countless years later, life sprung up on Bionis, such as the human-like Homs of Colony 9. Bionis proved to be a lush and verdant environment, but the threat of attack from the robotic sentience on Mechonis, the Mechon, was constant. These attacks were generally repelled by a powerful weapon said to have been wielded by the Bionis itself, called the Monado. Xenoblade‘s adventure begins with the heroes taking the Monado and hunting down the leader of a Mechon force that had recently attacked their homes. Revenge is a fairly straight-forward motivation, but the beauty of this game lies in the complexity of its details.
The game world is absolutely massive in scope, making travel between two towns an adventure in and of itself. On top of that, the environments are gorgeous and filled with all sorts of secrets to uncover: you’ll traverse through jungles, mountains, and caverns, climb cliff faces, fall from vast heights, and get launched into the sky by geysers, among other things. Considering this is a Wii title, it’s an impressive feat, and a person could easily spend hours crawling through every nook and cranny. Thankfully, once you’ve explored a region, you are able to fast travel between all major landmarks and cities, significantly cutting down on backtracking. Furthermore, the game has a dynamic day/night cycle which effects specific elements of the game, such as combat.
Combat takes place in real-time, much as it does in MMORPGs. There are no random battles; all enemies are visible on the field and will react to your presence in a variety of ways. Some attack on sight, others on sound, and others only if provoked. You control a single character and can have up to two allied NPCs as support. Each character is specifically suited for a particular role in battle, such as drawing aggro, healing the party, or utilizing buffs and debuffs. They all have a wide-range of skills that reflect their role, eight of which that can be set for use in battle along with a unique ninth. During combat, a gauge can be filled that allows the player to chain skill attacks together to topple and daze larger enemies. As a special weapon, the Monado has all sorts of unique properties unto itself. It’s all but essential for casting buffs against Mechon, as they are immune to standard weapons, but it also allows the player to see the future. If an enemy is about to unleash a powerful attack or even kill a teammate, the Monado will “warn” the player with a vision of the attack’s details, giving the player a chance to null it with a defensive skill. It makes for an interesting game mechanic.
All skills can be upgraded via a point system and in-game items. Additionally, each character has a number of passive skills trees that can be learned and upgraded, enhancing their abilities in battle. These particular skills can be linked between characters, allowing, for example, light-weight characters to learn how to wear heavy armour. The game is fairly forgiving, so it isn’t necessary to get in-depth with the system, but it will reward any player interested in customization. However, it doesn’t stop there.
A game this big has a tonne of collectibles. Each area has a number of assorted items, from bugs to plants to debris, that can be found. These items can be put into the Collectopaedia, where they can categorized for awards, or they can be either sold to shops for cash, or traded to friendly NPCs for assorted miscellanea. Specific items, known as ether crystals, can be mined and crafted to form customized gems and can then be inserted into weapons and armour to imbue them with special qualities. Weapons and armour themselves come in all shapes and sizes, can be rare or common, and affect the physical appearance of each character. Really, if you’re a sucker for customization in your RPGs, you’ll not find Xenoblade lacking.
The characters all look fantastic, and to my surprise, were all very likable. It’s doesn’t seem uncommon to have a few detestable characters in JRPGs, especially when they have cutesy mascot characters, but Xenoblade doesn’t have this problem. Perhaps it has something to do with the brilliant British voice acting (though the original Japanese has been included), but I found myself attached to each character, genuinely caring to switch the party around so they each got some use on the field. Thankfully, the AI is fairly dependable, and will keep you alive and fully healed for the most part. It’s not perfect, but most problems seem to come from being under-leveled, which isn’t hard considering powerful creatures exist in even the earliest areas.
Speaking of the game world, there’s a lot to do apart from the main quest. A determined player could probably finish this game in about 40 hours, but Xenoblade‘s size and complexity mean that upwards of 100 hours could be lost. To start, there are dozens of sidequests. They are generally pretty mindless, being of the sort of “collect x” or “kill x of y” sort found in many MMORPGs. However, they are rendered inoffensive by the fact that they are completed when the objective is met without having to return to the quest giver, meaning instant rewards and far less backtracking. Talking to townsfolk and helping them out with their requests increases their Affinity for each other. While solving people’s problems doesn’t move the story forward, it does flesh out their own lore and provides players with incentive to perform sidequests.
Affinity links can be strengthened between the main characters as well, allowing access to Heart-to-Heart moments which are special conversations that can be activated at particular points in the world. Again, while not necessary to the plot, they add a layer of complexity to the characters, further endearing them to the player. And as if this wasn’t enough, the game also has a long list of achievements that can be unlocked and a New Game + mode meaning that there’s plenty of incentive to keep playing.
Besides the wonderful gameplay and beautiful world, Xenoblade also boasts a strong soundtrack. The tracks change with the day/night cycle, being more energetic by day and mellower by night. As a result, I found myself manually changing the in-game time just so I could explore areas to a specific melody. It also responds to your progress in battle, becoming more frantic if you find yourself on the losing side. The only knock against the overall sound design is the repeated use of voice over during battle. Don’t get me wrong, the voice acting is superb. Heroes are heroic and likable, and I couldn’t help but enjoy how comically villainous the enemies were, but I can see the repeated catchphrases bandied about in battle becoming very stale. After all, it isn’t necessary for a character to shout out the name of an attack every time he or she performs it. Thankfully, during my time with the game I never found myself truly bothered by it, and in fact, I’ve come to love much of the stupid party banter (Reyn is a personal favourite).
All in all, Xenoblade Chronicles is an incredible game. It has been crafted with an amazing amount of skill and care, and there isn’t really anything critically wrong with it. I have to hand it to Monolith Soft, they did a phenomenal job. Time will tell how well this game stands up, but in this moment, I would have to say that Xenoblade is one of the best RPGs I have ever played. Period. If you’re a fan of the older Xeno- games, JRPGs, or the role-playing genre in general, you should do yourself a favour and check this game out.
Xenoblade Chronicles was reviewed with a copy provided by Nintendo.