Thursday, June 14, 2012

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles

Xenoblade Chronicles

The masterpiece that almost never was . .

Developed by Monolith Soft
Published by Nintendo
for the Wii
Released April 6, 2012

After the announcement of the Wii U at e3 2011, the Wii became a footnote in Nintendo's agenda with only The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword to look forward to in 2011 and absolutely nothing in 2012.  This made the story behind Xenoblade Chronicles' localization all the more gratifying.  Nintendo had no plans of bringing Xenoblade to North America which would have meant an absolute drought for Wii owners.  Fortunately, with the dedication of devoted fans through petitions and communities such as Operation Rainfall, Americans and Europeans finally have a chance to get their hands on one of the greatest JRPGs of all time.

The world that Xenogears/Xenosaga mastermind Tetsuya Takahashi created for Xenoblade is a grandiose and almost exaggerated take on science fiction story-telling.  You live on the eons-old corpse of a god that died fighting another god in a battle as old as time itself.  And that's just the backstory. The main story has you lead Shulk, the wielder of the Monado Blade, and his friends as they set off on a journey across the Bionis (the big dead god they live on) in order to destroy an army of living, talking mechs all while saving a princess from giant mind-reading birds called Telethia.  As insane as it sounds in summary, Xenoblade is actually full of endearing characters placed in a story enveloped in emotion and suspense.  It’s a story with intertwining twists and dilemmas that keeps the player captivated.

Being made solely for the Wii, Xenoblade looks great for a game developed on last-gen hardware. Textures and character models look horrendous even during cutscenes. Objects look bland and jagged while animations such as jumping look awkward. This game certainly does not lack in aesthetic beauty, just don’t expect to find much detail in anything up close.  The real beauty comes from the world and the environments themselves.  I have found myself staring in awe at the game’s natural ambiance blended with its beautiful colors and lighting effects.  Walking through Satorl Marsh at night or looking up at Eryth Sea from the Frontier Village gives a sense of appreciation for a world designed to balance and infuse life and nature into one living entity through its art style and music.

Xenoblade is one of those rare games that have a flawless soundtrack.  JRPG composing veterans Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts, Mario & Luigi) and Yasunori Matsuda (Xenogears, Chrono Trigger) lend their expertise to create another exquisite score.  Every area of the Bionis has a tune that changes to adapt to the day-to-night cycle, much like how the visuals change depending on the current time.  During the day, songs are livelier whereas night evokes a more solemn take.  It requires true mastery to fully comprehend an environment in order to create not one but two complimenting interpretations of a single composition.

There would be no point in creating such an immersive world if the developers thought you’d only be in it for ten or fifteen hours.  The creators knew that with the amount of quests, leveling, upgrades, and exploring they embedded into Xenoblade , players would easily reach the 80 hour mark. The combat alone has so much implemented that the game never stops introducing you to new battle concepts.

The combat gets its gameplay cues from MMOs and classic JRPGs.  The player battles enemies in real-time and can move the main character around the battlefield during combat.  The characters will auto-attack every few seconds but Arts can be deployed at any time from the player’s battle palette.  Your two partners will attack independently although I was surprised to see how well the A.I. follows your pattern of attack.  If you inflict Break on an opponent, they will follow up with Topple causing the foes to fall over.  The need for A.I. cues such as Gambits in Final Fantasy XII is rendered unnecessary when the A.I. performs this intelligently.  “Visions” will also stop the battle to show the player a powerful attack an enemy will use on a character in order to give the player enough time to defend themselves against it.  There’s nothing quite as satisfying as guarding against an ultra-powerful attack thus “changing the future”.  Classic RPG effects like buffs and debuffs remain, however, the ability to heal using items is not available, making all healing only possible through Arts or auto-healing after a battle.  All this makes combat addictive, fast-paced, and fluid.  The battles can become pretty intense with multiple or overpowered enemies all on the screen at once and although there can be slow-down at times, it in no way takes away from the overall gameplay.

Every character’s Arts can be leveled up to increase damage, effects, or decrease cool down time.  Every weapon or piece of clothing has the potential to hold gems which offer the player boosted attributes.  Gems can be crafted using crystals and cylinders in sort of a fun team-building minigame. Relationships between team members and NPCs can be improved by quests and battle cues which help in seeing special character development scenes called Heart-to-hearts.  With all this and the countless quests and collectibles not to mention the story, Xenoblade definitely offers a life-consuming experience.
The player must be warned; before you decide to pick up this incredible game, do yourself a favor and buy a Classic Controller Pro.  Playing with the Wiimote and Nunchuk will become frustrating in its odd button placing and camera adjusting and can ultimately put a damper on the flow of the game.  Playing with the Classic Pro offered no hindrances or problems and felt appropriate with Xenoblade’s combat style.

Without hesitation, I can place Xenoblade Chronicles on the same tier as JRPG classics like Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger.  Xenoblade is the prime example of how a game can successfully evolve and reshape a genre all while staying true to devoted fans.  And to think, if it wasn't for these fans, everyone outside of Japan would be stowing away their Wiis instead of experiencing this gem.


Fun:  5/5
Lasting Appeal:  3/3
Controls:  5/5
Graphics:  1/2
Sound:  2/2

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