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Apr 23 2012

Review of Xenoblade Chronicles

I live in Australia. That may seem incredibly irrelevant to this review, but Xenoblade Chronicles has been out about a year over here and Europe before it hit the States. I don’t know exactly why this happened, but being the cynic I am I assume its something to do with Nintendo milking sales on the tail end of the Wii’s life cycle. The release of Xenoblade in America certainly boosted sales over here, within a week of US release most stores had sold out, even though the game had been available for a year. Well played Nintendo, especially considering the game was still selling at a full retail price tag. Does Xenoblade Chronicles deserve to sell out a year after release? Yes, yes it does, because it’s a damn fine game.

This waterfall makes me feel really Xen

The last big budget JRPG I played was the disappointing Final Fantasy 13. I never finished it and thought to myself; that’s it for the old JRPG, if Final Fantasy can’t redeem the genre I don’t see anything else doing it. Two years later and Xenoblade is here (Well actually one year later if you live in Europe or Australia and thought to buy the game) and it’s pushed forward the JRPG like Final Fantasy should have all that time ago. It’s very different to Final Fantasy 13; Open, Non-linear and features characters that don’t make you want to turn off the console every time they open their mouths.

Xenoblade Chronicles is set on a dead giant. Far back in the mists of time, two titans fought in the middle of an ocean. That was until they stopped and since then civilizations have sprouted all over their backsides. The main character is Shulk, a humble Hom who resides in Colony 6 located on the shin of one of the dueling titans. Nasty robots from the other giant have, in the past, tried to invade the colonies and have made a re-appearance and a nuisance of themselves. Shulk gets his hands on a legendary sword that can predict the future and then sets of an adventure to topple the evil robots living on the other giant.

Yellow grass, how xen.

There is of course more detail to the epic tale that is Xenoblade Chronicles, but they are details that would simply hog the majority of this review’s word count. Xenoblade Chronicles is a LONG game. I’m around 30 hours in and have barely scratched the surface of the narrative. I feel that the narrative only starts rolling at around the 25 hours mark, before then everything seems bit vague. Even at the point there still hints of further big revelations to come. It’s typical JRPG melodrama to be sure, but it is infinitely more stomachable than FF13. I’m definitely keen to find out what the next set of sinister revelations turns out to be.

The story isn’t the only big thing in the game. The area’s you find yourself running around in truly are whoppers. I can honestly say these are the biggest areas I have ever seen in a JRPG, being much more akin to an MMO’s zone, than a single player RPG. There are no random battles, so you won’t find the bigness of the areas having the added frustration of being yanked in to a fight every 30 seconds.  It’s not just the outside areas that are big: dungeons, towns and even areas connecting other areas are all vast. There’s a couple of nice visual references to the fact you are in indeed on an ancient giant, but these could have been a bit more prevalent and numerous to play up what is a pretty cool setting.

Massive environments, yes that's Xen

Xenoblade Chronicles takes more than large zones sizes as inspiration from MMO’s. The combat and quest system would feel at home in any MMO released recently. You only control one character at a time, the other 2 in the party will use their AI to attack monsters in real-time. The characters of Xenoblade Chronicles all represent an MMO “archetype” in some manner, whether its healing, tanking or DPSing. You can choose which “arts” the AI can select from, but other than that they fight, cast or heal for themselves. The good thing about this is that you can change which character you control. This change bringing different tactics and a different role in the party so if you ever get bored of DPSing with Shulk, you can always give healing or tanking a try. There are some issues, mainly the fact that you will need to use Shulk’s special abilities on some bosses in a way that the AI can not comprehend, but on the whole I really like the system.

Plus, the quests! There are a lot of them, very much the “go there and kill x” type quest. The absolute genius idea that Xenoblade Chronicles has, is that you don’t need to return to the quest giver to get the reward! The other genius idea is that you don’t really need to complete them if you don’t want to. I only did a hand full for each zone, not getting hung up on completionism, and gathered enough experience by just whacking guys at random. There’s a lot of added fluff adding to the weight of Xenoblade Chronicles and it’s fluff you can choose if you get involved with or not. There is heart-to-heart moments, trading and collectible items, relationship trees for every single character in the game and gem crafting. There is a massive glut of things to do but you never feel bogged down as it’s quite easy enough to just ignore it all and power through the story.

While playing through Xenoblade Chronicles, its similarity to MMO’s caused me to reflect on the state of the MMO genre. If Xenoblade Chronicles can give an experience that is almost identical to playing an MMO offline, but with a far more cohesive and engaging story what’s the point of playing “modern” MMO’s? Take Bioware’s Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic, which had the intention of being a “single player MMO” and came out feeling very much like a series of zones with chat rooms tacked on top. Xenoblade: Chronicles actually does a much better job being a “single player MMO” than that game. By taking lessons from MMO design, Xenoblade Chronicles has revitalized the JRPG but at the same time made the MMO world as it currently operates look outdated. I’m giving Xenoblade Chronicles a 4 out of 5 stars.

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