Xenoblade Chronicles is one of the “holy trinity” of Wii JRPGs (with the other two being Pandora’s Tower and The Last Story, for those who aren’t aware) that were thought never to see localization, and yet are miraculously seeing just that…for Europe and Australia, anyway. It’s quite funny that, after being given the cold shoulder by Nintendo and video games companies in general for so very long, we’re finally getting treated to what could be regarded as the Wii’s death cry…and what a death cry it is.
Having played this game extensively - 57 hours and 15 minutes across 18 unforgettable days - I can categorically say that it is a very good job that they decided to bring it to our shores after all; the Wii has had absolutely nothing in the way of truly captivating RPGs in its fairly long life, and with the Wii-U on the way, the Wii could not possibly end on a higher note than this. Xenoblade is a long overdue return to form for the JRPG genre, with an emotional and shocking storyline, an involving battle system and, most surprisingly of all, a huge world to explore. As someone who is critical of pretty much everything they play, the only real flaw I could find with Xenoblade are the graphics…and unfortunately, a second flaw that I found the hard way, and led to some truly frustrating boss battles. Albeit they were all the more rewarding when I finally DID overcome them.
It's been a while since I wrote a video game review, and in truth I've become very jaded and critical of games in general; they just don't measure up to my expectations. Nothing is new, just passably entertaining. Xenoblade is a wake-up call, as it reminds me precisely why I got into video games in the first place. Read on!
Xenoblade is set on the carcass of the Bionis, a titan who, in ancient times, wielded the Monado – a red sword with a glowing blue blade not so different from a lightsaber - in a battle against the Mechonis, resulting in the death of both. Eons later, the Mechon army are invading Bionis with unknown purpose, and the Homs, the people of Bionis, are fighting back, as people are wont to do when machines start devouring them. Xenoblade opens with a battle on the sword of the Mechonis, in which the trio of Dunban, Dickson and Mumkhar are helping Homs forces resist an attack from invading Mechon, Dunban being the unofficial leader, wielding a miniaturized version of the Monado that was said to have been wielded by the Bionis. Mumkhar ultimately betrays them and is killed by Mechon for his troubles, and the scene ends ambiguously, with Dunban charging into the fray with the Monado, after receiving a nasty electric shock from it.
The battle was evidently successful, as we flash forward one year later to a young man named Shulk, who is scavenging for parts just outside of Colony 9, and is living a fairly idyllic lifestyle with his friends, Reyn and Fiora. Duban has since lost the use of his arm thanks to the Monado’s influence and has been crippled for over a year, and Shulk spends most of his time studying it, whilst Reyn is training to be the military and Fiora is acting as everyone’s nursemaid, bringing food and generally just being there.
The idyllic lifestyle enjoyed by the people of Colony 9 does not last long however, for the Mechon attack. In the ensuing chaos, Fiora, Shulk’s unofficial girlfriend and Dunban’s baby sister, is killed by a mysterious faced Mechon who, unlike the others, is immune to the powers of the Monado, which Shulk discovers that he can wield just as well as Dunban, if not better. Thus begins Shulk’s quest for vengeance, accompanied by Reyn.
Initially quite mediocre and not particularly original, promising nothing but angst and painful teenage melodrama, Xenoblade’s story is in fact filled with twists and turns and many a shocking revelation. The core of the story, for the majority of the game, is an undisguised quest for vengeance: Shulk and his companions aren’t out to save the world; they’re out for payback against the mechon that have caused them so much suffering. It isn’t a matter of doing things for the greater good, it’s a case of an eye-for-an-eye. There are no noble sentiments (at least, not until much later) and no real heroic aura surrounding any of them, and initially you could find a similar story in many an old JRPG. Yet this is actually what makes Xenoblade’s story so very believable and highly emotional: it’s a down-to-earth story about a group of people who get caught up in events far bigger than themselves and seize their own destiny. The standard heroism, when it finally does arise, comes for the right reasons, and not because it is an inherent part of the personality of the characters.
Xenoblade’s most unique and compelling storytelling device, however, is the Monado, which allows Shulk to see into the future. Flashes of events yet to occur will regularly play themselves for Shulk to see whilst he travels, triggered by things characters say or do, or arriving at new places. The present is driven by the future, as Shulk will share these visions with his companions, and they’ll all wonder what they can do to stop them, whilst at the same time rushing inexorably towards them. You’ll know they’re coming and, when the events do in fact happen, you’ll realise just how much the game was giving away to you…and how much was left out. What Shulk sees may not necessarily come to pass as it is displayed. As a result, when the events seen in the vision finally DO come to pass, you’ll never know entirely what to expect: things will begin to unfold in the way of the vision, yet when it reaches that critical point, such as the death of a minor character, things could go either way, and on occasion the major events of the scenario will not be revealed at all. Much like flicking to the middle of a book, these things are taken totally out-of-context, and the prospect of filling in the gaps is what makes Xenoblade’s story so captivating, because these visions of the future are never trivial; they are always fragments of the main events of the story, acting as both reassurance and teaser. Rather than leave you to wonder when the game will get interesting again – in the way of many JRPGs, there is a lot of travel to be done, and the tragic flaw of many is that the story tends to die away in the middle of it, or boredom inevitably ensues – it teases you with visions of what is to come, but it never reveals everything, giving you added incentive to continue playing. Xenoblade has a story that draws you in, stringing you along with what you think will be a ground-breaking and momentous occasion in the story, only to reveal that the event you’ve been anticipating this entire time is but a fragment of something much more surprising.
And Xenoblade is most definitely a game filled with surprises. Some of these you will naturally guess, as hints are dropped quite frequently throughout, and those familiar with the standard-issue JRPG plot twists in which that which you are told at the beginning is actually a complete lie will no doubt accurately guess a lot of them, yet halfway through the game, when the game begins to throw revelation after revelation your way and cast doubt on the motivation of characters (and reveal the motivation of others) short of spoiling yourself, there is no way you will pick up everything beforehand. Xenoblade is a game that loves to throw you obvious plot twists so that you will then miss out on the larger ones that it’s been concealing up its voluminous sleeves.
Xenoblade’s story is uniquely told and extremely engrossing; whilst the action slows down from time to time, there is always the promise of more to come, as with Shulk’s visions, you have a fair idea of what is going to happen, yet not a complete one, and there is often a twist to the actual moment that will surprise you. In the storyline department, Xenoblade is easily deserving of a perfect score: it avoids the pitfalls of both a stereotypical heroism or vengeance quest, whilst maintaining the essential characteristics of both in order to maintain some level of emotion, keeps you going with promises of what is to come (promises it delivers…and then some) and, most importantly of all, it puts on a good show through an excellent narrative and some truly startling revelations that not even the most die-hard JRPG fans will see coming, because they are so well-disguised by the deliberate foreshadowing and focus on what the Monado reveals. Xenoblade WILL surprise you, and that is perhaps the most important element in any JRPG storyline, and is one that modern JRPGs up to this point have never really been able to produce.
To complement the engrossing storyline, Xenoblade has a cast of characters that are varied and emotionally complex, both on a personal level and in their interactions with one another. The main cast is comprised of seven characters and, whilst only four of those characters have a backstory with one another, the other three are nonetheless bonded to them quickly and completely over the course of the story.
The most noticeable thing about Xenoblade’s characters is the development that they undergo, both individually and with each other. The relationship between Shulk and Reyn, for example, develops from one of Reyn protecting Shulk as he would a little brother to one in which he watches his back as an equal, and Shulk himself changes dramatically over the course of the game, although a part of his original character always remains within him. Certain characters follow character archetypes seen in JRPGs time and again over the years – for example, Dunban is a classic “Leading Man” case – and yet each of them has a personality trait that one would not normally see in this archetype (for Dunban again, this would be a willingness to allow others to take the lead; to act as a protector and guide, rather than a leader, and he lacks the arrogance associated with the self-confidence characters like him often possess) making them not only original, but likeable. Riki, despite clearly being a mascot-type character, is actually forty years of age, has a family, and is capable of some remarkable insight in certain situations. Romance, whilst rather blatantly implied, is never overly intrusive in the story or between the characters. Emotional turmoil, both private and shared, is always at the right level for any given situation.
This is a highly emotional cast, yet these emotions do not override everything else about their characters: they remain, above everything else, comrades and friends, and this in particular is what makes them all so endearing. Their relationships and individual personalities do not undergo dramatic mood-swings, but nor are they stuck in one mood or archetype. Each one of Xenoblade’s main characters is unique and interesting and, whilst you may dislike one or two of them, with the exception of Riki and Melia, they all gain equal attention, so their prominence will not be overstated, making it easier to bear.
As with the story, Xenoblade’s cast have a few surprises up their sleeves, particularly the NPCs, who are always more than what they appear to be. Despite the fact that this game lacks the presence of a true antagonist for the majority of the game, it more than makes up for this by delivering first villains who are mysterious, and then those who are more traditional, and entirely unexpected. That the protagonists are good enough to carry the majority of the story themselves without a constant antagonist awaiting them around the corner, and that the antagonistic presence can take on multiple forms until the very end, really speaks for how well the characters of this game were designed. The ambiguity and scale of the antagonists is what makes Xenoblade truly unique; whilst the ultimate objective of Shulk and co. doesn’t change for much of the game, those who step within their path manage to assert their presence as a serious threat, and not just another sub boss. Each one has motivations and a character of their own, intricately tied in with the story in some way or another.
Xenoblade has a truly fantastic cast, however, like many JRPGs, it does not give certain members of said cast enough attention past their initial appearance. After her debut, Melia practically fades out of existence and is frequently given the cold shoulder, and Riki is more of a tagalong than anything else, despite his occasional moments of insight. Without viewing Heart-to-Hearts and quest scenes, with Riki in particular it is very difficult to get any sort of view of his personality or background and, when the other characters have such a rich and complex level of interaction between them, it is disappointing to see that a couple of characters are left entirely out of the loop, as it were. The backstory of the majority of the characters is played out in-game, yet for some characters this backstory is all that there really is to them unless you take the time to build up affinity and watch their scenes – something people may not wish to do. Unless you do the sidequests involving them, there are a very small number of NPCs who receive any real character development, and the number of major NPCs is a mere handful. If you value quantity over quality in your cast, then consider bumping this score down considerably. In its cast, Xenoblade aims for quality over quantity and, for the most part, it more than delivers.
Xenoblade’s gameplay is wonderfully varied, blending classic, traditional RPG gameplay with a more modern, real-time approach, with an expansive world that dwarfs many sandbox games. It allows for free-roaming and exploration, and encourages this through quests, both mandatory and optional. Unless you are doing a story quest, it gives you a completely free reign over what you wish to do.
Xenoblade’s battle system is real time, yet manages to avoid becoming a button-mashing fest and requires the player to get involved, rather than just sitting back and watching the game do all the work. When in a battle with an enemy, your character will attack them at set periods if they are in range after an invisible gauge has filled up, yet you are able to assign eight arts (which are displayed as icons along the bottom of the screen) to utilise in battle, which must be activated manually, and have a cool-off period until they can be used again, to prevent abuse and what would be extremely easy battles otherwise. There are arts of various natures: those with red icons will inflict more damage than a standard attack, and some will also inflict the bleed status effect, which will drain an enemy HP over time. Pink-coloured arts will inflict Break, which can then be followed with green-coloured arts, which will inflict Topple, rendering enemies unable to attack for a short period. Yellow arts inflict daze, whilst blue arts have beneficial effects for the party, such as restoring HP or granting increases to stats. Orange arts bestow Auras upon the individual or party, granting beneficial status effects such as Haste, or an immunity to debuffs. Others, which are coloured purple, will inflict other status effects, such as Sleep and Poison, and will likely to very little damage, if any at all.
Each character has their own set of arts consisting of these types, with some more than others (Sharla, for example, has a large number of blue-coloured arts, making her an excellent healer, whereas Reyn has none whatsoever, and is geared more towards being a physical attacks) as well as a unique talent art, the gauge of which fills up naturally over time, as the character attacks or uses their arts in battle. Once the gauge is filled and, the talent art can be used. Arts can be levelled up using AP, which is won at the end of a battle, when discovering a new landmark, unlocking a new achievement, or completing a quest. Levelling up arts has the result you would expect: cool down times decrease and power levels increase. Arts can be levelled up to a maximum of ten, with the AP cost becoming gradually higher the more the art is levelled up. However, to increase art levels, you must purchase skill books, which can be found for no small sum at stores. Even then, to be able to master an art, you must defeat a high-level monster and acquire the advanced skill book from the resulting treasure chest, so it will not be until towards the end of the game where you are in a position to master arts, if then. Certain arts are best used in certain ways: for example, by following Gale Slash with Electric Gutbuster with Dunban, you are practically guaranteed to inflict Break on an enemy unless they are immune to it, and attacking from behind with Backslash with Shulk results in over double the damage being done.
The Monado plays a key role in battle, once you have acquired it. On occasion, Shulk will receive a vision of the future, involving an enemy using a particularly devastating art which will either outright kill the target, or severely injure them and inflict a status ailment. A timer of 8-12 seconds then slowly ticks away at the top of the screen, giving the player the chance to do something about it: either attempting to kill the enemy, activating Monado Shield through Shulk’s talent art (if the gauge is filled, and the art can be blocked by Monado Shield), warning the target to have them execute a move in hopes of countering (this uses up one bar on the chain attack gauge), attempting to change the target through gaining sufficient aggro, healing the character in question in hopes that they’ll survive (the damage, as well as the status effect and target, will be displayed at the top of the screen along with the timer) or just sitting back and waiting for the inevitable demise of the character in question. This happens more frequently against bosses and high-level enemies than it does in normal battles, and it adds another level of depth to battles.
The primary way to gain affinity is also through battles: on occasion, when a character unleashes a particularly devastating attack, or dodges, or misses or is blocked by an enemy, a quick-time icon will flash on the screen. Pressing B in time will result in an affinity boost between characters in battle. Reviving characters also grants a small affinity boost, as does encouraging them when prompted, or helping them to recover from status effects by running up to their position and then pressing the required button. AI will also encourage or revive the player character when they can, and if you are incapacitated or inflicted with a status ailment, you won’t remain so for very long. This also increases party tension, which fills the chain attack gauge faster and makes a character more likely to dodge an enemy attack, or inflict a critical hit.
However, just as characters have arts, so too do enemies. As you would expect, different enemies have different weaknesses and resistances, and can inflict different status ailments with their own arts. Enemy AI in the game is varied; each enemy has an icon above their head, indicating their nature. Some will only attack if you attack them first, whereas others will attack on sight. Others are alerted to your presence by sound; if you run past them, you will draw their attention. Some are alerted by attacks, or different types of attacks: using an ether art around a nebulae-type enemy will cause it to attack you, as an example. Others will attack you if you attack an enemy nearby; assault a single enemy in a tight-knit group, and others will come to its aid. Enemy behaviour depends largely on their level: an enemy that is five or six levels below you will not attack you unless you attack them, regardless of what their behaviour is. Those who are of a higher level, unless they are passive, will often attack you on sight and, if they are of an extremely high level, you will be able to damage them, as your attacks will miss and your party will quickly become demoralized, asking you if this is really such a good idea. Different types of enemies will show up at different times of day: whilst relatively safe during the day, at night higher-level enemies will freely roam the marshes, and each one of the locations are huge; in different areas, stronger enemies may show up. There are also unique pseudo-boss monster enemies that lurk around the map, usually accompanied by similar normal enemies of the same type, who will engage you on sight. These monsters drop valuable items, but you need to be several levels above them to kill them and even then, it’s not a guaranteed thing.
In addition to arts, each character has their own unique Skill Trees. In addition to EXP and AP, you can also earn SP, or skill points, which go towards acquiring skills. These are always active, and bestow different abilities and advantages to the individual: for example, increased ether, or a buff at the start of a battle with a higher-levelled enemy. There are a total of five skill trees per character, with three available initially, and the others unlocked via quests much later in the game. As you level up, you will also gain affinity coins for Skill Link, which allows you to take other character’s skills and use them on different characters…provided the two characters in question have a high enough affinity, of course. Maxxing affinity with a character will allow you to place five of their skills in skill link with another character, provided you have the necessary affinity coins to do so.
Finally, there is the Party Gauge, which is built up slowly over time, as you inflict damage and encourage your party members. There are three segments to the gauge; when one is full, you may do one of two things with it: either warn a party member of a future vision, allowing you to use any one of their arts as you see fit, or revive them if they are incapacitated. When all three are full, you can initiate a Chain Attack, which as the name implies, allows you to attack with each party member. This is not as useful a mechanic as it sounds; you can extend the duration of a Chain Attack through quick-time events similar to affinity cries, but when they pop up is entirely random, and in later battles you will be using the Party Gauge exclusively to revive party members or, on occasion, warn one of them (likely Sharla, so you can heal your party) to prevent a nasty outcome.
Xenoblade has a total of seven playable characters, and you may have three in your party at any one time. However, the single flaw with its battle system is quite a damning one at times: you can only control the party leader. Some characters have absolutely terrible AI; as the best example, only by removing Sharla’s offensive skills can you be sure that she’ll actually heal the party when needed, and even then, she might not do it in time. There is also the occasional lag between the time you die and when a party member revives you, meaning they could be dead before they get the chance to. It takes one or two attacks for them to register it a lot of the time, and if they’re far away from you, it can be a very close thing, and it’s frustratingly unfair when you die because the AI is too incompetent to heal or revive you. You cannot tell when the characters can use their arts again (they will often use them immediately, but this may not be what you desire) and, whilst you can set their arts just as you can any other character’s, there is no guarantee they’ll play tactically. To command your party’s movements, you are given a rather pitiful three commands: to play it by ear, focus attention on the enemy you are currently targeting, or to regroup and come to you. For the majority of the game, these serve their purpose and are not too frustrating, yet when the going gets tough, it can be very hard to get people to do what you need them to and, for a game that puts a large emphasis on party affinity and interaction, there is a definite mismatch.
Unlike a lot of JRPGs, levelling is not the most important factor in Xenoblade’s battle system. It is important, certainly, but planning and preparation is far more crucial to your survival, right up to the end of the game. Inflicting status effects and timing your attacks is far more important to success, as is balancing your party: with the exception of Shulk, each character has far more than eight arts, and has their own strengths and weaknesses you will need to consider. Fighting a boss several levels above you with Reyn and Dunban in your party will result in a quick death, for you will only have Light Heal with which to heal yourself. Your equipment, the gems attached to it (see below) and your surroundings are the key to your success. Xenoblade is NOT a game that is designed with grinding in mind; it is torturously slow and tedious, and becomes increasingly difficult, for once you match levels with enemies you gain less experience, until it dwindles down to nothing. Xenoblade encourages players to explore the world, for you will gain far more experience points in the long run through doing quests and discovering landmarks than fighting the same enemies over and over. The maximum level for the party is 99, whilst the monsters go up to 120, which shows that it is not the level you are that counts: it is your preparation. If it is inadequate, you will die extremely quickly. Knowing who to include, what arts to use, and when to perform a chain attack or Monado art and when to save them for when you really need them, are things you will likely learn the hard way once you encounter your first group of strong enemies, or a particularly frustrating boss.
But that said, Xenoblade has a relatively moderate difficulty curve that may feel unbalanced at times (especially towards the end) yet is not overly taxing as long as you take the time to level your party sufficiently – without taking the time to do quests or do some small grinding against enemies, you’ll likely be two to three levels below bosses, which can make a surprising difference, but it won’t make the game impossible, just challenging – and plan your strategy in battle accordingly, and know when to cut your losses and run away; groups of enemies can be whittled down by bait and retreat tactics; until you reload the game or leave the area, they will not respawn. The numbers are often telling, and you will need to be careful to avoid dying. There are one or two points where the game becomes frustratingly and unfairly difficult (certain bosses, naturally) yet these can be overcome eventually. If you do a moderate number of quests and explore each of the maps (which you will mostly do on the way) then it is unlikely you will ever need to stop specifically to level up so you can overcome the boss that is defeating you constantly.
The other main element of Xenoblade’s gameplay is exploration. Areas are truly massive, and you are given adequate incentive to explore them: as well as the truly immense number of quests you can undertake (see below) there are various landmarks that will earn you considerable EXP. You can also warp to and from discovered landmarks at any time (except when you are doing a story quest to advance the plot) allowing for easy travel to and from all places; whilst landmarks aren’t particularly evenly spaced out at times, there are enough of them for you to end up roughly where you would like to go. Enemies will appear on the map for you to engage at your pleasure, and time will pass as you play the game; it takes no more than twenty minutes for it to get dark, although you can adjust the time at will in the menu.
Exploration is encouraged, mainly, through quests. NPCs with a “!” above their heads, when spoken to, will give you a quest to do. These quests are of varying nature, although of a standard RPG variety: defeat a monster, gather a material, speak to another NPC, etc. Sometimes you may be required to fulfil multiple objectives, and many NPCs will give you a second or third quest to do after the first, leading to another quest with a different NPC. Some aren’t available until after a certain point in the story, making it worth your while to re-visit areas. At later stages, quests offer far more experience than enemies do, meaning those who neglect to do quests may find them struggling at later levels; whilst Xenoblade is not a game that encourages grinding, anyone wishing to grind would find themselves more successful if they did quests. There are about 80 quests in Colony 9 alone, and more in other areas. Some quests are timed, and won’t be available after certain points in the story.
The “main” sidequest of the game is the reconstruction of Colony 6, which will take you a large percentage of the game to complete; to expand the colony, you must collect various items from all across the world, many of which are either extremely rare or dropped by high-level enemies. When you acquire such an item, you will see a vision of the future, which tells you just how many you need to complete the quest; a useful mechanic. NPCs from other areas can also be brought over to Colony 6 once it reaches a certain size and, of course, the residents have quests of their own that they would have you undertake. Completing quests raises affinity with the people of a particular area, up to five stars, when trading with them becomes extremely beneficial, as rarer items become available. Trading can be initiated with any named NPC (i.e. someone who has an actual name instead of something like “Colony 9 Resident” or something similar) at any time, and you’ll be able to exchange items of equal value for an item of theirs. Naturally, the higher the affinity with the townsfolk, the better the items you can acquire.
Building on party affinity are “Heart-to-Hearts” which are, as the name implies, conversations between two party members, which you can view when their affinity is high enough. These are scattered across the game, and many can only be viewed after events in the story have taken place, or at a certain time of day. You will given two options in conversation, one of which raises affinity, and one of which lowers it. These have no real purpose other than to develop characters and, of course, for achievements.
I’ve mentioned achievements several times now…perhaps to compensate for the lack of trophies and achievements on the Wii, Xenoblade has its own built into the game. These are for various things, from discovering a certain number of landmarks or using party moves enough times to defeating powerful monsters or completing a set number of quests. For completionists, there is also the Collectopaedia, which involves gathering one of every type of material (indicated by glowing blue orbs on the world map) and then placing it in the book. You’ll also receive items (usually gems or high-level armour) for completing sections, and a special item for filling out the entire page. There is one page for every area, and it quickly becomes a compulsion to collect everything in the area which, if you quests, you’ll do naturally in the gathering quests.
To enhance your characters further, there are gems. Most monsters will drop crystals, and you can also farm them from crystal deposits. Each of these carry a percentage of an ability – for example, an increase in strength, or a resistance of paralysis – and, when combined together with a percentage of over 100 for that ability, you can create a gem with said ability. The gem crafting process is relatively simple, and you can craft multiple gems at once, depending on the percentage chance and the affinity of the party members involved in the process.
Overall, Xenoblade’s gameplay is easily the best the JRPG genre has seen for well over a decade and, with a moderate level of questing and exploration, will last you at least sixty hours; far more if you’re a perfectionist. The only major flaw in design that will be frustrating for some is the inability to directly control party AI. Left to their own devices, the AI are remarkably capable, and will support and revive you of their own accord but, alas, their own accord will never be as fast as it could be done if you were able to do it yourself. They are adept at keeping themselves out of too much danger, but at the same time, there will be points where they become utterly incapable of doing what you need them to and making boss battles a nightmare. Indeed, deciding whether to take direct control of Sharla, your primary healer, so you can ensure your characters do not die at an awkward moment, or trust to her often unreliable AI to heal you in a time of crisis, will be a choice that you will face a lot through the game.
Controls: 7.0 (with a Wiimote and Nunchuck), 9.8/10 (with a Classic Controller)
Unless you are accustomed to using the Wiimote by this point, it feels extremely unnatural to use it (although not impossible) and this is most definitely a game to be played with a Classic Controller, which gives a much more recognisable and easy-to-use interface. There are no motion-related functions when using a Wiimote (i.e. you don’t have to swing it at the screen to attack an enemy, or anything like that) but it is much easier to play this game with a Classic Controller. However, no matter which interface you utilise, there seems to be a slight difficulty or lag in giving party orders, which do not always work; although this may be a flaw within the game itself, and not the controls. However, as it is unlikely that you will often use party orders (party members tend to attack the same target as you anyway, or provide a welcome and capable distraction for other monsters that would otherwise gang up on you, and the “come to me” command is very limited in its use) you will not experience much difficulty with the controls.
Xenoblade has what you might call short-sighted graphics. From a distance, things look absolutely spectacular: standing on top of an Anti-Air battery looking over Colony 9, or looking down at Gaur Plains at the top of a hill, it is doubtful that either the PS3 or the 360 could improve on the stunning visuals you’re treated to, and the fact that you can actually visit what you can see only adds to how very impressive this actually is. However, when you do get there, wall textures can quite blockish, and feel more suited to a previous generation, and whilst for the Wii the scenery is very impressive overall, it could still be better, and character facial models in particular are absolutely diabolical.
Indeed, the character faces are the one thing that has dragged this score right down. Similar to Star Ocean: The Last Hope, character designs just do not fit the stunning world of the game, and would be more at home in a cel-shaded or even a Gamecube game. It is when the game focuses on the characters that the graphics take a real downturn; the game goes from smooth, beautifully presented textures to blocky, polygonal faces that look more like fish faces than anything else although, mercifully, the lip-syncing isn't too bad.
Still, for the Wii, this is a remarkable achievement, and close-up the majority of the scenery isn’t an eyesore, whilst from a distance it is truly stunning. The moments of beauty far outweigh those in which you’ll feel like clawing out your eyes. Nonetheless, the moments will come, and often at the most inopportune times.
Xenoblade’s soundtrack is by no means the best video game OST in history, yet for the most part (hearing the same default battle theme all the way through the game gets old, yet the boss battle theme never seems to) it delivers a solid and highly enjoyable symphony to accompany your adventure. The music sets the mood perfectly, only heightened by the fact that a large percentage of the places you will visit have a different, softer theme for when day changes to night. Whether it is the sweeping, uplifting orchestra of Gaur Plains or the light, fairly ominous theme of Tephra Cave, Xenoblade’s soundtrack sets the mood perfectly, and only loses points because certain themes tend to become a little over-used, so enjoyment of them is spoiled somewhat.
This game earns a lot of points with the voice cast. Monolith Soft made a daring move in hiring a cast of unknown voice actors, but it really paid off. The entirety of Bionis (excluding the Nopon, the token “Aww! I want to take one home with me!” race) is English and, surprisingly, this works extremely well, with different regional dialects for different areas and people. This dialogue in this game feels very natural; whilst the standard line-up of voice actors usually arrayed for JRPGs are mostly fantastic and capable of conveying real emotion in their parts, Xenoblade’s cast goes above and beyond this simply by sounding so natural; reactions aren’t overblown or forced, and the colloquialisms used are quite endearing. Xenoblade’s voice cast is fresh and exciting, and right up there with the likes of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow for originality.
Unique/Extra Features: 8.0/10
Xenoblade has a huge number of unique features: the Monado game and storytelling mechanic, as well as the voice cast itself and the bizarre setting, stick out in particular, and there are plenty of extra features to keep you playing outside of the story: quests, the collectopedia, even its own achievements, not to mention the truly gigantic world to explore. Naturally, it shares similarities with other JRGs, and no game is truly unique and original, so even Xenoblade couldn’t receive a perfect score for this section, but nonetheless, this a marked departure from the typical pitfalls of JRPGs, and it differentiates itself admirably.
Replay value: 7.0/10
Xenoblade’s replay value is akin to that of most JRPGs: how much time you invest in it, and your own patience, will depend on whether or not you want to play it again. After spending 60+ hours on the game, most won’t want to delve into it again for quite a while, no matter how enjoyable it may have been. However, what boosts this score up a little is the fact that Xenoblade includes a New Game+ feature, in which party affinity, achievements unlocked, character levels, 30 pieces of weapons and each individual type of armour, and 60 materials, can be carried over. Those who wish to enjoy the story again without spending hours upon hours exploring and doing quests will be able to do so with this mode, and completionists who will find that they missed quests will be given the opportunity to do them again. Xenoblade gives incentive for players to go through it again.
Overall Rating: 9.6/10
Xenoblade Chronicles delivers a solid, emotional and truly unforgettable experience the likes of which we haven’t seen for decades, not since the PS1 era. The number of RPGs that stand out above the others is extremely thin on the ground. Xenoblade not only stands out from others, it surpasses much of what it could be compared to. This is the RPG that Wii owners have been waiting for. It goes above and beyond expectations and is one of the most memorable games this side of the millennium.
As with all games, Xenoblade Chronicles has its flaws, and they are twofold: the graphics, an unfortunate side-effect of being on the Wii, a less powerful console than what else exists out there, and a thoroughly unreasonable learning curve that highlights the crippling disadvantage of not being able to control your own party members. Xenoblade crosses the line between “challenging” and “frustrating” on more than one occasion and, whilst these moments can be overcome, it is far from easy even if you match levels with your opponent and, since level grinding is more time-consuming and tedious in this game than it usually is in JRPGs, you can be stuck at a point for a very long time.
Nevertheless, Xenoblade Chronicles is the best JRPG any console has seen for years; it makes all the right decisions, and beyond the aforementioned flaws it is, in every way possible, the perfect RPG. If you have a Wii, you owe it to yourself to buy this. This is the game you’ve been waiting for, an RPG that is reminiscent of the days of substance over form, and yet manages to hold itself above those games that prioritize form. A true joy to play from start to finish, with more quests to do than an MMO, and all the emotion, surprise and intrigue of even the most well-written fantasy novel. Buy it. Now.