Xenoblade Chronicles Review (Wii)
There was one game genre that I really think has been under-represented during the Wii’s lifetime and that is the role-playing game. Back in the NES and SNES days, Nintendo was the king of the RPG with games like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger and many, many more. Then Sony sort of took that crown around the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 era getting exclusive rights to Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and the Tales franchise. The Wii life is coming to an end and I thought the system might never get any big games in the genre. Over the past few months there has been a huge campaign here in North America to get some popular RPG’s from Japan to be localized for the region and the Wii goes into its last days with the release of what could be one of the best RPG’s to ever be released; Xenoblade Chronicles
What You Need to Know
Xenoblade Chronicles is an RPG of the Japanese persuasion, developed by Monolith Soft. It combines elements of traditional menu-based RPGs, action RPGs and MMOs into a blend that ends up being something that seems familiar, but also completely unique at the same time. You play as Shulk, a young boy from a colony of humans who lives on the back of a giant titan-like creature called Bionis. Their civilization is at war with a race of mechanical creatures called Mechons who live on the back of another titan named Mechonis. Shulk comes into possession of a sword called the Monado which has special powers that will unlock throughout the adventure. The human civilization is attacked in the beginning of the game and Shulk, along with a rotating party of adventurers must do everything they can to save the world.
One of the biggest complaints many people have with traditional RPGs is the combat systems just aren’t intuitive. You have menu on top of menu that you have to navigate through and with many games now you had to do it in real time. The biggest innovation of modern MMORPGs is a more real-time battle with augmented skills that could be used. Xenoblade Chronicles blends all that together into a system you wouldn’t think would work, but really does. Combat is started instantly when you get inside a small radius to an enemy. From there you have a number of skills along the bottom of the screen that can be selected with the d-pad. These skills have a semi-menu system built into them with different powers that can be activated. Each of these powers has a cool down period similar to MMOs so they can’t be spammed. Knowing how to use these skills, along with the skills of your party members is a crucial strategy for battle and can be the difference between winning and losing.
For those long time Japanese RPG fans there are still plenty of menus to wade through. While some of them will really be necessary to learn, like the character menus, others can almost be bypassed entirely and you’ll still get all of the enjoyment out of the game you normally would. It really is a perfect blend of old-school game design and more modern conventions.
Everything about this game feels like you really are stepping into a completely new world. Many times in a game you know with every area you enter, where you’re supposed to be and when you’re supposed to be there. There’s not really any danger or true sense of exploration because you’re seeing what the developers want you to see. In Xenoblade Chronicles being in the wrong place at the wrong time can mean instant death. From the moment you first step outside of the walls of Colony 9 there are things that want to kill you. Sure, some of the first enemies you see will be easily dispatched, but not that monster in the background. He’s a level 74 monster and won’t think twice about eating you for lunch.
Even the people in the colonies make you feel like you’re a part of something bigger. They have problems. They have fears. They have things that make them happy. One person is looking for love and an item you find in the world is the perfect gift to express that love. Another person needs you to take a message to their mother. All of your interactions with these people will be different and they each feel like a real person that is just doing what they do to survive. The fruit stand person is just trying to make sure their children have food on the table. Many of these people will have quests for you to complete. Sometimes they’re simply go and kill a certain number of monsters to clear an area and make it safe. Many other times it will be a task they just don’t have time for because they’re doing something that’s much more important to them; and you can help them out.
I love everything about the world in Xenoblade Chronicles. I had a very similar feeling when I played Skyward Sword, but this takes that feeling and ramps it up many times over.
You also have the whole world to explore. Sure, there’s an arrow over your head showing you the basic direction of where the next important quest takes place, but who says you have to pay attention to it? The dozens upon dozens of side-quests available to you are just as fun and interesting to take on as the main story is and will add plenty of time to your adventure. There’s easily more than 100+ hours of content available in the game that will take you from one part of the world to another. The fast-travel system makes it very easy to do these as well. As long as you’ve hit a checkpoint and marked a new location on your map, side quests are a click on the map away. Then you don’t have to worry about spending 20 minutes getting back to where you were.
The biggest game play hook to Xenoblade Chronicles is the Monado, a sacred sword that allows its wielder to see glimpses of the future. These aren’t just silly, little cutscenes that don’t really matter. They’re built into the very fabric of the game. During battle you’ll see moves the enemy is about to make and can warn party members of the impending doom and change tactics to avoid the future. Some loot on the ground is shown to be important for the future. Then you’ve got the story bits where you see many of the things you’ll be doing in the as the game proceeds. Sometimes you can change this future, other times it seems more fixed, but you’ll recognize those scenes as soon as they happen.
Many Nintendo fans wondered if there ever would be a game like this on the Wii, especially as we were nearing the end of the Wii’s life cycle. With the exception of the visual parts of the game there’s as much content, if not more, as you’d find in a game like Final Fantasy XIII or games of that nature. The crafting system, battle system, relationships, loot, openness of the world and scale of the conflict all combine to make this not only one of the best RPG’s to appear on the Wii, but one of the best RPG’s of this generation. It combines elements of traditional Japanese role playing games with western MMO’s into a product that will feel familiar to fans of either genre while introducing them to elements that might make either of those experiences feel completely fresh. It’s a shame the game is coming so late in the Wii life as it proves just how good this type of game could be on the system. There’s very little bad that can be said about this game. It gives me hope the Wii U could be a place where more role playing experiences like this could appear. Whatever you do, do not miss the chance to play this game.
Review copy of the game provided by Nintendo.
Completed the entire campaign, plus numerous side quests.
Total Play Time: 7 years of my life, or 71 hours. [=^)