We take a break from Japanese visual novels and venture into Japanese RPGS. Kotaku reader Michael Hart has played the critically acclaimed Xenoblade Chronicles to see if it lives up to the praise. Did he love it or was a waste of many, many hours? Click through to find out!
Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
I've been waiting for a good JRPG (on any system) for a long time...Western RPG's aren't to my taste and don't seem to have the same flavour and soul of JRPG's to me, so I was excited to read good things about Xenoblade and decided to check it out for myself. And I wasn't disappointed.
Size and Scope — You may be wondering why I'm only writing a reader review of Xenoblade Chronicles now when the game was released in this country in September last year. The answer is that the game is absolutely massive and it's taken me almost this long to finish it. I'd clocked up 128 hours of play-time, and while I did most of the major things, I still didn't complete every single side-quest. The world itself is quite dynamic, with NPC's moving about doing their things on their own, and monsters changing their habits depending on the weather or time of day. The main story will take a good chunk of time by itself, but then you have 480 total sidequests on top of that (I'd knocked over 363 of them by the time I was done). The side-quests offer a nice change of pace, and reward you with not just items and money but experience as well, so less battle grinding is required. Even though they are totally optional I felt compelled to do them.
The Visuals — This is a Wii game? Sometimes I found myself wondering that. The game looks absolutely fantastic, with huge, detailed environments and massive draw distances, allowing you to see a long, long way. You do sometimes see monsters spawning in your field of vision, but it doesn't really take anything away from what an amazing technical achievement this is. It's a pity that more developers didn't take the time to really work on their Wii games from the ground up to extract the most out of the system, because Xenoblade looks superb.
Soundtrack — The soundtrack is also amazing in this game, and each area dynamically changes the style of music to reflect night and day transitions too. The game comes with a bonus soundtrack disc which is awesome.
Story — While the story isn't Oscar-winning material, it's a far cry above the average kind of JRPG fare, and it isn’t your run-of-the-mill mythological/magical based mumbo jumbo you often get from the genre either. It’s surprisingly...well...modern. You still have a bunch of teenagers out to save the world (I guess it wouldn't be a JRPG if it didn't), but the actual story is quite unique, and so is the world that the story takes place in, with a few unsuspected twists happening along the way.
Battles — I haven't been much of a fan of turn-based battle systems in RPG's for quite some time...to me they just seem like an archaic leftover of the 16-bit era. Xenoblade's battle system, while not technically 100% real-time, does a good job of creating a hybrid system that works surprisingly well. And while the ability to mix and match your party members is nothing new, in Xenoblade these changes really do have a noticeable impact in how the battles play out, as each character has their own unique skills that you will need to learn to utilise. Enemies also have unique skills that you need to take into account when fighting them, adding in an extra layer of depth.
Traditional JRPG conventions gone — Traditional magic system? Gone. Fire/Water/Earth/Wind temples, with guardian spirits you need to rescue? Nah. Gone too. Lots of recovery and stat up/down type items? No. Sleep at an inn to recover health between fights? Not on my watch. Random battle encounters? Hell no! Despite the lack of these things (most of them replaced by stuff so intuitive you wonder why it hasn't been done before) the game still feels like a JRPG. I also think I would have gone crazy without the ability to quickly map warp between discovered locations and the ability to quickly change the time of day. Battling monsters also isn't the only way to gain experience and level up...doing sidequests and discovering locations and landmarks will do this too. Oh yeah, did I mention you have the ability to save anywhere?
The Not So Good
Size and Scope — As I mentioned, this game is HUGE. I noted this as a good thing, but it may not be your cup of tea. It's going to be a serious time sink no matter how you approach it and will give your Wii a serious workout, so you'll need to make sure you have that kind of time.
Can't you do that yourself? — I was beginning to wonder whether the NPC's in the game could do anything without my help. While there are 480 total sidequests in the game, most of them boil down to "Kill this monster" or "Find this item" or sometimes "Talk to this person", or some combination of the three. The quests themselves are fun for the most part and offer a good change of pace, but a little more variety wouldn't have gone astray.
Monster Hunter Syndrome — I got a distinct Monster Hunter vibe more than a few times when I was trying to collect an item that was only dropped by a specific monster and the game was stubbornly refusing to give it to me. Not a huge problem, but it was annoying when it happened.
You're going out looking like that? — As good as the environments look, the characters aren't quite up to the same standard. They don't look bad or out of place or anything, but you will notice some weird animations, or bits of clothing intersecting with their bodies or weapons (even during cinematics), and the characters don't have a large variety of body animations when talking to each other either (so they'll repeat those animations over and over throughout the game), both of which can break the immersion a bit. The characters change their outfits as you give them different armour, which is a nice touch, but why is it that some of the better armour in the game looks absolutely ridiculous?
Xenoblade Chronicles is an incredible game in many different ways, and is certainly one of the best JRPG's of this console generation (possibly THE best). It takes a lot of JRPG traditions and throws them out the window, while still retaining that distinct JRPG feel. The game is long, with lots of layers of depth (I haven't even mentioned stuff like skill trees, gem crafting and affinity) while still being relatively friendly for those new to the genre. It drags the JRPG kicking and screaming into the modern era, and will hopefully set the standard of what's to come in the future. If you own a Wii and are remotely interested in JRPG's, or RPG's in general, you owe it to yourself to check this out.
Have you played Xenoblade Chronicles? Do you agree with Michael's points or did you have a different experience with the game? Let us know!