Developer: Monolith Soft
Release Date: April 6, 2012
ESRB: T for Teen
Xenoblade Chronicles is an interesting beast of a JRPG. The first time I
ever heard about the game, it was just one of three pieces to the localization campaign known as Operation Rainfall. With the game supposedly never to be released on shores that would allow me the opportunity of playing it, I wasn't all that sure what it was. That is, until I heard nothing but praise from every other country who had the game. I was intrigued by that point, and wanted nothing more than for Nintendo of America to at least give us Xenoblade Chronicles, which seemed to be the favorite of the three JRPGs.
It took a while, but at last, after dealing with their Xeno-phobia (see what I did there?) for so long, NoA finally decided to let this game slip through. Sure, the game was in limited supply and could only be purchased at GameStop, but I got my mitts on it nonetheless, and I can vouch for the awesomeness this game is said to have – things like a very deep and enthralling storyline, an expansive and extraordinarily beautiful world, the wonderfully stellar soundtrack, a fun and innovative battle system, and the nearly endless depth of side-content. This RPG is certainly one for the ages and is what could very well be one of the most incredible games of the entire generation.
I'm a sucker for good storytelling. And what Xenoblade does in that regard, it does exceptionally well. Many RPGs I play tend to have rather generic stories that rely heavily on common RPG tropes, and the ones that try to be different often try too hard that you can't really get into their stories (basically my feelings about Final Fantasy XIII-2). Xenoblade, on the other hand, has one of the most captivating and creative stories I think I've ever seen in an RPG. Seriously, I found myself irresistibly attached to the game for hours-on-end just to find out what happens next.
Right on the outset, Xenoblade Chronicles captures your attention by introducing its worlds – two colossal titans that have become dormant during an epic battle and have since become the hosts of all known life. On the Bionis – the organic titan, organic life forms such as the human-like Homs, the adorable little Nopon, and the wing-headed humanoids (hominoids?) called the High Entia live out their peaceful lives. That is, peaceful until the mechanical Mechon from Mechonis – the mechanical titan – attack. You play as Dunban at first, who is a Hom soldier with the only weapon that seems to have any effect on Mechon armor – the Monado. During a battle between Homs and Mechon, Dunban helps to drive them away, getting injured in the process. A year later, their mechanical enemies return to disrupt the peace once again, and a young researcher from Colony 9 named Shulk must learn to wield the Monado and, with the help of a mixed group of highly interesting characters, journey across the titans to end the threat once and for all.
And what a journey it is. The environments in Xenoblade are truly massive and welcoming to all you would-be explorers out there. On your way from story point A to story point B, it's hard not to get sidetracked by the many new places you discover along the way (many of which reward you with experience, which adds a lot to what it means to gain "experience"). However, the game does a good job limiting the amount of exploration the player is allowed to do upon entering a new area by placing really high-level monsters in certain places to turn you away until later in the game (unless you think your two-man, level 8 party can take on a level 70 giant). This helps the game feel really well-paced as it keeps the player from getting sidetracked for too long before deciding to return to the story. It gets difficult at times not to get a little sidetracked, though, since this game provides hundreds of sidequests and tons of collectible goodies to steal your attention away.
The vastness of Xenoblade Chronicles is complimented beautifully by some of the most stunning visuals that have ever graced the Nintendo Wii. More often than not, I would find myself stopping to enjoy the view, from the towering cliffs around the Bionis during the day to the glowing red eyes of the Mechonis itself in the night sky – all with great clarity and magnificent rendering. And watching the appearance of the world around you change with the time and weather patterns is certainly a sight to behold. The only flaws I noticed within the game“s visual grandeur were slightly muddy textures and somewhat average-looking character models. However, I also understand how hard it must be dealing with the Wii's graphical limitations, and Xenoblade being as gorgeous as it manages to be makes these slight downsides nothing more than a mere afterthought.
And even with the character models looking like something out of a GameCube game, the fact that they change appearance with every little thing you equip on them (including bikinis, hubba hubba) more than makes up for that. And so do the characters themselves, each with their own unique personality and distinctive styles. Not only is it nice that the characters aren't generic-looking at all, but it's just hard not to enjoy them as characters, as they each have different things to love about them. They also have their own distinctive voices, no two sounding similar at all, and that“s certainly refreshing. It also helps that the voice acting in Xenoblade is all-around fantastic, even if the lip-syncing seems a tad off sometimes.
Voice acting isn't the only good audio aspect Xenoblade has going for it, though. In terms of quality and effectiveness, this game's soundtrack is outstanding. The music is great to listen to on its own, but not many RPG soundtracks have immersed me into their respective games quite as well as this one. When something intense is happening in a cutscene, the music makes you feel that intensity; when you're fighting a powerful enemy, the music pressures you into trying your hardest; and when you're exploring the beautiful landscapes of the Bionis, the music gives you a very pleasant feeling. And the best part is, the music never gets old. Nope, never.
It's definitely good that the battle music is as effective in making you feel the pressure of battle as it intends to be, because it really helps in supporting just how great of a battle system it is. Breaking into MMO and Western RPG territory a bit, battles take place in real-time, allowing you to move freely around your enemies. Players use an auto-attack when they're close enough to an enemy, but also have up to eight "Arts" that they can use. These are basically specialized moves that encourage high levels of strategy that makes the fighting much more satisfying to get involved in. There's a wide variety of arts for each character, too; some dealing more damage depending on how you use it, others that cause certain status effects, and your expected healing moves. There are also "chain attacks" that allow you to unleash a series of arts from each party member, one at a time, until the chain breaks.
The battle system is pretty complex, but the way it's handled makes it easy to jump into, while you slowly learn different techniques throughout your journey via tutorials and your battling skills evolve over time, making your overall fighting experience remain fresh throughout the game and flow much better than being spammed with everything at the beginning and expected to retain all knowledge for the next 70+ hours. There are also some other unique battle mechanics to mess around with, including specific special arts that each character can use once they've auto-attacked enough. Shulk's is the most interesting one as it highlights the Monado, allowing you to use one of several different powers the sword gains throughout the game. In addition, the Monado also allows the player to see the future to the moment an enemy unleashes a devastating attack so that they can act accordingly.
There are plenty more unique features in Xenoblade's battle system, and with so much involved, is something I can't fully detail here. Take my word for it, though: it's a blast. There are also plenty of other general content that makes the game more interesting for those willing to take advantage of it, such as skill trees, skill links, a relationship-building system between party members and countless NPCs, heart-to-heart events, and more. The game is so jam-packed with content that it's mind-blowing.
We already knew that Xenoblade Chronicles was a great game before it arrived stateside, as other countries had already praised it for its gorgeous visuals spanning ginormous amounts of virtual land mass, beautiful music that never gets old, and a captivating and very creative storyline involving gigantic titans, mechanical foes, and a sword with the power to control the fate of all things. But once I was finally able to spend 70+ hours exploring the incredibly expansive world, become addicted to over 400 unique sidequests, and see for myself just how fun the unique battle system is, all of which overshadow the game's very few flaws into oblivion, I realized that Xenoblade Chronicles is by far one of my favorite experiences I've ever had on the Wii, and definitely the greatest RPG I've played in quite some time. But more importantly, this game truly excels as a video game in general, and is one that I feel no shame in calling a masterpiece.
+ Captivating storyline within a creative setting
+ Likeable cast of characters
+ Gorgeous visuals alongside massive environments
+ Outstanding soundtrack and voice acting
+ Fun, unique battle system
+ A nearly endless amount of content
- Some graphical hiccups
- Slight lip-sync problems
Overall Score: 9.5 (out of 10)
With so many good things about it, Xenoblade Chronicles is by far one of the Wii's greatest games. But it goes beyond that, proving itself to be one of the greatest RPGs ever made.