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Developer: Monolith Soft Publisher: Nintendo Platform: Wii 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. Pros: + 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 Cons: - Some graphical hiccups - Slight lip-sync problems Overall Score: 9.5 (out of 10) Fantastic 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.
Developer: Ganbarion Publisher: XSeed Platform: Wii Release Date: April 16, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen It's a small miracle that I'm reviewing Pandora's Tower now. The third of three Wii RPGs that made it to Europe before hitting our shores, fans made quite the ruckus to bring this, Xenoblade Chronicles, and The Last Story over to North America. While Nintendo listened to their cries and brought Xenoblade over, XSeed did the same for Last Story shortly after, but Pandora's Tower seemed like a lost cause. The Wii U was already released, and Wii support was dropped like a rock. Fans despaired; there was practically no hope for the third game in this role-playing trio to be release for an NA system. But, XSeed pulled through for the fans again, and announced their localization for Pandora's Tower a few months back. Now that eager gamers have what is likely to be the Wii's final true game, does Pandora's Tower live up to its Operation Rainfall brethren and help us say farewell to the Wii with a bang? Pandora's Tower weaves a very interesting tale: The young Elena has been marked by a terrible curse that slowly turns her into a monster. The only way to possibly put an end to this curse is to traverse the Thirteen Towers and defeat each tower's Master, obtaining their Master Flesh and feeding it to the girl. As one might imagine, these towers are quite perilous, but protagonist Aeron is no slouch in the ways of fighting, and with the Oraclos Chain given to him by the mysterious Mavda, he'll make his way through the towers to find the cure for his love. Since the gist of the game is to save Elena, a lot of the focus is put on her in relation to the plot. She'll always be safe inside the Observatory, and when you return from your visits to the Thirteen Towers, she'll always be there waiting. Chatting with her and giving her gifts is the key to keeping her happy and hopeful of the eventual eradication of her curse. In addition, raising Elena's affinity in Aeron plays a big role on the ending you may see. However, that's not all - Elena's curse does slowly turn her into a beast, and this means that you need to keep her from turning while you fight for the Master Flesh. To do so, you need to pull servant flesh from the normal monsters in the dungeon, and feed them to her. This slows the curse down and ensures you enough time to complete the Towers, so time isn't a big issue here. Over time, you'll really start to care about Elena. Through chats with her and from her reactions to the gifts you give, you'll learn more about the sweet girl, like her past and her dreams. It's almost heart-breaking watching her suffer throughout the course of the game, but it's uplifting when she speaks full of hope for the future... even if the underlying curse causes some unusual changes. On the flip side, though, you will learn almost nothing about Aeron himself. There is a bit explained within a few later cutscenes and with chatting, but the quiet and stoic Aeron is more there to save Elena than he is to be an interesting character model. It's a little disappointing, however given that this sort of background might detract from Elena's story, it's understandable that Garbarion put the spotlight on her. It's also interesting to note that, while the setting is very pointed in its execution, you still learn a lot about the world of Pandora's Tower. Through the various books and notes scattered about, you learn about how the Masters were created, and more about the Cataclysm that struck the land and created the giant gash in the earth known as The Scar. Mavda's musings also give clue to the effects that Elena's sudden onslaught of her curse had on the people that were attacked... and even on the country itself. The way this game creates its world is very effective, with every new article or letter bringing just a bit more light into various aspects of the world. While the plot and execution are great, however, as an Action RPG Pandora's Tower needs to play well to be completely enjoyable... so does it succeed in that part? For the most part it does, though there are some odd quirks. Aeron has many ways of dispatching enemies at his disposal. First, we can use his sword (and other weapons later) to dispatch foes in a typical ARPG-combo fashion. You can also have Mavda upgrade these weapons by using materials found in the Towers; this will raise their attack power and even add new attacks to your combo after a time. Also, you'll have access to the immensely versatile Oraclos Chain. In battle, you can use the chain to latch on to the enemy, for a number of effects. You can, for example, throw them into other foes, latch the chain onto a second enemy so they share the damage you deal, pull at the chain to raise its tension then pull away quickly to do massive damage, amongst other techniques. Most players will find themselves using the chain during most of their battles, especially since attacking the Masters with weaponry is rarely effective in itself. In addition, the Oraclos Chain is the best way to make your way through the Thirteen Towers. You can latch onto footholds and ledges, swing about, and generally get to areas you'd never be able to otherwise. It lends itself to some fun platforming, though at times is can be a little nerve-wracking, especially when suspended above perilous pits or while persistent enemies are afoot. While we're talking about the chain, I have to state this to get it out of the way - there are two control schemes, one with the Wiimote and Nunchuk and one with the Classic Controller. Do not use the Classic Controller scheme! This game was made with the Wiimote in mind, as you control where your chain goes with it... if you use the Classic Controller, this important function is relegated to the right stick. While that may not seem to bad, when you're in a position that needs quick reflexes (which is every time you're fighting a Master), you'll find the right stick's speed and accuracy sorely lacking. Despite how well done the package is overall, though, there are some sticking points that unfortunately stop the game from being perfect. For starters, Many times throughout the game the same animations will repeat themselves. This is fine for the first few times, but after you've seen Mavda slowly emerge through the door for the umpteenth times you'll be mashing the plus button to skip it. It's a minor issue, but one that really sticks out. Also, the affinity bar inches up the screen incredibly slowly. For most people playing the game normally, despite tons of gifts, the bar probably won't make it far enough to get the better endings. It's entirely possible to raise Elena's affinity to the required amounts, but it tends to devolve into exhausting chat until she has nothing left to say, rest, repeat, maybe give her a berry, and so on. Had the bar moved up a just a bit of a faster rate, or some of the really big or expensive gifts given a large boost, this wouldn't be needed. It's an unfortunate misstep on a mechanic that's very important. Finally, there are some points that can get frustrating. Missing a chain to break or failing to find a shortcut can cause a lot of backtracking, and with the advancement of the curse clicking down in the lower right corner, backtracking is more stressful than the norm. As well, there are times where you can go too long without finding a monster that drops servant flesh, making it stressful to find something to slow the curse's progression. Couple that with a few of the towers being long and maze-like, and it turns into an experience that can be more stressful than it needs to be. So, the final verdict? Pandora's Tower is a game just a little shy of fantastic. The plot and setting are beautifully done, but it falls short on other aspects that keep it from being a perfect gaming experience. Even so, it's a game every Wii RPG fan should grab, especially if they enjoyed Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story. While it's a completely different experience, it's one that comes as a great send-off to the Wii. Pros + The plot and setting are well presented and written + Your interactions with Elena make you truly care about her + Fighting the unique and varied Masters is for the most part fun Cons - The music, while not bad, has few tracks and isn't memorable - The rate the curse advances adds a level of frustration and tension that is a bit much - Getting the Affinity bar to a good level is more work than it should be Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Pandora's Tower may have some small annoyances, but overall it's a great experience for Wii owners and RPG fans.
Ah yes, Pandora's Tower... This is the last of the trio of games that Operation Rainfall banded together under to decry their collective lack of Western release. Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story have already made it out so that leaves only this game left. In early March, XSEED Games announced the title for April. Today they've sent out word of the release date. Pandora's Tower will be available on April 16th, which is only a few weeks away. The RPG was developed in Japan by Ganbarion and Nintendo. When it finally hits stores it'll hit shelves at the price of $40. Of course, Pandora's Tower is also a Wii exclusive and seemingly one of the few upcoming - if not last - games worth buying. Those interested in taking a peek at the gameplay can do so with the trailer XSEED released today: http://youtu.be/R6QNM_5zucE
Marcus Estrada posted a article in Industry NewsLate yesterday, XSEED Games posted a single photo to their Twitter feed. It was a photo of a tower obscured by rain. The company has been known to do this before (such as the set of photos they used to announced Unchained Blades) so fans were quick to guess what it meant. Today, XSEED has announced that they will be bringing Pandora's Tower to the North American market. The Wii exclusive action RPG had, until now, seemed to never be coming for U.S. gamers. It was one of the three games targeted by Operation Rainfall but it seemed that only Xenoblade and The Last Story would actually make it out here. With this announcement, Wii owners now have at least one more game to look forward to. Of course, Wii U users can just pop the game into that system instead. President and CEO of XSEED Games, Shinichi Suzuki had this to say about the title: â€œIt“s fantastic to be bringing such a highly-anticipated title like Pandora“s Tower to such a vocal fan base. North American gamers have been very patient in waiting for this game to be released, and we“re confident they will be pleased when they get their hands on the title.â€ Pandora's Tower will be released for Wii in Spring 2013. Expect to hear more about this game in the coming months. Were you still expecting to see Pandora's Tower release in North America or had you given up hope?