I recently tried to publish this review for Xenoblade Chronicles to one of my major outlets, Future Shop Tech Blog, but later realized that because it’s sold exclusively through Gamestop it wasn’t gonna cut it. I was really hoping to offer some sort of coverage so I’ve decided to publish the review on my very under-appreciated blog, mind-bit. Here’s some love, mind-bit. You deserve it:
Japanese RPGs have always been a big part of my life. Since I was young, their captivating stories and intricate gameplay propelled me forward growing up. While I’m still a big fan of the genre, it’s changed considerably over the years, taking fewer and fewer risks and never quite aging as well as anticipated.
Games like Rogue Galaxy, Resonance of Fate, Trails in the Sky and Persona 3 and 4 are a few that I think have taken the best features from the genre while introducing a few new features along the way, but there just aren’t enough like them. It’s been a long time since I’ve played an emotionally captivating JRPG and I was starting to lose hope, but then came Xenoblade Chronicles.
Originally released in 2010, Xenoblade Chronicles was a long time coming for North American fans. Released earlier this month, this game has reignited my passion for the genre without making any substantial changes along the way. Funny how these things work.
Xenoblade introduces us to a mythical story involving two massive titans, Bionis and Mechonis, fighting a timeless battle until one day only their lifeless bodies remained. Although eons pass and life begins to flourish on both of the titans, conflict continues to thrive.
Bionis’ human Hom race is attacked by the Mechon, a horde of blood thirsty machines from Mechonis. Fighting to defend their existence, a Hom soldier named Dunban drives out the Mechon hordes with a legendary, time-bending blade called the Monado. Of course, the blade comes with its vices, slowly absorbing strength from its wielder, leaving Dunban severely wounded after the epic battle. One year later, another invasion occurs in which a young researcher named Shulk becomes the new wielder of the mysterious weapon.
One feature that makes Xenoblade so compelling is its real-time battle system. Much like the Active Time Battle System or Active Dimension Battle System, this game adds a time-based strategy to its battle commands. While many have regarded this game as having MMO tendencies, this sub-genre of turn-based battles harkens back to games as early as Final Fantasy IV where the ATB system was first introduced.
This battle system consists of several different actions, where the right combinations can whittle down a tough customer in seconds. Experimenting with different battle combinations, using Tactic and Monado Arts for defensive and offensive skills, observing your party member’s actions, timing morale boosts and charged chain attacks, and adjusting your character’s movements are a big part of battle. Also, strengthening bonds with your party members via exploration, Heart to Hearts or by helping them in battle will, in turn, improve your chain attack effectiveness.
Boss battles are an entirely different breed all together, allowing you to predict the boss’ actions with the help of the Monado. By seeing into the future, you can then prevent all measures of attack by informing your party members, and shielding from said attack. Each time you successfully change the future a new future appears which you must continue to avoid. This system is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, implementing an array of features that are as intuitive as they are inventive.
Xenoblade is impressively non-linear, letting you explore and wander the world freely; however, it doesn’t hurt to proceed with caution. There have been several times early on in the game where I’ve explored a little too far and ended up killed by, say, a Level 81 Territorial Rotbart. Having the opportunity to see your enemy and their level before battle certainly makes the game fair (I just think of all the times in old JRPGs where a heavy hitter in a random encounter would demolish me without question). Here, there’s sort of an appeal to deciding whether or not to run into potential dangers.
Although I’ve played about 40 hours of this game, most of my time has been spent finishing missions (which isn’t as monotonous as you think). More than just busy work, completing these missions gives you access to rare items and loot you might not come across as easily if you were to plow through the campaign. By taking your time to help the residents of each locale, you also begin to establish better relationships with them allowing you access to even more rarities. While this is an optional aspect of the game, it comes with its benefits.
Despite how overwhelming all of this may seem, Xenoblade is an immersive experience. Not only do we get to explore the intricacies of each character, unravel a story eons in the making, and strategize battle tendencies, we also get to appreciate the games beautifully vast landscapes (even though the textures can be muddy, they offer a nostalgic appeal), and rich English/Japanese voice acting (despite both being well performed, the Japanese voice acting is the successor of the two, in my opinion). While that’s only covering a small portion of what you can actually do in this game, there’s so much to admire.
Xenoblade Chronicles is a JRPG at its finest. While many jaded fans of the genre might think to look past this game, think twice. It perseveres not by being radically different, but by embracing the key foundations of the genre itself.