Xenoblade Chronicles Review
Xenoblade Chronicles is a Japanese role-playing game developed by Monolith Studios that breaths life not only into the Wii, but the JRPG genre itself. It has a fluid action-based real time battle system, reminiscent of Final Fantasy XII.
There’s plenty of loot, a standard party system and it has the core foundations of any RPG. But it’s so much more than that. It goes above and beyond the fundamentals of the genre with just about everything you could want, and more, from a modern day JRPG localised for an English speaking audience.
What Xenoblade Chronicles Got Right
A Wii game you must play - It's a strange facet to consider, but a Wii game that's genuinely worth your time is hard to come across in the New Releases Schedule these days. There's no denying that Nintendo's console is on its last legs, and has been for quite some time. It's given us some magnificent gaming moments that mightn't have earned the respect they deserved with "HD gamers", but it's hard to stand-up for the motion box now. However, here's your chance to take it out of storage. Don't just wait for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword; Xenoblade Chronicles is one of the best RPGs of a lifetime.
Enchanting narrative - Xenoblade begins with the story of two gods, Bionis and Mechonis, who are frozen in place at the culmination of their epic battle. The end of the fierce clash breeds life at the development of two worlds, which leads to the introduction of protagonist Shulk, an orphan who lives in Bionis, and the future saviour of the world. The enemy, menacing Mechons, live in the opposing land of Mechonis continuing the gods' ancient battle with the life they created. From there it follows the standard RPG trajectory with legendary direction from director Tetsuya Takahashi, who has past credits such as Chrono Trigger to his name. Unlike many of his previous games, Takahashi tells the story as much through gameplay as through cut-scenes. He also doesn't let it overpower the experience, as it plays second fiddle to the gameplay - just as we like it.
The battle system - The all-important battle system can make or break a JRPG. The real time battle system has you selecting from a range of attacks and abilities, while also relocating your character on the battlefield to gain a strategic advantage. Comparable to Final Fantasy XII, you control just one character as he auto-attacks with a badass sword. Your role is to manage his special abilities and strike when the moment is right. It sounds relatively simple, and in terms of picking it up it is, but don't be fooled. Failing to attack at the crucial moment can be catastrophic, and mastering the array of tactics at your disposal will take dedication.
Enriching world - One of the biggest surprises with Xenoblade Chronicles is the scope of the world of Bionis. There are interesting people to talk to, secrets to discover and a vast land to explore. You can take on hundreds of side quests, or simply bask in one of the best worlds you'll find in an RPG. While the Wii hits its limits, especially during any close ups, Monolith have maximised the output from a console that is about to enter retirement. Unfortunately, such a complex world at maximum output on Wii look quite dated at times by 2011 standards.
Comprehensive eco-system - To compliment the inspiring game world, the ecosystem lives up to its full potential. There are diverse creatures roaming the hills, some of which would make great pets, while others try and rip your head off immediately. Most battles are initiated by you, avoiding annoying an unnecessary confrontation if you're busy traversing the valleys for a hidden passageway or precious loot, of which there is plenty.
Soundtrack - The soundtrack comes from some serious talents and leaves us with an album of memorable tracks. The genres are varied, but each engages with its corresponding environment harmoniously. To top it all off the English dub is fantastic (and largely American free). If you're a stickler for originality, Nintendo has included the Japanese voice track with English subtitles which can be activated at any moment.
Reviving the JRPG in the West - Xenoblade Chronicles is original in every sense of the word, especially for those of us without the ability to read Japanese or play through a game without its text. It reinvigorates the genre for an English speaking audience and doesn't leave anything half-baked. The problem with recent RPGs is their tendency to try and include too much and excel at nothing. Xenoblade Chronicles does the opposite. It's a 50 hour adventure that isn't dominated by a confusing, cut-scene heavy narrative, but rather an engaging one that is told through the gameplay as much as anything else. There is a great world to explore, full of deep but optional side quests and multifarious people. Character development and levelling up is all handled superbly, as you would expect from such a top notch RPG. Best of all, it's accessible without lacking features. This is how a JRPG should be.
What Xenoblade Chronicles Got Wrong
Too late - Xenoblade Chronicles caters to the core market, but I fear they may have deserted the console long ago or will refuse to bring it out of retirement for anything other than Zelda. Considering it was released in Japan over a year ago, it's a little disappointing that we've had to wait this long and that baron year might be the demise of Xenoblade Chronicles at retail.
Repetitive - As you would expect with such a large adventure, there is repetition. It shouldn't be a problem for anyone who appreciates an epic JRPG, but those who aren't strong fans of the genre will struggle to hit the credits.
The Final Verdict
Xenoblade Chronicles is the game Wii owners and JRPG fans have been waiting for. It reinvents the genre by doing everything right, rather than removing key features under the guise of accessibility or leaving them in at a sub-par standard. The narrative is deep, enjoyable and one with the gameplay. You won't be overwhelmed by hours of cut-scenes that disrupt the momentum of play. The real time battle system is easy to grasp but requires dedication to master - the perfect combination between accessibility and fundamental JRPG gameplay. It's reinvigorating for both the (English) JRPG genre and the Wii itself, which is retiring with a fantastic farewell line-up.
By Ben Salter
This is the perfect JRPG for an English speaking audience.
It couldn't possibly look any better as the Wii has been pushed to its limits, but such a complex world comes across very dated by today's standards.
A fantastic soundtrack with an excellent English cast.
This one might even tide you over until the Wii U.
A great way to farewell the Wii.