Sunday, November 23, 2014

Game Review: Xenoblade Chronicles

RPG; Nintendo Wii; Nintendo/Monolith Soft; 2011
I FINALLY BEAT IT! It clocked in over 100 hours, but I have FINALLY BEAT Xenoblade Chronicles. GODDAMN this game is long. Anyway, now that I have beaten it it is time for the review. And if you where wondering if this was going to be a positive review or not, I've been playing this game for several months and have on record over a 100 hours, do you THINK I would be playing a game for that long if it WASN'T good?

Here is your first clue that this game isn't like most other RPGs.
Since the beginning, there exists two titans: Bionis and Mechonis. These titans fought, and after a near endless struggle, they slew each other with their swords. And now, life emerges from the corpse of Bionis; Homs, Nopon, and High Entia, all live on parts of the body of Bionis. But then, a force of machines from Mechonis known as the Mechon have invaded Bionis, seeking to wipe out all life on Bionis. However, the Mechon's advance was halted by one man, Dunban, who wielded the Monado, the Sword of Bionis. Unfortunately, the victory came at a cost, and Dunban was severely injured during the fight. One year later, the Mechon return, and life on Bionis is once again threaten. Now, a young researcher named Shulk wields the Monado, and aided by the visions of the future he sees with it, Shulk embarks on a quest to rid the world of the Mechon once and for all.

The story is really good. If you came into the game expecting levels of convoluted, contrived, conspiracies that the Xeno games of the past offered (Xenogears and Xenosaga) then you will likely be disappointed at how comprehensible Xenoblade is. That isn't to say the game isn't without it's own twists and turns and the ending is very much in line with the style of the previous Xeno games, but it's far more restrained, focusing on character motivations and drive over grandious plots of ambitious zealots. Though there will be long periods between each story event, thanks to how much you can do in this game, it is still well paced and keeps you engaged with the story from start to finish.

In most RPGs, there will be an invisible wall right here. Not in Xenoblade however.
If there is one word that can be used to describe Xenoblade Chronicles, it would be MASSIVE. Rather than give you a small area to explore with only one path to the next area, Xenoblade instead puts a lot of attention to making massive environments to get lost in. Even the starting area takes several hours to fully explore. It's all really intimidating, especially with all the high level monsters just hanging out if you decided to go off the beaten path. Combat in Xenoblade has been compared to MMORPGs, and I can see how that comparison can be made. All engagements can be seen and avoided if you so choose, with some monsters just happy to leave you alone if you leave them alone; however, you can pick a fight with any monster (even if it is a REALLY bad idea) by targeting them and selecting the "Begin Combat" icon. From there combat entails you controlling the lead character by moving him (or her) around while your allies operate completely independently, with only a few general group behaviors you can order. By moving your character close enough, they will begin to automatically attack the enemy with very basic attacks. If you think this means you can just sit back and do nothing while the game plays itself, you are only correct for very VERY basic enemies, as you have control over when you use one of the games special attacks called Arts. These Arts do things that range from a very powerful attack, to attacks that deal bonus damage or effects from certain positions or conditions, to attacks the inflict status ailments, to support abilities that heal or buff your characters. Each of these operate on a cool down system, where you have to wait a certain period of time before you can use them again. If you think this is all too simple and that the game will never give you a REAL challenge, then that is only the case in the beginning of the game. Before long you will start having timed actions that will give your party a boost if you execute them correctly, and then you will have Chain attacks where each party member can attack in turn against a single enemy, and then you will start having visions of future attacks including the ability to cancel them out. Simply put, battles, especially boss battles, tend to be affairs where you need all of your attention focused on the battle, even if attacking is automatic.

Outside of battles you have your standard affair of RPG activities, like quests, crafting, and chumming it up with the locals. However, just like with the environments in the game, there is a TON of NPCs running around with a ton PLUS quests to complete. And I don't mean just one or two quests that can be done rather easily, no I'm talking about long quest chains with different outcomes depending on how you want to complete them, some requiring you to go out of your way to finish them and then report back to the NPC who gave you the quest who has his own schedule he keeps thanks to the day and night cycle in the game but don't worry too much about that since you can freely choose the time day you wish but you still can't find them because the town is freakin' huge and there are a dozen characters walking about and..... I think I need to take a break. But yeah, the game is pretty big.

Notice the Level difference. Yeah, this isn't going to end well.
Now Xenoblade isn't flawless. Despite the vastness of the game world, some concessions had to be made for the Wii, namely that enemies and NPCs don't appear until they are rather close to you (say halfway from your cursor to the edge of the Mini-map). Most cases this isn't too bad, but there are several times you have a quest to report back, but you can't find the guy who gave you the quest because for him to appear on the Mini-map, he would also have to be visible to the player. Speaking of quests, there are a TON of them to do, but there is very little in the way of organizing your quests to speak of, and worse still there is no way to mark a quest so that you can more easily complete it by having it appear on the full map or have it's icon appear on the borders of the Minimap if it is too far away. As for combat, it seems like the game suffers from a case of "You need to be this Level to even think about doing this." While strategy does help a lot, too often enemies who are higher level than you are just flat out impossible to take on until after you grind for a bit. It's probably not THAT big a deal in the big picture, but I like it when RPG is designed so when you take on enemies you are completely underlevel for, you still have a shot at winning by playing smartly. Also annoying is that, while you can always cancel out of a Auto-attack into an Art at any point in the animation and you can cue up one Art during the animation of another, you can't input an art while in the dodging animation. You still get the sound effect for selecting the art, but the art isn't being executed nor is it cued to be executed as soon as the dodge is finished. It's particularly frustrating towards the end of the game where you are fighting multiple enemies, all attacking you, and you have enough Agility to dodge every single attack, but can't mount a counter attack because you are still in that freakin' dodge animation when you selected your art.

Even though I just bitched about several things about this game, that only comes from playing this game for over a hundred hours and finding these nuances bubbling up, and I only played for a hundred hours because this game is freakin' amazing. It is huge and intimidating, but if you soldier on and explore bit by bit, you will find one of the greatest RPG experiences of last generation. While it won't replace more traditional RPGs like Bravely Default and Persona, it offers something no other RPG had, a massive, almost seamless, world that you are free to explore, while delivering a fun and unique battle system, and a powerful character driven story. The HARDEST part is FINDING this game at a far price. My copy came at $50 used, and at it's height of rarity it goes for over $100 easily.  If you can find it at a reasonable price (or wait for port for the NEW 3DS), then Xenoblade Chronicles is Highly Recommended.

Until Next time

-Crescent, I keep throwing money at my screen, but nothing is happening!

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