Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii Review) by Daniele M.
Developer: Monolith Soft
Release Date: August 19, 2011 (PAL)
September 4, 2011, by Daniele M. - Let me just go ahead and say this: Xenoblade Chronicles is the most intuitive JRPG this generation. When you think JRPG thoughts immediately shift to Square Enix and their beloved Final Fantasy franchise. Putting aside the disappointing Final Fantasy XIII, and let's not even go there with XIV, Xenoblade Chronicles truly is a creation unlike any other. Square Enix is considered the king of Japanese role playing games; I beg to differ, going by most recent entireties. Xenoblade Chronicles is developed by the ever so talented Monolith Soft, a first party in-house development studio whom has previously worked on such titles as Baten Kaitos for the Gamecube and also Disaster: Day of Crisis on the Wii platform. Monolith hasn't always been a part of Nintendo, in fact much earlier on Namco Bandai were in control.
I currently live in the United Kingdom and fortunately able to get my hands on Xenoblade Chronicles to which is also available throughout other regions within Europe, Australia and of course the land of the rising sun. The reason as to why it's currently not for sale in American is beyond me. Fans all over the United States of American achieved such lengths in pre-ordering the game via Amazon.com until it reach number one in regards to the pre-order charts. Petitions of such were even created too. Disaster: Day of Crisis also a Europe/Japanese exclusive and developed by Monolith, coincidence, who knows.
Xenoblade Chronicles tells the story of two titans -- named the Bionis and Mechonis -- which were at war some many centuries ago before the game takes place. Current time a war rages on amongst the Homs and Mechon race and in the midst of it all a young boy named Shulk discovers his natural talent to wield the mysterious Monado. The Monado is a weapon especially suited for slaying the mechanical Mechon army. When Shulk is able to wield the Monado he can see the future and prevent actions from happening, in battle or experienced via set pieces.
The game begins with a brief introduction explaining the past and present situation and then followed by in-game tutorials reflecting upon gameplay mechanics and graphical interface.
Shulk, the protagonist of Xenoblade.
The world of Xenoblade is vastly dense, populated with a wide variety of monsters and ghouls to prevent smooth course of action. After experiencing the first opening hour of Xenoblade you then are free to roam around and do as you please. You play as protagonist Shulk and as you progress through the story, later party members can always act as the main controllable character. For every newly recruited character to the party I switched control so that I could test them out for myself when battling. Some I particularly liked others I wasn't so keen on; Shulk always being character of choice and most balanced in terms of attributes (HP, etc).
As you explore the land of Xenoblade, to aid you along the way on a regular basis you will experience a variety of mandatory tutorials to read and follow explaining various field display UI, camera adjusting, character navigation and other gameplay aspects. From beginning to end, located on the upper right of the screen, is a mini-map display that bodes well when in the middle of story quests as it shows a flag icon stating your destination.
Annoyingly, when side quests are active you do not gain any help from the field display, therefore somewhat frustrating to explore every inch of land to find an item in a number of cases requested by NPCs or random monster slaying. Most of these side quests offer you in-game currency as a reward, additionally character experience too. Quests are normally obtainable via city or town locations and at the same time a perfect opportunity to stock-up on character specific weaponry, armour and purchasing of skill manuals. Worth mentioning, a number of side quests have a time limit to them, so if you're one those people who like to try and achieve 100% competition first time round, take notice.
Some NPC-based locales are rather busy, brimming with life and thankfully icons are present over NPCs that you can interact with, trading or shop wise. You may also come across races that have an exclamation mark above their head, meaning only one thing: quests. Red exclamations marks are for story quests and white for side quests.
Interestingly most other role-playing games in general (MMOs especially) require you for example to find resources or slaying monsters, then to go back and collect your reward from the NPC who gave you the quest. Xenoblade eliminates the chore to receive rewards once side quest objectives have been met. I found myself randomly killing monsters only to then find out by surprise I completed a side quest, getting experience and currency there and then. Unfortunately there are some side quests that require you to go back and forth regarding NPC interaction.
Alongside enemy monsters and Mechon to encounter on the Bionis, there are mining opportunities for your character to gain ether deposits that can be used to craft ether gems, specially equipped to weapons or armour offering additional attack and defence bonuses. Similar to the Diablo II gem socket mechanic, the weapon or armour needs to have available sockets for your gem. To begin crafting gems you first of all need to speak to the Gem Man in Colony 9 after a certain point in the story. The process consists of selecting two characters: a shooter and an engineer. The shooter must insert the ether crystals, while the engineer is in control of the heat metre of the furnace. Crafting occurs depending on three different temperatures which are dependent on who is the shooter or engineer. The strong flame raises 3-10% of one quality, medium flame raises 1-5% of all qualities and finally the gentle flame fills 30-70% of the cylinder gauge, cylinders being a quality that does not reach 100% and to be used for subsequent crafting. Basically a gem will be created when 100% is exceeded, all else if form of a cylinder. Also worth noting, only crystals or cylinders of the same rank can be combined for crafting.
Levels are clearly pictures as 1-3, further into the game higher levels may be obtained. Advisable to craft gems as the game particularly gets increasingly hard, bosses especially.
One of the most interesting implementations of Xenoblade is the Collectopaedia. As you're exploring you tend to see small glowing blue orbs scattered randomly amongst other things mentioned like ether deposits and monsters no doubt. These orbs or items are unique in terms of your current location. Upon picking up these orbs they will be placed permanently in the Collectopaedia. The Collectopaedia is split into a mixture of sub-categories: vegetables, fruit, flowers, animals, bugs, and 'strange' or other. If you complete any of these sub-categories you will be rewarded with a gem. A great source of currency would be to grab as many of these blue orbs as you can, selling them to shops as I did quite regularly.
Combat in Xenoblade Chronicles (JAP screenshot).
The heart of any JRPG would be the battling aspect. Xenoblade offers a similar battle experience comparable to Final Fantasy XII. To initiate a battle you must first be within range of an enemy. An auto-attack will continuously strike down the enemy followed by a range of Arts to be used at your own discretion. Defeating enemy monsters will gain you experience, Arts points and Skill points. Art points can be exchanged for levelling up Arts to higher levels. Skill points are used in conjunction with character traits, each with a number of different skills associated with it. Party members individually have three traits, all of them being distinctively exclusive to the chosen character. That is of course if you don't currently have any Affinity Coins which can be used to equip party members with another party member's skills. Affinity Coins are given to you prior to each new character level gained. Sadly Skill Links aren't accessible from the begging of your adventure and will be made active as you progress to a certain point in the story.
Enemies are split into either the generic, biological type or the mechanical Mechon. If you encounter a Mechon it is highly advisable to immediately switch from physical Arts to the Monado's own set of Arts, only useable by Shulk. Ordinary weapons cannot harm the Mechon, so every other party member apart from Shulk is unable to deal damage. Luckily Shulk can use the Enchant Art, an Art that gives other party members the ability to damage Mechon for a short period.
Choosing the right party formation is crucial to overcome enemy threats. Party members each serve a different purpose in battle: long-range mage fighters, close-quarter brutes to be picked at your leisure. I favoured the close-quarter party member named Reyn, a close childhood friend of Shulk and Sharla, a medic of Colony 6. Throughout the battling process if one was to attack an enemy without hesitation, persistently getting in its way, you will receive an Aggro ring. To rid of the ring you can simple target another monster leaving the previously targeted enemy to eventually pick on someone else. This tactic may prove useful when initiating Arts that deal double the damage when attacking from the behind or side, in addition possibly lowering physical defence, and slowing the enemy down in some cases.
Due to the sheer difficultly of the game a common sight whereas party members will fall in battle. This is where the Party Gauge comes into play. If you have more than one block within the Party Gauge you can resurrect nearby fallen comrades. As you automatically attack monsters the gauge will fill up at a steady rate. Now when the gauge is at its highest point a chain attack can be unleashed to deal mega damage. Upon initiation the chain attack will temporarily interrupt all enemy actions and therefore attack without any interruption whatsoever. Depending on character formation you and your party members will take it in turns to attack, one Art to be used per turn. Chain attacks are best to be initiated come boss encounters as they can prove to be too hard to handle. Or you could simply grind your way to success, as what I did on numerous of occasions. Yes repetitive as hell but some bosses were downright a pain in the backside.
The majority of enemies you battle are capable of debuffing Shulk and other members. Familiar some are, like poison, sleep and paralyse, each of which can be cured using ether based attacks that Sharla is capable of. The Party Gauge additionally can be used in substitution; at least one block within the gauge is required to help a comrade in distress.
The affinity chart shows relationships between characters.
Helping others in battle will increase character relationships with one another. The Affinity Chart displays a record of relationship statuses amongst party members and inhabitants of Bionis. To better the relationship of native townsfolk you can speak to them hoping for a side quest. All in all a better reputation will result in prestigious quests and getting better items when trading.
Concentrating on party member activity only, Heart-to-Hearts are to be discovered unveiling secret, intimate conversations going by how well relationships are within the party. For an all-round positive party relationship, circulating party formation now and again will do the trick. Personally I've stuck with the same old formation, and now 26 hours into the game I have second thoughts on the matter. There is a lot to do and experience in Xenoblade, it's only fair an achievement system was implemented, right? In-game achievements are present and yes there are hundreds to find and achieve. Not necessarily needed but a nice addition nonetheless.
One of the best things about this game is the soundtrack. Some songs are orchestrated, others not, but still beyond amazing. Once I even left the title screen on for quite a while to listen to the main theme of Xenoblade Chronicles, only to realise that I can actually download the official soundtrack via Nintendo of Europe after registering my copy of the game in exchange for stars.
15/15 - Epic soundtrack, executed brilliantly. Voice acting is surprisingly well done, all British accents.
18/20 - Xenoblade is delight to look at, with its lush environments and rather high draw distance to day dream at. As with any other Wii game unfortunate absence of anti-aliasing, so expect jagged edges, not that it matters.
23/25 - I have yet to complete Xenoblade Chronicles, currently 26 hours into the game. Loads of side quests to keep you occupied in exchange for experience and other surprises along the way. It's a shame side quests don't offer any guidance in regards to on-screen UI to point towards the right direction.
38/40 - The battling system does take some to getting used to, as there is much to learn about character manoeuvring, debuffs, chain attacks, affinity actions, all very tactical to sum it up.
94/100 - As a whole Xenoblade Chronicles is a fantastic title worth purchasing for if you're lucky enough to live in the UK/Europe, Australia or Japan. The protagonist is portrayed as an intelligent person and intriguing to see him grow as someone that leans towards the fighting type, avenging a fallen, close friend. Cut scenes are very enjoyable to watch supported by great voice-over work. The steep learning curve may put you off, though the huge library of tutorials will aid you in succession. And to top it all off a soundtrack to die for. Part of me actually enjoyed the whole grinding process, thanks to the soundtrack.