Xenoblade Chronicles is a Wii game considered by many to be the finest JRPG since Final Fantasy X, which is high praise but also a reminder that the genre has truly deteriorated since the late 1990’s. Xenoblade is Monolith’s latest child, and these are the same people who brought us the truly magnificent but flawed Xenogears in 1998.
It is a sign of a change in times when the most epic and ambitious RPG of this generation is not a 360/PS3 title but a Wii one and the Wii is truly 2001-02 technology at its core. Simply put JRPGs were some of the highest selling titles in the nineties worthy of major multimillion dollar budgets that were spent on development and marketing, today in 2012 even giant publisher developer Square Enix has admitted that creating a game with the quality of FFVII with modern graphics would take too many years and too much money to make, money they are not willing to spend when the highest selling title in the world is Call of Duty, money they are not willing to spend resulting in mediocre titles like FFXIII.
Xenoblade Chronicles a game with the story and scope of the RPGs of yesteryear has to then to find its way into the cheap to develop Wii. Xenoblade Chronicles along with the Last Story (a title ironically also developed for the Wii) are perhaps (with the definite exception of Tales of Vesperia) the greatest two JRPGS since FFX.
Even though it is Wii technology, which means this is truly 2001 technology Xenoblade looks pretty good, in fact it might be the greatest looking Wii game I have ever seen when the scope of the game is taken into consideration. Xenoblade is one of the most artistically impressive games I have seen in a while, some environments are reminiscent of Avatar, Monster design is sometimes generic but the characters and the environments themselves are really something to behold.
The game has individual blades of grass, rippling water, and a gigantic world split between two titans and little to Zero load times in between areas, and if you and see something miles away in the distance there is a good chance that you can get to it. I have seen far too many reviewers on the net lamenting the fact that a game with such masterful artistry found its way into the underpowered Wii, and this is what I say to them….
Consider Monolith’s track record with the Xeno games, the only game in the series that is considered a truly great title before Xenoblade was 1998’s Xenogears which really was truly a gem that garnered a loyal cult following, notice I said “cult” it wasn’t a massive sales success ala Final Fantasy. The cult following Monolith gained after ‘gears was probably mostly lost with the mundane Xenosaga trilogy, which means Monolith doesn’t that the financial resources to develop a game as massive as Xenoblade for the 360 or the PS3 by itself. Because most people who approached Xenoblade did it based on the developers reputation with Xenogears, it meant that not many publishers would devote a multimillion dollar budget for development and marketing because quite frankly I don’t think Xenoblade which is ten times the game FFXIII is will ever approach the former’s sales numbers which is a shame but the mainstream gamer that didn’t play JRPGs during their golden era is in general terms stupid and ignorant about the massive decline the FF series has had since FFX and they probably bought not only FFXIII but it’s preposterous sequel FFXIII-2 quite simply because of the Final Fantasy tag.
That being said instead of lamenting the fact that Xenoblade Chronicles is a Wii game, we should be celebrating that such a game still exists in today’s market and that it looks really good. A testament to how good the game engine looks and perhaps the lack of a big budget all cut scenes are done with the in-game engine and not in CG.
Musically Brilliant …AT TIMES….
Mitsuda is still a brilliant composer, and Xenoblade is proof of this, yet as with the rest of the game this is a lesser effort than the one put forth by the same composer in Xenogears. The Voice acting is really sharp thanks to the all British cast, and while there isn’t much going on in what environmental sounds are concerned, it’s music and voice acting keep up with the visuals to elevate this title above the rest.
A STORY OF LOVE, MACHINES AND GODS…WHAT ELSE IS NEW?
After the disastrous Xenosaga trilogy which featured a plot with biblical references that made no sense, Monolith has decided to go back to a simpler plot that is not without twists and its own plot holes. Xenogears was a wonderful soap opera, that pretty much explained itself over time, and as such it is regarded as one of the better RPG plots out there, the same cannot be said for Xenoblade.
The Story here in terms of maturity has been toned down from Gears and Saga and while it is a more enjoyable experience than the Saga mess, it is still quite inferior to Xenogears, it is a testament to the downfall of console RPGs when reviewers on the net consider Xenoblade’s simplistic and clichéd story “Great”.
The story is competent, some stuff near the ending doesn’t make much sense, but then again I guess when it comes to the Xeno series that’s to be expected. While the game makes it clear that the love story between Shulk and Fiora it’s a focal point in the tale, after all it is partly if not mostly the reason Shulk embarks in the globetrotting quest, yet it never materializes to the levels of Fei and Ely in Gears.
The setup of a world that is composed of two titans, is fantastic but it’s never truly explained how the titans came to be, there is a scene in the ending that clarifies things but not to the degree where the entire thing makes sense.
That being said the story does have its moments and does keep you interested until the very end.
Xenoblade has an open world, a gigantic open world and yet there is not much to do other than explore every nook and cranny in order to fight rare monsters that yield rare items that you can equip to use in battles.
The game places emphasis on combat and that its biggest strength as the battle system is creative and allows for fast strategic combat, but at the same time the high level of difficulty in battles makes this one of the most frustrating RPGs I have played since Dragon Quest VII. The difficulty is off the roof, you can’t fight enemies that are at higher levels than you because depending on the level you are attacks are nullified. Not only that leveling up especially after level 50 gets tough super tough, and it takes long stretches of time before any progress is made leveling up. Xenogears is 80 hours of gameplay long and give it or take you will spend at least 50 of those 80 hours battling your way through hordes of enemies.
To make things worse, your remaining party members are controlled by an erratic A.I. that puts characters on a path to oblivion. There is one particularly annoying boss battle that sticks to mind in which my party kept dying because there were three poisoned pools of liquid and the AI controlled characters didn’t have the sense to get out of the pools when they were pushed in it by the boss. The frustrating moments in combat and the long stretches of grinding really hurt Xenoblade Chronicles in the end.
Strides FORWARD, steps BACKWARDS
Xenoblade does some technically brilliant things graphically and in terms of a coherent epic gameworld to traverse without load times. The battle system while turn based at its core is incredibly fast paced. If it wasn’t for the horrible grinding stretches and clunky party A.I. Xenoblade Chronicles could have entered the hall of RPG greatness that its Grandfather Xenogears is in.
Gameplay: 7.5 — Xenoblade’s score here is incredibly surprising when you consider the engaging combat systems and the wide open massive game world available to explore. Yet the grinding stretches and the addition of stupid A.I. companions ruin the fun. On the other hand the world is gigantic, but other than monsters there isn’t anything else to find here.
Graphics: 9.5 — Graphically impressive especially on the limited Wii, grassy fields, mechanical cities, beautiful snowy plains, everything is here. The character design is also pretty good.
Music: 8.0 — Mitsuda can do much better, but even Mitsuda does okay he provides a very good sound track to the proceedings.
Story: 7.0 — The story is epic, but clichéd and it never really approaches in the surface of Xenogears’ deep plot..
Addictiveness: 8.0 — Chances are “completists” will find much to do here, in terms of hunting monsters down. The frustrating leveling up system, combined with the grinding will push everyone else away; I had to interest in the play the New game plus mode after finishing the game once.
Overall: 8.5 — A very good RPG, one of the best in the last 5 or 6 years, but not in the “great” category unfortunately for those of us who patiently waited for the American release of the game.