Xenoblade Chronicles Review
Monolith Soft is a game studio that was pretty much responsible for the whole Xeno series. Their first release was Xenogears, an old classic game way back during the PSone era, and aside from Final Fantasy, it still remained one of my favorite classic RPGs to date. Although back then, a majority of the staffs from Monolith Soft were still with Square, but soon, producer Hirohide Sugiura and director Tetsuya Takahashi founded their very own game studio, and that is, Monolith Soft. As Monolith Soft – a full independent game studio away from Square, they created the Xenosaga series – a series of lengthy sci-fi RPG games for the PS2. Then on 2010, Monolith Soft released Xenoblade Chronicles, probably one of the best RPG game for the Wii.
The game is set in a world consisting of two gigantic titans – named Bionis and Mechonis each. Eons ago, the two titans fought each other for a period of time that almost felt like eternity, until both of them laid lifeless and dormant. Lifeforms begun living on both the titans, and even then, wars were still fought from the residents of both the titans. Xenoblade Chronicles follow the journey of the main protagonist, Shulk, as he gather allies of various races and fought against the mechanical beings, the Mechon which resided in the opposing titan, the Mechonis.
Later on, Shulk managed to wield the Monado, a special sword which had been lying dormant all this time. The sword is a valuable weapon against the Mechon, and indeed, the sword becomes the central focus for both the plot and the gameplay.
The storytelling slowly takes it’s time introducing us to the world, developing on them gradually and eventually lead us to a fitting, epic climax. Throughout the game, it’s pacing doesn’t suffer though, in fact, it’s superbly paced. It may seems slow since the settings and world of Xenoblade Chronicles is extraordinary massive, and I actually applaud the game for slowly introducing each and every parts of it’s world instead of rushing them through in a linear fashion.
The universe of Xenoblade Chronicles is a massive one – possessing even it’s very own mythology, something that becomes another solid foundation of the plot as the game progresses. The different races present in the world reinforced the feelings of fantasy. These races of great variety – Homs (aka humans), High Entia, Nopon, Machina, Telethia, Mechon – were excellently well designed, both in their looks and quirks.
The main party characters consist of a variety of different races, like Riki-the Nopon, and Melia-the High Entia, though Homs are still the main playable race, as the majority of the party are consisted of Homs, main examples being Shulk, Dunban, Sharla and Reyn. Each of these characters are fun and likable, and are very entertaining to watch. The best thing about them is that all of them were given a fair amount of backstory – they all had realistic motivations that push them forward into their never-ending battle with the Mechon. As the game progresses further, a majority of them faced their own tragedy, and even underwent gradual but major character developments along the course of the game in the process; of noteworthy mention – Melia, and also my favorite character in the game. She is also one of the most sympathetic character in the game; indeed I empathize her sorrows and envied her strength – it had been a pretty long time since I was able to feel such an endearing connection to a video game character.
The gameplay mechanics is just as massive. The beginning introduces us the very core of the battle mechanics – which is a combination of real time and traditional turn-based RPG. It’s battle mechanics is equivalent to MMORPGs. You can move in and attack your enemies, while making use of various arts, in which you can equip to a maximum of 8 arts per battles. It’s not just randomly blasting arts however – once you consumed an art, it requires a specific amount of time for cooldown. Furthermore, some arts require you to move to strategic positions in order to inflict the highest amount of damage, while some arts chain with one another to cause special effects – the break-topple-daze combo is especially useful during the early parts of the game. Some other includes DoT spells that cause poison, bleeding, burning and freezing and last but not least, some healing and buffing arts.
While using a MMORPG-interface gameplay, most of the main playable characters can already easily be divided into specific “roles and classes” one would normally see in MMORPGs, even though the game didn’t specially stated they are so. One can easily discern them through their stats, and by observing the arts they had at their disposal. Shulk and Dunban would be damage dealers, Reyn would be a tank, while Sharla would obviously be a medic. As the roles of the characters are easily classifiable, this makes planning strategies easier.
The Monado – a mystic sword of utmost importance both in plot and in the game. When Shulk managed to wield the Monado, he gained several abilities – anti-Mechon arts and the power to foresee the future, and the developers blend these into the gameplay quite remarkably. As one with the Monado, Shulk is the only one in the whole party who possess two different sets of arts – his own, and the Monado’s. During the battles, sometimes Shulk would be able to see several seconds in the future where his enemies would be dealing fatal blows, and in order to counter it, Shulk gain the free use of any art despite the need of cooldown – the use of Monado’s art here would be essential, ranging from an incredibly high level damage art called Monado Buster to an incredibly useful defense art called Monado Armour. To improved versatility in the tactics, Shulk can even ordered his own teammates to use some particular arts of theirs – it all depends on the situation, and what kind of fatal attacks the enemies were dealing. The Monado, together with Shulk’s ability of foresight is an incredibly strategical advantage in which the players must make use of, especially in the case of several difficult, major bosses.
The battle aspect is indeed pretty vast, but the preparation phase of the game is just as huge. For example, the characters can learn skills (not to be confused with arts). These skills are in great variety and assist the characters in battle and non-battle situations. Some skills auto-cast some buffs at the start of battle, other skills when used, allow you to equip on heavier armor and equipments, while some other skills increase the amount of EXP you gained from battle.
Gems are also important things to consider when strengthening one’s party. Gems provide additional bonuses – ranging from stat bonuses, buffs and so on. Throughout the game, you can farm Ether crystals or cylinders from monsters and mine them throughout specific locations in the game. You can then craft the gems by combining the crystals or cylinders you found, in which you had to select two party members from your group to do it – different party members will come up with different refreshing results. The combination and choices of crystals you selected to combine indicate the type and element the finished gem would be. The gems, could then be fitted into weapons or armors, providing they had empty slots for them.
Another interesting element here is the affinity between characters. As it’s name suggests, this indicate the bonds of the characters. Affinity can be increased through various means – in battles (through Burst affinity, or through helping fellow teammates recovering from status effects), giving gifts, through quests and through Heart-to-Heart events. Heart-to-Heart events are optional mini-events that can be executed when reaching specific spots, and also when affinity level between involved characters were raised to required levels. During these events, you will be given dialogue choices and choosing the right one will tremendously boost the affinity level even more, and vice versa for choosing the wrong one. Heart-to-Heart events are in my opinion, one of the most entertaining non-battle aspect of the game. Sometimes, these events discussed about the trivia of a particular element of Xenoblade’s world, while some others provided further characterizations and even character developments. The thoughts that some of the characters were hiding, were sometimes laid bare to the other character they were friendly with. In terms of immersion, plot and character developments, indeed, one would miss a lot if they skipped Heart-to-Heart events, which give further insights to both the world and the characters.
Other then improving one’s exposure to the story, settings and characters, affinity also helps at the gameplay side. The more the affinity level is raised between characters, the more skills can be linked between them – in doing so, one could get additional skills outside of his or her very own skill trees. Gem crafting is also effected by affinity – with a high affinity level between two characters, the longer the duration for the gem crafting process, providing you are using that two particular characters for your gem crafting.
Quests are also one of the most, if not, the most important aspect for grinding characters. After all, grinding the traditional way wouldn’t get you anywhere, you had to actually do quests to level up, a reminiscence of MMORPGs. If you don’t want to proceed the story, chances are, you will be running around the city talking to NPCs and grabbing quests, or you will be running around in the wild trying to clear off some of your quests. Exploration is incredibly fun, especially due to how vast Xenoblade Chronicles is, furthermore, the game integrate a day-night system. When a certain periods of time had passed, the day gradually and realistically changes – from daytime to sunset, from sunset to nighttime and so on. Weather conditions like rainy and stormy were even integrated. The changes in time and weather conditions effect a number of things – NPC’s appearance and locations, and the type of monsters – another important thing to consider when clearing off quests.
Xenoblade Chronicles possess a huge world, and the visuals couldn’t show it any better. The vast, vibrant world is stunning to look at – sunsets above the grassy plains, a night on the forest filled with auroras, shooting star on a night of starry skies. They are almost magical, almost bewitching to look at, and with the inclusion of day-night mechanics, the world feels alluring, immersive and almost alive. Xenoblade’s countless amount of fun side quests incidentally require the players to run around from every nook-and-cranny of the vast world, and it allow the players to explore the beautiful details of the world. If the game creators did that on purpose, that was a pretty sly but great way of “forcing” players to grind and do optional quests.
Furthermore, the quests allow the players to connect themselves to the Xenoblade’s world even more, as the quests provide a lot of additional information of the world – further exposing it’s vast secrets. If one were to skip quests, he would miss out a lot. While the massive amount of side quests and huge areas may cause some inconvenience to some players, I feel it’s a wonderful addition of the game, having players wandering around to explore every single corners of the massive, beautiful world, bolstering the sensation of immersion – it is as if you’re literally traveling.
While the world of Xenoblade Chronicles is indeed engrossing however, the visuals aren’t exactly perfect. One of the major issue here would be the character models. During cutscenes, and especially during close-up view of the characters, all the problems of the visuals easily surface, muddy textures, choppy and blurry edges, and other awkward technical graphical flaws. Another very slight pet peeve at their aesthetic design that I had is that their weapons were just hanging on their back and waist, without a casing, belt, scabbards or some holders of sort, though this is understandable – the designs of the weapons are wacky and bizarre, which could be a good thing, but they are just too wacky to be put inside a holder or hung normally. While on that note, I had to applaud the design of the equipments. Throughout the game, I constantly had an internal struggle whether to go for looks or stats.
In any case, in terms of character models, Xenoblade’s fellow competitors from Operation Rainfall, The Last Story, and even Pandora’s Tower would fare better, but of cause, Xenoblade definitely beats the other two in terms of world-building. Fortunately, the character designs for the characters were unique, distinguishable and most importantly, pleasant to look at.
In the musical sides of Xenoblade Chronicles, the game boasts a team of 6 renowned composers – Yasunori Mitsuda, Yoko Shimomura, Manami Kiyota and ACE+ (consisting of Chico, Tomori and Kenji Hiramatsu). The soundtrack features a variety of musical wonders – from the soothing to the upbeat, from the gloomy to the funky, from the tranquil to the wild. Beautifully orchestrated pieces rained down on you when you were out exploring the world; soft and tranquil tones entered your ears at night; soft violin and piano ballads, mostly accompanied by strings, can be heard for dramatic scenes; songs transmitting an empathy of hope emerged in the few of the game’s toughest moments. Overall, the soundtracks were fitting and beautifully crafted, each tracks nicely captured the essence of each scenes and atmospheres, and further reinforcing the game’s immersive capabilities.
Xenoblade Chronicles is a wonderful game which blended traditional RPGs with new, refreshing elements, and it easily became one of my favorite RPGs. It had an incredibly massive and explorable world, brimming with fantastical, magical wonders at every corner; paired up with an almost extraordinary set of soundtracks which strengthen the engrossing immersion, an intriguing set of plot points and characters, and last but not least, an obviously more than satisfying gameplay. Xenoblade Chronicles is truly the ultimate tale of men against the machine.