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'Xenoblade Chronicles' is a role-playing and adventure video game released for the Nintendo Wii in 2011.
Traditional role-playing games such as this one on the Wii tend to be very rare, which I believe is due to the family/casual nature of the console (RPGs usually being single-player, story-driven experiences). However, in space of about eight months the Wii was blessed with three Japanese RPGs (a release which North America for once had to fight for, but I digress). 'Xenoblade Chronicles' was the first to come out last August and has been hailed as one of the best games of 2011. After finally completing this game eight months on from when I bought it second-hand, I can say the critics were right!
'Xenoblade Chronicles' takes place in a world made up of two frozen titans called Bionis and Mechonis. We are told upon starting a new game the legend of the two titans were locked in battle with each other until they struck each other at the same time, resulting both of them "dying" and becoming populated over time.
In the current day, conflict has started up once again between the Homs (humans) of Bionis and the Mechon (mechanical beings with no emotions) of Mechonis. Our main character, Shulk, is a young man studying a mysterious but powerful sword called the Monado, which one of the few weapons that can penetrate Mechon Armour but seems to harm its wielder if overused. When a swarm of Mechon come to obliterate Shulk's home, Colony 9, it is revealed that Shulk is the true wielder of the sword. Together with his best friend Reyn, his mentor Dunban (and former wielder of the sword) and a cast of characters who join him over time, Shulk sets out on a journey to master the Monardo's power of changing the future and challenge the Mechon.
You really do get immersed into the world of 'Xenoblade' through its story. It has a well-written plot with rounded, realistic main characters that you will grow to like or hate depending on who they are. There were a few plot twists that I saw coming (inevitable when you play a lot of role-playing games which rely on the same plot devices) I was still very much thrown by others, especially as the game approached its climax. After all, Shulk's revenge against the Mechon turns out to be not as straightforward, nor as black-and-white, as the assault on his home implied, and he and his band of friends discovers that the conflict goes back to the legend of the prologue itself.
Players control Shulk and two other characters at a time as they travel on their journey across the open world map. As with other RPGs, each character has their own skills and fighting styles - so leader Shulk has pretty balanced stats, Reyn and Dunban both high attack power but low defence, gun slinging Sharla (one of the characters that joins you later on) has low attack but a range of healing/support abilties etc. Your characters get more powerful by fighting monsters that inhabit the areas or doing side-quests for the NPCs. Both of which will gain you EXP for levelling up and improving your stats, AP to level up your 'Arts' (character's special moves) so they are more powerful and SP, which allow the characters to learn supporting skills. Since many of the areas in Xenoblade are freely open you can even earn points for exploring places around the map, which I think is very clever and encourages the player to take the initiative. Just be careful you don't run into any powerful monsters!
To battle, you select a nearby enemy with the 'Z' button to bring up its details, then press A for your characters to approach the enemy and begin auto-attacking. Your controlling character's Arts are displayed at the bottom of the screen for you to select, and unleashing the Art it becomes unusable until it 'cools down' after a matter of time. Surprisingly I didn't find the system boring; although you're only controlling one character you obviously have to keep an eye on the other party members to make sure they aren't dying or attacking the wrong enemy (generally, their AI is good enough). There is also the talent gauge, a bar in the top left hand of the screen which is filled gradually as you attack the enemy (or press B at certain moments for a boost) while depleted if you have to revive your party members. Once it fills up completely your team can unleash a chain attack where in turn each character attacks without interruption- the perfect way to render an enemy useless and deal massive amounts of damage!
Battling is pretty easy and there isn't much strategizing needed as you are provided with ways to combat any nagging difficulties. For example, with Shulk's Monardo he receives visions before an enemy does with a fatal attack, and he can alter what happens by blocking them with his 'Shield' ability or warn one of the other characters if they're being targeted and choose one of their defensive Arts. Far from being monotonous, the battles are exciting as you must focus utilizing your Arts to deal the most damage possible each time. It's very easy to master the battle system and my only frustrations are that the game could start lagging when a lot of stuff was happening on screen (usually just before a 'Press B now!' moment, hence catching me off guard with the timing).
Despite the Wii not being the most graphically capable console on the market, 'Xenoblade Chronicles' really stretches its boundaries. The landscape designs are beautiful, full of lush environments and real attention to detail. From the vast Bionis Leg, a mostly grassy plain with a beautiful sunset, to Satorl Marsh, a deep murky place which becomes misty and dreamlike at night. I love exploring these places and seeing how much effort had been put into them to make them so realistic, varied and seemingly endless. However, there are moments when interaction with the environment is a bit jarring, such as characters falling off cliffs which turn out to be less nice-looking as you pass them as when you were climbing up their side, but probably caused by the camera angles more than anything.
The cut scenes are also excellent. Characters are well-designed and their expressions captured perfectly for the moment. What I found cool was how the armour and weapons your characters equip also appear on your character, even in these cut scenes. Even with some of the bulkier looking armour it didn't look uncanny or interfere with the rest of the scene.
The soundtrack for the game is really good. Each area has its own theme music which is very fitting and many of them are even catchy despite it being looped over and over! The music will even change at night time (the game runs on a speeded up 24hr clock) to suit the overall calm or change of scenery in some cases. As well as these, there is battle theme which gears you up to fight the enemy as your characters do, and the beautiful songs that play during some of the more evocative cut scenes. A couple of the tracks have even made it onto my mp3 player!
I would like to commend the voice acting in 'Xenoblade' too. Since the voice actors are British rather than American (remember, the game was localized in Europe before it got released over the pond) they are mostly unknowns to me, but they all do a good job capturing their characters' personalities and feelings; Shulk has the voice of determined if slightly shy young boy, Reyn sounds like a confident Cockney close to being full of himself, and so on. Nevertheless if you're some kind of purist then the Japanese voice acting is available with English subtitles as an alternative.
Seriously, there is a lot of extra content this game offers you. The game has over 400 sidequests which are a great way of earning extra experience points, gold and items. You get quests from various NPCs in different areas. Objectives vary from defeating specific monsters, gathering certain items or even just talking to other NPCs. Whilst I didn't complete as many quests as I could've before beating the game, it was a nice break to focus on doing them instead of continuing with the story, especially since there are so many benefits to it.
Then there is Colony 6's Reconstruction, based in one of other Homs settlements in the world. After a certain point storywise you can keep returning to the colony and assisting its rebuilding in various ways: Housing, Commerce, Nature and Special. Each section has levels which are fulfilled when you give the colony gold and different items. In addition to this, there are NPCs all over the place whom can be convinced to move to Colony 6 for a better life. This is essentially a huge sidequest that is easy to drop in and do as you keep progressing through the game's areas, and it's a very satisfying way of putting your money and collectable items to good use.
I haven't even got into the smaller extras like the Collectapaedia, or the Heart-to-Hearts conversations between playable characters to improve relationships...but this review would be the length of a university thesis by the time I'd have finished! Seriously though, 'Xenoblade Chronicles' has a lot of bonus content on offer to extend your playing time. When I finally finished the game, my playing time was *over 75 hours*. Even if you take into account the time I spent doing quests, rebuilding Colony 6 and generally getting lost that's still perhaps 45-50 hours of story-related gameplay. When I start the game on cleared data, which will carry my characters' levels and many of my items over, I could be putting in another 30 hours!
This game has become one of my favourites for the Wii console. It has everything needed for an RPG: a good story and fantastic gameplay with a variety of features. You can find it for around £20 second-hand or around £24.99 new, so get it now before it goes rare!
(Review also on Ciao under the username Anti_W.)
This is a brilliant RPG for the Wii.
Gamers who have played a lot of RPGs might find this similar to Final Fantasy 12, which is great for me, since I actually loved FF12.
Set after a time of peace between Homs (humans) and Mechon (mecha), the colony comes under attack from the Mechon. Two great titans battled endlessly in a valley, one Bionis fighting for the Hom, and one Mechonis, fighting for the Mechon. Timelessly they raged, until nothing but their shells remained, still locked in their eternal violent embrace.
Enemies appear on the screen in real time, and you can engage them immediately. Some enemies can detect you depending on their nature. Some might have good eyesight, and if spotted from afar, they could attack on sight. Some might detect the vibrations of your footsteps and come from hiding to attack.
In a similar vein as FF12, there are also 'marks' to fight. People request you take down some dangerous monsters and are rewarded for your time. These are sometimes slightly larger and considerably more powerful variations of monsters already on the field.
Unlike many RPGs, 'grinding' isn't a chore, and is in fact not something you even realise you're doing, since as you are usually undertaking some job or another from various people, you will be asked to collected materials dropped by monsters anyway.
The story is engaging and sweet, and sometimes sad.
I find the voice acting grates on me a little, though it breathes life into serious characters.
Still a relatively pricey game for the Wii, you're looking at spending still more than £30 for it despite it having been released a while back now.
The storyline is surprisingly long, which is great, since many RPGs lack in decent story time.