Xenoblade Chronicles is one of the two reasons that leaded me to buy a Wii almost two years ago. I was having a conversation on MSN with a good friend who back then was a huge Wii enthusiast and even when he was not able to give me a release date for this game, the reasons he gave me were convincing enough to make me go on a trip to my closest Target store a couple of weekends later and get me a shiny Wii. Now, after two years of wait the first of the two reasons have been released, the other being The Last Story, let’s see now if Xenoblade Chronicles was worth the wait.
As it can be read in the title, this is a first thoughts post, so I can’t really say if the game as a whole was worth the wait. I’ve played for almost 25 hours and I can say that so far I’m really, really loving this title, however I need to say that most of the time I’ve put into this game has gone on sidequests, but let’s start from the beginning and analyze every aspect of the game one by one.
The first thing that one notice when the game is starts is how incredibly similar it is to Final Fantasy XII, the graphic style used in Xenoblade is pretty much a homage to the Square Enix title, especially on the character models, there are differences of course, but there have been time during many of the cutscenes when I really felt as if I was playing Final Fantasy XII again. The similarity is not as clear in the different areas that you get to explore, most of them have been open fields and caves so far, it’s easy to see that, even when the guys at Monolith Soft were trying to emulate FFXII’s style, the budget they had it was not the same as the kind that Square Enix puts on its main franchise, so not everything is as polished, but that does not mean it’s not detailed and easy to admire. Something that is going to bother some people is the fact that, well, this is not HD gaming, so the graphics are always going to look a bit blurry if the game is played on an HDTV, I’ve never had problems with this kind of stuff, but I’ve read some reviews in which peolple complain about this. To be honest I love the graphics in this game, yes, they look like out of Playstation 2 game, yet I find them really beautiful in some locales, especially on open fields when it rains, just amazing to look at.
I could define the story of this game with two words: Engaging and intriguing, just the setting had me salivating as soon as the game started. In ancient times, the world was only covered by water, it was on these vast oceans that two massive deities, the Bionis and the Mechonis, fought to death, it was on their bodies where life flourished, mostly humanoid like races on the Bionis, like the Homs and the Nopon, and the completely mechanic Mechon on the Mechonis. The twist here is that the Homs, simple humans, serve as food to the Mechons, so there is an endless war going between both races. It’s in one of the biggest battles between both civilizations that the story starts.
I can’t really talk in depth about the story due to the fact that in the time I’ve only put around 12 hours into the main events, however, I can say that this game so far has one of the most intriguing stories I’ve seen in quite a while. This is a very well told tale about survival and revenge that centers on the Monado, the only weapon known to the Homs that can actually damage the Mechons. However, the sword is surrounded by an aura of mystery and a lot of questions have been raised, only making me want to play more and more of this game. I’m not going to say much about the different events that I’ve seen since I want to avoid accidental spoilers, what I can say is that everything has been really engaging and perfectly balanced between interesting story bits and action packed events. Can’t wait to see what’s next.
Not going to talk much about the sound because even when I’ve heard some pretty amazing tunes, one of them being the one that can be heard on the title screen, I’ve yet to expose myself to more melodies. The thing that this game’s soundtrack has done to me, and that no other game has done in a long while, is that it has me whistling or humming some of the tunes, especially the one that can be heard at the Refugee Camp. With the minds behind of Xenoblade OST, Yoko Shimomura and Yasunori Mitsuda among others, I can really hope for an even more epic soundtrack and something tells me I’m not going to be disappointed.
The game offers two voice tracks, Japanese and English, this last one being British English, I’ve been playing with the English voice overs and have to say that in the majority of characters they don’t disappoint, there are a couple of characters whose voice feels off or not quite adequate and I’d have liked for the villains to have like a bit more of a cybernetic effect on their voices, besides that, the sound delivers a good experience.
Finally, the gameplay is what like to call an offline MMO. When you are not following the story the sidequests and exploration are your main resources for entertainment, and believe me, you are going to spend a lot of time sidequesting. Every time you get to a new town and start talking to people there a reputation meter is created, the more sidequests you complete from that town the better your reputation becomes and as people like you more new sidequests appear, some of them are the quite mundane “Go and kill 5 of these monsters or collect 4 of these items” however, mundane or not, they prove to be somewhat addicting every time I get a new bunch of these quests I feel the weird need of going out and complete as many of them as I can. One of the most interesting features that I’ve found in this already seen formula is that the game has an “Auto-complete” feature that, as the name says, once the requirements of a quest have been fulfilled, the quests is completed and delivered automatically, avoiding you the need of going back to turn the quest in with the quest giver. I really love this option a lot since it saves me the time of going back to town, even when the game also features a fast travel option, a la Fallout.
As for the battle system, it’s an interesting mix between more Final Fantasy XII and MMO games. Terms like aggro, tanks, buffs and debuffs are constantly used in battle, instead of a MP bar, all the special attacks have cooldown time. I’ve to say, though, that the battle system took me a bit for surprise, this is because the game that I played previous to Xenoblade was Tales of Graces f, which features a fast, action packed and combo filled battle system, so at first the one from Xenoblade felt a bit slow since you lock on an enemy hit the attack command and then your characters attack on their own, leaving you only with the responsibilities of moving around, since certain attacks do more damage and inflict certain debuffs depending on where you are standing on the battle, however, once I got used to how this battle system works, I found myself really in love with it, trying to plan ahead what skills to invest my skill points into and even trying to come out with combos during battle. One of my main complaints about battles, at least during the first hours of the game, was that there are no healing items, so you are left to only use skills to heal, or be healed, while in combat, the fact is that if you do what I did and try to hit most of the sidequests before Sharla, the first real healer that you find, joins you, you are going to have a tough time dealing with debuffs like Bleed and Poison, since both deplete your health quite fast.
All in all, so far Xenoblade has kept me wanting for more, I really hope that the story keeps on the track it is right now and that the battles are just as engaging as they have been. It’s actually not hard to see why it has got so many good scores and positive reviews from American reviewers, could this be the return of JRPGs to their former glory? Who knows, but I sure would like to see that happening. And now, if you will excuse me, I have some really cool marsh to explore and a new party member to get familiar with.