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For the past many years, every time I have begun playing a JRPG, I’ve gone in with doubts, skepticism and zero expectations. With a few possible exceptions like Dragon Quest IX last year, the Pokemon games, Lost Odyssey way back in the beginning of the generation and a few other games that are mostly remakes of old classics, most JRPGs in the past few years have been a huge disappointment. And with the rise of the likes of Mass Effect and The Witcher, the WRPG sub-genre has become the more popular one.
So obviously, when I went it to play Xenoblade Chronicles, I was careful not to get my hopes too high. Yes, the game had received a lot of praise and was supposed to be one of Wii’s killer apps of 2011, but the genre of JRPG had stagnated severely, and I couldn’t help but feel that Xenoblade will have fallen prey to the same stagnation and unimaginative nature. However, it seems my fears were unfounded.
Directed by the legendary Tetsuya Takahashi, creator of previous Xeno games (to which Xenoblade Chronicles is a homage) and Chrono Trigger, Xenoblade Chronicles lives up to all the expectations you should go in with, and then some more.
The first thing you will see about the game- and simply fall in love with- are the visuals. You do see blocky textures and unwieldy polygons several times, but the visuals, at the end of the day, impressed me greatly. The environments have been very well designed by developers Monolith Soft, the draw distances are breathtaking, and the fluidity of the animations only helps. This may not be an HD wonder like, say, Crysis or Uncharted or Gears of War, but this is still one darn good looking game. You’ll often find yourself simply standing on the edge of a cliff, gazing into the beautiful distance with its wonderfully realized draw distances. It’s truly a site to behold.
However, Xenoblade is all about its story, followed by the incredibly deep gameplay. To be honest, I’ve always been a person who prefers to play games with excellent stories, even though I enjoy the likes of Super Mario Galaxy 2. Xenoblade is set in a world that looks a lot like a colossus- in fact, it is a colossus. A colossus named The Bionis, which is the beautiful world we live in. The game follows the story of the character Shulk- and orphan who wields a large, mystical sword called Monado- and his friends, who try to drive out robot-like creatures called Mechon and retain peace in the world. It may not sound like much to you, but the story turns into some of the best plots you’ll ever see in an RPG, with some twists and turns that will truly shock you, and some moments that will stay with you long after you’ve finished the game.
Now, Takahashi’s previous Xeno titles were notorious were extremely long drawn, complex stories and long cutscenes that stretched on for minutes and minutes at end. Xenoblade Chronicles adopts a completely different approach at presenting the story. There are no rendered cutscenes this time, no drawn-out, excruciatingly long clips in Xenoblade. The cutscenes are all rendered in in-game graphics, and they do their job perfectly. They’re not so cinematic to make the game feel cheesy and contrived, but they’re not so simply and straightforward that they seem bland. Monolith Soft has hit the sweet spot with them.
The story moves along at a perfect pace, lending the campaign an awesome pacing that keeps you excited at all times, making you want to play more. But majority of that is because of the excellent, deep and addictive gameplay. The combat of the game, firstly, is simply brilliant. It’s like a new take on Final Fantasy XII with its cog-like gameplay mechanisms, with some of its own twists and tweaks, like flash forwarding into the future to see what special moves your enemy will be using and preempting against that move.
You control a single character that auto-attacks an enemy when when you get close to the targets. You have to chain and manage moves and assaults in a battle. ‘Arts’ can be triggered any time in a fight, and they’re very effective. But remember- the more Arts you use, the more aggressively your enemies will attack your character specifically. This lends a dynamic AI-ish mechanism to the game, making it all the more complex and deep. And this is not just some button mashing game- you have to think. Think when to offend, think when to defend. Observe your enemies closely.
Throughout a battle, our party gauge fills in. This comes in handy in several cases. When all segments of this gauge fill up, you can use special chain moves to use quick attacks using all your characters in rapid succession. If, however, one of your party members falls, you can use up one section of the gauge to revive him/her.
The gameplay has several other facets to it than just the combat- you can upgrade your items, weapons, armours and inventory. You can explore the entire world, which is a lot of fun to do, because there are no boundaries at all. There are not even any invisible walls- so keep careful when treading in regions of high altitude. You can tackle the mini quests and side missions, which are as much fun as the game itself is. Or you can just wander around aimlessly, collecting collectibles or talking to NPCs. There are just so many things to do in Xenoblade Chronicles that you’ll never ever get bored of the game. I wish I could go on for a few more hundred words about what all we can do in Xenoblade Chronicles, but unfortunately, that cannot happen.
I can, however, tell you how detailed everything is. Everything from the little descriptions the game gives for every little things, to inventory, to the environment- Oh, the environment. The trees clustered in forests look stunning, the grass blades sway perfectly in the wind, the water bodies look gorgeous, the waterfalls are breathtaking… the world of Bionis is just so well built and so detailed, you can’t help but simply marvel at the amazing work the developers have done creating it. everything is very, very detailed, and it’s clear that the developers have put in a lot of hard work into creating it.
Of course, I also want to mention the excellent soundtrack of Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s exactly the kind of soundtrack you expect to hear in a fantasy epic RPG of such caliber, exuding polish and quality like everything else in the game. Some of the compositions are really epic, and we definitely hope that Monolith Soft uses them in the sequels (if they ever make any).
But there are a few flaws in Xenoblade. For one, the character models are very poorly built. They all look… very weird. It’s hard to describe- especially Shulk, who may not look like a typical JRPG protagonist, but still doesn’t look very good. Other than that, there are occasion camera bugs, and the voice acting is a bit too British. So British that even the British might find it jarring. It can get really jarring sometimes. Then, the mini-map should have been better- the mini-map in Xenoblade Chronicles is like one in an RTS- it only shows you the areas you’ve explored, and this can cause navigational issues several times, especially when we have to go around mountains or find a way past a water body which the mini map may or may not have shown.
Ultimately, Xenoblade Chronicles is a beautiful, beautiful game. It has sky-high production values, addictive, deep gameplay, a great story, and a gorgeous world that you’ll want to keep exploring. And chances are that you probably will keep on finding new places and new collectibles, considering the sheer size ad magnitude of the game. Where many JRPGs have tried to adopt the WPRG ways and “evolve”, Xenoblade Chronicles has held on to the essential Japanese Role Playing Games conventions and mechanics dearly, while shedding the unneeded and unpolished ones. The release of this game marks the rebirth of the JRPG genre, or at least the beginning of the rebirth.
This game was reviewed on the Wii.
Go to page 2 for Pramath Parijat’s second opinion review!
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Excellent graphics; Great premise; Really good story; Combat is awesome; Great attention has been paid to detail in all aspects; Sound score is wonderful; Excellent pacing; Exploration is a lot of fun; Lots and lots of side quests; Very, very addictive
Voice acting is a little corny; Camera issues; Mini map is not the best you'll see; Character models are not very well built
Xenoblade Chronicles has to be the best JRPG to have been released this generation- the rebirth of an entire genre.