Saturday, December 24, 2011

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles

Xenoblade Chronicles was one of the really big titles this year, and I understood why the day I got it. I’m aware I’m being fairly late with this, but I partly blame this game for being so immense that it’s ridiculous at times.

  • Xenoblade Chronicles
  • Developed by Monolith Soft / Published by Nintendo
  • Reviewed on Wii
  • PEGI: 12 / ESRB: N/A
  • Reviewed by: Marty Karlsson

This story takes place on two titans called Bionis and Mechonis, said to have battled each other until they both eventually died. The game starts up with a war between the homs (essentially humans) and the mechon, machine-type monsters. This intro cutscene really got me hooked immediately. Impressive music, acting, and even graphically, it has a certain style and charm to it. From the intro cutscene, we are unsure of how it ends, and we are instead taken to our protagonist, Shulk. Shulk is studying the Monado, the blade that is said to have been carried by Bionis itself and was used in the war in the beginning as well. It is essentially the blade of mechon’s bane. Nothing else can hurt them. Not long after, Shulk’s hometown is invaded by the mechon, and he will be forced to use the Monado to protect his friends. This will lead to the events that make him and his companions set out on a quest of revenge and hate. I cannot say much more here without going into major spoilers.

OK, let me just say that this game is big. Really big. Probably the biggest and freest JRPG out this generation, at least. Not only are the fields expansive, but also the towns themselves. They’re so grand, in fact, that going through one almost feels like riding the boat in The Wind Waker. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. The artistic style of it is great, and it sometimes feels like Lord of the Rings meets Star Wars. At least you can assume that’s where some inspiration has been taken. There’s great attention to detail with the terrain and the weather effects, especially the lightning is so pleasing to look at. There are so many beautiful views that’ll take your breath away, waterfalls, sunsets, mountains, etc. Not necessarily because it looks good graphically or realistic, it just has that certain style and charm to it. Not everything about the presentation is all that great though. I feel the facial animations are practically non-existent, and this really detracts from the emotion of the story, which is a shame. That being said, in actual cutscenes, they do look good, but when the characters are speaking outside of that, it can look a little iffy.

The voice acting in the game is very good for the most part. You can choose between English and Japanese, and in this one I actually find the English voices preferable. Having been localized by a UK team, 100 % of the characters speak with British accents, which to me felt very fresh and new for this genre. I’m quite curious to see how the American localization will be handled here, suspecting they may redub everything.

There’s a lot of NPCs in the game, even though it may not seem like it due to the size of the towns. I’m probably not even joking when I say that on average, every NPC has a quest for you. In reality they don’t, but there are a lot of them who has three or four, and they give them to you each time you talk to them consecutively, which makes you wanna bang your head against the wall. There’s not much variation in these quests. There are virtually two kinds: “go kill those monsters.” and “fetch me that item.” I would have wished for a little more diversity here, and since there are so many of them, it gets old quickly. It’s not all there is to it though. Doing quests for people can change their relationships with other people in the town. This shows up on your so-called affinity chart that displays every NPCs relation to each other, so doing one quest can unlock new ones via this system, and in general raise your party’s affinity with the particular town as well as each other.

Xenoblade Chronicles has an interesting combat system. The character you control will automatically attack the targeted enemy when in range, and you will be in charge of using the appropriate arts at the right time. Arts are essentially special attacks that can have various effects, and you are of course in full control of your character’s movement. It’s entirely in real-time and feels so smooth and seamless. There are no transitions from the world map to battles or anything like that. The enemies can be seen on the map, and you choose whether to engage them or not, although they can also engage you. While you cannot control your other party members, you can give general orders as to whom they should attack. The AI isn’t dumb. Despite the limited control you have over your team members, it does actually work pretty well. Although, it happens that you wish they would act differently.

Sometimes Shulk will get a vision of the future, and it’s then you can warn any other party member of the upcoming danger, and make them use a certain art to change the future. This is very strategic and works very well, as it doesn’t particularly interrupt the flow of combat. There are a lot of quick-time events in the combat too. Now and then you’ll have to time pressing the B button to raise party affinity, which increases the characters’ general performance as well as your party gauge. When your party gauge is full, you can execute a chain attack where you get to choose an art for every character to perform, and if you chained attacks that are of the same type, there’s a higher chance you can keep chaining more with further QTEs coming up. This party gauge is also used to revive and warn party members. Helping out an ally who’s been knocked unconscious or paralyzed or similar is done by simply running up to them and pressing B. All this felt very fresh and innovative. Some developers could definitely learn from this. That being said, it’s not free from flaws. It tends to feel repetitive after a lot of fights. They seem to turn out the same a lot. This could be because I spent a lot of time doing side quests, which are essentially the same.

The arts your characters gain after leveling up can be leveled up themselves with points that you get from battles in a not so hard-to-understand manner, making them do more damage, have shorter cooldown, longer duration, etc. There are also passive skills, like being able to wear heavy armor or heal more effectively that can be taught to other party members via skill links. This is also something that is dependent on the affinity between the characters. This coupled with the weapon and gem slot system allows for complex character development.

There’s a lot of loot to pick up after the battles. So much so that it gets a little tiring after a while. I think it could have been avoided by just giving you the items straight off, instead of having to open treasure chests that almost every single enemy will drop. There are loads of different types of items as well. In addition to weapons, armor, helmets, gauntlets, leggings, and boots, there are materials, collectables, crystals, gems. Materials and collectables are basically used for quests and to fill your ”collectopaedia”, which gives you rewards the more you fill. Crystals are used together to forge into gems, which are essentially materia that you put in your various equipment’s slots to give you stat bonuses.

The game is most likely made for use with the Classic Controller Pro, which is probably the best controller option. My main complaint, although minor, is that you cannot move your character while choosing arts, as this is done with the D-pad. This could however be done more easily on the Wii Remote + Nunchuk, which makes that controller style preferable if you really can’t stand not being able to do that. In all other regards, it controls very well. While we’re speaking about performance, the game must be very demanding on the Wii. As I mentioned earlier, the entire treasure chest opening is not only trying on your patience, but it sounds like it doesn’t give the Wii a rest either. In fact, every single time you jump in the game, the Wii has to read the disc, and yeah, jumping has no real practical use... except for leaping over small fences and possibly take shortcuts, and speaking of that, there’s a skip travel system that essentially allows you to instantly teleport to a place you’ve been before. If this had not been there, it could take hours to move from certain areas to others, so it’s obviously there for good reasons. There’s also a change time feature which will allow you to enjoy traveling at night or day at your leisure, but it really comes down to being useful when you’re looking for a particular NPC that is only active a certain time of the day though.

There are quite a few composers in this game. We have Yoko Shimomura, Manami Kiyota, ACE+ and Yasunori Mitsuda. I’m a big fan of Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack, so I was very happy to hear of Mitsuda’s involvement, although it seems he only did one song in this. Nevertheless, the soundtrack is very good. I find it hard to talk about music in a review like this, it simply must be heard. Some songs actually made me think of Chrono Trigger, which suggests Mitsuda may have had some influence on the others. Regardless, this is definitely one of the best soundtracks this generation.

Either way you look at it, Xenoblade Chronicles is a stellar title that manages to impress in every regard. This is a light that was well needed in the world of JRPGs.

Final Evaluation:
9/10 - Amazing Game

Marty Karlsson played Xenoblade for a total of 60 hours.

No comments:

Post a Comment