Whenever I hear a game is going to reinvent a genre, I am always naturally skeptical. However, Xenoblade Chronicles won me over. There is just so much packed in – from the awe-inspiring visuals (reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus), to the perfect balance between story, action and questing, the likable characters, and a revolutionary battle system. This has shot up to become one of my favourite games of all time – thus, writing this review, I’ve made extra effort not to spoil anything.
The story is that there are two ancient creatures – the Mechonis and the Bionis – locked in battle for millenia. Now, it is the creatures that populate the two that fight in their stead. The peoples of the Bionis are being mercilessly attacked by the Mechon from Mechonis, and only one sword – the Monado – and its chosen wielder can save the Bionis.
Honestly, this game took over my life for the whole of January 2015. 100+ hours in under a month. It is my belief that the term ‘positive feedback loop’ will one day have an extra definition in dictionaries:
The act of playing Xenoblade Chronicles, esp. when equal time is spent on quests and on the field. Cleverly combines exploration and highly interconnective challenges and systems to achieve perfectly balanced experience. Must be treated with caution because of its rewarding and therefore addictive nature.
Nothing in this game feels like a waste of time, no matter how optional or far off the beaten track of the story. This is a game of highly interconnected systems, all of which send happy hormones to your brain. Perhaps the most addictive of these for me is the affinity chart, which tracks your team’s relationships, and then the wider affinity chart of the cities you go to – by completing quests for citizens, you create affinities between citizens and also your team’s affinity to the place.
Other components of this highly addictive experience include:
- The skill trees and skill links
- Leveling up battle arts
- Filling up the collectopedia
- Achievements (which you can get for doing pretty much everything)
- Crafting gems for weapons and equipment
- Finding new areas and secret locations
This sounds like standard RPG fare – yet the sheer scale of what you can collect is mind-boggling. For instance, there are quests everywhere you turn, and thanks to the uncanny ability of our main character’s visions, you can even collect items for quests that you haven’t even come across yet and a handy vision of the future informs you the item will be useful for a later quest. Future collecting is the next big thing folks.
Seeing the future is also a central mechanic in the battle system, which is very action orientated for an RPG. It allows you to anticipate fatal blows from enemies and counter them or heal appropriately. It’s a really cool way of integrating story and gameplay, since the story is driven by Shulk’s visions too. There’s only one playable character in battle, and although you start with Shulk, you’re encouraged to try playing as all the characters. The game is remarkably well balanced and I was surprised by how genuinely fun and varied it was to fight using different characters.
Exploration trumps story in this game. It’s like an MMO made sweet, sweet love to a classic RPG and this gorgeous baby popped out. The environments are absolutely huge, and there’s complete continuity between exploring and battles – there’s no separate battle screen or (god forbid) random battles, it’s all integrated. Also, you rediscover familiar environments as new and exciting, partly because you’re always passing monsters that are much more powerful than you which render areas out of bound until much later. The game is so well paced that you almost never need to grind, which would interrupt the feel of seamless adventure and exploration – and the instant teleporting is an absolute joy.
Another aspect I enjoyed was encountering monsters that are clearly sentient, or that exist in herds as animals that won’t attack unless provoked. I actually found it very difficult to kill the Ponio and Armus on the Bionis Leg for instance – they’re just grazing, why do I have to kill them? Well, for quest items unfortunately. The sight of a bunch of Chilkin (regal looking birds) chilling by a fire site breaks up what could by monotonous collecting and/or battling. These touches really made me care about every moment, even when we were far from civilization.
There are also long running feuds between different species that you learn about from the many researchers and scientists you meet throughout the world researching the monsters. So not only is there a sense of an adventure unfolding, but a whole history and mythology. The history is slowly revealed, and yet never loses its original mystery. It’s the kind of depth that will undoubtedly launch 1000s of fanfiction stories.
Also, please listen to how nice this music is:
There are a few flaws: with the overwhelming amount of items the inventory is a chore to manage at times, there’s a single story thread that I think is almost unforgivably misjudged, and I also cannot understand why there was only one ending. This in a game where the future is for ‘you to decide’, after all! Another story issue which I found puzzling is why the game seemed to put the female characters through so much suffering, whereas all the male characters emerged practically unscathed from their experiences.
That all said, this is the game to convert RPG skeptics (heck, maybe even notorious RPG-hater Yamauchi) with its focus on action and exploration. And it will remind RPG lovers why they love the genre. It’s one of those rare videogame experiences which improves as you get further in the game. So, in conclusion, please play Xenoblade Chronicles: it’s no exaggeration to call it a future classic.