Chronicles of Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)

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.

xenobladebionis

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.

Xenoblade-affinity

By the end of the game, your chart will look something like this…*drool*

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
  • Quests
  • 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.

xenobladeSharla

I did overuse Sharla, a healing character (who heals with her rifle…!) towards the end of the game. Everyone loves Sharla -_-

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.

Armu

An Armu: they’re just so cute!

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.

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10 comments

  1. Matt

    I went very skeptically into Xenoblade Chronicles back when I played it. I usually do not get along with RPGs, especially JRPGs, so I was very doubtful I would like it.

    In the end, much like you, I spent over 100 hours on the damn thing and loved every minute of it, except for the final portion of the game where I feel it becomes an endless boss gauntlet that just drags for a bit too long. I think it was that blend you mentioned of MMO exploration with traditional RPG elements; one of my favorite aspects of the game is the fact you can get XP points simply by exploring the land and finding landmarks…. it is the ultimate antidote against endlessly grinding against enemies.

    It is a masterpiece! I can’t wait for Xenoblade X.

    • veryverygaming

      Totally agree. Though I’m really paranoid they’ll ruin it with X – 300 hours! The boss gauntlet didn’t bother me much; by that point I was so amazed that the games was STILL going, and still had so much to offer.

  2. cary

    This game recently made its way back into my stash, and I want so badly to start it up again, but I’m extremely trepidatious. That 100+ hours of game time is just so intimidating! Do you mind me asking how you timed playing the game? Like, did you play for a few hours a day over the course of the month, marathon it over weekends, something else? If I only get to play the game for a few hours a month, which is about all the gaming I can manage right now, I’m worried that it just won’t be worth it.

    • veryverygaming

      I’m truly ashamed at how I managed to clock 100+ hours in under a month. It required days of doing little else but play – for hours and hours. The hours just melted into one blob; I didn’t feel time anymore. It was remarkable. Because I’m a student, it meant I could get away with it too. What I will say is that I felt it was worth it (though I was glad to get my life back!) – there was an episode the RFN podcast in which one of the guys described playing and hour or two every now and then and really enjoying that sense of growing with the characters. The pacing of this game is brilliant. Another described focusing purely on the story, and doing very few optional quests (he finished it in 50+ hours). As a completionist with little to no self-control, neither was possible for me!

  3. Sir Gaulian

    This game is staring me in the face as we speak, but like every other RPG I’ve bought over the last couple of generations I’ll probably never play it. Oddly, because it is supposed to be so good, i can’t justify the risk that it take up a month or more of my time. Knowing that ahead of time terrifies me.

    Of course I’ll gladly – but accidentally -spend 40 hours with Far Cry 4 or Shadow of Mordor!..

    Great post though – hearing all the hours seem legitimately in service of the game made me slightly less intimidated by it.

    • veryverygaming

      Sir Gaulian, I highly recommend playing it. For an RPG, it really doesn’t mess you around. Very little filler. If it’s staring you in the face, maybe just try it for 10 hours, see how you feel afterwards…

  4. skoce

    Man, this makes me really want to get back into this. I bought at release and got a third to halfway through it (I played somewhere in the area of 35 hours) but my Wii stopped reading the disc. Now that I’ve got a WiiU I have the ability to get back into it, but I’m kind of lost

    One of my favorite things this game does is hand out experience for just about everything, from completing quests to exploring. It really makes every part of the game feel worthwhile.

    • veryverygaming

      Oh no, was your Wii one of the dual-layer duds? I had the same thing happen to me with my Wii and Brawl. I’d played my fill of the game thankfully by the time it stopped working. Then with my second Wii I was concerned Xenoblade wouldn’t play on it either because it struggled, really struggled running Kororinpa (no joke – a launch game). Fortunately it ran just fine!

      It’s tough, getting back into something when you stopped so far in. I can imagine at 35 hours you’d have seen your fair share of the enormous environments, the battle system and stuff. I don’t think the second half of the game (which I’ll call everything post-Alcamoth) is quite as well-paced or spectacular as the first half, but one motivation perhaps is that there is some genuinely insane things in the story that don’t happen until relatively late in the game. Regardless, if you do go back, be prepared for it to eat into your social/work life for a few weeks at least!

  5. moresleepneeded

    I have never played this game. It sounds like an interesting game, with attractive visuals and an in-depth story. What is the affinity chart? Does it show all the characters the player has met at the locations? What is the collectopedia?

    • veryverygaming

      The affinity chart doesn’t show each and every NPC in the game, but it does show quite a few… basically any character with a name. I think all or most named characters give you an optional quest. Usually the quests they give you involve someone else, so the affinity chart keeps track of the relationships that develop out of those quests, so stuff like love triangles, rivalries and friendships. It also shows you the relationships inside your party, and the better the relationships the better they work together in battle. It’s not a huge part of the game or anything but cool nonetheless.

      The collectopedia is something different, it’s like a little catalogue you carry with you that keeps track of the items you pick up in various areas. Once you’ve collected items you can choose to put them in the collectopedia. There are categories of object you pick up, like plant, mineral, etc, and if you complete a category you get an item, and if you add all the items from a single area you get a good item.

      It’s an extremely good game, would highly recommend it.

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