Sunday, May 6, 2012

Xenoblade Chronicles (9.5)

Let’s admit it: JRPGs have become a repeating cycle of cliché story telling with unappealing characters and their boring back stories, that have been sprinkled with pretty cut scenes and overly busty female characters to keep us pretending we’re interested. That’s how we define a genre that structured such fantastic games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and TWEWY, which broke the traditional chains of common JRPGs and are still to this day fun to play as they were years ago? Is it our curse to just put up with ho-hum RPGs until someone makes a one time masterpiece that will never see another sequel or never become a franchise of it‘s own? If anything is certain, if you judge Xenoblade Chronicles based solely on it’s bleak graphics and appearance, you’re no doubt missing what could be the greatest JRPG of our time.  

Story-wise, Xenoblade does things right. The storyline is engaging and never drags out into pointless monologue that completely disrupts the flow of the game. The friendships between characters is shown distinctly through “heart-to-hearts” scattered throughout the world, which is a goofy love sim mini-game where you pick the answer and see what awkward responses you’ll get. Thankfully, for those that are not into this, they completely skip them all together. Some might not appreciate the similarity of the story telling to other JRPGs, and yes, some of the cut scenes do drag on a little, but I’m so fortunate they took the time and at least made a story that didn’t want to make you throw up.

For a game that’s not HD and looking like it could very well be played on a Gamecube, Xenoblade sure makes up for it in terms of shear vastness. Taking place on a giant robot, or Bionis, as it is called in the game, Xenoblade’s world is massive and full of life. Never has an RPG on a home console been seen on such a huge scale. The moment you look across and see the other Mechon…looking upward at it’s outstretched sword through the clouds is pretty darn impressive. The game switching from night and day can produce some nice looking scenery as well. Though I do admit that the character models could’ve received some polish: character’s mouths don’t move in-sync with the voiceovers at all, and this makes sentimental moments look more like a bad hand puppet skit than a video game cut scene. But nonetheless, I felt the rest of the game made up for it’s graphics, and in no way is the game so ugly that it would seem like the developers didn’t care.
But Xenoblade really shines in it’s brilliant gameplay. Being an open world RPG (a la’ the likes of those of an MMO) with some action elements, battles are very strategic and adrenaline fueled. This is what every RPG should feel like, and I applaud Monolithe for making this the main priority. No matter how many times I get into a battle it never feels stale, because of it‘s superb mechanics. Simply attacking an enemy won’t get you anywhere with a character like Shulk, for example, since most of his attacks do greater damage attacking on the side or the back. While a character like Dunban is more adapt at attacking in combos and accumulating Aggro, which makes him the main target of enemies and allows other characters to sneak behind and deal extra damage. If your efforts are in sync you’ll be able to issue a Chain Attack and deal even more damage, and it’s the only way to topple a giant enemy. Each character also has his/her own Skill trees that can be leveled up and linked with each other, which gives the game a unique twist outside of battle. Improving the friendship of teammates allows them to link up more skills, and become more efficient in battle. Increasing friendship also increases the likelihood of more attacks in a Chain Attack, so choosing which characters to use at the appropriate time is a fun challenge in itself.

Saying Xenoblade has a lot of content is an understatement. Xenoblade has an immense amount of optional side quests, boss battles and achievements to unlock to keep you playing for a long time. Not all the side quests are winners, and some are mostly recycled again and again, but you’re rewarded for each endeavor with a very large amount of Exp, AP and SP (for Skill and Arts leveling up). In fact, this is the main way of receiving Exp, for defeating monsters is mostly for obtaining loot. This makes level grinding a thing of the past, which used to plague all JRPGs for generations, but those who don’t want to partake in side quests don’t have to worry, since discovering new areas also gives out a fair amount of Exp to your party. And you don’t have to worry about losing your progress by accidentally encountering a strong monster or falling off a high cliff: when all your teammates are defeated instead of the title screen reloading you’re sent back to the last check point with all your status and items in-tack. You’re also not forced to save at certain points either and you can save whenever you’re not in a cut scene or in a middle of the battle. This is such a grand far cry from traditional JRPGs it’s amazing we tolerated losing all our long hours of gameplay just because we couldn’t find a Save crystal for so long.
Xenoblade is a game you absolutely cannot miss out on. There’s so much to look forward too, that I couldn’t fit everything in I wanted to say about the game here without stretching it to who knows how many pages. Xenoblade is a gem that should never fold back into the pages of history and be left forgotten. If anything, if all JRPGs in the future are like this…then I can’t wait for the future.

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