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10/30/2012

REVIEW: Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)



Xenoblade Chronicles is finally available in the American continent. It got some time and work for fans all over to get the game released here after its incredible success in Japan and Europe. Xenoblade is one of the three critically acclaimed JRPGS available for the Wii that were released in the last year, with the other two being The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower. Xenoblade was developed by Criware, specifically some of the people behind Xenogears, a rather obscure JRPG for the PlayStation 1 and the Xenosaga trilogy available for PlayStation 2. While the name sounds similar and it was made by some of the same people, Xenoblade doesn’t hold any actual connections with its older brothers.

The game takes place in a very weird and elaborate world. On the bodies of two gigantic titans those are seen fighting each other in the beginning. The two titans are named Bionis, a biological titan and Mechonis, a mechanical, robot-like one. After a long and very violent battle, both titans simply die and are left quiet forever. Eventually, life happens on the bodies of the two titans. Organic life on Bionis and mechanical life on Mechonis and they also enter a war for domain of both titans, Homs (humans) against the Mechon, the mechanical beings from Mechonis.

During the entire game, the player will live a story of honor, revenge, duty and of course, will try to save the world taking control of a young man named Shulk, who is able to control a legendary sword vital to the story called the Monado, which emits a very beautiful blue glow. Shulk will of course be accompanied by other party members along the way, warriors like Dunban and Reyn, a rifle-using healer named Sharla or a powerful mage girl named Melia.

In the adventure, Shulk and company will travel all along the Bionis and Mechonis bodies, their legs, chests, arms and even their heads. Revealing beautiful plains, waterfalls, oceans, lakes, mountains, forests, metal fortresses, factories, abandoned ancient robotic cities, etc, etc. And like in all JRPGs worth it, the characters will battle a lot of different enemies, solve sidequests, explore new areas, interact with hundreds of NPCs, and fight bosses. This is one of the best things about Xenoblade; it’s a very deep game with tons of stuff to do besides just level-grinding and advancing in the story. It’s an almost-perfectly crafted gem with a great pace from start to end.

But while most of the things about this game are very positive, there is a slight problem that shouldn’t really scare anyone away, but it’s there: The graphics. Xenoblade is a huge game, with gigantic areas to explore and things to do but the Wii seems to have fallen short on power for it. The graphics in the game are not very good and can even be on par with some PS2 games like Final Fantasy X, XII or Metal Gear Solid 3. Those are excellent-looking games but this is supposed to be a next-gen JRPG for a “next-gen” console, and the Wii doesn’t do it any justice.

Let’s be clear on this. The game doesn’t look bad but many things like the character’s faces, expressions, animations, 2D plants and grass all over, lightning effects and the like could have simply been much, much better on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Xenoblade doesn’t even use any of the motion sensor controls the Wii is known for so I personally believe the game could have benefitted more from the power of the other two consoles (that without mentioning guaranteed better sales since most of the JRPG players are on PS3 and Xbox 360). But as mentioned just now, the graphics aren’t bad. In fact, as soon as any competent player understands how big the game is, the OK-ish graphics will be discarded very quickly as a negative thing.

The sound is excellent for the most part; there are hundreds if not thousands of different effects for areas, enemies, players, towns and pretty much everything in the game. It has very good voice acting in Japanese and an OK one in English (which uses British accent for anyone who likes it). I played the entire game in Japanese with subtitles but changed it here and there out of curiosity about how some characters sounded like in English. Some are OK, like Shulk and Reyn but there’s this small creature named Riki who is supposed to be cute and “dumb”. He sounds exactly like that in Japanese but his English voice is simply… terrible.

Xenoblade is also accompanied by a terrific soundtrack that is on par with many of the great works from excellent game music composers like Nobuo Uematsu. Almost all of the songs are very catchy, climatic and fit perfectly with each area, battle or event happening in the game at the moment. Songs like Saihate Village or the Boss Battle Theme named “One Who Gets In Our Way” are especially very good.

Gameplay-wise, Xenoblade is truly a fantastic game. It both innovates on a ton of things and also keeps several the classic ways. First, the battle system, Xenoblade works similar to many MMORPGs, you control the leader of the party and as soon as you engage an enemy, (or an enemy sees, hears or feels you around) the characters will ready their weapons and start auto-attacking the foes every two seconds or so, similar to online games like Final Fantasy XI for example. The other two members will be controlled by the AI, which can be good in some cases (Reyn or Dunban) but not as much in others (Melia).

There are, of course, many skills available for each member. Shulk for example gets the opportunity to unleash the power of his Monado sword and buff party members with beneficial statuses like improved evasion or the ability to damage Mechon with physical attacks, which is very important in the first half of the game. He can also simply unleash a powerful shockwave to damage a line of enemies in front of him. Melia, the mage, can activate elemental auras around her and inflict hindering statuses to enemies like Blaze, Poison or Chill to inflict DOT (Damage Over Time) and slowly kill them. Reyn works like a tank so most of his skills draw agro from enemies and others raise his defenses so the foes will mostly focus on trying to kill him while the other members do their things without worrying much about getting attacked themselves.

Each party member works in a different way, they all have their roles in battle and all of them are very useful. I used all of them and can confirm that they’re all very strong and can be really helpful in most situations. There are also some chain attacks available after filling a gauge that will guarantee some heavy damage on enemies or the easy possibility of healing the party while the enemies aren’t doing anything. Another thing that works excellently in Xenoblade is the differences in damage and agro depending on where you hit enemies. Attacking a foe from behind or the sides can have extra benefits like more damage or the possibility of inflicting a very helpful status effect. Yes people, status effects are extremely important in Xenoblade. More than you can imagine.

Like in every JRPG out there, you can equip tons of things to the characters. Helmets, chest plates, boots and many weapons are available to each. In Xenoblade though, they actually affect how the character looks. So if you equip a bronze armor on Reyn, the guy will look all imposing in his bronze-colored set of metal armor and if you put a tribal dress on Melia, she’ll look prettier. There are hundreds and hundreds of different armors and weapons available and each of them improve or lower a specific stat in the character so you have to know what to equip to benefit their play-style. For example, you’ll want Reyn and Dunban to have tons of defense and HP, Riki and Shulk to have better agility and strength and Melia and Sharla to have better ether stat to deal more damage with magic, or heal which each spell.

Besides the equipment themselves, you’ll be picking up some colored gems all over the world that help you craft items to equip on the equipment. You can have gems that simply improve a stat or others that give a certain percentage of inflicting a status effect. There are also hundreds of different effects for these gems and the crafting minigame (which is quite deep) is really fun by itself. It allows for plenty of experimentation among the party members and what you have equipped on them.

Xenoblade also has an affinity system that helps build a connection between the party members. As you use certain party members together and complete sidequests for NPCs in towns and dungeons, the affinity between them will get better and better. This will eventually affect how many critical hits they land or chain attacks they use when fighting together and things like that. In battle, the characters sometimes will get demoralized if the enemy is stronger but another member can encourage them to keep trying to win the battle. This will affect their affinity as well.

All in all, Xenoblade is a very big game that pretty much does everything right. The pace from start to finish is perfect and the storytelling is excellent. It will keep most players interested easily in the story and exploring the worlds of Bionis and Mechonis. The story will also have many ups and downs that will surely keep you in the edge of your seat. And the battle system itself is extremely fun.

After finishing the game, you can choose to complete the sidequests, complete an internal list of achievements like the ones seen in PS3/Xbox 360 games or simply use a New Game+ file and carry most items and skills over to play the entire thing again. Completing the story will take around 65-75 hours, which is pretty long but unlocking and getting everything will surely mean playing for 250 hours or more. So yeah, completing Xenoblade is as long as completing a The Elder Scrolls game.

In short, Xenoblade is definitely one of the top 5 games in the Wii. No one with that console should miss this fantastic title. There simply is no room for “I don’t like JRPGs” here. This game will pass on to history as one of the gems of this generation and a title that possibly reinvented the entire genre. It has an incredible and curious world, excellent battle system and story and more extra content that you can imagine. This is simply a must-have.


Pros:

-          Gigantic areas to explore on Bionis and Mechonis.
-          Fantastic battle system.
-          Great cast of characters both in party and outside it.
-          Excellent soundtrack.
-          Awesome boss fights.
-          Tons of extra content outside the Main Story.
-          Fantastic storytelling and pace.
-          Almost perfect variety in skills, equipment and ways to finish the game.
-          Each party member is extremely useful in most situations.
-          Riki.


Cons:

-          Graphics aren’t as good as they should be.
-          English voices aren’t very good.


-          Graphics and Visuals……..…..8
-          Music and Sound Effects…......9
-          Gameplay……………………10
-          Replay Value…………….…..10


-          Overall Score……………….. 9.3 / 10

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