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Game Review: Xenoblade Chronicles

17 Mar

Xenoblade Chronicles

Release Date: 19 August 2011
Platform: Wii
Wii U eShop Release: 5 August 2015

I’m hardly what you could call a hardcore gamer: I’m not good at moving in a 3D environment, I don’t like big scary monsters, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is one of the longest games I’ve played in terms of story, and Kirby’s my personal hero, so I don’t quite know what I was thinking when I dived into a JRPG that would ultimately rob me of 90+ hours of my life, took me 5 months to finish, and left me a little crippled once the end credits rolled. I guess the fact that it was on sale and I had no real concept of what a JRPG demands of its player and that I don’t really think things through before diving into them may have been partially to blame…

But it was a helluva ride, and I enjoyed it immensely 🙂

In the beginning, there was the throw-down.

In the beginning, there was the throw-down.

The Plot

Eons ago at the dawn of creation two titans, the Bionis and the Mechonis, came into existence on a world of endless ocean. The two titans engaged in a battle that was seemingly without end, until eventually they managed to strike and kill one another in a set of final devastating blows. Their corpses, locked forever in battle, became the ground on which life arose – biological life on the Bionis, mechanical life on the Mechonis.

The lifeforms on the two titans don’t like one another, and the game picks up one year after the devastating Battle of Sword Valley on the land bridge formed from the Mechonis’ sword that connects the Bionis and the Mechonis. The story follows Shulk, a young Homs from Colony 9. Shulk is a scientist investigating the Monado, a mystical weapon that was supposedly used by the Bionis itself in its battle against the Mechonis, and the only weapon in existence that can kill a Mechon (the various mechanical lifeforms from the Mechonis).

When Colony 9 suffers a Mechon invasion and a number of its inhabitants are killed, including Fiora (Shulk’s lifelong friend and mild crush), Shulk vows to get revenge on the Mechon for what they’ve done. He and his friend Reyn set off on what will become a truly epic adventure that will span the entire world, bringing them into contact with various creatures that make their home on Bionis, in an attempt to restore peace to the world and to ultimately learn why the two titans engaged in battle in the first place.

Behind its lush blue scenery lurk monsters that want to beat the crap out of you.

Behind its lush blue scenery lurk monsters that want to beat the crap out of you.

The Gameplay

Let me start this off by saying that I’m 99% sure that Xenoblade Chronicles was actually made by a coven specialising in black magic rather than actual game designers. Not because the game is particularly amazing visually, but because I can’t believe that the humble Wii could actually run this. Granted I was playing a download version that booted directly from the Wii U’s internal harddrive which would speed up load times and the like, but in terms of sheer scale and what is on offer visually it’s far and beyond anything else I’ve seen Nintendo’s last-gen system throw out.

In terms of gameplay, there’s an awful lot to learn, but thankfully everything’s introduced in a nice steady manner to get you accustomed to activities both on and off the battlefield. If you read all of the on-screen prompts that display during the game’s early stages (which I didn’t) you’ll be well prepared to take on the world of Bionis (which I wasn’t).

The first thing is your team, which is made up of three characters. To begin with you’ll have Shulk, Reyn and Fiora, but over time the party will grow and deciding which three you want as the active party will make all the difference to how battles play out. Each character has their own set of strengths and weaknesses (my usual party was Shulk, a good all-rounder, Reyn, a tank that would distract the enemy, and Sharla, who essentially acts as a medic), and these make up what are known as talents. In battle the player controls the lead character, but all three will auto-attack the enemy provided they are in range. This gives you the chance to manoeuvre around the battle field and focus on talents; these are essentially special attacks that do additional damage and have bonus effects (even more damage, status effects, etc) but take time to charge up between use. Defeating enemies will award you battle points, which can be used to level these talents up more. The more talents you use in battle the more the party gauge fills, which you can use either to activate chain attacks or to revive members that have been knocked out (I only figured this out at around the 60-hour mark).

It’s essential when picking your active party that, in the event you use a chain attack, that everyone’s talents line up with one another. Since some effects, such as dazing an enemy, require three separate moves, the party’s talents need to be complimentary in order to pull things like this off. Of course, it’s all a bit in vain when you run into an area when you’re at level 15 or so, with all the enemies being around levels 12 to 14, when suddenly a level 81 creature comes out of nowhere and promptly beats you to a pulp. Thankfully the game is forgiving in that, if you’re defeated, you’ll just be sent back to the last landmark you visited without losing any experience gained from the battle and then you can try it all over again.

Outside of battles there are also innumerable side missions to complete. The reward for these differs depending on the type of mission, be it for currency, experience or gear. Completing missions also increases affinity between the party and the area, which unlocks more missions and assists in the way your characters interact with one another.

In addition to all this is the almost endless customisation of your characters – defeated enemies and completed quests will often reward you with armour and weapons which can be used to boost your party’s stats, and a side game allows you to craft gems to attach to different pieces of the armour for further stat boosts. Again, making sure that the party is properly balanced in terms of its stats will have a huge part to play in the outcome of a battle.

Well don't you look friendly?

Well don’t you look friendly?

The Feelings

Overwhelmed, frustrated, satisfied and sad.

For people who’ve played this kind of game before Xenoblade Chronicles might not be all that and a bag of crisps, but for me it was amazing. My review doesn’t really do justice to the sheer complexity of its story, character development, and very involved gameplay. It’s an unforgiving game in that it will demand of you your time, your emotions and the bond between you and your firstborn, but if you’re prepared to give that all up it’s a game that returns the favour in spades.

The only problem now is that I find myself unable to start a new game because they don’t offer the same depth as this one, so the only option is to pick up Xenoblade Chronicles X and immerse myself in that for what will likely be the rest of 2016.

My Final Rating: 10 / 10
Buy Xenoblade Chronicles at Amazon.com

TRAILER

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Posted by on March 17, 2016 in Game Review

 

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