Is it really the best JRPG of this gen?
Long ago, the world was nothing more than an endless sea cloaked in a boundless sky, reaching as far as could possibly be imagined. Then two great titans came into existence. The Bionis and the Mechonis. The titans… were locked in a timeless battle, until at last… only their lifeless corpses remained. Eons have passed, and now our world, this vast land stretching across the remains of the Bionis, is under attack from a relentless force known as the Mechon…
And thus begins our story, the story of an epic JRPG/Western RPG hybrid that has once surprised an entire island nation, now on the shores of the lands we call America. Its people, united, call upon our local GameStop in hopes of catching a glimpse of the critically acclaimed RPG that has been hailed as one of the best in this generation. Today, I present to you…
If you know me, I’m not a huge fan of JRPG’s. Games like Final Fantasy bore me of their repetitive (and, in my opinion, kinda broken) battle system that forces you to grind and grind and grind and grind until you finally, FINALLY level up enough to defeat that one boss. Then the cycle repeats. I admit, Xenoblade does have its share of problems in terms of difficulty and design, but these problems aren’t very prominent and grow more and more forgivable as you progress through the game, mostly because the game’s genre-changing innovations help keep the experience enjoyable and fresh.
Part of this satisfaction comes with the ever-changing plotline. Xenoblade follows the story of Shulk, a young man who is researching a mysterious sword known as the Monado. His search for answers leads him on an unexpected adventure throughout the lands of the Bionis and the Mechonis where he meets new friends and sees some crazy sh*t. That pretty much sums up the entire game; the plot twists and turns so much that right when you feel like the game is reaching its end, you’ll be thrown into an entire new world. The plot is very well-written, and progression feels constant; there is almost no filler content in the game, so the story just keeps on flowing along as you play.
The primary source of Xenoblade’s innovation is in the game’s battle system. The game plays a lot like a combination of Final Fantasy and Dynasty Warriors; all characters (you can have 3 characters at a time) have the ability to auto-attack, but special attacks, called “arts,” are activated through an in-battle menu. Arts are generally stronger than auto-attacks, but you can also inflict status effects depending on where you land the attack. For example, Shulk’s art “Backslash” does increased damage if it connects with an enemy facing away from you. Because you are able to move your characters freely in the battlefield, inflicting these effects are easy as long as you are paying attention to what’s happening. In other words, it’s not just mindless hack and slash; there’s actually some strategy to the battle system.
As you go deeper into the game, you’ll learn new ways to control battles. One ability that you’ll learn early on (and is integral to both the story and the gameplay) is Shulk’s ability to look into the future. When a character is in danger of dying as a result of an incoming attack, the game will pause and you’ll see a preview of what will happen if the attack indeed connects. There are certain things you can do to change the result of the attack, like warning your allies, shielding them with an art, or drawing the attack to another player. It’s an extra little twist to the game that’s both interesting and helpful.
If the battle system sounds overly complicated, don’t worry. The game does an adequate job teaching you the basics of battle via in-game tutorials, and it does so progressively; they don’t overwhelm you by throwing tutorials at you all at the same time. But while the game does a good job explaining certain elements in battle, field and menu tutorials are a pain. Some special abilities like Shulk’s “Monado Shield” are never fully explained, and other things like item trading aren’t even mentioned at all. These small issues can cause frustration if you don’t take the time to look up other information online.
Of course, battling is only half of what makes an RPG. The other half, the game world, is equally as important as the battles themselves. And let me tell you this: Xenoblade’s game world is absolutely stunning. Almost every single area in the game (with the exception of one or two locations) is visually vibrant and colorful. The game world itself feels vast and alive; the game constantly awards you for discovering hidden areas and completing far-reaching side-quests. The only complaint I have in regards to graphical fidelity are the character models, which look really, really ugly. But these graphical mishaps are only noticeable when during in-game cut-scenes when the camera zooms in toward one of your party members.
In terms of music, Xenoblade hits the spot perfectly. From the beautiful soundtrack of Satorl Marsh to the epic arrangement that plays during boss battles, Xenoblade’s OST is simply one of the best ever created. Unfortunately, this brilliant soundtrack is often marred by the characters’ constant chit-chat during battle. It’s not that the voice-acting is bad, but it’s overly cheesy and sometimes downright annoying. But that’s just one man’s opinion; watch some videos yourself to see if you can stand all the talking Shulk and his buddies do.
How long it will take for you to complete Xenoblade Chronicles will vary. For me, it took about 67 hours to complete the game from start to finish, doing around 40% of the side-quests on my way. Those looking to complete every side-quest the game throws at you can clock well over 100 hours. Those who want to speed-run through the entire game (and if you do, you’re crazy) can do so in less than 55. How much you’ll enjoy the game will also vary. Xenoblade, though paced quite evenly, struggles here and there with boss fights that may seem a bit unfair and linear paths that force you to grind through enemies.
But to me, the pros greatly outweigh the cons because of its well-written story and innovative battle system. Yes, it retains some of the problems that have plagued the JRPG genre for ages. Yes, you’ll find yourself dying a lot. But you’ll also play one of the best RPG’s of this generation. It’s worth the struggle, and for those who push through, you’ll understand why. Whether you’re new to the JRPG genre (like me) or if you’re simply wary of the lackluster JRPG’s on other platforms, Xenoblade Chronicles is the game for you.