Why Nintendo’s newest I.P. is both a blessing and a curse.
I wasn’t really sure if I wanted it.
I mean, it looked like a really good game. There was all this buzz around it on the internet, and a fan campaign to bring the game over must mean something. But I never really bought the whole Operation Rainfall thing. To me, it sounded like a bunch of bratty little fans complaining about something they had little to no control over. Nintendo didn’t want to bring the game to America for a reason. It simply wouldn’t sell.
Then I played Xenoblade Chronicles, and everything I thought I knew changed. Whether you consider that a good or bad thing is up to you.
Xenoblade is Nintendo’s first core new I.P. in years. Sprouting from the newly-purchased Monolith Soft, it was a risky endeavor for the Big N, one that arguably didn’t really pay off. The game only sold around 160,000 in Japan, which is likely why Nintendo didn’t want to bring it over to North America. But sales are one thing. The importance of this game is another.
Playing through Xenoblade Chronicles made me realize a two things. The first is that a new I.P. is much more than just a new name. Nintendo argues that they can make “new” games while using old franchises we all know and love. But creatively speaking, reusing an old I.P. can be restricting; the creators of Zelda can technically do anything they want with the series, but they are still limited by franchise boundaries and expectations, like the obligatory boy in a green tunic, the necessity of dungeons, and the same old items and power-ups like bombs, boomerangs, and bows and arrows. When creating a new I.P. like Xenoblade, the creators have complete freedom over what they want to do. And that’s what makes a game like Xenoblade so special; Monolith wasn’t limited by arbitrary franchise restrictions.
And that leads to my second point in that because Xenoblade is so special and because it was so unexpectedly good, I am now upset with Nintendo. Xenoblade was a pleasure to play through, and it stands as one of the most memorable gaming experiences I’ve ever had. But what’s upsetting is that I now want more. No, not more Xenoblade (though that certainly can be nice). More new I.P.’s. Yes, I’m mad at Nintendo for letting me experience Xenoblade Chronicles.
Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? It’s hard to say, but I can tell you that every month, I grow more and more frustrated that Nintendo won’t create something new. Now, I don’t want a new I.P. just for the sake of having a new I.P. (a stance that many people take). I want Nintendo to create a new I.P. because I know they can do it, and if Xenoblade was any indication, that it would be amazing. All too often, we find Nintendo tweaking their franchises to make them more accessible and more family friendly. They focus too much of their time tweaking the old while ignoring the pleas of Nintendo gamers to create something new, fresh, and exciting.
This doesn’t just apply to Nintendo. E3 2013 was full of disappointments and sequels, with very few surprises from anyone. The few games I was excited for were games that felt were new and fresh, among them Watch Dogs (a new I.P.), Final Fantasy XV (an action-oriented Final Fantasy RPG), Mario Kart 8 (an F-Zero inspired Mario Kart), and X (the Xenoblade sequel). All four of these games felt different and refreshing, and it makes me realize that the industry still has it in them to create things totally new and unexpected. But all too often, these companies supress their creativity with ways that I don’t agree with (in Nintendo’s case, making their games “more accessible”).
To be clear, I’m totally fine with Nintendo doing what they’re doing. I’ll always love the occasional new Mario and new Kirby game. But there really wasn’t anything like playing through Xenoblade Chronicles, a game that made me want to understand more about its characters and its universe. It felt like a whole new level of design for Nintendo, something that I didn’t know they were capable of. But that’s the problem. Now I know. And it both pains me and overjoys me at the same time.
And that is why I hate Xenoblade.