Wii

North America

Xenoblade Chronicles

by Alex Culafi - April 4, 2012, 12:11 am PDT
Total comments: 22

9.5

I didn't expect to give such a high score to a game I originally knew so little about. Then again, I didn't expect to play one of the best RPGs of the last ten years, either.

Xenoblade Chronicles arrives this month in North America after the year-long Operation Rainfall campaign to bring it stateside and nearly two years since its Japanese release. A measurable few anticipate the game as one of the best Japanese RPGs in years. To many, though, it may be just another JRPG, receiving the same indifference given to many turn-based games with low print runs, confusing names, and often even more confusing gameplay. One issue many have with Japanese RPGs is that many aren't necessarily accessible to the average person unless the player familiarizes themselves with the (usually) complex lore and the often-complicated battle systems from the get-go. I'm not so sure I agree with this, but it's certainly an opinion I've heard. Every so often, however, a JRPG comes around that meets the standards of the established fanbase while remaining deep, accessible, and fun to a far more general audience. Chrono Trigger, Mother 3, and Pokémon are great examples of this, and as of this review, I can safely say that Xenoblade Chronicles can now be considered one as well.

With that said, as a JRPG, Xenoblade breaks many of the turn-based expectations for combat almost immediately. Instead of locking players in a screen of menus and static enemies patiently waiting for their turn to attack, Xenoblade elects to grant full movement during combat. Players use moves (called arts) at certain times in certain locations around the enemy. For instance, the main character uses a move called "Back Slash" that grants double damage to the sword strike if the character is positioned behind the enemy. It's incredibly engaging, bringing a Zelda-like strategy to what could otherwise be a simple battle of heal spamming and opponent beat down. Of course, the combat system is quite deep and complex, featuring a unique skill system that allows characters to inherit the traits of other characters once the relationship between them is strong enough, and a myriad of battle conditions and situations to be aware of. This complexity could be an instant turn-off to some, but Xenoblade handles it in a non-invasive way. While the game rewards you for learning all the intricacies of combat, taking a more simple, action game-like approach doesn't make for a cripplingly complex experience. (I do promise, though, that by the end you will likely be utilizing every combat approach the game offers, as an easily accessible tutorial menu can make the most daunting parts of the game become a new fresh way to play).

The story of Xenoblade surrounds a boy named Shulk, who discovers he is able to wield an ancient weapon called the Monado that allows him to see into the future, and follows him as he uses this weapon to take on the Mechon, an army of mechanical invaders. Or, at least, that's all the back of the box will tell you. In reality, the game ventures much deeper, wading into issues of religion, gods, ancient races, genocide, and vengeance. As soon as I thought I understood the big picture, another mind-blowing piece of the puzzle added itself to the story. Only in the game's final hours does the plot coalesce, and reaching that apex left me with a satisfying sense of the journey. The game remains coherent throughout (though it takes a few convoluted detours toward the end), showcasing characters with interesting stories, motives, and dimensions, and a plot line worth investing in regardless of what style of RPG (or game in general) you like to play. During each play session, I consistently played for an hour longer than planned, not for exploration or combat, but out of a general desire to see what would happen next.

The game world is absolutely massive, separated into areas with plenty of potential for exploration outside of the main story. The world has an organic quality, with animals, monsters, towns, fields, oceans, mountains, and far more to explore and interact with. Although maybe not quite as large as Skyrim, the world of Xenoblade shares a similar concept—if you see a location, you can likely travel to it. The game also sports a wonderful fast-travel system. You can travel to any checkpoint that you've visited on a whim (so long as a battle isn't being conducted at the time), making some last-minute upgrades before a particularly challenging boss an absolute breeze.

The boss fights in Xenoblade are likely my favorite part of the entire experience. As with Zelda games, the bosses in Xenoblade are structured somewhat like puzzles, forcing the player to discover an optimal technique for facing them, as doing otherwise will usually result in immediate annihilation. For this reason, many of these bosses are quite difficult and require multiple tries to gain a general understanding of what you're actually supposed to be doing. With that said,the bosses are fair, and all of the challenge in the game feels genuine, though traditional RPG grinding may need to occur to beat some of these, especially if you rush through the main story and do minimal side quests.

A common statement about Xenoblade is how the game is quite beautiful, and pushes the Wii to its limits. While I wish it were true, I cannot honestly say the same. Graphically, the game is inconsistent. At best, some grassy fields and other landscapes do look great. At worst, some character models can look like they came out of a Nintendo 64 game, and at least one-third of the game’s textures are fairly unattractive. Although it feels somewhat nitpicky in relation to the fantastic package this game is otherwise, I felt it worth bringing up. I mean, even the beautiful parts of the game have a jagged look, a fact that somewhat takes away from the experience. Sound fares much better in Xenoblade, with high-quality voice acting and a soundtrack with enough memorable songs to make me consider an album purchase at some point in the near future.

When all was said and done, Xenoblade took about 60 hours to complete, with only a few hours of side quests and exploring done underneath the story. If I just ran through the story, I bet I could knock that down to slightly under 50, but if I played every single side quest, beat every single secret powerful enemy, collected every piece of armor and weaponry I wanted, and did everything this game has to offer, I could probably expect over 100 hours of gameplay. Despite a few minor gripes, I have to say that I really treasured the overall experience. I would go further than saying this game is really good, however, and go as far as to say that Xenoblade is great. Not in a "really good" way, either. This game is great as in "unusual or considerable in degree". Xenoblade Chronicles is considerable in the production value it took to make something of this scope; Xenoblade Chronicles is considerable for telling a story with more layers than one can count while retaining a level of accessibility for people of any walk of life; Xenoblade Chronicles is considerable for having an active combat system more engaging than anything I have seen in years. Although, with all things considered, Xenoblade Chronicles is really good, too.

Summary

Pros
  • Accessible
  • Fantastic combat system
  • Great soundtrack and good voice acting
  • Incredible storytelling
  • Vast exploration
Cons
  • Below-average visuals
  • Some grinding is not totally out of the question
  • Story can get a bit convoluted in a few parts

Talkback

MaxiApril 04, 2012

I knew I saw something special with the game when I made the topic for the game way back when.

GKApril 04, 2012

So then I'm not going to regret reserving this on a whim?

EnnerApril 04, 2012

Ah, I wish this game was already on its way to me. This wait is becoming unbearable.

Nice review. I wonder if I will think the same of the visuals. All the screenshots and video I've seen of the game look fantastic.

ejamerApril 04, 2012

I disagree slightly with the comments about graphics. They are inconsistent, and there are some issues - but given the system it's running on they still manage to continually impress me.

Also, claiming that character models look like N64 games is an exaggeration unless N64 games have somehow improved with age. They do look like GameCube/PS2 era graphics... which probably isn't a surprise given the hardware.


Did you really finish in 60 hours?  Wow... that puts me to shame. I did get carried away with exploring and some miniquests here and there, but unless the game wraps up extremely quickly I'm likely to go far over that number. Oh well - it's not like I haven't enjoyed the experience.




Unlike Maxi, I had no idea how special Xenoblade would be until playing the game. Hopefully everyone here who is looking forward to the upcoming release will enjoy the game just as much as I did.

LudicrousDa3veApril 04, 2012

I'm glad the reviews turned out as I have hoped; the trailers alone gave me a feeling about an rpg that I haven't felt since... hell, the mid-nineties?
  A quick question; is this on a dual layer disc? Please say no.

MaxiApril 04, 2012

It is a dual layered disk.

Number 27 tidbit of the day.

http://operationrainfall.com/83-things-to-know-about-xenoblade-chronicles/4/

LudicrousDa3veApril 04, 2012

Quote from: Maxi

It is a dual layered disk.

Number 27 tidbit of the day.

http://operationrainfall.com/83-things-to-know-about-xenoblade-chronicles/4/

Smeg. Thanks for the response. I guess I'm borrowing a Wii that's less stubborn than mine, then.

Gwaihir ScoutApril 04, 2012

Got any specific gameplay videos to complement the review?

LouieturkeyApril 06, 2012

I think I may finally be hooking up my Wii again after over a year of it being dormant.  Glad I still haven't used that $20 GC from Gamestop I got for my birthday.

gbuellGrant Buell, Staff WriterApril 09, 2012

I'm maybe 10 hours into this game and loving it, and I'm not a big RPG player at all. I think the environments look GREAT, and the design of the environments are very beautiful in an architectural sense as well. But the character models do look pretty damn poor. That's probably my only complaint about the game - everything else is awesome so far.

Quote from: ejamer

I disagree slightly with the comments about graphics. They are inconsistent, and there are some issues - but given the system it's running on they still manage to continually impress me.

Also, claiming that character models look like N64 games is an exaggeration unless N64 games have somehow improved with age. They do look like GameCube/PS2 era graphics... which probably isn't a surprise given the hardware.

Agreed. I've gone end-to-end with the game. These are not N64 models in the slightest.

I've been inspired to do some Google imaging to see if I was out of line saying that.

I'm pretty sure I'm pretty right about this one. Look at some Sin and Punishment character models and change the body proportions to match Xenoblade. I could totally believe that these came from the same game.

And, since I'm going through NG+, I was asking myself whether these models (and especially those damn cliff sides) would have been impressive on N64. I don't think you need to ask me what conclusion I came to.

ejamerApril 11, 2012

Quote from: Webmalfunction

I've been inspired to do some Google imaging to see if I was out of line saying that.

I'm pretty sure I'm pretty right about this one. Look at some Sin and Punishment character models and change the body proportions to match Xenoblade. I could totally believe that these came from the same game.

And, since I'm going through NG+, I was asking myself whether these models (and especially those damn cliff sides) would have been impressive on N64. I don't think you need to ask me what conclusion I came to.

Having spent a good amount of time playing Sin and Punishment (N64) on the virtual console, and being able to compare both games in motion directly, we'll just have to agree to disagree.


Again, not arguing that the character models in Xenoblade are good or attractive - because in my opinion they aren't - but I feel they represent a huge leap over what was ever produced on N64 both in detail and design.

Comparing this game to Sin and Punishment is unfair. Beyond the fact that these models do look better the size of the world and the number of things you can see at once dwarfs pretty much anything on Wii. That does mean that some of the finer details will be worse.

That's an interesting use of the word "fact", James.

Also, I did take note of how much the game does with its scale in my review. In fact, I'm not even saying that the graphics aren't forgivable. My only point was that, contrary to what many have been saying, Xenoblade is not a beautiful game (obviously, in my opinion). I go into further detail in the Connectivity thing I just did with Scott.

StrawHatChopperApril 15, 2012

While I disagree with the visuals being below average (I really enjoy them), I do agree that this is one of the best JRPGs in a very long time. Not many games can hook me for 60+ hours, but this one is doing it so easily!

CaterkillerMatthew Osborne, Contributing WriterApril 15, 2012

Loving this game! Long drawn out distances look pretty awesome! Every character looks like a load of crap. Final fantasy crystal chronicles had better graphics than this.

KDR_11kApril 15, 2012

Go play some N64 games again. The differences are significant (use the VC if you want to see how they look at 640x480 so you can really see all the edges and blur). Xenoblade's player characters may have slightly low res textures but they're FAR better than any of those blurry-edgy-blob things on the N64. A game of roughly similar scope would be one of the Zelda games. Try playing those again (the 3DS remake of OOT doesn't count since it has improved graphics).


Also the screen size is important, when you see a 320x240 picture on a modern screen it's tiny and you can't see any details but you played Xenoblade in full screen. Seriously, try N64 games on your TV and see how wrong you are.

How many times do I have to say that research was done before making that statement?

If you guys can't see the obvious similarities, I don't care. If you guys want to call me wrong on something subjective, go ahead. I made my case on the Connectivity segment. Either listen to it and hear my full case, or don't. Either way, I said that Xenoblade was a great game and you guys are up in arms because I said that the game doesn't look good (which it doesn't), and rightfully compared the textures to Nintendo 64 in one sentence. Enough people have said the exact same thing already. Just deal with the opinion (which by the way, is not the same as me claiming it factually used N64 technology--it's claiming that these models would not be impressive by N64 standards in the slightest).

KDR_11kApril 15, 2012

They would be extremely impressive by N64 standards. Only the PS1 games with prerendered backgrounds and higher detail cutscene models can compare and only with their cutscene models, Xenoblade uses these in actual gameplay too which the first 3D gen consoles simply could not handle. Xenoblade's cutscene-only characters (e.g. the Emperor) are much more detailed and much sharper than the best that old 3D generation could do.

ejamerApril 15, 2012

Quote from: Webmalfunction

... Just deal with the opinion (which by the way, is not the same as me claiming it factually used N64 technology--it's claiming that these models would not be impressive by N64 standards in the slightest). ...

So you've gone from "looks like N64 graphics from one of the more impressive games on the system" to "not impressive for N64 at all"?  (Unsure if trolling.)

fred13March 20, 2014

Go vote Xenoblade!
Push it into the Elite Eight
http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/forums/index.php?topic=43966.0

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Xenoblade Chronicles Box Art

Genre Adventure
Developer Monolith Software Inc.
Players1

Worldwide Releases

na: Xenoblade Chronicles
Release Apr 06, 2012
PublisherNintendo
RatingTeen
jpn: Xenoblade
Release Jun 10, 2010
PublisherNintendo
Rating12+
eu: Xenoblade Chronicles
Release Sep 02, 2011
PublisherNintendo
Rating12+
aus: Xenoblade Chronicles
Release Sep 01, 2011
PublisherNintendo
RatingMature

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