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Monolith Makes Worlds: An Analysis of the Xenoblade Series

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Updated with DLC Musings, covering the first two portions of the Expansion Pass, and offering speculation regarding the remaining three portions. Dear god, somebody stop me.

Not to raise the alarm here but the other night, I saw something rather odd while ruining these forums and took a picture of it.

Someone decided to print your whole article. Not sure if they are planning to publish it under their own name but that's my first guess. I don't see why they couldn't just sit and read the article off the site instead. Very curious behavior.

Weird. I was just planning on updating the original post, myself.

Either way, I guess they can enjoy what amounts to 50 pages of Microsoft Word text.

Is it really 50 pages long? Wow. Way to go!

Okay the bump reminded me to finally read through, and to enhance the experience I listened to the appropriate soundtracks at each section.

Xenoblade Chronicles 1
Listening to the Xenoblade soundtrack again made me realise that I'd be happy to pay for a HD remake of XC. Even though I already own the game on Wii and 3DS, I feel like the game's art style is ripe for a big budget remake, add some new lighting and new beautiful textures and I'd be happy to play through my favourite game for another time. I was playing round with the idea of hoping they add in the cut Bionis Shoulder but thinking about it, save for some tedium in the Central Factory I feel like the game is paced brilliantly, to add in another huge area would likely take away from it.

I agree with a lot of what you wrote about Xenoblade's characters. I have friends who think I'm crazy for saying Riki is my least favourite party member, I just feel like his presence needed to be justified better as everyone other character on the journey had a deep emotional connection to the story.

I absolutely love Dunban, I dream about being as badass as Dunban. He's cool without even trying. His appearance as a playable party member was a surprise to me and the new number one thing that can keep a JRPG feeling fresh is surprises.

The events with Fiora at the start of the game felt so ballsy to me, I was a lot younger when I first played Xenoblade and I had never played a game that had so viciously ripped a playable character away from me so early. It felt like an artistic statement. That scene with Metal Face gives me chills every single time.

Melia is another favourite of mine because of the way she ties into the story and how unique her combat style is, but really all of the characters are great, even Juju.

The original Xenoblade is the only game in the series that I've found overwhelming from a systems perspective. The ether gem crafting and the affinity coins and the affinity linking really should have been explained properly and for my first play through I generally ignored it.

Something I loved about the original Xenoblade was how interconnected the world was, for most of my time with the game I never utilized the skip travel feature and instead opted to trek through the game's world completing quests along the way. Some tiny gripes I have with the world design are that in some areas skip travel is necessary, like it's not possible to get back to Erith Sea via the Nopon Village after the time the story takes you there. As you'd expect I was very disappointed with XC2 where you have to skip travel everywhere after the story takes you there initially. It would really have helped me get immersed into the world if you could pay some merchant in the docks to sail you from titan to titan rather than just teleporting around Alrest.

Something I think Monolith Soft does really well is encouraging exploration with interesting architecture. The reason I think the first area in the game Colony 9 gives such a good impression is the big anti-air batteries. Imagine the game without them, if those big mysterious objects hadn't have been there I doubt I would have spent the beginning of the game swimming around the base of Colony 9 climbing the batteries and exploring all the islands and caves along the perimeter. The game rewards you with a unique huge monster that has the comedic payoff of probably killing you in one shot, to which you can come back later when you've mastered the combat system. We see the same thing in Gaur Plains with the segmented bridge alternate path, there isn't anything particularly interesting there other than some really high level enemies but you want to explore it because it looks cool. Xenoblade X has loads of these, most notably the desert rings, but there's plenty of others (looks over at the X special edition map stuck to the wall) like the Sylvalum's huge tree orb thing, Cauldros's big palace structure and floating islands, Primordia's rock formations and Noctilum's huge waterfalls.

Another thing that makes XC feel like a breathing world that other games in the series lack is that the NPC's would walk around town according to a schedule, I know this makes people hard to find but the solution wasn't to scrap it entirely.

Xenoblade Chronicles X
A sequel to my favourite game?! My hype for this game was through the roof, I watched the trailers over and over and over. Monolith Soft Direct January 2013 is great, the establishing shot of Primordia is breathtaking and the way the music blasts when the mech are revealed. There's also Monolith Soft E3 2013 which gives us a look at New LA for the first time with an amazing theme that just hyped me up even more. Monolith Soft February 2014 Direct gave us a first look a the battle system and I recall backlash that it played like a Xenoblade game, rather something more action focused like Monster Hunter which the first two trailers hinted at. An interesting aspect of this trailer is that the party is made up of four characters that aren't in the actual game and it appear to be AI (so not online play), this seems to imply the story didn't have a shape yet, although the next trailer Xenoblade Chronicles X E3 2014 was the big blowout story trailer and I find it hard to believe they created the entire story and some of the cutscenes for X in the time between February and June. Either they where making an effort to hide the characters for some reason or they went expedited the development of the story in a few months, if I ever had an interview with someone at Monolith Soft the development process of X would be a top priority. E3 2014 was when the game was delayed into 2015, the first time we got to see the game's bad faces, custom character reveal and the first time we got to see the game in action on the Treehouse. There was still more to show with the Xenoblade X Exploration Trailer January 2015 Direct which finally revealed the diversity of the Mira and how beautiful the world is.

The world of X is amazing and it's aided by the movement options available to you. The dash, the jump and the mechs in general feel great. I have great memories of just running across the entire width of Primordia exploring the world and listening to the music.

I can't think of another game that does open world mechs the way X does, and in that way the game is truly special. As far as I know there really is nothing like it. I love the RP of being a random soldier and it manages to overcome the JRPG problem of main quest/side quest dissonance where on the one hand you're saving the world and on the other you're rescuing cats. Strangely enough I also like Gwin, yeah he's a dumb boring soldier but I feel like in this sort of setting you need a few run of the mill soldier type characters to counter balance some of the characters with more unusual personalities like the Murderess, L, HB, Hope, Phog, Celica and Nagi. A rag-tag party is one of my favourite things in JRPGs but it's a really difficult balance, if you make all the characters wacky and "too unique" the game loses it's charm because there's nothing to ground them with. On a scale of ten in terms of Rag-Tag-ness I'd give XC a 10, X like a 6.8 and XC2 maybe a 5.6

There are too many characters and they don't level up if you're not in the party, while that's not necessarily bad as it gives you incentive to use all the different characters, my main issue is that an OCD thing I have with RPGs is that I love to try to keep everyone around the same level and evenly spread my play time out between all the characters, and in Xenoblade X it's impossible to see what level a character is if they aren't in your party.

I feel that the affinity chart was made worse in X, unlike XC the character's aren't split up into districts or areas, it's just a jumble of every character in the game represented with tiny icons so good luck trying to find a specific character in it that's not in the party. What this series really needs is a button that let's you turn on an arrow that will point you towards a specific NPC.

For a main story that possibly was developed in a questionably short space of time I appreciate the twists it manages to pull off given the storytelling hurdles it has to overcome. I like X's story because of how fleshed out and believable the world is, not necessarily the individual character arcs. Also shout out to the side quest with the guy from the future and at the end the game plays an amazing instrumental version of Wir Fligen, I have a lot of respect when a game has the self restraint to only use a piece of music once or a couple of times for dramatic impact. I am a big fan of this game's soundtrack in general, even Black Tar, and when I find myself going back and listening to Xenoblade music a lot of the time it's from X, even though on paper XC and XC2 have the better regarded soundtracks. Maybe I'm a contrarian or maybe I like it because it gives X such a unique identity in the gaming industry, regardless get Sawano back for X2.

One last thing: I don't know if you've read these but there were a couple X short stories that were on the Japanese website and fan translated. 24 Hour Happy People gives a cool insight on some of NLA's residents.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2
I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you were eager to have long fights with enemies rather than avoiding them. The battle system really comes to life fighting enemies with long health bars and that's not something that necessarily happened in XC or X. I enjoy the battle system and the trimming of the fat they've done to streamline some of the mechanics in the first two games. My main issue with XC2 is with the world building, blades are a gameplay mechanic first and a story element second, the game never gets round to explaining the rules of blades and it's the lack of these rules that stops me from being able to get into the story. In X the rules around mimesomes are all elaborated on through the story and dialogue you can discover in NLA, whereas XC2 plays it fast and loose with it's world building. Do blades eat? Do blades drink? Do blades sleep? Can blades die and if not why do they need to eat, drink and sleep? Do blades need a driver? Do blades feel pain? Are blades biological or are they more like data and core crystal stuff? Why are all the blades so different? Why are there male and female blades if they can't reproduce? I'm not usually one for finding shipping weird, but I don't like that the game pushes Pyra/Myrtha and Rex together when it doesn't establish or set any precedent for blade-human relationships.

I don't mind the new art direction they went in but I wish Torna were more consistent with the rest of the game. It's so jarring to see completely different styles of eyes and noses compared to the main cast. Just because you can have Tetsuya Nomura design five of your characters doesn't mean you should. Jin looks like he's straight out of Kingdom Hearts, although of the Torna bunch he's the least jarring in my opinion.

I share your opinions about the world design in XC2 being a step back. My main disappointment with Mor Ardain is the route where you go from the port to the city, the characters are like "Well we better head to Alba Cavinch as it's the next step on our journey", and the distance between the port and the city is a tiny corridor and you're there. This kind of thing never happened in XC and it diminishes the sense that you're in a world. If the city was only a short walk and they were basically already there why did the characters talk about it like it was some great distance. Outside of the city and into the wastelands is a little better but I honestly got so lost in the abandoned city, it felt like a labyrinth and I can't even picture how it all fits together.

Another issue was the side quests in this game, in XC or X if you are given a quest it's likely it's possible to complete, but often in XC2 the game will give you quests where you play up until a certain point and it throws a skill check at you that is so high you won't be able to beat it for the next 20 hours or so. This stop and start nature really made side quests not as fun for me in this game even though it's clear they're trying to put in more effort this time around.

This isn't to say I hate XC2, my play through took 200+ hours and in a vacuum without XC or X it'd probably be my favourite game of all time. It has some great moments, I love the Land of Morytha and the curve ball it throws, I also love Fonsett Village, it was an unexpected surprise to actually go to Rex's hometown and the music is so good.

The last thing I'd like to say about XC2 is that it does a good job of bringing back the cinematography of XC1. XC2 has some amazing fight sequences, against Malos, the one with Vandam, with Nia in Spirit Crucible, against Jin and his absolute-zero light-speed shenanigans. X has some really boring cutscenes, animation and camera wise, and the scenes that do have action move way too fast for you to get a proper grip on what's going on. The only cool action sequence from X is the one with Nagi.


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