Full-Strength ‘Xenoblade’

In the gaming community, Japanese RPGs have been burdened with a somewhat unfair reputation for remaining unchanged over the years. “Xenoblade Chronicles” shatters those perceptions, as it merges the strengths of both Japanese and Western RPGs to create an experience that is both fresh and exciting. While AAA JRPGs have been few and far between in recent years, “Xenoblade” has finally arrived in North America to stand as one of the strongest JRPGs of this generation.

“Xenoblade” begins with a duel between the two colossal robots Bionis and Mechonis. After they both slay each other, the story jumps forward far into the future, where you get to participate in what appears to be the final battle between mankind and a race of machines called the Mechon. The war, which reignites one year later, is actually being fought on the corpses of both Bionis and the Mechonis.

The game’s setting is remarkable for its stunning scale and execution. Each zone you journey through is lavishly detailed and full of life. As a result, exploration and discovery always feels rewarding. The draw distance is incredible and really serves to reinforce the journey’s epic scale. In the large outdoor locations, you need to only look up toward the sky to see the body of the opposing titan in the distance, which never fails to impress.

Stunning visuals are backed by an equally compelling score and voice work. The game’s many composers deliver a varied score that complements both the setting and feel of the game. While the script is not as engaging as the game’s setting, the British voice acting feels very sophisticated, mitigating potential shortcomings.

“Xenoblade” is more than just its imaginative setting and high production values, as the actual game is simply a blast to play. The best way to describe “Xenoblade” is that it has the feeling of an offline MMO similar to what was achieved in “Final Fantasy XII.” Each location you visit is suitably massive, loaded with enemies, side quests and plenty of unique locations and landmarks to discover.

The game’s combat is based off careful positioning of your party members and managing enemy agro. Combat takes place in real time in the sense that you can always move your party leader. While you will auto attack as you get close to enemies, you have to carefully manage when you are going to deploy your combat skills. Every attack (including magic) is tied to its own individual cool-down timer, so the challenge lies in managing the proper flow of a battle so you aren’t overwhelmed.

One unique feature of “Xenoblade” is the protagonist’s ability to see the future. While it does have its purpose in the story, seeing visions occurs throughout normal gameplay. When you pick up an item that’s tied to a quest, a cutscene plays, telling you to hang on to that item. In battle, every time you or a party member is about to die, you see a vision showing the eventual death should you do nothing. The visions thus give you a hint on how to best react.

Visions are just one of the helpful features in the game that serve to eradicate traditional frustrations of the JRPG genre. Fast travel, quests that turn themselves in automatically and the ability to save anywhere are all awesome features that let you enjoy playing the game at your own pace. For a game that can easily last over a hundred hours, these features are essential.

There was a time when “Xenoblade Chronicles” seemed destined to never come to North America. Thankfully that future was avoided, as the game is one of the best RPGs ever made.

 

Rating: 5 out of 5