The Pinnacle of Tedium and Banality
Being unfamiliar with any other game in this series, as well as modern JRPGs in general, I came into this game fresh. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. What bothers me the most about this game is how hollow it really is. I sunk about 100 hours into it (and still didn't finish; indeed, I had much more to go according to some guides, though I did reach the last hub), about 90 of which I felt was padding. This is because you need to be overleveled to be able to fight ANYTHING comfortably in this game. Maybe I'm a bad strategist, but it infuriates me that I cannot defeat a level 57 field boss with a level 62-63 party, optional though it may be. So how does the padding play out? SIDEQUESTS. There are about five different variations, spread out across almost 500 different quests. See how that might get old? And you practically have to do them too, since experience gained decreases exponentially for each level you have over a monster, and if you're fighting anything on your level, you'll probably die, boss or no. The only thing that makes this remotely bearable is an abundance of warp points which are almost always available from anywhere. The story is certainly not good enough to motivate me to continue. My issue with it is that for the majority of the game, your party's motivations are based on a character from the beginning we didn't have enough time to get invested in, making it very hard to care. It even resorts to flashing back to the same cutscene multiple times because it has no other moments to show. Worse yet, I didn't find the character in question compelling in any way, not to mention that they wasted tons of potential on a subplot in the fourth hub. Oh yes, and some of the characters reminded me quite a bit of Golden Sun. As for what the game got right other than the aforementioned warp points, I did enjoy the battle system, though I am unaware of how dated it may be. The battle music was nice too, even if none of the other tunes were memorable. And the environments looked detailed and gorgeous. The character models certainly didn't though. The British dub is pretty good as well. Other than the menus and inventory system giving me nightmarish Mass Effect 1 flashbacks, there's not much else to say. Definitely give this one a rent first. You might just thank me.
An excellent reconstruction of the JRPG
When I first started playing Xenoblade, i'll admit I wasn't expecting much. At the time, it just seemed like an obscure JRPG. However once I started playing I was instantly corrected. My first thoughts were something along the lines of "How is the Wii even capable of stuff like this?" The games scale is so big. The graphics are consistently beautiful, and the areas the game takes you too are so large, you can hear the Wii struggling to keep up. The areas are all so different from the last. One minute, you'll be trekking through a dark cave, the next rung across a wide open field, before descending into a mine full of glowing crystals, all within the first twenty hours of play time. None of the areas feel the same, each one showing you something completely different. The story is also excellent, although I lost interest in it right before the final dungeon, although by then I had already experienced over eighty hours of the game. It's that long. Even if you do get a bit bored, press on, as the ending is too good to miss. The voice talent in the game really helps the story quality. All of the actors are exceptional, and although you may have heard complaints about the English dub, I would recommend it, as they sound very realistic, and they cover a wide range of English accents, realty making you feel as though the game spans a living world. The music is also outstanding. All of the pieces fit in with the setting, and all add to the apeal of the game greatly. The battle themes are excellent too, and just when the first one starts to get a bit boring, the game switches to another one. Which brings me to the battle system. It's . . . ok. When it works it's excellent, but sometimes the AI fails. The main point is that to do a normal attack, you stand beside the enemy and the game does the basic attacks automatically. It up to you to move your character and use arts, basically special attacks. This is where the AI can fail. Some status effects, such as topple, need another status effect to work. Keeping with topple, it needs break to start,Sometimes the AI won't use topple even if break is on the enemy which is annoying when you need it to defeat certain enemies. All in all a great games with a few small niggles. 9/10- A must play for any JRPG fan, that picks the genre out of the rut it's been stuck in for the Past few years.
This is the game I always wished existed
I've played a couple MMOs in my time. I always thought they were too grindy, but I liked the overall concept of the gameplay - the ones I played had free-roaming, team-based combat and some moves with additional effects based on the direction the enemy was facing, etc. I wished that a single-player game with these mechanics were to be made. Xenoblade is that game, and to my knowledge the only one, and without the grindy part to boot. The main game requires relatively little grinding. I've always thought that variety is one of the biggest things that makes a game good, and this game provides it. You have a party of three, which can be made up of a selection of several characters, each with their own playstyle. Each of these characters can bring 8 techniques out of an ever-growing selection. This can be further customised with equipment and gems. The game is relatively balanced and no one is absolutely necessary for success or absolutely terrible - even lengthy, drawn-out battles are as easy or hard with Sharla as without, so feel free to mix and match to your heart's content! All the characters have unique personalities. Read a few lines, and you can know who said them. They're also very believable, you get the sense that if a real person has been through what they have and have a similar-ish personality, they would act in roughly the same way. This is especially true of the main villain, even as he was explaining his motivations all I could think was "this is so... believable". However, if you're looking for a game that completely avoids all the common flaws of JRPGs, look elsewhere. Needless randomisation is everywhere, most of what isn't the main game is rather grindy, and the game withholds some information you'd really like to know. Any RPG-savvy player can figure out what the stats do (but not by how much), but it took me until the endgame (60 hours in!) to learn what tension does (pretty sure it raises the rate at which you gain party meter). I still don't know how to raise tension barring certain arts, so this hinders certain strategies. The gem crafting system is the worst about this, I only half know what I'm doing. Though, to be fair, it tells you more than your average JRPG. Overall, Xenoblade is a great game that fills a niche that really needed to be filled. Also the soundtrack is amazing.
Best JRPG since... ever?
Okay, that's a slightly hyperbolic title to give my review but it is my honestly held opinion. It's not to take anything away from the great JRP Gs which came before but to acknowledge that Xenoblade takes the best elements from them and evolves them in an extremely satisfying way. It marries an elegant combat system, which is superficially similar to FFXIII but does a much more satisfying job of combining turn and action based combat, to a story with interesting characters who have motivations you can relate to and which, although it contains a fair bit of Japanese style mysticism, never becomes incomprehensible and maintains it's narrative drive for its 100+ hours. Even the comic relief character (who's arguably the best tank in the game) doesn't become irritating. In a 400 word review it's difficult to decide what to focus on given that there's so much to this game. Perhaps the best way to start is to say that it's a technical masterpiece and you'll spend a good few hours marvelling that graphics this impressive are possible on what is, essentially, over-clocked PS 2 era hardware with more RAM. While the environments vary the best of them, Makna Forest is my personal favourite, are jaw droppingly lush and huge (that extra RAM is clearly being used to full effect). All the cut scenes are in-engine and carefully designed to play to the strengths of the Wii hardware, with lots of nice translucency effects and camera angles which minimise the impact of the SD textures. I also thought the dub, which I know has been controversial in some sections of the internet, is very good. There's some nice inter party chatter during battles which varies depending on which combination of characters you use and their respective affinity levels (affinity being an intra party friendship meter which rises the more characters fight together, high levels open up special events). In conclusion (and I know I haven't had chance to discuss the combat system or any of the dozen or so other things which make this game so special) imagine if, at the time Square-Enix decided to move DQ to the technically inferior but best selling DS, they had made a similar decision to take FF to the Wii and produced this game as FFXIII. It would, I think, have been far better received and perhaps regarded as the best game in the series.
Xenoblade Chronicles: It just keeps being good
I really enjoyed Xenoblade. I went in with some assumptions about what type of game I was playing, from prior experience with JRP Gs in general and, more pertinently, prior Xeno- titles. I wasn't wrong on all counts, but Xenoblade Chronicles was a refreshingly original and well-planned story that kept me guessing and sucked up over 100 hours for my first play. Let's break it down a bit. Story: Loved it. The game moves through and between different story archetypes, blending enough to remain cogent while switching gears and tones enough to stay fresh and original. Characters' motives are plausible and relatable, and the writing is tight, making the world and its inhabitants believably belong together. What really deserves praise here, above simply being an enjoyable and high-quality tale, is that it just. . . keeps. . . going. The end credits could have rolled at about 60% through the game and I would have thought it was a fine story with good pacing, well-explored ideas and characters, and of a normal and satisfying length. That the game CONTINUES twisting everything I thought I knew on its head, several more times over, was really impressive. There were a few odd sequences and overly-conventional JRPG moments/elements, which detract from the whole, but only a little. 9.5/10 Visuals: The graphics suffer quite a bit when compared to PS 3/360 titles, but Xenoblade makes up for it with a lush and expansive landscape with an identity of its own that never gets repetitive or boring. This game is the best argument for "art trumps graphics" I have seen yet. So much work was put into the design and it pays off. Armor models display on characters during cutscenes. The downside? Each character has only 4 or 5 standard models for "Light", "Medium", and "Heavy" armor, and all the specific items are just palette swaps therein. Frustratingly, this means that "Titan Gauntlets" (or anything else) on one character look nothing at all lie the same item on another character. 9/10 Sound: Beautiful score. Just plain amazing. Also, all cutscenes are fully-voiced by some very well-cast and well-performed actors. 9/10 Replayability: There's a New Game Plus, but you get TOO MUCH of an advantage (all levels, skills, and endgame equipment, plus a 100% crit rate weapon) and no real new content. Overall: Absolute must-play. 9.5/10