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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles

Developer: Monolith Soft
Publisher: Nintendo

Xenoblade Chronicles should be released in the States. I don't mean this like, "There's a strong possibility that it will be," or "It could be." I mean this like, "Nintendo owes it to gamers to release Xenoblade Chronicles in their largest market."

It's only fair. Wii owners suffered through lean years, crappy games, jokes about the system being underpowered and "gathering dust" references for the last five years. We can't help but feel inferior to the supposed console "big boys," who end up looking down at us while we plaintively wail that the Wii is not that bad.

Indeed, the Wii has been a pretty good system, considering. Super Mario Galaxy and Zelda: Twilight Princess were some of the best games of this generation. Super Smash Bros. Brawl is pure fan-service. Mario Kart Wii has a great online presence, as does Monster Hunter 3. The WiiWare service was surprisingly robust considering its limitations, and the Virtual Console has been great.

It would be only fitting, then, if Nintendo would release Xenoblade Chronicles, the generation's finest RPG on any system, on their "underpowered" and "kiddie" Wii.

What makes Xenoblade Chronicles so excellent? Let's start by going down the list.
  1. Interesting characters. The characters behave in real ways. They feel like real people, while doing and saying things that real people might say. They're not just "generic hero X," and they have real motivations for what they do.
  2. Great music. I get the Gaur Plains music in my head all the time, and I never get tired of hearing it.
  3. A deep combat system. Your positioning relative to your opponents matters. How long you've had the party together matters. How often you fight battles matters. I've been playing for twenty hours and I'm still finding nuances in the combat system.
  4. A unique environment. As opposed to "generic RPG planet X," you're on a giant creature called the Bionis that's been locked in combat with another creature called the Mechonis for aeons. You're playing the game, essentially, on one of the Colossi from Shadow of the Colossus, just fifty times larger.
  5. An achievement system that matters. Achievements in most games are merely rubber stamps or things you can use to show off. Here, achievements provide XP rewards.
  6. A game that rewards you for mindless exploration. Found a new location? Congratulations, here's some XP. Found a landmark? Congrats, here's a place you can restart your game at any point.
  7. Easy travel. Instead of having to walk constantly from point A to point B and all points in between, you can select fast travel and instantly end up where you need to go with no penalty. You can also wind the clock using this method.
  8. A quest system that makes sense. You won't just walk in to a town and see hundreds of people with exclamation points over their heads. You'll do a few quests, which will unlock other quests, which will unlock others, and so on. You can even help rebuild a city using this system.
  9. Longevity. I've been playing twenty hours, like I said before. I looked at an FAQ to see how far I have to go, and I'm about 1/3 of the way through. That's with me skipping over some quests or sidestepping others altogether.
  10. No harsh penalty for losing battles. If you die, you don't have to sit through a Game Over screen, then go back to the main menu, then reload your game from your last save point. If you die, your character restarts the game at the last major landmark that you saw, meaning that you can try some battles repeatedly until you get it right, or just leave the area and come back when you're more powerful. It's your choice.
Xenoblade Chronicles isn't perfect. For example, the voice acting isn't necessarily bad, but the characters are all far too chatty. During combat, they'll all be talking, announcing their moves, saying how they feel, shouting words of encouragement, sometimes all at the same time. Some battles will sound like everyone's just talking at once, which is a little silly, not to mention annoying and confusing.

Plus, battles can be a little hard to control. It can be too easy to end up attacking the wrong enemy or putting your friends in a position where they all get bushwhacked. Plus, since the Wii is underpowered, you can't always tell which enemy is which.

There are some features that look plain ugly. In one early part, they showed the landscape of the surrounding area, and the ground was quite literally one texture stretched across several hills. It looked hideous. This is a game that would have benefited from being released in HD, no doubt.

Still, seriously, Nintendo, what's the deal? You'll release Wii Play Motion and Mario Sports Mix, while allowing your system to get overrun with Game Party derivatives. Yet, when a really good game falls in your lap, you refuse to release it in the United States. It's almost as if you don't want people to have a deep experience on the Wii for fear they'll go screaming to the hills.

Anyway, if you can find the way to play PAL games on your Wii, go out and get Xenoblade Chronicles. It'll tide you over until Nintendo decides not to release The Last Story in the US, and that'll give us another reason to get angry.

Final Grade: A