“It is every man’s desire to change the future.”
“The following is a guest post by The Valiant Vision Mage.”
Xenoblade Chronicles was originally planned to only be released in Japan (2010) and Europe (2011). Many fans knew this game was good, however, and started the Operation Rainfall campaign to get it localized in North America (2012). Since then, we’ve received the game in handheld form (Xenoblade Chronicles 3D in 2015) and on Wii U Virtual Console. There was also a spiritual sequel, Xenoblade Chronicles X, released for Wii U in 2015, and there will be a sequel, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, on December 1, 2017.
But I’m here to review the original Xenoblade Chronicles and the 3DS port. The original game was said to be one of the greatest RPGs of its time by critics, and while the 3DS port is slightly worse in terms of graphics and performance, the rest of the game is just as amazing. I’m sad to say I played the 3DS port first, but even that port is my game of 2015.
And it’s still my favorite single-player game of all time.
But what made the game THAT great?
The “Xenoblade” portion of the title refers to the Monado, a Legendary blade that is known for being the only weakness of Mechon (living Machinery), but there is also still a lot to learn about it. Trust me, unless the last bit of the game has been spoiled for you, you know next to nothing about it until then. “Chronicles” likely refers to the journey Shulk is about to take with the Monado and all he will learn along the way.
Even what I consider to be “the long Part 2 of the Prologue,” which would be after the tutorial but before Shulk leaves on his journey, is a fairly large spoiler in my opinion. But I’ll summarize the beginning of the game after that. Shulk has reason to get revenge against a Faced-Mechon called Metal Face. He aims to climb all the way up the leg, back, shoulder, and sword of the dormant titan that he lives on (called the Bonis), in order to reach the opposing titan that Metal Face seems to be from (called the Mechonis), but the questions are still there. Will he make it? Will he live to see himself to get revenge? Who will he meet along the way? What Dangers will he face?
This is the story of Xenoblade Chronicles.
The 8-Bit Review
Being the first game with “open-world” elements I had ever played, Xenoblade Chronicles was a sight to behold.
You don’t live on a random continent or planet. You live on one of a pair of titans, standing in an endless ocean.
Each species of character, plus many Homs (humanoids) in the story of the game have great variety in their appearance. There’s also quite the variety of Mechon as well as environment. The resolution is sub-standard for the game’s time, along with some animation of the characters, but those would be my only graphics-related cons, with many pros to back the game up.
The music is the part of the game I’d be most likely to say “I’m really feeling it” to in a literal sense. The music in this game uses the right instruments and techniques to trigger emotional responses. This first track was breathtakingly beautiful for me, and it’s just the title screen music. Take a listen:
After the first cutscene in the prologue, it goes to the tutorial… playing a boss-fight theme! This track should have one’s heart racing if they are immersed enough into the atmosphere of the battlefield:
And this was the spot in the prologue, after the tutorial, where I knew something was very intense!
The next track is a better sample of most of the game. This music only plays during the day and in one area, but it gives one a good feel for the day-time music:
The night-time music is usually a softer, more peaceful, arrangement of the day-time version:
There are dozens of tracks in this game, for environments and for other settings. There is one track that really took me by surprise, especially in the context it’s used in:
That track usually plays during the most emotional cutscenes. I’m confident that either it’s organized around the cutscenes to fit each part of them, or more likely, the cutscenes are formed around it.
The following video is an early-game SPOILER, but also a better representation of the previous music track:
There is a lot that can be discussed regarding gameplay. While I’ll go over the basic RPG elements and Battle Mechanics of this game for the review, explaining each and every one would likely make this review too long for anyone to want to read. Instead, I have included screenshots to help describe these elements.
In terms of RPG elements, this game has experience, discovery of new locations (which gives you extra experience), equipment that can alter the experience in or out of battle, bonds between characters, collection of various items, shopping and trading, time of day, quests, and Skip-Travel. I’ve included a slideshow below to help explain and visualize some of these elements:
While not all of these elements are necessary to complete the game, they add some options to aid you in your quest.
You target an enemy, move around it while automatically attacking, and select from a menu of special attacks called “Arts” in a real-time battle. To add even more depth, there’s an aggro mechanic, Monado Arts, incremental status effects, skills that effect battle, encouragement, helping your allies from status effects and incapacitation, chain-attacks, and visions.
Some battle mechanics are described in this slideshow:
The most intuitive of these mechanics, in my opinion, is the vision mechanic. What it is would be the ability to see when a party member is about to be knocked out and how they are knocked out. You are then given usually up to 12 seconds to change the future of the battle to make sure that doesn’t happen. All of these mechanics are important, but the two biggest mechanics are Monado Arts and the ability to have visions.
This game can be very challenging at times, in terms of both strategy and recommended experience-grinding.
For example, the second Faced-Mechon you meet has resistance to almost everything you can do at the time. This is because even though the Monado is the only weapon that can defeat Mechon by itself, it can only do 1 damage (out of what’s very likely thousands) to Faced-Mechon. The story explains more, but for now I will explain what the tutorial tells you is its weakness. Have a chain-attack ready, and get ready for a Break-Topple combo with Daze as an option as well. Use the chain-attack (once it’s ready), inflict break, then topple (both will only work during a chain attack), then do all the damage you can while you have the opportunity (as all mechon are vulnerable when Toppled). Telling you any more about this fight I would consider a spoiler, but I’d say every boss brought challenge to the table on the first attempt.
Another example would be whenever you have to fight humanoids, there’s some lore in the early-game that reveals why the Monado doesn’t work. Even while other weapons would work in this case, you get used to using the Monado throughout the game to fight almost any enemy with the best results.
And then there are what have been called “Super-Bosses”. These optional bosses, only available to fight late game, are unique monsters and are higher level than the max level of the playable characters (you can get up to level 99, they can be as high as level 125). Even with all this, there are still other layers of strategy, which include other gameplay elements.
Speaking of other gameplay elements, there are also times where you just need to figure out how to handle a quest, craft the right gem, find secret areas, and while the list goes on, you probably have the idea by now. In terms of secret areas, I’m talking “top-tier, hard-to-find areas” that even indicate to you that they’re secret. I don’t think I’ve ever completed a more challenging game.
The story in this game took me by surprise time and time again. Some things where completely surprising, such as very large twists in the story. Others were not a surprise to me in terms of outcome, but very much so in terms of how the story got to that position. Shulk has the Monado, but how does he get it, how does he unlock its power, and how does he complete his objective? The biggest mystery in this game, by a longshot, is the Monado, its power to defeat Mechon and perform other actions, why it allows Shulk to see the future in order to change it, and this mysterious character that is first seen in a vision.
I would dive into the story more, but with the risk of spoiling it, I won’t at this time.
Here’s part of a cutscene showing how the power of the Monado can suddenly provide a new ability to Shulk:
NOTE: This would be more surprising if experienced in one’s own playthrough.
The playable cast of Xenoblade Chronicles is composed of:
- The Monado-wielding Hom – Shulk
- The brawny-but-not-so-brainy Hom – Reyn
- The Colony 6 Defense Force Medic – (name not spoiled)
- The hero of the Battle of Sword Valley – Dunban
- This year’s Legendary Heropon – (name not spoiled)
- A princess whose species is not spoiled – (nor is her name)
- And… I’m not spoiling anything about the last one except that you technically meet him/her in the early part of the game
The NPCs that take key roles are also amazing. One of them is a complete mystery. Some seem non-existent until later on (when they start to twist the story). Others seem like the good guys or bad guys until revealed that they’re evil or good respectively. There’s quite the variety of cast in this story.
And then there’s, in my opinion, the best character:
The legendary blade – the Monado itself
This cast works with the story very well, and I couldn’t ask for a better cast for Xenoblade Chronicles.
While the message this game conveys is not entirely clear until either the game is beaten or the individual parts of the message are put together by the player, the message is a great one regardless. The basic idea I got of the message was that if you’re not comfortable with your foreseeable future, do what you can within reason to change it. The future doesn’t just happen by chance or chaos, it has to do with the decisions we make, and the determination we have to pursue those decisions on what the future should hold. At the same time, it also teaches that you won’t always be able to change the outcome of an event, in which case the outcome should be accepted even if it takes time.
For me especially, this is a powerful message even today. Bad things still happen, and we have to have the strength to either change the future or accept it as it comes, we just need to choose which one when the opportunity arrives.
An example of both that may be personal for some of you would be a natural disaster. You can’t bring back the dead, but you can help the injured and the recovery otherwise of people in the area. If you have the ability to alter the outcome of something and want to do so, by all means, have the strength to do it!
If I were to give a rating on how unique each of the previous six bits are, most of them would match their score for how good they were in general. The main reason the visuals are good is because they show some unique characters and environments. While many video game companies these days are producing games with either fantasy or sci-fi elements in their music, this is the first I know of that did both and had fantastic results. Xenoblade Chronicles combines gameplay elements of JRPGs, RTS games (such as auto-attacking and selecting moves from a real-time interface), an open-world element, and likely more things that I’m not thinking of. While difficulty can hardly ever be classified as unique, Xenoblade Chronicles does a good job of balancing challenge and forgiving gameplay-mechanics.
I’ve never experienced a story quite like this one, and I hope that keeping spoilers to myself will keep the story fresh for others. Sure, some of the cast is typical, but it’s all a strong cast in a unique story. How much more unique could they be unless the in-game species were even more diverse?
And I’ll even admit, I haven’t played many JRPGs (unless you count Pokémon), but only two cone to mind that have the same message. These games are also arguably some of the best games ever made, they are The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
While I have not yet experienced some of the story elements inside the game in real-life, I still have a strong, personal connection with this game.
Practically every cutscene with the “Engage the Enemy” track has something powerful, emotional, and even if exaggerated, relatable. Think about losing someone or something important to you, wanting to change the future, wanting revenge, being stronger than that desire for revenge, being in a situation where you may all end up dead, even simply feeling discouraged. All of those situations are integrated into the game in a way that really sticks with me. Even the world and gameplay were both unlike anything I’d seen before. I had never heard of an “open-world” game before this one (even if it isn’t completely open-world).
My only issue with the game relates to something that I won’t go into detail about, but it had to do with the portrayal of religion toward the end of the game. Basically a certain deity in the game that seemed to be good betrays its followers and tries only to kill everything, seemingly mocking religions with deities that do good for their people. If you ignore that fact though, my one-and-only regret regarding this game was not playing it back in 2012 (I played the New 3DS port in 2015). I don’t even regret accidentally deleting my 24-hour save-file because I got to experience about a third of the game all over again.
If I could recommend one Wii-era game to a core-gamer, it would be Xenoblade Chronicles, and I can’t wait for the sequel on Nintendo Switch!
Aggregated Score: 9.1
The Valiant Vision Mage wants to be part of changing the future of gaming journalism. He enjoys more than anything the positive interactions with fellow gamers, and hopes to gain more interaction through blogging about his experiences with games. He puts the experience of a game higher than how it looks or sounds. So when it comes to talking about good experiences in gaming, you may run into the Valiant Vision Mage. Read more at lodestarvalor.wordpress.com.
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Categories: Game Review