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Jarrod Mawson
01 Sep, 2011

Xenoblade Chronicles Review

Wii Review | With the help of two Gods we discover JRPG nirvana.
For almost the entirety of this generation, Japanese role playing games have been polarising audiences. Whether you love 'em or hate 'em, there's no denying some fans feel a little burnt out, many venting frustrations at the lack of evolution and modernisation of recent titles. Cynical as this outlook may be, there's a silver lining. Every once in awhile the industry spits out a true gem, something representing the highest levels of quality, ambition and polish that gamers expect. For many Japanese gamers that title was Xenoblade, a title we're finally seeing on the English side of the world as Xenoblade Chronicles.

At a first glance Xenoblade Chronicles could easily be mistaken for any old role playing game. Abundance of loot? Check. Quasi-turn based combat? Check. Upgradeable party? Check. These foundations of traditional RPG design are set in stone. But as you go through the checklist you'll find yourself not just ticking a box here and there, but marking off absolutely everything. Weapon upgrades? Yep. Relationships between party members? You betcha. Unique monster fights? Of course. We're struggling to think of anything that Xenoblade Chronicles doesn't have squeezed in between one feature or another.

We all know the risks of having too many features, such as half-baked ideas and erratic game pacing that can never find footing. These issues often arise in 'kitchen sink' game design, where the drive to have everything outweighs the benefit of focusing on fewer things and doing them well. Is it possible for a game to be too big? Xenoblade Chronicles doesn't seem to think so, and with the compelling case it presents its extraordinarily hard to argue otherwise.


Sam and Frodo prepare for the adventure ahead.

Sam and Frodo prepare for the adventure ahead.
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It all starts with one hell of a bang. Two towering Gods, the organic Bionis and the mechanical Mechonis, stand in an endlessly sprawling ocean, locked in a timeless battle. As each delivers a fatal blow to the other, the classical tale of Gods birthing life takes hold, and the surfaces of these colossal beings become alive with living creatures. The Homs, equivalent of humans, occupy the lush forests and boundless plains on the immobile Bionis, while the mysterious, robotic Mechons have made home on the cold, steel surface of the Mechonis, each trapped in a seemingly reasonless war with the other.

After an exciting and superbly directed introductory cinematic we're introduced to the leading cast. Driving the story is Shulk, a young technical wizard, and accompanying him is his meat headed best buddy Reyn, as well as his confident childhood friend Fiora. Life long citizens of Colony 9, they soon find their home under attack by a heavy platoon of Mechon, a battle which rekindles Shulk's interest in the Monado, an ancient energy sword enchanted with the ability to slice through Mechon. With a thirst for revenge and heart for adventure, Shulk and co head off into the great unknown to take down the Mechon threat, meeting a colourful cast of would-be warriors and companions along the way.

The desire for revenge acts as a solid entry point to the adventure, and though the premise may sound simple on the surface, the story does a wonderful job of keeping themes relevant and intriguing. Not all is what it seems, and Xenoblade Chronicles nurtures a very real drive to push on and see what will happen next. It helps that the protagonists, by large, avoid the stereotypical archetypes all too common in Japanese games, and instead present themselves as having strong personalities and defined, believable relationships, noted quite early on by the enjoyable banter between Shulk and Reyn.

Though the characters are likeable, it's the world of Xenoblade Chronicles that steals the show. Setting the entire game atop the corpses of two dead Gods is original by its own merits and the rich world lore and highly varied environments only take it further. For such an original and unrealistic concept there is a stunning degree of authenticity and atmosphere to the game world, written and visually crafted not as an oversold hackneyed gimmick, but as an established universe where proven writers have poured their heart and soul into every corner. Immediately gripping and incessantly alluring, the world of Xenoblade Chronicles is one of the most impressive we've had the pleasure of experiencing in some time.


A very colourful cast.

A very colourful cast.
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As we mentioned, Xenoblade Chronicles features practically every role playing mechanic under the sun. Throughout the game you'll find these mechanics mostly split between development of your character and party, and integrated in further reaching global objectives and exploration. Ultimately though, Xenoblade Chronicles is driven by the same core gameplay behind all traditional RPGs; exploring the world, battling monsters, finding loot, and levelling up your party.

While numerous RPGs are known for tedious grinds and monster battles that far outstay their welcome, Xenoblade Chronicles takes a to-the-point approach for combat. The quasi-turn based combat has players selecting from various arts and abilities, while positioning their character in real time to take advantage of enemy weak points. This speedier approach to combat should not be confused as shallow, and is instead highly tactile, demanding full attention and interactivity, as ignoring special abilities and relying on automated attacks is a recipe for failure. As expected, battles also utilise enemy weakness types and defensive maneuvers, of which is most obvious during the Monado's 'premonition' ability. During these sequences the game will alert you to an upcoming powerful enemy attack, the damage it will cause and to whom, and how long until the attack is initiated, giving players a chance to prepare defences. This ability adds a fairly basic though wholly welcome spice to battles, and nicely integrates the story with gameplay mechanics.

A fairly ridiculous amount of loot, from weapons to armours, gives plenty of options when customising your characters, but it’s the arts and party developments that are most interesting. Each party member has three branches of skill development, with XP contributing towards unlocking arts in sequence of the selected branch. However, never is the player locked to a specific branch, allowing multiple arts and skills to be developed along multiple branches. Each of these unlocked skills can themselves be levelled up as well. The cherry on top is how arts are integrated into party relationships. Every character has a base 'affinity' towards other characters, and this affinity can be increased by using a party member more frequently and helping them out during battle. Increasing affinity with a party members develops a stronger relationship, which then allows you to spend affinity coins to share one party member's unlock arts with another.

Choosing relatively simplistic battle mechanics could have very easily resulted in over simplified party and character development. Instead it has seemingly done the exact opposite. The wealth of options and customisable abilities allows players to imprint a mark of play style and identity on every party member at their disposal, and have total control over their developments, relationships and actions.


Bow down to the mighty Xord!

Bow down to the mighty Xord!
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When you're not fighting you're exploring instead, and Xenoblade Chronicles goes far out of its way to enrich the game world with people to talk to, places to visit, and secrets to discover. Hundreds of secondary quests and trading posts are available from the many NPCs that populate towns, most with personalised names, daily schedules and affinity ratings to other NPCs. Though most secondary quests boil down to fetch and hunt variety, the time and potential frustration spent completing each is cut down significantly by removing the need to return to the NPC that initiated the quest, marking them as complete the moment the collecting/killing criteria is filled. Rewards for completing quests usually boil down to experience points and loot, with the added bonuses of increasing affinity ratings for NPCs of a particular town. Greater town affinity increases your reputation, which in turn unlocks higher levelled quests and, of course, greater rewards.

Questing, chatting or trading in towns can chew up plenty of hours alone, but world exploration is another matter altogether. See that hill on the horizon? That tower reaching towards the sky? If you can see it, you can go there, and more often than not there will be something to discover. The open world is littered with unique monsters, secret locations and surprises, and every step of the way you are rewarded with experience. The simple act of discovering a new area is itself an XP reward, leading to a strong incentive to simply get out and wander. Scattered throughout all open areas are collectables to help fill your collectapedia which rewards with loot, and hidden heart-to-heart checkpoints allow party members to reminisce and bond, increasing their affinity rating. Over every hill and around every corner is some valued reward to help you on your quest.

Issues with backtracking are rendered obsolete, as Xenoblade Chronicles allows instant travel to the multitude of discoverable landmarks, an extremely useful feature considering the size of the world, made even more valuable as landmarks act as nearby checkpoints should you fall in battle. Even the time of day can be altered instantly from an easily accessible menu, making it much easier to hunt down NPCs working to specific schedules. It's as if Monolith Soft thought of every unnecessarily time consuming issue and fixed it, and every tweakable option a player could want and programmed it in. The sheer wealth of rights so aggressively outweighs the wrongs, so much that the wrongs become little more than nitpicks. The only feature we feel is missing is a bestiary, and even that is hardly a necessity.


Good looking. For a corpse.

Good looking. For a corpse.
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Making the best of the Wii's hardware in the current market must be quite an ordeal, as developers wrestle with technical limitations while trying to find the most appropriate art style for their game. In the case of Xenoblade Chronicles Monolith Soft has done nothing less than accomplish the impossible. Not for a second do we doubt that the developer has squeezed every last drop out of the Wii's processing capabilities, delivering jaw dropping draw distances, minimal pop-in and loading, all at a silky smooth framerate. Its ironic that many other open world games on more powerful systems, though more visually impressive in rendering, suffer from many problems that Xenoblade Chronicles does not.

All of these technical accomplishments are spearheaded by an utterly gorgeous art direction. A vibrant palette colours the world with striking beauty, and the curving, misshapen terrain of the two dead Gods is sculpted with perfection. Realism is abandoned in favour of creative environments built on mysticism and imaginative technologies, a vision spread in equal wonder across the polarising art styles of the Bionis and the Mechonis and nothing short of immeasurably captivating.

Then there's the soundtrack which requires no introduction. A collective of talented musicians have bound together to craft a powerful score, composed of a striking variety of memorable tracks. Sweeping classical orchestra themes, upbeat tunes on natural instruments, rocking heavy metal battle tracks and dark experimental synth are only a taste of what’s on offer. Each track has been constructed to speak in harmony with the mood and feel of each environment, with many shifting in tone and composure as the world time cycle shifts from day to night. Memorable is an understatement.

As for the translated voice work, the English dub is surprisingly enjoyable, with a solid performance from a vast majority of the cast, and the strong English accents a very welcome change from the usual thick American that makes up most localisation. But it wont be for everyone, so Nintendo has allowed purists to comfortably switch to the original Japanese voice recording with English subtitles, an option far too few localised games offer.


The great fields of hay fever.

The great fields of hay fever.
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Though quite traditional at its core, Xenoblade Chronicles separates itself from the mainstay of most modern Japanese RPGs by treating the player with respect, eliminating the frustrating grind and tedium of progression in favour of reward. Reward for fighting, reward for talking, and reward for exploring. The worry of losing hours of progression for one small mistake, fear of unexpected ambush from an unbeatable foe, and hours monotonous grinding in bland environments just to progress are nowhere to be found, instead encouraging players to be daring, to take risks, and to keep pushing forward.

Too often have we seen developers equate 'streamline' to 'remove features'. Instead, Xenoblade Chronicles goes in the opposite direction, streamlining only for the sake of accessibility and modern conventions, at absolutely no cost to content or gameplay depth. This zero compromise approach has resulted in a game of tremendous ambition; jam packed with features and well over a hundred hours of play time. It represents the absolute best of what traditional Japanese RPGs could be, and triumphantly what Japanese RPGs should be.

A deep breath of fresh air for an arguably stagnant genre, Xenoblade Chronicles is essential gaming for anybody with a flavour for role playing, and is destined to be one of the most iconic games of its genre for this generation, while raising the bar for which all similar games will be judged.
The Score
A deep breath of fresh air for an arguably stagnant genre, Xenoblade Chronicles is essential gaming for anybody with a flavour for role playing. It represents the absolute best of what traditional Japanese RPGs could be, and triumphantly what Japanese RPGs should be.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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21 Comments
2 years ago
Yep, definitely gonna have to dust the Wii off for this one.
2 years ago
Definitely getting it.
2 years ago
Wow, it sounds like a helll of a game. I was already sold on it but this review just made me want it some more. The whole explore and get rewarded sounds super cool. Can't wait. 9.5? Wow that's an elite Palgn score!
2 years ago
awesome review, did you actually finish it Jarrod? I thought you only started like 3 days ago? Anyway definitely recommend this game, it's so addictive, if it weren't for the system save points which lets you take a breather after a certain story sequence I would forget to turn the wii off.
2 years ago
I did. I've had it since Thursday last week. Safe to say I've dedicated a frightening amount of time to this one between then and now icon_lol.gif. Not that I mind, as its so sublime.
2 years ago
I love this game and am ready to declare it as the best JRPG I have played since FFXII/VI and DQ8, my previous high water marks for the genre. Absolutely worship this game. The red controller rules, too. Might even buy an Aus copy today as well just to show how much I care about games like this being localised for us.

I hope everyone on PALGN buys this game!
2 years ago
I hope it is in retail today, as I might even buy it at RRP. I can't remember the last time I did that.
2 years ago
Oooh, pleasant surprise. Thanks for the review, Jarrod! Might have to think about getting this one after all.
2 years ago
Thanks for the review. Looks like this title may rekindle some people's interest in the Wii icon_smile.gif Hopefully this sells well and we'll get Last Story and Pandora's Tower locally as well.
2 years ago
I'm so torn as to whether to get this. On one hand, it looks fantastic, on the other, I just know I won't finish it (or even get very far), since it's on Wii. I can never get into lengthy games on the Wii.
2 years ago
Scrav wrote
I hope it is in retail today, as I might even buy it at RRP. I can't remember the last time I did that.
With 3 EBs & 2 GAMES I've been typically saying "Yeah, we got 2 copies, one was pre-ordered and I'm buying the other" (they know I imported mine) I wouldn't hold my breath for massive AU sales figures.

It's the first time I've reconsidered my cheap import buying given that Nintendo (for the 3DS) NEEDS to have local & pal sales figures now that its region locked. (although frankly we should have changed to US-english region years OK - the PAL standard is irrelevent here and we don't need 5 language translations)
2 years ago
I'm torn, I am kind of burnt out on JRPG's and have ended up hating games that get wild praise (Eternal Sonata, Baiten Kaitos) but that seems like a fucking glowing review.
2 years ago
JRPG not for me. But lovely review by Jarrod (as per usual)has piqued my interest. Perhaps it is time to afford the genre another chance?
2 years ago
its been a long time since ive bought a game on launch day, now ive been taunted by not being in the same city as my wii... watching trailers and listening to the soundtrack just isnt the same...
2 years ago
How is the game with the remote and nunchuck?
JB doesn't have the red controllers in til next week for some reason.
2 years ago
I'm only about 3-4 hours in but I'm having no issue with the Wiimote and nunchuck. There's no motion control feature that I'm aware of and the button layout doesn't feel awkward either. It wouldn't hurt to try the game with them before purchasing the controller for it.
2 years ago
emech wrote
(although frankly we should have changed to US-english region years OK - the PAL standard is irrelevent here and we don't need 5 language translations)
Don't worry, as HD becomes the standard there will be no need for this region locking garbage. Oh wait, Xbox lol.
2 years ago
im 7 hours in (3 of those were joyous level grinding and sub quests) and im really impressed with this game.

the dialogue is so rich! random npc's have so much to say about the world and each other, and the family/ friend relationships are so interesting. finally an rpg that works hard to create a believeable world in its own version of reality. (not to say there have not been other games to do that, just that its good to see it in a modern jrpg and on a less powerful system to ps3 and 360)

this game obviously had a crew of great writers, instead of just great artists delivering a gorgeous, but shallow storyline.

lets hope these caliber of games keep coming icon_smile.gif
2 years ago
Thanks Soap. You are right, all fine with the remote an chuk.
2 years ago
Nic_231 wrote
Don't worry, as HD becomes the standard there will be no need for this region locking garbage. Oh wait, Xbox lol.
Uh... I hate to rain on your hate parade but any region locking in future consoles is going to be thanks to sony since they developed the blu-ray and the region locking it uses.
2 years ago
Benza wrote
Nic_231 wrote
Don't worry, as HD becomes the standard there will be no need for this region locking garbage. Oh wait, Xbox lol.
Uh... I hate to rain on your hate parade but any region locking in future consoles is going to be thanks to sony since they developed the blu-ray and the region locking it uses.
I don't think it will be a problem, the PS3 uses Blu-ray, but it's completely region free. It's movies that you have to watch out for.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  01/09/2011 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $99.95 AU
Publisher:
  Nintendo
Genre:
  Role Playing
Year Made:
  2010
Players:
  1

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