Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Xenoblade: Chronicles Thoughts so Far

Monolith Soft's latest entry in the Xeno-series is a true delight. Xenoblade: Chronicles, with as new and inventive as it is for a JRPG, somehow still reminds me of staying up late playing 16bit SNES RPGs. And perhaps that qualifier of "for a JRPG" isn't fair anymore. Not every game largely labeled "JRPG" is menu driven and not every menu driven RPG is made in Japan. There are so many games that don't fit the mold that perhaps the whole category should be washed away. That being said, this sure as hell is a sign of JRPG relevance in 2012.




The first thing you should know about Xenoblade: Chronicles is that this game has systems. Lots and lots of systems. What do I mean by that? You have a system to do Chain Attacks, Positional Attacks, manage Tension levels, Skill Links, Weapon based skills (Arts), Buffs & Debuffs, a precognitive & reactionary mechanic, Crafting, Agro management, Cooldown management, NPC Relationships, party relationships, skill levels, character levels, talent trees and more. Systems, systems, systems. I'm not going to go in detail about what each one of these systems actually does (and i didn't even list them all!) but suffice it to say the game is deep. You are rewarded for skillful play and equipping your characters in a meaningful way. Which is not to say your characters are pigeon holed into one specific role. I know for a fact you can turn your tankiest character into a DPS machine.

Rereading that last paragraph my MMO past is clearly shining through. Knowing some of the standard MMORPG tropes will certainly help you on your way through Xenoblade as you deal with tanks, dps, agro management, target swapping and skill cooldowns. To a certain extent it's like playing your favorite MMO only faster paced and with an actual meaningful storyline.

And it is a meaningful story. A unique storyline in fact, marked by true character development where you actually care when your party members are in distress or in danger. Monolith Soft even integrates back-story and character development into the battle mechanics so you have a mechanics oriented reason for wanting to improve relations among your party members even if you couldn't care less about the story.


Honestly, I haven't been impressed with a Japanese developed non-handheld role playing game since Lost Odyssey but just like that tour de force; Xenoblade has it's faults. Most readily apparent is it's camera system. I've grown to hate it in only 5-6 hours of play. It's a consistent problem where you're in the middle of a multi-enemy frenetic battle and you're staring at a wall trying to figure out how to position yourself to the side of huge lizard that you can't see so you can reduce it's defense rating. If that sounds nigh impossible you'd be right. The control scheme doesn't facilitate fixing this issue in any realistic way at least when using the Wii-mote and Nunchuck. Using the D pad for camera adjustments is something about of a N64 game. And while I haven't attempted using the Classic Controller Pro yet - I already hear that while that may help you camera-wise; you then won't be able to both move and select your characters arts at the same time.

But these are minor gripes in the grand scheme of my experience so far.

What a superb amalgamation of ideas. An evolution of multiple genres transposed from the confines of Japanese development rigidity into a modern classic. A game where the combat is not just adequate but a bunch of joyous moments you look forward to due to its reward of tactics and skill as well as flashy presentation. Such a shame this game comes at the twilight of the Wii's lifespan and only through select retailers. While I'm working on being able to play this in Dolphin in uprezzed resolutions this game deserves some minor tweaks, graphical spit-shine and a re-release with the coming console generation. Heck, throw it on steam - if Reccetear and Ys are any indication you will at a minimum make a small profit.

Look for a review once I work my way through Xenoblade.

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