Solo Gamer Reviews

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Solo-Gamer Review: Xenoblade Chronicles - Page 2

GAMEPLAY (cont'd)

Sharla in a jungle bikini
There's even something for the perverts

There are also a myriad of collectables. Each area in the game has a unique set of floating blue orbs that can be added to a "Collectopaedia" in your menus (which offers its own rewards as it is completed), gifted between your characters to build "affinity" (more on that in a minute), sold, or traded. There are also items dropped by enemies that you'll need for the many side missions, and crystals mined from big glowing veins (and also dropped by enemies) that are used to craft gems. In other words, expect to have an enormous inventory. The good news is that, with your ability to see the future, certain items and collectables are sometimes marked as important for future quests, to prevent you from selling or dropping them carelessly.

And holy crap are there a lot of side quests. I haven't mentioned it yet, but this is an enormous game world. There's no overworld map, but unless you're in the middle of something story-related, you can fast travel to any landmark you've been to, even if it's on the other side of the Bionis. This is useful for completing side quests, which are listed in one of your menus. There are nearly 500 total quests, and if you decide to do them all, you'd better be prepared to log a ridiculous amount of hours playing this game. They aren't terribly varied--usually you're asked to kill a specific monster, collect a certain item, or track down a certain character--but they never seem to get old. This is good, because if you don't do a good amount of them, you don't stand a chance against the higher-level enemies just around the corner.

Make no mistakes: this game expects you to work for it, though the insane amount of side quests eliminate any sense that you are grinding for experience. Also, like with items you'll need later, quests are marked if they are time-sensitive. For example, early in the story, you come across a camp of refugees who will offer you several side quests, most of which are marked. You don't know why they are marked, but if you press on with the main storyline, you'll realize that the people in the camp move to a new place, rendering most of their quests impossible to complete. Quests are also marked if they are mutually exclusive, if you have to choose between them. This is incredibly helpful, something I hope every RPG will do from now on.

The Collectopaedia
Everyone will find something to obsess over; for me, it was the Collectopaedia

You don't have to stress out too much, though, if you miss something (which you will, unless you're a damn dirty cheater using an Internet checklist), because Xenoblade Chronicles offers a "New Game Plus" option when you beat it. You can start all over again, carrying over all your experience points and many of your goodies. This is helpful if you want to get all of the game's "achievements," which are nearly identical in nature to Xbox Live achievements, only instead of gamerscore points, you are rewarded various amounts of experience for completing them. Some of them, as best as I can tell, would be nearly impossible to complete in one playthrough.

The last thing worth noting is the concept of "affinity" outside of battle. Your various party members will start to like each other as they build affinity in battle or outside of battle (through gifting, certain bits of dialogue, or special cutscenes called "Heart-to-Hearts"), and the more they like each other, the more special skills they can share. Each character earns skill points, in addition to experience points, which they can use to customize their skill tree, and characters can link each other's skills when they have enough affinity for each other (and "affinity coins," but I don't want to confuse you too much).

The main point here is that there is so much to do you will never get bored with the game. This is an intensely deep RPG experience that is designed for people who aren't afraid of a steep learning curve. What's amazing is that virtually every mechanic is perfectly balanced and useful (though gem crafting is a bit mind-numbing, I'll admit), and if you enjoy customizing and leveling up, engaging in side quests, building relationships with all the game's NPCs, or virtually anything else you can think of doing in an RPG, there is something here just for you. It's the most complex--and yet the most well-structured and rewarding--RPG I've ever played.

[Gameplay: 10 - This game has more depth, variety, and customability than any other game out there, but nearly everything works well and feels natural. And did I mention the booby jiggle?]


The Great Falls
Even in SD, the scenery is stunning

My poor Wii has never been asked to work this hard before. It's practically cliché to say that a game is pushing its hardware to its limits--I'm pretty sure I said that about Metroid: Other M and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword--but Xenoblade Chronicles will do things with your Wii that you won't believe are possible. As you play, if you keep the console out in the open, you will hear the thing spin, whine, and whirr like its sprinting through a marathon and completely out of breath, and the fruits of its labor are absolutely apparent on the screen.

The graphics cannot compete with those of an HD-capable platform--and gamers who play a lot of HD games are likely to be turned off by the blocky textures and poor facial animations (not helped by poor lip-synching, probably resulting from the translation) when they first turn on the game--but Xenoblade Chronicles manages to have beautiful panoramas and a nearly endless draw distance, where you can see tiny birds flying around the mountainous titan's head far in the background, as your characters climb up its enormous knee. The art and level design are equally impressive, with a unique blend of high fantasy and Japanese steampunk, not to mention the light dusting of H.R. Giger in some of the later character designs. The graphics, in short, are the best I've ever seen on the Wii, blowing both Metroid and Zelda completely out of the water. Where Metroid opts for small, confining spaces and Zelda hides the Wii's graphical limitations behind a gorgeous art-style, Xenoblade refuses to compromise on its vision, and there are some software engineers out in Japan who should be given a damn Nobel Prize for being able to pull it all off with the Wii.

Of course, there are some sacrifices that are made to achieve this impossible-to-understate task. There are some long load times, and whenever you start fresh from a save file, it takes the game a full thirty to forty seconds to pop in all your characters, the scenery, the minimap, and the menus. During some of the more intense battles, especially late in the game or in areas with dynamic backgrounds, the frame rate will drop considerably and the action will stutter and slow. Cutscenes, however, are never mired in pop-ins, hiccups, or glitchy oddities.

Reyn and the spider
Every epic fantasy needs a fight with a giant spider, and Xenoblade Chronicles doesn't disappoint

Since we're on the subject, it's worth noting that there aren't too many cutscenes. Many JRPGS these days--including earlier Xeno games--are filled to the brim with long cutscenes that are constantly interrupting the action, but Xenoblade doesn't overburden the action this way. There are certainly some epic cutscenes--including at least half a dozen during which you can put down your controller and eat a sandwich--but nothing as exhausting or time-consuming as, say, a modern Final Fantasy title.

The music is also exceptional, with a wide spectrum of tunes that rarely get too repetitive or in-your-face. There aren't many memorable themes, though, and some of the more sweeping parts come across as a lot of random strings with no coherent melody. There is the occasional moment of silliness or random electric guitar power chord, but on the whole, it is a well-scored game that deserves a place alongside many of Nintendo's best.

The voice acting is decent, with only a handful of cartoonish characters. Some of the main actors deserve credit for pulling off some truly awkward and esoteric dialogue, and they all deserve credit for lending a touch of realism to a story that is pretty far from grounded. Worth noting--though not affecting the score at all--is that almost all of the English voice actors have British or Australian accents. One drawback, however, is the battle chatter. Throughout every battle, your characters will talk to each other constantly: encouraging each other, talking about how easy or hard the enemies are, and cracking jokes when it's all over. They talk so much, in fact, that they are always talking over each other, with multiple repeated lines layered on top of one another in a babbling, incoherent cacophony. It's the only reason my wife couldn't be in the room when I was playing it, because her ears just couldn't take the dissonance.

[Presentation: 10 - Despite the annoying battle chatter, everything--the graphics, the art design, the music, the sound, and the voice acting--deserves top marks. This is the closest to perfection that you can get on the Wii.]


Shulk looking at the Mechonis
I haven't been blown away by a video game like this since the Twentieth Century

When playing other modern JRPGs--and I define "modern" very loosely as everything after Final Fantasy VI--I like to imagine an alternate universe where they stay truer to the classic JRPGs that made me fall in love with the genre to begin with, games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and Dragon Warrior. It's not that I dislike the general direction the genre has gone in, but I feel like a lot of the magic has been sacrificed in the transition to 3D games with extremely long, spectacular cutscenes, and more linear designs. If I tried my hardest to imagine what the genre would look like today if it were able to maintain that magic, the game I'd create would look a lot like Xenoblade Chronicles. It is the best thing to happen to the Japanese RPG since the original Final Fantasy, and I write that knowing full well what kind of pedestal I'm placing it on.

I've never given a perfect ten to a game before--and I've reviewed some of the greatest games of this generation--but Xenoblade Chronicles absolutely deserves it. I can find tiny little nitpicks like the weak camera controls and the annoying battle chatter, but those don't amount to a single percentage point of this enormous game's final score. It's far too late to convince jaded Wii haters--if Skyward Sword couldn't bring them back, I don't see how Xenoblade can--but if you still have a Wii in your house (or if you have a Wii-U), you owe it to yourself to buy this game immediately. I don't give game-of-the-year awards, but if I did, I don't doubt that Xenoblade Chronicles would win the top spot for 2012, easily beating multiple great games on the other, HD-capable platforms. It might even be a contender for the greatest game of this console generation, or the best JRPG of all time, and that's really something for a game that was barely on my radar last year.



You can't in good conscience call yourself a fan of JRPGs if you don't check out this perfect masterpiece.

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-e. magill 2/5/2013

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