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5 Reasons I'm Addicted to Xenoblade - Page 2

The Game Constantly Teases You with Bigger Enemies

Xenoblade Chronicles
This is going to end in tears

Start playing the game, and it won't be long before you encounter your first enemy over level 90, probably just wandering around the countryside and utterly ignoring your insignificant, level 7 characters. Sure, you can try to attack it, but your chances of even hitting it are slim to nill. Indeed, you can spend a hundred hours leveling up and beating the game and still not be good enough to even hurt the beast. My favorite example is "Immovable Gonzalez," a level 90 ape-like creature that deliberately puts himself in the middle of a path you can't cross without being attacked. While it is technically possible to jerry-rig a team that can take him out at a relatively low level (probably no lower than in the 40s), you'd be hard-pressed to move Gonzalez until you're well into a second playthrough.

In fact, get far enough, and you'll discover some enemies that beat your own level cap. You can't level up beyond 99, but there are a handful of secret monsters out there that go up to level 120, just taunting you with their very existence. Beating one of these so-called superbosses is no easy task, even for the best Xenoblade players, but knowing they are out there, waiting to be defeated, is a carrot that is difficult to ignore. Perhaps once you have beaten the toughest of the tough (a dragon called Avalanche Abaasy, in case you're wondering), you can finally stop playing the game, but I can't stress enough how long it will take you to get to that point. I'm not even close, to be honest.

Superbosses aside, there are high-level enemies hanging around everywhere. The game won't stop reminding you that they exist and that you can't beat them (their names are highlighted in blood red until you're within a few levels of them), so this carrot is constant, not some obscure goal you would only know about by reading a strategy guide. This is a pretty simple psychological trick to keep you playing the game, but it's seriously effective.

The Characters are Well-Written

Xenoblade Chronicles
To be fair, there is some annoying angsty melodrama, but not as much as you'd expect

If you're going to spend over a hundred hours with your characters, they'd better be interesting, and Xenoblade Chronicles delivers. Much like the plot itself, the characters come across as fairly standard JRPG clichés, but slowly reveal themselves to be much deeper and more interesting. I'm not going to try to convince you these are literary greats or anything like that, but they are at least engaging, and as you develop the relationships between them, it is interesting to see how they grow.

One mechanic that helps out here involves these things called "Heart-to-Hearts." Go to a specific place when two of your characters have a certain affinity and you can watch a brief cutscene with branching dialogue that only involves those two characters. Many of these are frivolous, but some reveal hidden details about the characters and their backstories that enhances the plot in surprising ways. There are seven characters in total, meaning that there are twenty-one potential combinations, and each combination has three distinct Heart-to-Heart segments, which makes for sixty-three cutscenes that all have the potential for character development and exploration. No matter how one-dimensional a character is upon conception, these interactions force them to become more fully realized.

But it's more than just the main characters. Even throw away NPCs--of which there are many--give the impression of deep inner lives under the surface. Side quests can help develop even the most minor of people, and some will surprise you by showing up again and again and being involved in unexpected things. For example, there's one character you can find early on, hiding in a cave, who will ask you to defeat some creatures and do a task or two to help him out. If you follow a certain quest line later in the game, you will discover that he's actually running an illicit drug smuggling operation for some junkie aristocrats in another part of the world.

There are Secrets and Achievements Galore

Xenoblade Chronicles
What ARE you playing at? Hmm... (Spoiler alert: it's not purgatory)

I know what you're thinking: this is a Wii game, and the Nintendo Wii does not have achievements. That's true, of course, but Xenoblade Chronicles has an in-game system that rewards you with EXP when you pop an achievement. And instead of a piddly 20 or so achievements like you'd find in your average Microsoft product, Xenoblade Chronicles has a truly astonishing 200. For achievement junkies like myself, that is crack.

But there are also a lot of secrets to uncover, things that may strike you as oddities when you first encounter them but which gradually take on meaning as you move through the game. The best examples of this involve the "giants," an apparantly extinct race of beings that left pedestals and ancient doorways all over the place for you to find and puzzle over. During your travels, you might encounter a group of scientists trying to unravel the mystery of the giants, and of course you can assist them in their efforts. However, getting to the real end of this side quest is an arduous task that you can't possibly finish until well after you've beaten the game.

And that's not the only set of secrets out there. Maybe it's an odd ledge you can't seem to reach, a character who seems out of place and won't talk to you, or the sudden realization that a certain type of enemy you've been fighting for a while is more than it appears, but something is bound to trigger the mystery-solving neurons in your brain. What separates Xenoblade from other games that have these kinds of mysteries is that you can dig deeper (eventually). With the aforementioned game-changing twist late in the plot, a lot of these mysteries actually have satisfying solutions for those patient enough to go looking for them.

Xenoblade Chronicles is such a masterpiece that it doesn't even need a sequel, but the fact that Monolith Soft is getting ready to release one is reason enough to be excited. Granted, Xenoblade Chronicles X isn't a direct sequel, but there are reasons I can't get into why a direct sequel would be impossible. Indeed, a direct sequel wouldn't be as good, because the main mystery has already been explained. So, where a regular gamer might look at Xenoblade Chronicles X and see just another JRPG, people who've been addicted to Xenoblade, as I have, see a new puzzle to solve with new characters to explore, new enemies to fight, new gameplay to master, and a brand-new mythology that is guaranteed to be more than it appears.

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-e. magill 7/23/2014

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