This game was played on a Wii with 49 hours of gameplay tracked
I love what Xenoblade Chronicles represents. If fans are loud enough they can get games they might not have otherwise gotten released over here. That was exactly the case with Operation Rainfall. Fans clamored for three JRPGs to be brought to the US. These games were Xenoblade Chronicles, Pandora’s Tower, and the Last Story. I’m really glad that these games were popular and that Xenoblade is getting a sequel. I like this even though I didn’t care for Xenoblade.
I hate not finishing games. I don’t like to review a game that I haven’t completed. I have actually been playing Xenoblade off and on for a few months now. The reason for this is that I would get frustrated and stop in the hope that absence would make the heart grow fonder. I would come back to the game and it wouldn’t be long before the game’s list of flaws would appear and frustrate me again. Eventually it got to be too much for me and I willingly threw in the towel.
It irritated me more than usual because I was really into the story. I really liked the characters, and was really immersed in the world the game had created. My solution was to watch the rest of the cutscenes on YouTube. I don’t feel that I missed out on anything by doing this.
Xenoblade is a story set on two giant worlds called Bionis and Mechonis. The twist is that both of these lands are themselves giant sentient monsters. They’ve been dormant for a long time and both have different life forms living on top of them. The organic life forms like humans live on Bionis whereas mechanical life forms live on Mechonis
The protagonist of the game is Shulk. He is a Homs (the game’s name for humans) that lives near the ankle of Bionis in a town called Colony 9. There he researches a sword called the Monado. One day his colony is attacked by a group of machines from Mechonis called Mechon. Shulk and his friend Reyn manage to fend off the Mechon attack but not before they manage to kill Shulk’s love interest, Fiora.
With vengeance on his mind Shulk and Reyn leave Colony 9 to track down the specific Mechon responsible for Fiora’s death. Along the way they recruit new members to their party and the initial quest for revenge turns into something much larger. This is what I like so much about this game’s story. What starts as a revenge tale becomes a coming of age story where all of the characters discover their role in the world.
I also love how the story handles the gray area of right and wrong and good versus evil. There are entire groups portrayed as enemies throughout the game. As it goes on they become less so as different characters motivations are revealed. The main bad guy changes throughout the course of the game and none of the twists feel out of place or stupid. I really do think this story should be experienced.
Sadly the game loses me with its gameplay. On paper this game should work. While in combat the player takes control of one of the party members. You don’t always have to play as Shulk. I chose to play as him often myself as he had a more balanced play style that I liked. You also have two other members of the party with you in combat at any given time and this allows you to experiment as each member of the party offers very different strengths and weaknesses. Leveling up is also fairly even so you never feel like one character becomes useless due to lack of use.
When in combat the character you control will auto attack the enemy. On the lower third of the screen there is a list of special moves that your character has. You scroll through them and select the one you want and the character will perform that move. These moves can cause extra damage, give status ailments, or heal party members. On paper this is a great system but the problem is the loose control. Numerous times as I played I would try and select one move but the reticule would shoot past it and I would select a different move. It was more annoying when I would try a healing move with the intention of healing my tank, only to end up healing myself instead.
A theme I noticed with this game was that all of my problems with the game are minor frustrations, but so many of them just continued to mount up, and in quick succession.
I like it when story and gameplay feed off each other. Xenoblade tries to do that and in a way that would make sense on paper, but it fails in execution. In the story Shulk’s sword grants him the ability of foresight. In the story it allows him to see the deaths of characters in the future and he uses these visions to change the future. In combat Shulk sees a vision of upcoming attacks from enemies. It shows the attack, how much damage it will do, if it will give a status ailment, and whom it will hit. This is a great idea. Unfortunately when it happens everything stops dead. It takes a long time to go through the whole thing. It kills the pace essentially.
A rough estimate puts Xenoblade at about 60 plus hours to just complete the main story. I have to wonder how much of that is the numerous interruptions for Shulk’s visions. Another thing that probably factors into it are how cheap the game can be when it comes to the enemies you face. While exploring the map you’ll be able to see all of the enemies in a given area. When you engage enemies, wandering monsters can interfere and attack you even while you’re fighting other monsters. The game tries to get around this by giving you a lure option to try and pick enemies off one by one. Again this seems good on paper but in execution enemies will still wander and interrupt your battles. Also you can only lure enemies so far away. There are times I tried to lead them away but after so long they gave up chasing me and went back to their original areas.
Also there are giant monsters roaming the world as well. They are level 96 and you don’t fight them until postgame. Naturally when you’re level 25 and you see a level 96 monster you would avoid it. I of course felt the same way. Unfortunately I would fight other monster nearby because you need to grind in this game. So I would initiate battle with other monsters only to have a level 96 monster wander by and get involved and wreck me in one hit. Again the game tries to circumvent this by having a flee option, but the loose controls made me skip past it, and other times I would start to run only to have one attack kill me.
The game also tries to help out by having a special gauge. When you fill it up you can do a chain attack, which can be devastating when unleashed and its great to use. The meter has three tiers and you can sacrifice a tier to instantly revive a fallen ally. However this also fails in execution because there are times when your allies will fall in battle and they are impossible to locate in the heat of the battle because of the loose camera control.
The game did its best to have a huge sense of scale but unfortunately the Wii is not a system that can handle it. As soon as I got into fights with more than four enemies the game would experience significant drops in performance. With all these characters all using particle effect heavy attacks the game just cant handle itself.
Like I said the game’s flaws seem minor when said individually but all of them kept piling up in quick succession. I did my best to suffer through them just to make it to the end of the game. I really wanted to experience the ending myself, but I just couldn’t do it. I was getting so angry dealing with all these problems that would result in me dying. Eventually I realized that it wasn’t worth my continued frustration to try and enjoy a game just because a bunch of other people liked it.
I love the world of Xenoblade Chronicles. I think that Mechonis and Bionis are just as good of characters as the humanoid ones in the game. I like how each race in the game goes beyond stereotypes. I loved exploring this world that was massive in scope. I appreciate all the attempts the game made to help the player overcome the flaws it had, but it was not enough.
Through all of this though, I am still excited for Xenoblade X. It will be a day one buy for me. I think that being on a more powerful system with a more reliable control setup will help significantly. Also I think being a sequel allows the dev team to fix all the problems with the original. I’m looking forward to finding out.