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Xenoblade Chronicles

It begins with an epic battle, a clash of titans in a world without time or form. The scale, the scope, and the vast expanse of the gameworld are established in this moment. The two giants collide, swords clashing in the misty gulf of the universe, and developer Monolith Soft makes it very clear that you're about to embark on something special. Much like the thundering behemoths that mark the game's opening, Xenoblade Chronicles is groundbreaking. It's a true evolution of the Japanese role-playing game, shedding the restraints that have caused the genre to stagnate, while retaining the tropes that made it popular in the first place. It's fast-paced yet in-depth, challenging without being punishing, and features a combat system that draws on the best parts of the RPG world, both Eastern and Western. It's remarkable to think that this understated release--which sadly hasn't even been confirmed for North American territories--might justifiably be hailed by many as one of the most important JRPGs in years. 

Xenoblade Chronicles, known in Japan as Xenoblade (ゼノブレイド Zenobureido?), is a role-playing video game published by Nintendo and developed by Monolith Soft for the Wii console. The game was announced during E3 2009, when a trailer was released to media. The trailer shows a futuristic sword-wielding character battling giant robots and creatures as well as third-person exploration gameplay. In January 2010, the game was renamed from Monado: Beginning of the World to Xenoblade to honor Tetsuya Takahashi, "who poured his soul into making this and who has been working on the Xeno series". The game was released on June 10, 2010 in Japan, and was released on August 19, 2011 in Europe and on September 1, 2011 in Australia. There are currently no plans for a North American release.

  • Excellent sense of pacing  
  • Combat is fantastic, in-depth, and fun  
  • Locations are vast and beautiful  
  • Huge game with loads of interesting things to do  
  • Thoroughly modernises the genre while respecting tradition.


While Xenoblade Chronicles has numerous areas in which it shines, its combat is paramount to the overall experience. Action takes place in real time, with enemies immediately visible in the field. Some enemies are aggressive, others passive, enabling you to pick your fights wisely. In the beginning, fighting involves choosing one of a series of attacks. Rather than simply requiring you to choose a command then sit back and watch, each attack has certain criteria that can be met to power it up or achieve a status effect. Attacking from behind with certain abilities causes extra damage, while attacking from the side with another can lower physical defence. This system adds a hands-on, real-time element to the combat that--while menu-based--is immediately accessible.  



Xenoblade Chronicles
Xenoblade box artwork.png
European cover art
Developer(s) Monolith Soft
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Director(s) Tetsuya Takahashi
Producer(s) Shingo Kawabata
Takao Nakano
Designer(s) Tetsuya Takahashi
Koh Kojima
Writer(s) Tetsuya Takahashi
Yuichiro Takeda
Yurie Hattori
Composer(s) Yoko Shimomura
ACE+
Manami Kiyota
Yasunori Mitsuda
Platform(s) Wii
Release date(s)
  • JP June 10, 2010
  • EU August 19, 2011
  • AUS September 1, 2011[1]
Genre(s) Role-playing game
Mode(s) Single-player
Rating(s)


In the millennia since the titans--Bionis and Mechonis--faced off against one another, their corpses have become entire worlds, populated by a variety of races and species. The game proper opens onto conflict. Colony 9, home to the main protagonist, Shulk, sits at the base of the Bionis' leg. The soldiers of Colony 9 are facing off against spindly mechanical foes--Mechons--in the crumbling, ruinous battlegrounds situated on one of the giant's thighs. The opening battle serves as a brief tutorial featuring party member Dunban, and then you're catapulted one year into the future where peace has settled once more. Shulk and his friends Reyn and Fiora have managed to rebuild their lives in the wake of the Mechon attack. Naturally, the peace is soon shattered, and the Mechons return. Xenoblade does a fantastic job of easing you into the story, encouraging you to explore the expansive Colony 9 and come to the aid of its residents before launching into the tale proper. It's an example of the superb pacing which is prevalent throughout the game.

Each chunky, colourful command button features a text description. Then there are the character-specific moves, the chain attacks in which you can link moves between all three active characters, and the enemies that require specific means of defeat, and that's just to begin with. It's a complex and rewarding system that makes getting into fights a joy. And though the battle system is deep, it's remarkable just how well developer Monolith Soft has tailored it for accessibility. New combat abilities and tactical approaches are gradually introduced throughout the course of the game. Not once is the gameplay overwhelming; the pacing is sublime, and the tutorials are brief but descriptive. It functions on the ethos of "learning by doing," and in this area alone Xenoblade Chronicles outshines the majority of its genre stablemates. 

The focus on accessibility extends to more than just the battle mechanics. The world of Xenoblade Chronicles, the land that's sprouted up on the corpse of a giant, is vast and beautiful. Expansive plains stretch across ancient thigh muscle; waterfalls tumble from naturally formed cliffs. Swamps are moodily drenched in shimmering purple mist, and colourful forests populate the Bionis' chest. The sheer scale of each area is a sight to behold. Traveling around the Bionis could have been a pain, particularly as you frequently want to return to older areas or head to the other side of a huge map. Thankfully there's a fantastic fast travel function that lets you return to any previously visited landmark. There are often up to five or six landmarks within a given area, so when it comes to backtracking you're never required to spend time walking around pointlessly to get where you're going. And with so many interesting things to discover and so much going on, revisiting areas is an appealing concept. 

Gameplay

It has been stated that the game will convey the feeling of freedom to the player, and would not be as focused on cut scenes and story as its sibling games. The game will attempt to convey the feeling of freedom through large, expansive environments.

Xenoblade Chronicles has an action-based battle system where normal attacks will happen automatically at intervals, similar to the set up in Final Fantasy XII. However, special attacks known as arts each have their own cool down time as opposed to being on a continuous time queue with normal attacks and are performed manually by the player. Arts for each character have to be set on a "battle palette" at the bottom of the screen, which can be modified outside of battle. Movement of the character in play also needs to be executed manually with the analog stick, however this only plays an integral role when using Shulk's arts as they are more effective if used from the side or behind. Xenoblade also has the "Visions" system, where Shulk can see glimpses of the future, and the player has to try to react or prevent it from happening.
The game is known to have a number of features labeled as "Time Saving Support Features".The game will also have extensive customization, such as being able to change the character's outfits, and having those changes be seen in battle, field, and even event scenes. For instance, while the game will have a day and night time cycle, players can "wind the clock" to the time they want to go to, rather than just letting time elapse. Additionally, while the game is about exploration, many warp points will be added to aid in traversing the land. The game will also sport a "save anywhere" feature, a feature relatively rare among the console RPG genre. Another of the game's systems is the "bonds system", in which characters can partake in many optional sidequests with non-player characters. Completing such quests can alter perception of the character in the towns, and open up additional story sequences.

The story itself is on a grand scale, a tale of ancient prophecies and warring giants, of mechanical foes and royal conspiracies. Voice acting is quintessentially British to the point of sounding Dickensian, and while the acting is generally good, it can be jarring at first. There's the option of turning on Japanese voice-overs should you so desire, so even if the English voices sound a bit corny it's possible to overlook them altogether. This isn't a game that forces exposition--cutscenes are rarely more than a couple of minutes long--but it still spins a riveting yarn. What starts out as a simple revenge mission soon becomes something more. It all centers around the Monado, Shulk's mystical blade which, throughout the course of the game, gradually grows in power. 

There are loads of things to do within the world of Xenoblade Chronicles--from having optional conversations with party members and forging relationships with townsfolk, to discovering landmarks and hidden boss monsters--and you're constantly rewarded with experience and items. Dotted around the world are a variety of high-level beasts, some of which can't possibly be beaten in the first encounter. Rather than serving to annoy, these beasts just lurk around, waiting to be defeated when you eventually reach a high enough level. And even if you do die, the game is very forgiving. No progress is lost outside of the fight you're in; you simply restart at the nearest landmark. There was perhaps a danger that this could make things too easy, but the difficulty curve is hard to fault, and the challenge is well thought out. Xenoblade Chronicles never punishes you for failing (even allowing you to avoid rewatching cutscenes should you die on a boss). It encourages experimentation, risk taking, and, most importantly, having fun.  

Characters

  • Shulk is the main protagonist of the game. Early details show that he is able to wield the energy blade Monado. His first act upon acquiring the "destined weapon, the Monado" is to hunt the Mechon, the mechanical forces of the Mechonis (Kishin), that attack his home, known as "Colony 9".
  • Fiora is Shulk's childhood friend and the younger sister of Dunban.
  • Dunban, age 30. Considered a great hero by all on the Bionis (Kyoshin), Dunban previously wielded the Monado against the Mechon (Kishinhei). He was a principle force in the battle of Sword Valley (approximately one year before the game's main events take place). Prolonged use of the Monado took its toll on Dunban, and afterwards he could no longer use his right arm, and is unable to wield the Monado. However, he is still able to effectively wield a katana with his left arm to fight his enemies.

  • Reyn - Another of Shulk's childhood friends. Although he is a member of Colony 9's Defense Force, he can often be seen at Shulk and Fiora's side. He uses a shield-gunlance, which can switch from shield mode into gun or lance mode.
  • Sharla - A medic of Colony 6's Defense Force. Uses an ether rifle as her primary weapon but is also skilled in curative ether so fills the role of team medic.
  • Melia - A powerful mage that uses ether arts. She is member of the High Entia race (Haientaa) who reside on the head of the Bionis (Kyoshin). Her age is unknown, but her brother is 151 years old. She seems to show some interests in Shulk later in-game.
  • Riki - Looks like a child but he is actually 40 years old, and he has at least six children. A member of an race of merchants known as Nopon. Riki is a "black sheep" for his denying his race's destiny. A natural story-teller, he will go on at length about how he is actually the true legendary hero spoken of in the prophecies. He also sometimes cheers up the team when they are in despair.
  • Dickson - An old friend of Dunban. He uses gunblades in battle.



Finding fault with Xenoblade Chronicles is not an easy task, but it's not without the occasional downside. Despite the intricately modelled outfits, character faces are bland and have a tendency to look a bit false, with Shulk's face in particular having the appearance of makeup painted on an egg. Occasionally, finding where to go can be a bit of a headache. The map is uncovered as you go, and the quest marker arrow points directly to your objective, but it does so without taking the layout of the land into account, so an objective may require you to circle around a cliff, for instance, when the arrow gives the impression that you can head in another direction. In a game where exploration is so rewarding, though, it's a minor issue, and even if you intend to power through the story and ignore all the optional extras, it's a problem that crops up only a few times. All of these flaws are minor compared to the relative excellence of the rest of the game. The action controls better with the Classic Controller, but the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo is perfectly serviceable, although the lack of a second analogue stick means the camera can be a slight nuisance occasionally.

 Xenoblade Chronicles is a remarkable game. It drags the JRPG into the 21st century, modernising many of the genre's traits and nailing a pace that outclasses the majority of its peers. Even coming from Tetsuya Takahashi--a man whose previous credits include Chrono Trigger and the other Xeno titles--it's a hugely surprising, versatile game. It has everything that seasoned JRPG veterans are looking for, but it also manages to lift the barrier for entry for those new to the genre. It retains the traditions it wants to and modernises the aspects it needs to. It's not only one of the best JRPGs in years; it's also one of the best RPGs regardless of subgenre. Xenoblade Chronicles is a captivating, magical game which deserves to be hailed as the revolution it is.

Watch Xenoblade Chronicles video trailer for more details.

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