Opening Turn: Xenoblade Chronicles

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So, I had the idea for this feature because I realized that what I’ve been doing more and more lately is sampling games and putting the ones that don’t catch my attention after an evening or two of good solid playtime back into the pile. As such, I figured that since I’m pretty much doing it anyway, I could impart this information to other people who are similarly busy. These will be brief one-shot articles that I really won’t even consider reviews. They’re really more like.. information about what grabs my attention, be it a merit or a flaw of a game, with additional information such as the game’s learning curve or whatnot that will help others to know what exactly they are getting into when deciding whether to pick up a particular game. So, again, in the interest of keeping it brief, without further ado…

Xenoblade Chronicles

What is it: A game you probably haven’t heard of until recently, even though it came out over two years ago. This is because it’s an RPG on the Wii, and for some reason, Nintendo didn’t think it would sell well in America despite having localized it in Europe. Which is a rant for another day.

Oh, that’s cool, so what does it play like?: Primarily, it plays like a single-player MMO. Many people have called it the first good JRPG in years, and I attribute that to the fact that Monolith Soft decided to make it play as little like a JRPG as possible. It’s open world. There’s an auto attack and a skill bar. It has aggro, for fuck’s sake. Basically, if you’ve played WoW, TOR, or Guild Wars, you’ll be right at home, and even if you haven’t, it’s not that hard to pick up and play.

Wait, you said it was like an MMO, does that mean there are fetch quests?: Absolutely. There is a metric fuckton of sidequests, both fetch, kill, and otherwise. It’s both a completionist’s heaven and hell. Granted, they are all optional, but on the flipside there’s a nice little town-development mechanic called ‘affinity’ that goes with it. All in all, it’s there for you to sink small bits of time into here and there without investing in hours of cutscenes.

Hmm, I remember this ‘Xeno-‘ thing before. Weren’t there other games in this series?:Sort of. You’re probably thinking of Xenogears or Xenosaga. These were both games that were written and developed by the same team of people (the Xenogears team left Squaresoft to form Monolith). However, Xenoblade has about as much to do with these games as Avatar had to do with Titanic. In fact, the creator wasn’t going to call the game Xenoblade at first. The original, more fitting title was ‘Monado’, which is the name of the sword that is the central focal point of the story.

So what grabbed your attenton?: On the plus side, the characters. I don’t know about all of you, but I’m sick of the ‘lone hero’ stereotype. The characters in Xenoblade are actually friends with each other /before/ the game starts, if you can believe that. Also, the voice acting is a nice change of pace. As much as I love Crispin Freeman playing every badass ever, the Brits did a nice job on these guys. Also, the ability to warp to anywhere you’ve previously been is a good touch. Oh, and the music is good. Really, really, really good. It’s a collaboration between six different composers, including Yoko Shimomura and Yasunori Mitsuda. Yes, it’s /that/ good.

And on the minus side?: I have some UI complaints. When you fast-travel, you can only do it within the same area. Granted, you can always warp to the area transitions, walk five steps, then warp within the next area, but why make the player take that extra step? Also, the item menu is very poorly organized. And there needs to be a ‘sell all junk’ command like in Dragon Age or ToR. Additionally, the biggest complaint I probably have is that all the world drops are completely random. For every large area, there is a set of things that /can/ be picked up in the blue orbs scattered across the field, but there isn’t any rhyme or reason as to /what/ drops. This is especially infuriating when a quest asks you to collect a specific item, and you can go for half an hour without getting any of them, only to pick up three in a row after you don’t need them anymore.

Anything else?: Nope! I can honestly say that this game grabbed and held my attention, and I have no problems recommending it to any RPG fan that still owns a Wii! Do yourself a favor and play it with the Classic Controller though, it really helps.

[This review is reposted with my permission at Attack Initiative.]

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