Xenoblade Chronicles ReviewJoe Green
Xenoblade Chronicles defines the concept of creativity. It is creative in reviving a genre that has become repetitive, it is creative in its scope, and it is creative in the twists the narrative so boldly chooses to take.
Let me start out by praising one of the game's most salient features: the combat. It is not only uniquely immersive and engaging for a JRPG, but it is fun. Pure and simple, good fun. When compared to what has repeatedly become a tiring, repetitive and off-putting aspect of many RPGs, Xenoblade looks to offer new potential for the style of game. At its heart, it is a real-time action-orientated platform, in which you and your two other companions fight in unison. The method of targeting and engaging the enemy on the battlefield is certainly reminiscent to Final Fantasy XII which should be favorable comparison to many enthusiasts. But there are clear differences, the main perhaps being that you do not take an active role in the combat mechanics of your teammates. But this is certainly not a downfall, as it allows the player to focus on their own attacks, whilst retaining some form of cooperative play with their squad, in the form of response-based button presses which encourage your team at crucial moments. These combination of timed button presses can have a dramatic effect on the outcome of a battle and in particular during chain attacks whereby strategic and quick response selection of the game's special moves allows the combo to grow in number and power.
The combat mechanics are helped by competent computer AI, diverse enemy variations, but most of all from the power of the Monado blade you wield after the game's opening sequences. Without looking to spoil too much of the unique powers which it acquires as the story's narrative progresses, from the offset it allows you to see into the near future; which rather cleverly ties nicely into the game's narrative in demonstrating the inescapable fates of your companions. It's a compelling feature, which allows added depth and strategy to the game's combat mechanics, by allowing you to see the next move of your enemy and plan your next move accordingly. However the time in which you have to react is limited and whether or not the destiny which you see can be changed ultimately, is another matter.
Moving onto the story, I think it best to describe character dynamics, as this forms a very integral part to the narrative's success. It tries - and succeeds - at creating engaging and emotive relationships between your characters right from the outset. It is also very successful at turning those character dynamics on their heads right from the offset. The story arc is not afraid to take unexpected twists in the story's flow and completely disregards many tired gaming conventions. After only a handful of hours I was already completely captivated by the ails of the world of Bionis and its people.
The voice acting is, for the most part, very well done and impressive to span the entire lengthy game on one disk. The local translation and oration is also surprisingly original and, fresh. Nevertheless it can at times seem a little over scripted and the voice-overs during combat are truly awful. They repetitively chant out the same slogans time after time and so it is a pity this one aspect was not given the option to turn off in the game's settings. Overall, it's by no means the best voiced game of recent years when compared to standards such as that seen in Bioware's productions; however this is not to say it's not an accomplished one in its own right.
There are so many unique aspect to the game which deserve high praise but above all, I think it has to be said that the music is some of the very best you will hear in any game this year. The score is infused with exciting rock riffs during tough battles and at the game's most epic story moments, the orchestral sounds are astoundingly good. They add to the moment's excitement and really stir up the need to get stuck into the action and upcoming battle. Without a doubt, some of the most memorable music scores I've heard in a game for a very long time.
Ah so where to end this relative gush of adoration for Xenoblade Chronicles? Whilst praise is given here in spades, I think it safe to say it deserves it. Monolith Soft have managed to single-handedly obliterate any notion that the Japanese RPG may be heading towards endless unoriginality and monotony. It has given a surge of hope for gamers that this genre is one which can still be enjoyed for more than just its sensationalized plots and blue-haired heroes. Xenoblade Chronicles is every bit as much of a must-own as those other epic Western RPGs of late. It stands apart amongst a motley group of 'family friendly', uninspired Wii games of the last year. If anything, this is the highest praise I can give it, in that it was worth holding onto my neglected Wii for alone. Yes, the graphics can be down right poor when you examine the textures, but the scale and artistic design of the world makes up for it to a great extent. I challenge any gamer not to be impressed by the scale of the scene as you stand upon the Bionis Leg for the first time: a sight not dissimilar to those seen in the graphically stunning Final Fantasy 13. This is a captivating and thoroughly enjoyable game. If you own a Wii, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.