Developer: Monolith Soft
Content Warning: blood, mild language, partial nudity, use of alcohol & tobacco, violence, slight anti-theism
There is a tremendous amount of story in this game. That sounds like a ridiculous thing to say, but hear me out. You have the main plot, which is full of mystery, intrigue, betrayal, sadness, joy, and love. Then, each individual character has their own private story, that plays out during the game. If you make judicious use of the game’s Heart-to-Heart mechanic, you can learn even more about these characters and their various hopes & dreams. Going even further, there are many NPCs for whom you may perform an entire chain of side quests. These NPCs even have stories of their own, that you learn about while playing. Never before have I played a game that has given such background to non-critical NPCs.
As for the main story itself, it has its roots in a long-forgotten time, seemingly eons before the time of Shulk. In that time, two great beings were locked in a struggle for supremacy. The Bionis and the Mechonis, equal in power, fought each other to a standstill. In the end, the arm of the Mechonis was severed, and the Mechonis buried its sword deep in the flank of the Bionis. With these two coup-de-graces, the two colossi, their strength spent, both relented, falling into a great sleep, in order to recover.
Fast forward to present time, and the world as we know it is relatively peaceful. However, the mechon–the inhabitants of the Mechonis–would attempt an invasion. The Battle of Sword Valley as it is called, saw the homs of the Bionis falling to the onslaught of the mechon attack, as their weapons were seemingly useless against mechon armor. When it seemed all was lost, a hero named Dunban would appear on the battlefield, wielding an extraordinary blade known as the Monado, which had the ability to cut through mechon as if they were butter. Dunban would drive the mechon forces back, but the power of the Monado proved too much for him to handle, and he loses the use of his right arm.
One year later, the peace is shattered once again when the Mechonis attack again, this time from airships, giving the homs no time to prepare for the attack. As people are being captured by the mechon left & right, Shulk and his friends arrive to try and fend off the mechon. Without weapons that can damage mechon armor, the most they can do is topple the machines and make a run for it. Fortunately, Dunban appears again, wielding the Monado. However, this time, in his weakened state, Dunban can no longer control the Monado, and he collapses. Going for broke, Shulk takes up the Monado himself, and finds himself able to control its power without causing himself harm. He begins fighting off the mechon in earnest, protecting his friends and saving his town.
Then, a large mechon appears that has a face. This abomination has even stronger armor than normal mechon, and is able to withstand the power of the Monado. With all hope lost, his friend Fiora gives a last-ditch effort to combat the giant mechon with a tank. Unfortunately, she finds herself unable to effectively damage the metal-faced mechon, and is subsequently killed. Not long after, the mechon are called to retreat, and many inhabitants of Colony 9, along with Fiora’s lifeless body, are carried away by the mechon. Swearing revenge, Shulk resolves to take the fight to the mechon. With the Monado in hand and his childhood friend Reyn at his back, he sets of to climb the Bionis and wreak havoc on those that destroyed his happiness.
As the story unfolds, Shulk and his friends uncover the truth about the mechon attack, the origins of the Bionis & Mechonis, and even greater lore about the enigmatic weapon known as the Monado.
Throughout the game, you’re doing many of the things you’d expect to do in a classic RPG: grinding for experience, grinding for cash, and grinding for drops. However, Xenoblade Chronicles also has a trading system. Certain NPCs will trade items with you if they like you enough. You can raise their opinion of you by completing side quests, not just for them, but for the entire town. This will increase you affinity with that town. The higher your affinity, the more valuable items NPCs will trade with you. In the case of some items, this is the only method of attainment.
There is also a gem-crafting system, of which an astute player will take full advantage. This process turns raw ether crystals into useful gems. If you have slots on your weapon or armor, you can socket a gem to enhance that character’s skills and strengths. There are gems to improve stats like strength and speed, like you’d expect. There are also gems that can increase the chance of inflicting negative status on enemies, or resist falling victim to one yourself. There are even gems that will make arts (special attacks) even more devastating.
While this game has been described as “open-world” by many people, that description is a bit misleading. Each new area of the game is only accessible after a certain plot point has been reached. You cannot simply go off and seek your fortune as you would in a game like Skyrim. As such, progression is incredibly linear, and you’ll climb the Bionis slowly, unlocking each new area as you advance the story. Now, with that being said, each individual area is incredibly vast, and will take you many hours to explore fully, if for no other reason than there is at least one section in each area where the enemies are far too powerful for you when first encountered.
The combat system is straightforward. You have a standard attack that is performed automatically when you are close enough to the enemy. You also have arts that you can assign to your command bar at the bottom of the screen. When your party gauge is full and you are sufficiently close to your party members, you can perform a chain attack that allows you to attack an enemy simultaneously. Effectiveness of this system is affected by your party’s tension and affinity. The combat system also subscribes to the dps/tank/heal formula of many popular mmorpgs. It behooves you to follow this framework if you want to stay alive, at least until you’ve mastered the art of combat and customized your characters adequately for survival.
Xenoblade Chronicles is a visually impressive game. While it is by no means a paragon of its generation, the environments are detailed, colorful, and believable. As you roam the various landscapes, day will turn to night, bringing some different monsters out to harass you. Cut-scenes are well-rendered, with no lag or choppiness. The first time I stepped out on to the knee of the Bionis, and I beheld the aesthetic that the Mechonis strikes, I was aghast: a silent titan, looming in the distance, terrifying and home to the object of your vengeance. I thought to myself, “I am I going to have to fight that!?”
There are many little details that some people may take for granted. For example, in Colony 9, there are streetlights that come on at night. However, the one pitfall this game suffer graphically is in the fact that this game is exclusive to the technically inferior Wii system. The Wii does not have standard HDMI capability as the PS3 and Xbox 360 do, so if you want to experience this instant classic in the full 1080p it deserves to be (or as close to it as you can get), you’re going to have to shell out for an AV-HDMI converter.
The music of Xenoblade Chronicles is top-notch. The music for Colony 9 is particularly catchy and rhythmic. I especially appreciate the wood flutes. All of the other background tracks in this game are equally memorable. The songs are appropriate for their environments and they flow seamlessly from one track into another when you change areas or engage in battle.
The voice-acting is decent. You get all of the emotion and personality of Shulk and company without feeling like you’ve been bamboozled by low-quality sound or poor acting. However, this game, like many modern RPGs, follows the unfortunate trend of employing an exclusively British voice cast, which gives the game’s dialogue and narration a mono-accentual sound, that leaves me feeling a bit put-off. It’s hardly game-breaking, but it’s disappointing all the same.
So, all in all, Xenoblade Chronicles is a fantastic game; one of the best. It’s got everything you could want: an epic story, solid controls, memorable characters, a couple of love triangles, more side quests than you can shake a stick at, and rewarding combat. You will easily sink 80 hours into this title, quite possibly more. Then, with new game plus, you can run through the game all over again with your super awesome gear!
Photo Credits: GameFAQs
At the end of the game, Shulk is revealed to be a third god by Alvis. He is given the opportunity to decide the fate of the world. He decides that the inhabitants of the Bionis and Mechonis deserve a world without gods, in order to let them be masters of their own fates. He reforms all of existence with absolutely no divine influences, ostensibly relinquishing his own godhood in the process.
Some may see this as an anti-theistic statement, and I can certainly understand why. The people of the planet arrive at the consensus that a world where gods meddle in the affairs of mortals is bad. However, the gods of Xenoblade Chronicles, Zanza and Meyneth, as we find out later in the game, were mortals themselves in a previous reality. They were recreated as gods after their experiment created a new universe, becoming the Bionis and Mechonis, respectively. Zanza created the cycle of destruction and rebirth vis-a-vis the Telethia to ensure that he would always receive back the ether energy he so desperately needed to survive.
Unlike the “deities” of Xenoblade Chronicles, our God is timeless, immortal, and does not require energy for His survival. This game’s “gods” were once mortal, striving after mortal concerns, with mortal understanding of reality. It is therefore perfectly understandable that Shulk would want to create a world with no gods, for his only understanding of what gods are came from his interactions with, and historical lessons about Zanza and Meyneth.
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