Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) - Review by Chris
In comparison to the DS, the role playing genre isn't exactly represented by a healthy, diverse and excellent library of titles on the Wii, with but a handful available for gamers to while away their time. It's therefore fallen to Nintendo and Monolith Soft, whose credentials include the fantastic Baten Kaitos on the Gamecube along with the Xenosaga and Xenogears game, to help fill the void and provide a robust and lengthy experience to rival what has cropped up on the other consoles and handhelds. Can this partnership produce the truly great JRPG experience that the Wii has been yearning for?
Xenoblade Chronicles is set within a world where two gods, Bionis and Mechonis, battled it out against one another only to fall dormant with no victor. In their dormancy, life sprang up on both of the gods but the war continued, with the Mechon of the Mechonis regularly attacking the Homs of the Bionis. It is on Bionis that the story starts, as you'll take control of a Homs called Shulk who has a knack for creating and fixing equipment. While scavenging for materials, Shulk and friend Reyn are ambushed by Mechon left over from a recent attack on their colony. Events quickly escalate with a full on Mechon assault of the colony, leading to some emotional cutscenes, and Shulk finding he can wield a fabled weapon known as the Monado, which has the power to slice through Mechon metal where other weapons cannot. Seeking revenge for the attack on the colony, Shulk, with the Monado in hand, and Reyn set out to track down the leader of the Mechon. From there, the story continues to twist and turn, casting doubt on allegiances and creating unexpected ones, creating a thrilling story that you'll find hard to pull yourself away from.
The gameplay takes elements of RPGs past and present, such as the Final Fantasy games and World of Warcraft, to create something unique and thoroughly engaging. Large scale environments filled with creatures and unique monsters are laid at your feet and you're given free reign over what you can do at any time. Want to push on with the story? Go ahead. Want to go off and explore? Why not. Want to take on the seemingly never-ending number of side quests available? You can do those too. The game allows you to go at your own pace and experience the world however you want, rewarding exploration and time spent on side quests with plentiful XP to help in levelling up as well as new gear and aiding with your affinity with characters in your party or in the towns, villages and cities. This is of course just the tip of the iceberg, with gem crafting, a collectopedia for items and achievements thrown into the mix creating a wealthy and rewarding side experience to the main offering.
The battle system similarly allows you free reign over what's happening. With battles taking place in the environment rather than cutting to a small arena, you'll target your enemy and simply initiate your attacks. From this point onwards, the game automatically carries out the standard attacks for all characters leaving you to move around the field and select the appropriate Art to unleash on your foe, these then replenish over time or as you land standard attacks. It's an incredibly simple system but one which has a surprising amount of depth as new characters possessing all sorts of skills join your party, although you cannot give orders to or change character during battle, allowing you to tactically unleash attacks on your enemies to break, topple and then daze them. Successfully working together and proper timing of the quasi- quick time events allows you to improve the affinity between characters and fill up your chain attack meter, which can be used for the aforementioned reason or to pick up fallen teammates.
The real depth comes when you add the Monado to the fold as, when an enemy is about to unleash a hard hitting attack, the Monado allows you to see the attack unfold and gives you time to setup defences or unleash healing spells to protect the party. It's a unique twist to the gameplay and one that comes in very handy throughout the run of the game. Similarly, depth comes in customising your Art loadouts prior to fights to best suit the situation as well as levelling them up to increase their effectiveness and reduce their cooldown periods. You can even link Skills across the multiple skill trees for characters with other teammates to gain health, strength, defensive and ether bonuses at the start of or during the run of battles.
Being absolutely packed with content, so much so that it's hard to fit it all into this review, from the main story line to the side quests and everything there after, a simple run through of the game with minimal deviation from the main story will take you roughly 70 to 80 hours and you can expect to put much more into the game than that if you seek out all of the side quests and other activities, easily topping the 100 hour mark and marching towards the 200 hour one depending on how deep you go. It really is an astonishing amount of content and one which is wrapped in a truly epic tale that'll hook you and leave you wanting more even when it's all over. Thankfully, a new game + mode becomes available allowing you to keep your stats and certain items on a second playthrough.
Both the Classic Controller, be it the original or the newer iteration, and the Wii-mote and Nunchuk are supported as control setups for the game. Neither present any issues when it comes to playing the game, with the former feeling more traditional in its layout and perhaps being the best for managing the game's camera control and the latter setup foregoing the need for any form of motion input for a purely button based setup, a huge plus considering the shear length of the game. Your choice of setup will ultimately come down to preference and which you feel most comfortable but with the amount of time you'll invest in the game, the more traditional Classic Controller setup does give a slight edge in being a little more comfortable.
Large open environments, beautiful vistas that stretch as far as the eye can see and an incredible attention to detail, they're not things which automatically come to mind when you think of a Wii game or even think possible on the console but Monolith Soft have managed just that and created one of the largest worlds in an RPG to date, and one which provides plenty of wow moments at that. From swamps to forests to open plains, Xenoblade Chronicles runs through the clichés in terms of locations but each one is delivered here in such splendour that it's hard to believe the game is running on the Wii. You'll constantly be amazed at the attention to detail which has been put into creating each location to make sure they feel like a living, breathing environment with every nook and cranny filled with something of interest to make it worthwhile going out of your way to explore. It not only shows every Wii game how it should be done but it shows some of the bigger franchises in the genre how environmental design should be done.
It's not just the artist design of the locations, however, that helps to cement the look and atmosphere of the world. The developers have really gone to town in the character design department, with some truly unique and fantastic work having gone into the design for the creatures you'll see wandering about the environments going about their lives. Organic or artificial, living or mechanical, all of the creatures look superb and are animated extremely well to be wholly believable in their movement. The Homs characters aren't quite as good to look at, falling slightly under the other design work in quality as a result of some lower polygon models, especially in the facial areas, but even they still manage to look great.
There are some slight downsides to the visuals, such as some low resolution textures and some hefty slowdown at times as the game tries to manage both your battle and the ever present living, breathing ecosystem, but these issues are rendered largely moot thanks to perhaps the best artistic design on the Wii to date and what is an absolutely breathtaking game to behold at times.
From the hauntingly beautiful piano score which pens the title screen, setting the tone for what's to come, to a soundtrack that runs the gambit through many genres and styles, Xenoblade Chronicles excels on the audio front with one of the best and most memorable scores to appear in a JRPG for some time. Each track is exquisitely composed and tied down perfectly to match the accompanying location or event, never missing a beat in reinforcing the story, the characters or the world you're free to explore. It's a soundtrack which will undoubtedly fail to leave your mind long after you've finished the game.
Dual audio in the form of both the original Japanese voice work and a new English dub are included in this effort giving players the option of which vocal setup to listen to and both are expertly delivered, even if there is the occasional cheesy line of dialogue, making the conviction of each character believable in all their efforts throughout the story. A slight misstep comes in the form of the lip synching, which is off in both language settings, and some liberties with the translation to English but they're minor points for an otherwise fantastic package.
It's been quite some time since an RPG of this calibre has been release on any console but with Xenoblade Chronicles, Nintendo and Monolith Soft have created a modern day great and undoubtedly the greatest JRPG experience to arrive on a home console this generation. Rarely has everything gelled together so seamlessly with everything, the visuals, the story, the gameplay, the audio, and the controls coming together to create something which many would never have thought possible with the Wii and very single moment of the game's epic runtime is an exhibition in video game craftsmanship. It represents a new standard for the modern JRPG and provides an experience which is not to be missed.
Pro: Truly epic story, beautiful visuals and soundtrack, deep and enjoyable gameplay, 100s of hours of content
Con: Some low resolution textures, frame rate can take a hefty knock on occasion
Final score: 9.5