Hey, everyone, how y'all doing? Since I'm done with my first year now, I have a bit more free time so I decided to write a review to celebrate! Here it is, my review of my game of 2011: Xenoblade Chronicles.
+Fantastic battle-system with plenty of customization options
+Long, high-stakes story, filled with interesting characters
+Wonderful music score and great voice-acting
+Hundreds of side-quests
+Beautiful world full of wonder
-Some lag in bigger battles
Every so often a game is released that is magical. A game that reminds you of why they have the potential to not only engage you, but transport you into a world that is unlike anything you've ever seen. A game that defines the golden standard of entertainment for its respective genre and even for its medium overall. These are lofty words, but words that perfectly describe the genius of Xenoblade Chronicles, a "Japanese" role-playing game by Monolith Soft. It's not only that it does almost everything better than its contemporaries, but brings this reviewer back to the days where simply inhabiting the game's world gave a sense of joy. With an amazing, well-paced and high stakes story, fantastic combat, great music, wonderful visuals and incredible length, XBC proves that there's still life in the ol' Wii; and more importantly, it proves that there's still life in a genre that has seen much better days.
A long time ago, two giants, Bionis and Mechonis, waged a solitary war in an otherwise empty world. Their gargantuan swords clashed again and again, their bodies being chipped away by the repeated blows. Eventually, both stopped in their tracks, swords interlocked in their final swings. Eons later, life has sprouted on their decayed husks, creating colonies and becoming one with the inner workings of the giants. The story focuses on Shulk, a young man who live on Bionis in a little town called Colony 9. Along with his friends Reyn and Fiora, they live a peaceful life. Peaceful, that is, until the denizens of Mechonis (the Mechon) attack, leading to multiple casualties and the partial destruction of the entire town. Among the casualties is a close acquaintance of Shulk, who will not be mentioned here to avoid spoilers. Shulk, driven by his desire for revenge, sets off to defeat the Mechon and get to the bottom of exactly why they attacked in the first place.
The set-up is not all that complex, but from the get-go the story is incredibly gripping. Shulk is not a typical hero who is omnipotent and selfless. In fact, his hunger for revenge can be chilling, and he often makes incredibly irrational decisions as a result. This is only one example of how the game's characters are not just cookie-cutter archetypes that are only there to fulfill the status quo. This humanizes the characters, making you care for their trials even though you may not always agree with their actions. The entire first half of the game is focused on introducing the cast, their dreams and ambitions, their personalities. This is of course interspersed with action, but it's an important prelude to the events of the second half. At that point the stakes go way up, and it ends with some truly important questions about the very nature of humanity and life itself. It's not just a tale of revenge; it's a tale of redemption, sacrifice, love, purpose and courage.
As might be expected by the aforementioned setting, the world of Xenoblade Chronicles is far from ordinary. You are literally trekking on the remains of a colossus, with areas corresponding to the various body parts it possesses. The sheer scale of the environs is therefore mind-blowing. When you travel around the arm, for instance, you can look down and literally spot areas where you've gone before hundreds of meters below you. And what's truly astounding is that the Wii runs this without a hitch. Sure, you aren't getting high-definition visual exuberance, but XBC puts 99% of other games' artistic design to shame. Every area has an insane attention to detail, right down to the last blade of grass on a rolling meadow, populated with all sorts of creatures from your wildest dreams. Variety is the key descriptor of the various areas of Bionis. From sulfurous swamps and treacherous glaciers to humid rainforests and floating island paradises, there's so much to see and experience simply as a tourist in this virtual world. Just taking in the scenery is a worthwhile venture that is almost therapeutic in its efficacy.
Most importantly, the game lets you explore the world fully and fluidly. In structure, it's a freeflow RPG that, though following a linear narrative, lets you stretch your legs and breathe whenever you get to a new location. For instance, the first area can take only a couple of hours to complete if you just do what you must to get ahead in the story, but if you go beyond those confines and do as much as you are offered to do at that time, you can easily spend up to ten hours just in the first colony. The game is filled with side-quests that are either timed or open to you for as long as you wish. These number in the hundreds and range from collection quests to monster hunts. These will sidetrack procrastinators easily but aren't at all distracting or vital to the finishing of the main quest, and they of course award you with treasures as you complete them. You may also open up new conversation options in the town you're doing side-quests for, ultimately building up a complete and interlinked community of which you are a part, which serves as an ingenious impetus to taking part in them even if the spoils aren't to your liking.
When this reviewer says it's freeflow, what's meant is the game's approach to combat in relation to exploration. The battles in the game are not random and you can see enemies in the foreground and choose whether or not you want to engage them. So if you see an enemy, you can bring up a combat menu, lock-on and plan ahead for the battle, often finishing some buffing-up beforehand. This combat menu is the core feature of the game's battle system. It's comprised of a number of spheres that each signify a particular ability, except for the middle one that has various options you can scroll through. When combat is initiated, you proceed to auto-attack immediately, and that only stops if you choose to use an ability instead (or move out of range). Those that have played Final Fantasy XII should feel right at home here, though there are obvious differences between the two with closer inspection (no Gambit system here). There's a wealth of different moves you can learn and execute, so there's always something new to experience in the heat of battle.
The combat is constantly enjoyable and fast-paced, and since you can micromanage your abilities and powers so thoroughly, you feel in charge of every moment. You can level up the various abilities with ability points you gain in battle, put on various equipment that are almost ludicrous in variety, level up special attributes through continuous battle and share those attributes between party members dependent on how much they've fought together. You can also manufacture specific crystals to put onto your equipment and boost its stats further. All of this makes it impossible to just wade into battle unprepared, you'll have to think long and hard about your party's set-up and pick what combination suits you best.
XBC works hard to always have something for you to do and even with all I've mentioned in regards to side-quests and fast and furious battles, this is only scratching the surface. Exploring the gigantic world is rewarding in more ways than one. By finding a new area, you are instantly rewarded with experience, and for special secret areas, that bonus is buffed up even further. By building up connections between different characters, via fighting or quest-solving, you can unlock special conversation points where you learn more and more about each and every character. While you walk around the environment, you'll also be able to mine crystals in caves and pick up area-specific items that you can put into a collection book. Once a row or page in the book is finished, you get awards. This is just a quick overview of other, but still not all, things you can do in XBC's world, and the sheer variety of things to do makes the game up to 100 hours in length for the dedicated player, though if the story is the only thing you're interested in, it might be a bit shorter.
One thing that hasn't been discussed is the music. The soundtrack in XBC is a wonderful thing to behold, and almost every piece perfectly complements the circumstances in which it is played. It's a fully orchestrated track which can vary from sad and haunting to jovial and upbeat. The voice-acting is also worthy of mention, since due to the localization being focused on Europe, the voices all have a British accent. To be honest, this is a pro in and of itself. Not all of the voice-over actors are equally as good, but in general, their job is executed with panache.
After all this gushing, can there possibly be something wrong with such a title? Well, yes, but those problems aren't at all very distracting. The most prominent is that in big battles, for instance against bosses or large groups of foes, the game has a habit of slowing down to a crawl. It usually goes away after some moments but it does get distracting and breaks the flow of the battle. Also, some of the side-quests are rather dull, consisting of you talking to a number of set characters and that's pretty much it. The lack of necessity in finishing these lessens the blow, but it's in stark contrast to the usual entertainment you can gain from finishing the game's myriad optional requests.
The Wii has had its fair share of rough patches, but with the recent releases of some truly extraordinary games (Super Mario Galaxy 2, Zelda: Skyward Sword, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, The Last Story), it's gained its place in gaming history as a fantastic and worthwhile console. Xenoblade Chronicles is the cherry on top, the defining title that designates how far developers can go on the little white box. It really is one of the finest games of this generation and will most certainly become a cIassic as the years go by.
Final score: 9.5/10.0