Xenoblade had been on the very top of my list of games to play for a solid 6 years. I remember reading reviews for it when it came out in Europe. Critics and fans said it was the best RPG in decades, that it was "the Chrono Trigger of this generation". People who knew what they were talking about were throwing superlatives at the game to no end.
Suffice to say my expectations were very high going into the game. After finally beating it, I can safely say that Xenoblade was as good as I'd hoped.
If you live in North America, you're probably familiar with the stupid release history of the game. It came out April 6th, 2012, as an exclusive to EB Games / Gamestop - meaning Walmart or Best Buy didn't carry it. Knowing they had a monopoly, EB Games intentionally withheld copies in order to artificially inflate the price.
I went to an EB Games on release date and they didn't have it. Surprised? Imagine when I looked it up and saw that no stores in Ontario carried it. For years I checked the EB Games website sporadically in the morning, to see if any used copies turned up. When they did, I would call in advance to reserve it, and then bus for hours to a remote store and look for it. I did this maybe 5 times around 2012-2014, with no luck.
Once I got to the store, looked around, didn't find it, and asked the cashier if they had it. She pointed to the left as another guy was buying it maybe ~30 seconds before I would have had it (I didn't reserve it, it was also my birthday lol). Once I tracked down a copy in Vaughan, Ontario, which I'd successfully reserved, and managed to buy it! Only when I got home and tried it, it turned out to be broken. The good thing was that I bought an extended warranty, but the bad news was that it didn't offer refunds, only a swap for a working copy (which would require it to be in stock). -_-
Several EB Games employees confirmed that HQ didn't want to circulate it for some reason, and that very often, employees would pick up for themselves any copies that came in. Years later, it turns out that these theories were confirmed when they finally gave up. As of writing, every store in Canada has at least 3 copies. Not only were they withholding copies, they were withholding millions of copies.
Xenoblade is fantastic. It surpassed my high expectations, it's the best game on the Wii, and is probably in my top 10 all-time favourite games. Literally the CT of the Wii era. Right from the title screen, you know you're in for something good. The game is made by people who have played many JRPGs, and made for people who've played many JRPGs.
+ AGGRO. For the love of god, the game actually has a threat mechanic (though they call it aggro, the two are different but related concepts). The tank/healer characters have skills that increase/decrease threat, and you can get gems that do the same.
+ Art/Skill trees. Not a huge addition to the game, it could easily have been cut, but it's still pretty fun. Nice to know that I can give characters extra run speed. Also it's really fun when I get an art book early that lets me level a skill way higher than it's supposed to be at that point in the game.
+ Gemcrafting. Super fun, rewards OCD/autism. By the end of the game your gems offer more advantages than any armor.
+ Characters are fun to play. Shulk can chain Slit Edge to lower armour, then Shadow Eye to increase art damage, then Back Slash to one-shot anything that's not a boss. Dunban is super fun, I maxed out his haste aura (double attack speed), and gave him gems which proc effects (poison, decrease armor, leech life) to effectively double the proc %. Melia is probably the most fun of all, stacking 3 element orbs which give a passive buff, then releasing them to do damage.
o Cooldowns instead of mana. Not sure how I feel about this. Makes combat more streamlined but also too simple. I kind of like managing my mana in a dungeon, it raises the stakes.
o Cities are quest hubs like in WoW. Not sure about this either. It gives some padding/scale to the game, but the quests are super generic and I don't read them. "Kill 10 x, get 10 y". I wouldn't say it's a chore, since the combat was fun enough that I had fun doing side quests.
- You can't switch characters in combat. I don't get why so many games do this. Only Summoner and FFXII got it right.
- Way too many equip items. Couldn't keep track of them. Re-outfitting my party was a chore, and if I prolonged it, then I had to sift through pages and pages of armor.
+ Plot is an enormous leap ahead of average for JRPGs. The villains are menacing and actually pose a threat, the Monado powers are awesome, the characters and dialogue are pretty good. Cutscenes were never boring, and I always cared about what was happening.
+ The plot isn't ridiculous and makes sense in a Sanderson-ian kind of way. It's very over the top, but it doesn't invent nonsense out of nowhere like the average Final Fantasy game. The players, the stakes, and the world are realistic and clearly-defined from the get-go.
- The third act is kind of a wreck. The game should have ended after the fight with Egil. Instead they add a twist, where there's a much greater threat than the perceived villain. Allies betray you, war plans go awry, and the main character is not what you expected. All of this was kinda stupid, like they're doing this "big dramatic reveal" to shake things up.
- The first two acts of the game are about Mechons vs. the people of Bionis, and the cycle of violence between the two titans' inhabitants. In the third act, the scale ramps up way to fast, and it becomes a clash of gods vs. mortals. Suddenly the game gets theological, which I found clashed too much with the main themes up to that point. It becomes Evangelion, and Evangelion is terrible.
+ Graphics are great, full of color. Most zones are gorgeous. Weather effects (rain, snow, starfall) look great, the change between night/day is dramatic and looks amazing (Satorl Marsh).
+ Completely blown away by the scale of the zones. Makna Forest and Eryth Sea especially, I couldn't believe that the cliffs and waterfalls in the background were not background at all. Very impressive draw distances for places you can walk (up to 5 minutes away) and touch.
o Monster designs are average. Couple of cool ones, couple of plain ones. Nothing terrible.
+ Soundtrack is amazing, which is to be expected of a high-budget JRPG. Maybe not quite as good as the best Final Fantasies, but definitely up there.
- It's a crying shame that "Unfinished Battle" is only used once in a cutscene, and only for a minute. It's one of the best tracks, what the hell?
The game clocked in at around ~100 hours for me. I didn't end up doing much bonus content, though there is plenty. I'll probably play it again, but not anytime soon. Amazing game all-in-all, if only the last 5-10 hours of the game weren't so stupid, it would've been flawless.
Chrono Trigger is slightly better. Chrono Cross and FF6 are slightly worse.