I am probably one of the odd ones having finished Xenoblade Chronicles after Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (I did not play Xenoblade Chronicles X). In fact, my love of XC2 is what kept me pushing through to the end of XC1. XC1 is good game, but I still find myself a bit puzzled at the high critical praise for this game compared to the somewhat lukewarm response to XC2. And in retrospect I prefer XC2. Personally I enjoyed the characters and battle considerably more in the sequel. I believe the dated presentation of XC1 may be partly to blame, the game is 6 years old afterall. Below I will briefly comment on the gameplay, graphics, sound, story, length, and overall fun factor.
- Mechanically, the game is very reminiscent of any modern MMORPG, but without the hundreds of random players running by you...and no server subscription fee! The battle system essentially uses hotkeys. Your character automatically attacks while special skills charge and must be activated by the player. Placement matters for some skills, which can do critical damage if conducted from the side or rear of the enemy. These skills also vary by character and have various unique qualities, but can also be chained together to temporarily paralyze the enemy (and do increased damage). For example, pink-colored skill icons inflict break, which if followed by a green-colored icon can lead to topple (which literally knocks the enemy off their feet), which if followed by a yellow-colored icon can lead to daze. There is limited time between each of these states so it is important to plan ahead rather than just button-mash every skill as soon as it becomes available. It works best when coordinated with your AI allies, but I found it to be a bit random. Quite often the window of opportunity to inflict daze was so short I found it a bit frustrating. Literally, topple would disappear just as my character was about to land the next blow.
- Through most of the game I found my AI teammates to be serviceable, but not particularly intelligent in tricky battle situations. For example, in a late boss fight my allies would be pushed into an acid pit during the fight by the boss. Instead of running out of the pit (which drains HP over time) they would continue on fighting in the acid pit! Get out of there Riki!! Also, they didn't seem to demonstrate any awareness of their own skills and how to do critical damage. I basically had to lure the enemy towards me and then position it so that my teammates' attacks would strike as critical. Then wait for the aggro to switch from my character to another to do my own critical hits. Thankfully, the AI was at least good about prioritizing my revival when falling in battle.
- Side quests, similar to any RPG, can be initiated by talking to NPCs across the many villages or camps. When within sight they are clearly marked by a "!" on the mini-map, which also appears above their head when close. The side quests in this game are very MMORPG'sh, which means BORING. They are made up of primarily fetch quests (find some obscure item) or hunts. Many will be completed naturally, though some may require a bit more work. Given how obscure the hints can be I would recommend going to http://xenoblade.wikia.com/wiki/Xenoblade_Chronicles if you need help, it contains a wealth of details on how to find just about everything in the game. Frankly, without this online guide I probably would not have completed it. What adds to the frustration is that villagers have time-of-day schedules. You will find different villagers in towns at night vs. in the day. The same is true of enemies in the field. The game does a poor job of documenting this for you in any way, making quests an all-too tedious process.
- Experience points for leveling up characters comes from battles, locating checkpoints on the map and key areas, and side quests. Because of this I found that I generally had to complete most of the side quests to stay up to level with the enemies. You need to stay around the same level as the boss your facing. In fact, I was surprised how one or two levels could dramatically change the difficulty of a boss. On multiple occasions I ran into bosses that I couldn't even scratch. One or two levels higher and I'm mopping the floor with them.
- Very dated by today's standards. Some areas still look quite beautiful such as Eryth Sea. But others, like the wooded areas of Makna Forest are too pixelated. The character models have not aged well. In particular, their hair reminds me of PS2 era RPGS. Some have commented on the faces but I think they are ok. The armor and outfits can get a bit ridiculous. It's made even worse if you equip unmatching armor. It would have been nice if you were given the option to upgrade existing equipment you like using parts from other equipment.
- The 3D is not the best for exploration so I found myself often playing with it off, though it really makes the characters pop-out when watching the story sequences.
- There are definitely some areas where the music is amazing. Satorl Marsh at night is a real standout. Some of the climatic music near the end of the game is particularly good as well. The voice acting is fine. Some have complained about the voice acting in XC2, but it's just as good if not better than XC1. Several reviewers of XC2 complained that Tora was annoying, but I don't see any difference between him and Riki in XC1. Most important, the voices were distinct and seemed to fit the characters quite well. XC1 and XC2 both suffer from a bit of repetitive battle dialogue. The sound effects seemed fine to me though.
- Given the high praise of this game I was expecting something truly unreal plot wise. Instead I found some interesting plot twists but nothing particularly shocking. Maybe it's just because I've played so many RPGs I'm hard to surprise anymore? I think the plot was fine, it certainly had the extreme anime world-altering mythos vibe going. Most surprising to me was the fact that XC1 and XC2 essentially had the same ending...So if you finished one you've basically seen the ending to both...to an extent.
- Simply put, this game is too long, ridiculously long. It took me 102 hours to complete. Maybe I spent more time doing side quests than most but by the end of it I was so exhausted and burnt out I just wanted it to be over. I don't understand why RPGs today are up there at 80 hours. I'd rather have 15 solid hours of high-quality content than 100 hours of bloated, boring, extraneous filler content. Developers, please reverse this trend. I find this odd, because when I look at the percentage completion for most PS4 games it seems like less than 25% ever make it to the end of any game I play. This tells me the developers are spending a lot of time developing content that only the hardcore crowd will experience, whereas most of their customers will grow bored and move on to something else. It makes little sense to expend so many resources on content that only a minority (like game reviewers who play games for a living...who seem unaware that most of their audience doesn't have the same amount of time they do to play these) will bother to experience. Make games shorter, but richer! Remove the fluff!
- Overall, it was moderately fun. At times I enjoyed the battle. It was particularly fun to switch up the characters you use. However, there wasn't much to breakup the combat. It was a lot of running and fighting, equipment mining, an occasional plotline, and then more of the same. Some additional variety would have been nice, especially given how long this game was. Would I recommend this game today? Only if you are hardcore into all-things Xenoblade. Otherwise, stick to XC2. Xenogears is still the best RPG of all-time btw!